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    Films to Catch During the Last Days of Frameline42

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    There are only a few days of Frameline42 remaining. Here is the lowdown on eight films screening this weekend.

    Mapplethorpe (June 21, 6:30 pm, Castro) is Ondi Timoner’s ambitious but uneven biopic of the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose stunning images of calla lilies and male sexual organs are now synonymous with his name. The film opens in 1969 with Mapplethorpe (Matt Smith) meeting Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) and moving in together. While they struggle as artists and share a comfortable domesticity, Robert eventually starts to explore his sexuality with men. He also starts taking photographs. It isn’t until Sam Wagstaff (out gay actor John Benjamin Hickey) turns up to praise Mapplethorpe’s work and help him sell his sexually explicit pictures that the film hits its stride. However, like Sam and Robert’s relationship, this bliss is short lived. Instead, Mapplethorpe continues to hit the expected beats of the photographer’s life, having about as much depth as a Wikipedia entry. When the film depicts Mapplethorpe’s relationship with Milton Moore (McKiney Belcher III), an African American model he discovers on the street, Timoner uses broad strokes to have Milton argue about Robert’s bad behavior rather than portray the actions and let viewers determine what to think and feel. Smith at times resembles Mapplethorpe, especially in his later years when he is suffering with AIDS, but the actor seems mostly to be going through the motions in the role. Mapplethorpe presents too much of its subject in black and white, when a shade or two of gray would have been much better.

    Night Comes On (June 22, 6:30 pm, Castro) features a phenomenal performance by Dominique Fishback as Angel, a savvy, lesbian teenager getting out of a juvenile detention center. Angel has no intention of keeping on the straight and narrow; her first order of business is getting a gun, and the second is tracking down her father (John Jenks) who killed her mother. In between accomplishing these tricky goals, Angel meets up with her girlfriend, Eva (Camilla Harden), and reconnects with her sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who lives in a foster home. Night Comes On follows Angel down the hardscrabble streets of Philadelphia and its outlying areas, and Fishback is riveting throughout. Just watch Angel help Abby deal with getting her first period in a gas station mini-mart bathroom. A later scene of the sisters at the beach is quite tender, with Abby craving Angel’s attention and affection before things get intense. Director Jordana Spiro’s film is full of smart details and compelling performances—Hall is a scene stealer—as well as some pointed commentary about how young women like Angel are forced to find ways to survive. 

    Shakedown (June 22, 9:45 pm, Piedmont; June 23, 9:00 pm, Victoria) is a fascinating look into the subculture of exotic entertainers in the underground Los Angeles African American lesbian club scene. Through observational footage, director Leila Weinraub celebrates the fantasy, family and community that is part of every Shakedown event. Weinraub interviews many of the key members, from dancers Egypt and Jazmyne, to DJ Ronnie Ron, and Miss Mahogany, a house mother, all of whom talk about how they got involved in the scene. They also reveal tidbits about their personal lives, which flesh out the portraits of these women. The film features plenty of performance footage too, as well as some trouble the clubs and dancers have with the local police. While a little of Shakedown may go a long way for some viewers, others will want this documentary never to end. 

    For Izzy (June 23, 11:30 am, Roxie) is a sweet romantic drama that revolves around Dede (Michelle Ang), a lesbian trying to recover from her drug addiction and her recent breakup with her girlfriend. She moves into a house in Los Angeles with her mother Anna (Elizabeth Sung). Anna soon meets and falls for their neighbor, Peter (Jim Lau), who lives with his daughter Laura (Jennifer Soo), who is on the autism spectrum. When Dede and Laura become friends—they bond over taking photos and shooting videos—things are great. However, an incident in Griffith Park splinters the two families, and Dede escapes to San Francisco. For Izzy peppers its drama with interview scenes of each of the four main characters recounting their sides of the story as well as some vibrant animated vignettes. The result may sound soapy, but it is actually quite heartwarming as the protagonists all learn to care for one another, flaws and all. The ensemble cast is uniformly strong and the film, despite all of its drama, is quite feel-good.

    Leitis in Waiting

    Leitis in Waiting (June 23, 4:15 pm, Castro) is an eye-opening documentary by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson about leitis, the transgender women in the Pacific Island kingdom of Tongo. Expanded from Hamer and Wilson’s 2017 short, Lady Eva, the film explores how leitis, such as Joey Joleen Mataele, Eva, and Miss Fatima, among others, have suffered bullying, abuse, discrimination and violence, often being kicked out of their homes for being queer. They have since organized and become activists fighting for human rights in a traditional culture where an evangelical Pastor argues against equal rights and same-sex marriage. The interviews with the leitis are inspiring, as is the footage from the 2016 Miss Galaxy Pageant, where Eva does a mean performance lip synching to Tina Turner. What emerges from this film is the courage, dignity and pride the leitis have and that they share with their supporters, which include members of the Tongan royal family.

    Ideal Home

    Ideal Home (June 23, 6:30 pm, Castro) is a diverting comedy by out gay writer/director Andrew Fleming about Erasmus (Steve Coogan), an egocentric cable TV show host, and his partner Paul (Paul Rudd), who must figure out how to be gay parents when Erasmus’ grandson Bill (Jack Gore) unexpectedly turns up on their doorstep. As Paul tries to be responsible and get Bill to eat and take him to and from school, Erasmus, who does not even know his grandson’s name, puts on his raccoon coat, and—drink in hand—drives Bill out to Taco Bell for some late-night food and bonding. Will the gay couple fall for the son they always wish they never had? Will Bill prefer his two new dads to his real one? Ideal Home answers these questions as it provides some laughs with its deliciously sharp dialogue as well as the exaggerated situations the characters face, like explaining the derivation of gay porn titles to an agent from Child Protection Services. Coogan and Rudd are both drolly amusing. And if you can’t make the screening, Ideal Home opens in San Francisco on June 29.

    Kill the Monsters (June 23, 9:15 pm, Castro) Were it not for the trio of buff bodies often naked and on display, this pretentious “American allegory” about such topics as manifest destiny would be harder to watch than it already is. Writer/director Ryan Lonergan co-stars as Patrick, the sensible member of a threesome that includes trust funder Sutton (Garrett McKechnie) and the much younger Frankie (Jack Ball). When Frankie develops a malaise, Sutton buys a condo in California and the trio head west, hitting various speed bumps and detours—including debates about drugs and money and a side trip to a mutual relation—before they arrive in Santa Monica. There, they engage in high stakes poker with lesbian neighbors and dole out advice about polyamorous relationships to anyone who will listen. Kill the Monsters is shot in annoying longshots and intense close-ups and edited with irritating quick cuts that might make viewers jumpy. The acting by the entire cast appears to be indifferent. Unfolding in a series of chapters representing key periods in American history, this film is far less than the sum of its parts.

    Studio 54 (June 24, 7:00 pm, Castro) documents the rise and fall of the storied nightclub as seen through the eyes of co-owner Ian Schrager. In an almost confessional tone, Schrager explains how he and the late, gay Steve Rubell met in college, created an exclusive club (that operated without a liquor license) and ran afoul of the law (for tax evasion, and skimming unreported income, among other crimes), before prison and reinvention. Interviews with folks who worked and danced at the club help to create the heady atmosphere where cocaine, music, and money dominated. They describe the safe-space Studio 54 became for LGBT folks, as well as for celebrities, like Michael Jackson (seen in some terrific footage) and Liza Minnelli, etc. While Rubell may have been the club’s biggest promoter—he was most in his element at the club catering to the talent and getting press in print and on TV—Schrager was behind the scenes, managing things (or not). His candor describing the raid on the club is ingratiating, even if it appears he knows more than he admits. Studio 54 shows what it is like to capture lightning in a bottle, as well as what it means to get burned. The archival footage is fabulous, and this film is a rollicking good time.

    © 2018 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