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    Film Hits and Misses from the Final Days of Frameline41

    By Gary M. Kramer

    There are only a few days left in this year’s Frameline Film Festival, but there are still some great shorts, features, and docs to catch before the fest ends.

    Abu: Father (June 22, 3:30 pm, Castro) is Arshad Khan’s first-person documentary about growing up gay with a Pakistani Muslim father. As a child, Arshad was a momma’s boy, who didn’t relate to the men in his family. At age 4½, after being seen dressed in women’s clothes, he was molested. Arshad felt invisible for most of his formative teenage years, suffering emotional heartbreak with a boyfriend, and then further despair when his family moved to Canada and he was alienated in his new home. Arshad slowly learned to accept himself, after someone suggested he read Maurice. At university, he met other queer Muslims, however, as Arshad became more of a queer activist, his parents became more fundamentalist. Abu shows, through well-edited interviews, photographs, film clips, songs, animation, and home movie footage, how Arshad navigated his uneasy relationship with his parents. This heartfelt doc should speak to anyone who has struggled with their sexuality, spiritualism, and family, and finding a sense of peace.

    Hello Again (June 22, 9:30 pm, Castro) is director Tom Gustafson’s disappointing adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa’s mediocre musical, adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. A roundelay of romantic relationships, which take place during different decades of the 20th century, are told out of sequence. As such, the connections and characters feel synthetic, and the episodes rarely generate any real emotion. The performers T.R. Knight, Cheyenne Jackson, and Audra McDonald all seem miscast. The sole exception is Sam Underwood, who is quite enchanting as the gender-bending Leocadia.

    Of the four films available for preview in the Worldly Affairs (June 23, 4:00 pm, Castro) program, all deal with young men coming of age. One Night Only, from Australia, has gay Tyler (Tom Mendes) and Erica (Ellen Wiltshire) glamming it up to go to a party thrown by Theo (Tim May), whom Tyler hopes to romance. When they arrive, however, their expectations may not be met. The film captures the insouciance of youth in a winning style. Likewise, the taut Norwegian short, Ocean Swells, has two male friends (David Krøyer and Olaf Fangel Jamtveit) drinking and fishing together before a stranger arrives, changing the dynamic between them. In Pria, Aris (Chicco Kurniawan) is an Indonesian boy who does not want to get married despite arrangements being made with a local girl. He finds comfort and solace in the arms of Peter (Jacob McCarthy), his English teacher. The film provides a strong sense of place and culture, even though the story is contrived and predictable. Pedro, from Portugal, is director André Santos and Marco Leão’s terrific short about the title character (Filipe Abreu), who wants his mother (Rita Durão) to leave him alone and let him sleep. However, she insists they go to the beach, where they experience a kind of transformation. The film features a very sexy hookup between Pedro and a handsome stranger, but Pedro’s power comes from the unspoken emotions between the characters.

    Girl Unbound (June 23, 7:00 pm, Landmark Piedmont) is an inspirational documentary about Maria Toorpakai, a young Pakistani girl who excels in squash (the country’s second biggest sport). Ranked as the #1 female player in a country where women are not allowed to attend school, the tomboy Maria courted danger by burning her dresses and dressing as a boy to play under the name Genghis Khan. She received her first death threat from the Taliban at age 16. Girl Unbound deftly chronicles Maria’s life on and off the squash court, from edge-of-one’s-seat competition scenes to life with her family, where there is no gender discrimination. (Maria’s family, from her political activist sister to her forward-thinking father, also provides a fascinating subplot). Sports, Maria believes, teach integrity and self-respect. She also uses the game to change minds, not only about what women can achieve, but also about how they define themselves.

    A Million Happy Nows

    A Million Happy Nows (June 23, 9:15 pm, Roxie) is pretty much a Lifetime disease movie of the week with lesbian characters. To the film’s credit, the sexuality of the characters is never an issue; the issue is the impact of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, this drama is so generic and flat, it does very little to engage viewers’ emotions. Lainey Allen (Crystal Chappell) is a successful, Emmy-winning soap opera actress on the fictional daytime drama, Valley Springs. She has a supportive partner in Eva (Jessica Leccia), her publicist. When Lainey starts having memory issues, she quits her job and moves with Eva to a beach house where they share a few days of romantic bliss. Lainey soon experiences more difficulties, though. She is unable to find things in her kitchen, and she starts feeling insecure about her relationship with Eva. There are scenes of the couple trying to get Lainey diagnosed and find care as her condition, early onset Alzheimer’s, worsens, but any soap opera treats the topic with more depth and sensitivity. Moreover, some of the drama of A Million Happy Nows pivots on if Eva should go public with her partner’s condition. While the film might be enjoyable for fans of soap opera veterans Chappell and Leccia, it fails to illuminate many of the issues it raises. Viewers may want to change the channel, er, leave the theatre.

    Snapshot (June 23, 9:15 pm, Victoria), written and directed by San Francisco-based queer pornographer Shine Louise Houston, has Charlie (Beretta James), a photographer, accidentally snapping a picture of a couple making love and possibly a killer in the window. She returns the next day to investigate and meets Danny (Chocolate Chip), a hot young woman who may be girlfriend material. While the two women start dating, Charlie invites Danny to her friend Hannah’s (Lyric Seal) sex party, but also reveals she prefers to watch, and not actually have sex. Snapshot pushes the murder plot into the deep background to focus on the sex, which is explicit. The lengthy erotic encounters should satisfy viewers because the film’s narrative threads may not.

    Flirting with Disaster (June 24, 11 am, Victoria) The short films in this collection deal with the trickiness of relationships, sex and romance. The Mess He Made is Matthew Puccini’s pungent drama about Jude (Max Jenkins) finding trouble as he waits for the results of his HIV test. Call Your Father, about a date between forty-something Greg (Craig Chester) and the decades-younger Josh (writer/director Jordan Firstman), is a disappointment particularly because it wastes New Queer Cinema indie darling Chester in a thankless role. Greg puts up with Josh’s manic antics for reasons that strain credulity, making it difficult to want to see this date through. 20 minutes never felt so long. Much better are two simple, eloquent, romantic shorts: Exchange, in where two men express their unspoken affection though the return of a jacket, and Sign, about Aaron (John P. McGinty) a deaf man, and Ben (Preston Sadleir). But the highlight of this program (from the shorts that were available to screen) are the two web series entries, The Feels, Almost, a bi-guy’s (co-director Tim Manley) brilliant three-minute monologue, and episode 4 of The Gay Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, about the trials and tribulations of the title character (director Brian Jordan Alvarez) and his friends. Viewers will want to binge watch both of these series online at once.

    Mansfield 66/67 (June 24, 1:15 pm, Castro) is a quirky doc about the blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield, whose short life spawned rumors and tragedy. She came to Hollywood as a camp answer to Marilyn Monroe, and perfected a squeal that matched her va-va-va-voom sex symbol body. Mansfield wisely never took herself seriously; she was all about exaggeration. These points are well made by talking heads, including San Francisco favorites John Waters, Cheryl Dunye, and Peaches Christ. While Mansfield had what one interviewee called “an addiction to attention,” she got a fair share of bad publicity with multiple marriages, and her involvement with Anton LaVey, the High Priest of the First Church of Satan, who may or may not have put a curse on her abusive then-husband, Sam Brody. Mansfield 66/67 also addresses the rumor of Mansfield being decapitated in the car accident that caused her death at age 34. The film, co-directed by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, shrewdly edits film clips from The Girl Can’t Help It and Promises, Promises, as well as news footage, animation, and even interpretive dance, to provide an entertaining story of Mansfield’s glamour and tragedy.

    Against the Law (June 24, 6:30 pm, Castro) is an absorbing, handsomely mounted BBC TV film about Peter Wildeblood (Daniel Mays), a journalist who was imprisoned in 1955 for “gross indecency and buggery,” among other charges. Based on a true story, the film flashes back three years earlier to depict his relationship with Eddie McNally (Richard Gadd), an RAF corporal who leads to him being arrested, tried, and imprisoned. The relationship between the two gentlemen is tender and sweet, which is partly what makes Against the Law so heartbreaking; men, like Wildeblood and Lord Edward Montague (Mark Edel-Hunt), were criminals and had their lives destroyed. Director Fergus O’Brien, working from a script by Brian Fillis, interrupts the drama from time to time to feature interviews with several elderly men who discuss their life experiences and the “tricky business” of being gay in the 1950s, when homosexuality was illegal. It was an era when a love letter could lead to one’s downfall—as it did in Wildeblood’s case. Yet, these stories, and this film, show the strength and courage men like Wildeblood and the interviewees had in the face of oppression, and for that, it is inspiring.

    Santa Y Andres

    Santa Y Andres (June 25, 4:00 pm, Castro), is a bittersweet Cuban film set in 1983. Santa (Lola Amores) is a revolutionary who is forced by Jesus (George Abreu) to watch over Andres (Eduardo Martinez), a gay writer under house arrest. He tries to be friendly toward Santa, who resists his efforts at first. But, during a rainstorm, Santa enters Andres’s house, and he feeds her. They chat, and she learns that he wrote a book the government didn’t like. When his mute young lover (Cesar Dominquez) injures Andres, Santa cares for him in the hospital, and they become closer. Their unexpected friendship leads to their spending time together swimming, or at a bar. But just as they connect, realizing that they are both lonely outsiders, different pawns under the same repressive regime, Santa Y Andres introduces a twist in the story that creates most of this slow-burn film’s drama. The performance by Amores is especially poignant, and the film’s authenticity is as palpable as the heat.

    Fun in Boys Shorts (June 25, 1:30 pm, Castro) program features two sweet films from Australia. Picking Up has a young man finding confidence when he discovers his inner drag queen. Cake is a very charming short about Adam (Shane Savage) hooking up with Guy (Pat Moonie) for a naughty little evening. When Adam’s Nanna (Kate Jason-Omodei) arrives for a barbeque, the guys’ night together turns into an extended stay. That’s almost revealing too much, but Cake is highly satisfying. Heygood Eats is less a narrative short and more extended comic outtakes in the form of a fictional TV advertisement taping. Hilarity ensues as the gay male and straight female spokespeople crack wise and rude while trying to promote their catering business. Rusalka is a gorgeously made, wordless short based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. But this is no Disney movie; rather it’s erotic gay re-imaging, full of full-frontal nudity from a bevy of beautiful men. Britney-holics Anonymous: A Spear-itual Awakening is a cute, but inconsequential, short about a group of shameless Britney Spears fans. Rounding out the program is Curmudgeons, an amusing film in which Jackie (Danny DeVito, who also directed) visits Ralph (David Margulies) in his extended care facility.

    © 2017 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer