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Even under the strictest codes of censorship, cinema has always been sexy. So the introduction to this year’s Reel Affirmations catalogue, which advertised “unabashed images of sex and nudity” that are “non-exploitative” and “non-pornographic,” seemed promising indeed. It’s a promise, however, that D.C.’s 14th annual gay and lesbian film fest didn’t quite fulfill.
Perhaps it’s just the movies that we happened to preview—20 of the more than 50 on offer—but Washington City Paper critics Joe Banno, Louis Bayard, Joe Dempsey, Chris Hagan, Mark Jenkins, and Tricia Olszewski didn’t find the sex-filled fare particularly interesting. Instead, we were more taken with the documentaries—always a Reel Affirmations strength—dramas, and comedies, campy or otherwise.
Among the docs, we recommend the double bill of the thoughtful Rainbow Pride and the celebratory One Wedding and a Revolution, as well as the affirmative Drag Nuns in Tinseltown, which chronicles the church-tweaking but do-gooding Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The flip side of contemporary gay life is candidly investigated by Cause of Death: Homophobia, which considers the murders of closeted men in gay-unfriendly Israel.
Of the dramas, the best ones we saw are The Mudge Boy, an unflinching look at adolescence; Callas Forever, a fictionalized tale of a diva’s twilight; Love in Thoughts, an account of impetuous youth amid Weimar decadence; and Bear Cub, a sentimental—and, yes, sexy—Spanish tale of a gay man who becomes a temporary daddy.
Sexy or not, the comedies are still where anything goes, including prepubescents swapping genders for the weekend in Sweden’s Immediate Boarding. The characters are somewhat more grown-up in You I Love, an engaging three-way romance billed as Russia’s “first gay-positive romantic comedy,” and in Sweden’s Illusive Tracks, a strangeness-on-a-train farce that features murder, philosophy, slapstick, and at least one gay couple.
The fest ends with one of its most appealing entries, Straight-Jacket, in which a handsome leading man rules over ’50s Hollywood—as long as he keeps up the pretense of being straight. The big-screen sex may not have been hotter back then, but the one-liners were sharper. And humor has always been an essential part of cinema’s appeal, too.
Screenings take place at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center (DCJCC), 16th & Q Streets NW; the Goethe-Institut, 814 7th St. NW; the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW; and Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. Admission is $9 unless otherwise noted. For more information, call (202) 986-1119 or visit www.reelaffirmations.org.
“Badges of Freedom”
Pondering the glut of neckties, license plates, and other merchandise bearing the now-famous stripes of the gay-pride flag, a newspaper editor in Rainbow Pride reminds us that “the best songs are made into elevator music.” Director Marie-Jo Ferron’s film, the longer of two documentaries screening under the title “Badges of Freedom,” explores how Gilbert Baker’s 27-year-old stroke of vexillological genius came to launch a thousand lapel pins, ranging from stories of the flag’s genesis (how many flag makers stocked hot-pink fabric in the ’70s?) to gay-history milestones such as the Stonewall riots and the 1978 assassination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk in just 52 minutes. The movie’s short running time occasionally works against it—a little more depth on both the First Amendment and individual-interpretation issues attached to flags would have been nice, for example—but its participants aren’t without thoughtful commentary. Together, they make Rainbow Pride an informative, if somewhat meandering, look at the row of colorful stripes that embodies several long decades of struggle. Debra Chasnoff’s One Wedding and a Revolution is an under-20-minute look at history so recent it hadn’t happened a year ago: the San Francisco union that was triggered by President Bush’s pledge in the State of the Union to “defend the sanctity of marriage.” The film highlights the historic wedding of longtime lesbian activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, complete with chamber music and scene placards written in request-the-pleasure-of-your-company-style script. Celebratory and surprisingly bubbly, First Wedding goes down like reception-toast champagne.—Joe Dempsey
At 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Goethe-Institut.
On the Down Low
On the Down Low frames a gay relationship between South Side Chicago gang members as a Romeo and Juliet story, complete with Shakespearean bloodshed. But like the densest of the Bard’s dramas, it’s not the easiest thing to follow—or to believe in. When Tadeo Garcia’s film opens, Angel (Michael Cortez) and Isaac (Tony Sancho) are being chased through the streets to no real consequence; they then spend the day driving around, eating burgers, and punctuating every single sentence with the word “bro.” Miss the too-dark early scene when the two kiss—you may perhaps be further confused by the fact that Isaac (is that Isaac?) is suddenly driving Angel’s car—and you’ll float through the first quarter of the movie thinking these Latino toughs are just buds. But actually they’re in love—which is complicated by the fact that, although Isaac has just brought Angel into his gang, he’s just been told that Angel is still running with his old posse. Whether the other gang members know that Angel and Isaac are gay is unclear. Angel at one point gets beaten up for reasons unknown, but otherwise the couple appear to be neither taunted by their peers nor tortured in trying to resolve their relationship and their gangs’ rivalries. By failing to address the obvious, Garcia’s film ends up being just another shallow story of life and death on the streets. —Tricia Olszewski
At 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Lincoln Theatre.
An interview subject in Farm Family points out that to most homosexuals, “being gay is having a herd of gay guys around you.” Some, however, prefer the company of a different kind of herd, and these men share the stories of their alternative alternative lifestyles in Tom Murray’s documentary about rural gay America. Murray travels across the country, from Wisconsin to New Mexico to Pennsylvania, to document gay rodeos, farms operated by same-sex couples, and pride festivals out in the boonies (sometimes held, as is the case in Matthew Shepard’s home state of Wyoming, very far off the beaten path indeed). Farm Family’s rarely explored subject is compelling, especially when it addresses the drawbacks of choosing the country life: As one farmer observes, it’s difficult enough to find a mate outside of a city, much less one who’s also interested in agriculture. But Murray often loses focus through the film’s 74 minutes, allowing his subjects to go off on tangents such as how to inseminate a cow, the meaning behind a stump-sized statue of a bloody penis, and, in the TMI category, how one farmer takes a sponge bath—all of which suggests that perhaps some aspects of rural gay life are better left in the closet.—TOAt 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Goethe-Institut.
The Mudge Boy
The Mudge Boy is that rarest of coming-of-age dramas: the plausible one. Writer-director Michael Burke’s 2003 film concerns the odd mourning rituals undertaken by 14-year-old Vermont farm boy Duncan Mudge (Emile Hirsch) after his mother dies suddenly of a heart attack—specifically, his tendency to speak in her voice at the dinner table and dress in her clothing. Then there’s the pet rooster that he carries in a basket, Toto-style, as he delivers eggs around town on his mother’s bicycle. (When the rooster becomes agitated, he calms it by, ahem, inserting its head into his mouth.) Though his father (Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins) doesn’t exactly object to Duncan’s adoption of most of the household’s matronly duties, his burgeoning suspicion about his son’s sexual orientation still aligns him less with his child than with the town’s other kids, who think the Mudge boy, nickname: Dunkin’ Fudge, is—well, the nickname about sums it up. Even so, the film isn’t about the relationship between father and son so much as it is about the bond that develops between Duncan and temperamental, oversexed Perry (Tom Guiry), a farm boy Duncan develops a crush on simply because he doesn’t shun him. Perry is clearly attracted to Duncan, too—though he has a not-so-funny way of showing it. Frightening, heartbreaking, and expertly handled by both Burke and his principals, The Mudge Boy’s culminating act of violence would be deplorable in the real world—exactly why, in the universe of wacky teen movies, it seems so legitimizing.—Chris Hagan
At 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Lincoln Theatre.
Love in Thoughts
Set in Weimar-era Germany and based on actual events, Achim von Borries’ drama is another dark bloom of Teutonic romanticism. Left unsupervised by their parents, teenage siblings Günther (August Diehl) and Hilde (Anna Maria Mühe) invite various friends and lovers to the family’s country place near Berlin. A sun-dappled, lakefront haven, the estate is the perfect place to dance to American jazz, toy with a tarot-reading machine, discuss the imminent arrival of a culture of free love, play with a newly acquired gun, and make a murder-suicide pact. Outraged that Hilde is dallying with his former lover, Hans (Thure Lindhardt), Günther is the most intent on somebody’s death. But aspiring poet Paul (Good Bye, Lenin! star Daniel Brühl), Günther’s new friend, seems willing to participate, spurred by his unrequited love for flirtatious but basically uninterested Hilde. The film opens with Paul in prison, so it’s clear that he survived the episode about to unfold in flashback. Who the two victims will be is left for later, of course, though another potential death is Elli (Jana Pallaske), a classmate of Hilde’s who lives resentfully in the more popular girl’s shadow—reason enough for her to develop an interest in Paul. Although set mostly in idyllic countryside rather than a more typically dingy and urban locale, Love in Thoughts is a persuasive evocation of the hothouse atmosphere of adolescence, where would-be-precocious youth chatter knowingly about life and love and occasionally undertake experiments in one or the other. “What use is love in thoughts?” queries Hilde in a poem she writes to Paul, but putting passion into action proves disastrous for this smart set.—MJ
At 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Lincoln Theatre.
Drag Nuns in Tinseltown
Vanity is not a sin that concerns the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The members of this 32-year-old organization, whose Los Angeles chapter is profiled in Drag Nuns in Tinseltown, profess to be true nuns who just happen to wear glitter, and revealing outfits, and Kabuki makeup. Oh, and most of them are men. Ren Blood’s documentary jumps right in with commentary from the sisters, who devote their time not only to looking fabulous but to raising money for charity and promoting safe sex. Each member is interviewed both made up and “normal,” and even though the gorgeous, intricate looks that the sisters carefully craft make fascinating eye candy, it takes a while before the organization’s guiding logic is made clear. After all, footage of men in a combination of habit and S/M wear doesn’t exactly jibe with the comment “We can do more things as sisters than we can do as normal people.” (Also questionable is one particularly burly nun’s assertion that his sexy-clown maquillage “doesn’t scare people.”) Amid the sometimes repetitive discussion of the nuns’ MO, it’s the perspective of the matronly-by-day, slutty-by-night Sister Vibrata that finally resonates: “Sister Vibrata can walk into a bar and say to a kid, ‘Are you being safe? Are you taking care of yourself? Here, have a condom.’ But walking in like I look right now—like somebody’s mother—they’re going to look at me and go, ‘What the heck do you know, woman?’”—TO
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Goethe-Institut.
I once chased a Metro bus down Pennsylvania Avenue for the simple reason that it was displaying a picture of Antonio Sabato Jr. So it seems perfectly reasonable to me that Dean, the graphic-novelist hero of Testosterone, should fly to the ends of the earth to track down his absconded lover, Sabato’s Pablo. If only the rest of the movie made as much sense—or even, for that matter, a lick of sense. What starts as a melancholy romantic quest, with Dean (David Sutcliffe) strolling the weirdly underpopulated streets of Buenos Aires and mooning over “the one-night stand who never left,” morphs into a zigzagging Latin noir, replete with machetes, thugs, mock-Tudor estates, a twisted pair of brother-and-sister aristos, and, breathing fire over it all, Pablo’s mantilla-clad mama (Sonia Braga, cementing her camp-icon status). Is the ensuing mess meant to reproduce the reality-bending conventions of the hero’s chosen medium? If so, it would require a director with a far surer control of visual and performing styles than David Moreton. Testosterone riffles through tones like paint chips, and what pleasures it affords are of the scattered variety: a confidently narcissistic—though, caveat emptor, brief—turn by Sabato, and in the thankless role of Dean’s agent, the basilisk-eyed Jennifer Coolidge, who once again makes you wish a whole movie could be about her. Now that would be a fantasy worth filming.—Louis Bayard
At 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Lincoln Theatre.
You I Love
Love triangles have seldom been less messy than the one that drives You I Love, a subtly charming Russian export that won Best Foreign Narrative Feature at this year’s New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Yet the unlikely bond that develops between suave ad exec Timofei (Evgenij Korijakowskij) and homeless Kalmuck zoo laborer Ulumji (Damir Badmaev) after the former hits the latter with his car—much to the dismay of Timofei’s new flame, anchorwoman Vera (Lubov Tolkalina)—provides only a fraction of the film’s dramatic drive. A subplot involving Ulumji’s family’s desperate attempts to “straighten” their son is the more crucial development here, and directors Olga Stolpovskaja and Dmitri Troitsky contrast the Kalmucks’ dedication to tradition and Timofei and Vera’s more up-to-the-minute sensibilities through quick cuts, a quietly pulsing techno score, and a picture of Russia as a mecca for the media-savvy that slowly takes shape over the film’s 80-odd minutes. This is no simpleminded call for modernity or free love, however: Though it doesn’t culminate in physical intimacy, a scene in which Vera and Ulumji share a pipe indicates that the interloper is to be understood not merely in terms of his sexual orientation, but also as a signifier of love’s unpredictability. Neither tradition nor education nor a jealous girlfriend, it seems, can account for what has always essentially been an accident.—CH
At 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, at the Lincoln Theatre.
An utterly frothy consideration of gender issues, this Swedish film is The Parent Trap clad in a bit of prepubescent cross-dressing. When feisty Julia meets timid Martin in an airport waiting room, the two 11-year-olds notice strong similarities in both their circumstances and appearance: Both are reluctantly headed on solo weekend visits to runaway parents. (And both are played by the same performer, Amanda Davin.) Switching a few items of clothing, the kids change places. Vegetarian Julia arrives at the hog farm where Martin is usually bullied by his cousins and uncle, while Martin, who dreams of being a tuxedo-wearing pop pianist, finds himself trying on flower-girl dresses for Julia’s mother’s wedding to a buffoonish TV “gladiator.” There are no profound conclusions to be drawn from Swedish writer-director Ella Lemhagen’s amiable comedy, but at least it doesn’t use “Lola” for the end credits.—MJ
At 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, at the DCJCC.
Black Aura on an Angel
It’s one thing when a friend thinks your new girlfriend is bad news. But when a psychic warns you that your sweetums is surrounded by the kind of evil inkiness that’d befit the Devil himself, that’s another story. Of course, that’s but one plot development in writer-director Faith Trimel’s Black Aura on an Angel. There’s also, for example, the part when that certain someone holds a knife to your throat while you’re sleeping because you got a phone call after 10 p.m., which clearly indicates that you’re cheating. Unfortunately, Trimel, who also stars as Angel, the sane half of Black Aura’s once-upon-a-time blissful couple (Sherry Richardson is Phaedra, the nutjob), has tried to jazz up the telling of her rather straightforward narrative with lots of darkly lit foreshadowings, confusing flashbacks, and all too frequent complete blackouts. Shot on home-movie-quality video, Black Aura is also marred by bad acting and terrible dialogue, including candlelit-bathtub poetry. There is, however, plenty of sex—which suggests that Reel Affirmations might be better off categorizing the film as something other than a “psychological thriller.”—TO
At 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, at the DCJCC.
Early in Callas Forever, artist-manager Larry Kelly asks a handsome young painter he’s just met, “Oh, God—you’re not one of those ghastly Callas queens, are you?” A self-referential yuk, perhaps, from director and co-writer Franco Zeffirelli: legendary soprano Maria Callas’ stage director, friend, postmortem documentarian, and chief apostle. But though there’s plenty of diva worship here—Callas’ glamour-puss emergence from a limo amid a welter of paparazzi, the cluster of makeup mirrors that multiply a moment of private tears into a half-dozen weeping Callases—Zeffirelli generally keeps the tone cool and the storytelling efficient. The fanciful plot revolves around a proposal by Kelly (Jeremy Irons) to film the vocally spent Callas (Fanny Ardant) in her major roles and set the footage to a soundtrack of recordings made in her prime. All goes well until Callas, naturally, suffers an ethical crisis over the electronic trickery involved in dubbing. Ardant’s imperious, Garbo-grand Callas is played with hypnotic conviction and nary a whiff of camp. (The late-night scene of the singer alone in her apartment, lip-synching to an old LP of Madama Butterfly, will be a three-hankie moment for fans.) And this is without a doubt Callas’ show: Everyone else is relegated to standing room. What little we get to see of Kelly’s romance with the frame-shop-level painter is there merely to remind us how loveless Callas’ own life has become, and the teasers we get about Kelly’s managing a self-mutilating, audience-abusing punk band called Bad Dreams appear to be the director’s oh-so-subtle way of evoking a philistine world in which Callas has become irrelevant. Clearly, for Zeffirelli, Callas Forever isn’t merely a resurrection—it’s a much-needed Second Coming.—Joe Banno
At 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 18, at the Lincoln Theatre.
Harry and Max
Finally, a heartwarming story about two young, successful brothers—who have sex with each other. Even if you don’t know what—or rather who—is about to come, Harry and Max hardly starts off promisingly, with mediocre acting from stars Bryce Johnson and Cole Williams and dialogue such as “You think I wouldn’t give a million dollars to have my foreskin back?” courtesy of writer-director Christopher Münch. But when Harry (Johnson), a 23-year-old boy-band member, and Max (Williams), a 16-year-old pop singer, go off on a camping trip for some, uh, family bonding and start getting cozy in the tent, things really start to go downhill. Highlights include Harry’s looking at Max’s centerfold in a magazine—whether Tiger- or Teen, the operative word is Beat—and talk of when Max first “wanted it.” (For the record, it was at age 7, when Harry was walking around with “a big boner” and Max “wanted to check it out.”) But it’s when Harry chastises Max for his relationship with a much older yoga teacher that the movie completely loses credibility: Harry claims that the teacher shouldn’t have acted on Max’s advances, so Max says, “Why not? You did it!” Harry angrily replies, “That’s different, Max—I’m your brother!” Münch does demonize Harry somewhat, but incredibly, it’s not for his sexual abuse, but for his alcoholism. And even though that’s the reason behind Max’s syrupy voice-over at the end of the film, you won’t be thinking about his drinking when you hear this colossal understatement: “Most people wouldn’t have wanted a brother like Harry.”—TO
At 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, at the Lincoln Theatre.
With World War II just concluded, a group of Stockholm residents board a nonstop train to Berlin and what might be new lives. Among them are Gunnar, a Wittgenstein-reading book editor who wants to improve the world; Henry and Marie, a doctor and his mistress who are plotting the murder of his wife, Karin; two querulous old “poofters”; a war-worn nun who’s about to crack; and a wounded veteran who will be the repeated victim of Gunnar’s disastrous attempts to be helpful. Clueless Gunnar (Gustav Hammarsten), who’s introduced recommending to his boss that the company not publish Pippi Longstocking, is the butt of endless (and rather cruel) slapstick, but director Peter Dalle doesn’t rely exclusively on Gunnar’s missteps. There are also the murder plot, which turns out to be more complicated than initially revealed, much ingestion of booze and pills, and even some sub-Wildean wit. (“A shared hell is better than one alone,” remarks one of the gay men. “Being a woman is a way of avoiding public responsibility,” sniffs the other.) There’s nothing responsible about this comedy, which makes light of murder, philosophy, Catholic faith and doctrine, and starving Baltic refugees, not to mention the Berlin Wall. But it is well-paced and consistently inventive, with crisp black-and-white images that evoke a score of old strangers-on-a-train movies. If the twist ending seems to come out of nowhere, that hardly matters: Ultimately, the farce is held together by its single hurtling location, not by any narrative logic.—MJ
At 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, at the Lincoln Theatre.
Brother to Brother
Banished by his parents and ostracized by most of his classmates for being gay, African-American college student Perry (She Hate Me star Anthony Mackie) is lonely and alienated. Then a classroom discussion of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and the introduction of an old homeless guy, Bruce (Roger Robinson), summons a series of black-and-white flashbacks to the Harlem Renaissance, when such gay men as Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata) were at the center of an artistic and political ferment. Writer-director Rodney Evans unflinchingly considers historic conflicts within the black community, including racial prejudice, homophobia, and bourgeois attempts to suppress bohemian self-expression. But the framing story—and the underwritten character of Perry himself—proves far less interesting than the flashbacks, suggesting that Evans would have been well-advised to make an unalloyed historical picture. Instead, Brother to Brother offers only fragmentary views of characters and situations that show more dramatic potential than Perry and his personal problems.—MJ
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at the Lincoln Theatre.
It’s always the quiet ones who like to get kinky. Or at least that’s the notion behind Surrender, a piece of S/M soft-core that stars writer-director Katherine Brooks as Salene, an angry Hollywood dominatrix who, even though she’s making loads of money and seems to hate people, takes on a roommate—with sexy results! Doe-eyed Georgia Brown (Julie Clay), who’s come to L.A. for undisclosed reasons, is fresh off the bus from Alabama and, though she looks and acts like Little Bo Peep, is ready to get her freak on. The plot is paper-thin—a sick cat summons a hot veterinarian for Georgia to bang, and the whole roommate thing seems to exist only so that the thoroughly unlikable Salene has someone to take baths with and introduce to her underworld. Nothing in Surrender is terribly believable, especially the dialogue (by Brooks and Sophie Dia Pegrum) full of groaners along the lines of “curiosity usually gets the cat laid” and head-scratchers such as “You’re just in the middle of the book and not stuck at the start like everybody else!” But to be fair, when Salene tells one of her customers, “I…am…pain,” a truer line has never been spoken.—TO
At 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, at the DCJCC.
Cause of Death: Homophobia
Ran Kozer’s documentary focuses on a murder—that of influential Israeli psychologist Eli’ever Levi—in a country where homosexuality is officially condemned by the established religious authorities. Still, the essential dynamic behind the crime doesn’t seem unique: Gay men, usually closeted and generally older, pick up young, economically disadvantaged hustlers who are likely to deny having any sexual desire for men, even to themselves. (That many of the younger men are Arabs only increases the chances of self-denial.) Using “reconstructed” footage of the events that led to Levi’s death, as well as interviews with police investigators, the victim’s friends and admirers, and one man who survived a similar attack, Kozer suggests what probably happened to Levi—as well to some 50 other gay men murdered in Israel in the past 20 years. The details may be specific to that country, but the film’s clear-eyed analysis of how homophobia enables murder is relevant worldwide.—MJ
At 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, at the DCJCC; free.
Here’s one good sign you’re watching a European movie: You get to see a stiffy up close before you’re even settled in your seat. It belongs to an archetypal gay bear, and the opening sequence of the Spanish import Bear Cub contains enough big-boy grappling to empty bar stools at the Eagle. The rest of the film, however, has relatively little to do with sex and much to do with Pedro (José Luis García Pérez), an unabashedly promiscuous Madrid dentist who lets his 11-year-old nephew, Bernardo (David Castillo), crash in his apartment while the boy’s hippie-chick mom flies off to India for two weeks. Mom gets busted for drug smuggling, two weeks turns into indefinite, and Pedro has to square his old sex habits with his new family obligations. That job is made a tad easier by Pedro’s “bear mafia”—gentle, meaty-fisted fellas who “initiate” Bernardo without in any way compromising him. These guys would have been subject enough for a movie, but director and co-writer Luis Miguel Albaladejo drags in Bernardo’s estranged grandmother to sue Pedro for custody and calls up HIV-related plot devices that were hoary 10 years ago. Even when it sinks in suds, though, Bear Cub makes for an affecting ride, thanks to its lead performers: Castillo is the rare trick-free child actor, and García Pérez, with his roomy, lived-in body and unassuming maleness, is a robustly sensual bear in early autumn. What’s Spanish for grrrrr?—LB
At 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, at the Lincoln Theatre.
Cowboys & Angels
To call Cowboys & Angels trite would only partly capture the essence of Irish writer-director David Gleeson’s third film. It’s certainly hackneyed, what with its Odd Couple–esque conceit and utter earnestness. But what makes the movie truly unpalatable is the misplaced enthusiasm: None of the actors should be so excited to be in what is essentially a run-of-the-mill coming-of-age dramedy, especially one that relies on a subplot about drug smuggling to lend it some semblance of levity. The relationship that develops between strait-laced civil servant Shane (Michael Legge) and his gay fashion-school-valedictorian roommate Vincent (Allen Leech) is predicated on Vincent’s efforts to make Shane hip both in appearance and affect. As Shane’s purported coolness increases, so does his desire for Gemma (Amy Shiels), Vincent’s best friend, who, yes, wants Vincent. When Shane is recruited by downstairs neighbor Keith to be a drug mule, he unwittingly attracts surveillance to his apartment. The legal mess that ensues culminates in nothing more than all of them learning their lesson and living happily ever after. Though clearly intended to be a profound, if lighthearted, take on wish fulfillment and its consequences, Cowboys & Angels really falls somewhere between a throwaway episode of Saved by the Bell and the longest Queer Eye for the Straight Guy ever.—CH
At 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, at the Lincoln Theatre.
The characters in Shiner may like to beat each other up, but it’s really the people watching the film who get abused. Writer-director Christian Carlson’s god-awful debut covers the sex lives of six people: Tony (Scott Stepp) and Danny (Derris Nile), who play S/M games with strangers and each other; Tim (David Zelina), a hunky boxer who’s being stalked by Bob (Nicholas T. King), some weird dude who works at the gym and hides in the locker room when Tim’s in his jockstrap; and Linda (Carolyn Crotty) and Reg (Seth Harrington), a couple who are pretty much just shown having sex and whose inclusion in this story and relation to the others is completely mystifying—one, and only one, scene suggests that Linda may be a roommate of Danny’s. Or Tony’s. Or maybe it’s Reg who’s the roommate and Linda just spent the night. Tim occasionally shows up at Whoever’s house, too, to talk to Tony or Danny, but the nonsexual relationships are clearly unimportant here. Mostly Shiner sticks to bopping around incoherently from the doings of one pair to the next, which basically amounts to a lot of hitting, a lot of blood, and, except in Linda and Reg’s case, a whole lot of whacking off. Carlson obviously set out to make a movie about the pleasure of pain, but the kind that Shiner delivers probably isn’t what he had in mind.—TO
At 11:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, at the DCJCC.
Partway through Straight-Jacket, closeted ’50s heartthrob Guy Stone attends a glitzy Tinseltown screening of his latest vehicle, a coal-mine melodrama called America Works!. As Stone (Matt Letscher) the hero confronts the bad guy in the final reel, Stone the movie star happily mouths along. Perhaps because he’s stuck in a marriage of convenience, he’s attracted to conviction, be it in the form of big-screen bravado or his idealistic screenwriter/novelist boyfriend, Rick (Adam Greer). The former seems empty at times: In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it discontinuity, Stone’s America Works character briefly brandishes damning mine-accident evidence in the wrong direction, a vestige of the film’s original, pre-McCarthy blame-the-capitalists ending. But when Stone’s deepening relationship with Foster forces him into a difficult choice, it’s popcorn cinema that emboldens him. Sure, it’s easy to write off Champion-Chimp! or Captain Astro’s latest battle against Lizardo as what Foster calls “cornball reactionary idiocy,” but Straight-Jacket manages to champion such fictional vintage fare as upholding some very real virtues: honesty, fidelity, courage, and, above all, fun. A few moments of actual drama near the end aside, writer-director Richard Day’s film glides along quite blithely, thanks to lovingly vibrant set and costume design, creative scene shifts, winking period details (the televised courtroom finale is sponsored by “smooth and delicious Hit Parade cigarettes”), and—most critically—an immoderate serving of zingers. There may be a real message lurking inside Straight-Jacket, but if Day & Co. are truly serious about anything, it’s the transformative power of parody.—JD
At 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Lincoln Theatre; $15.CP