Former LGBT Film Fest opens with worldly weekend of films

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Reel Q, once known as the Pittsburgh International LGBT Film Festival, opens Friday at the Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

Here is a sampling of reviews for the first week:

' Reaching for the Moon'

BRAZIL, 2013


3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ratings explained

The plot runs much like a soap opera, but the fact is that the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79) could have passed for a soap opera.

Film Festival Schedule -- Week one

Reel Q opens Friday at the Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

FRIDAY

7 p.m.: "Reaching for the Moon" -- See review.

9:30 p.m.: "I Am Divine" -- See review.

SATURDAY

3 p.m.: "Heterosexual Jill" -- Filmmaker Michelle Ehlen wrote, directed and stars in a satirical pseudo-romcom.

5 p.m.: "The Happy Sad" -- See review.

7 p.m.: "Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf?" -- A 40-year-old filmmaker, preparing to shoot a lesbian version of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," is determined to change her life by losing 20 pounds and finding a girlfriend, but things don't happen in the way she plans.

9 p.m.: "Interior. Leather Bar" -- See review.

SUNDAY

5 p.m.: "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" -- See review.

7 p.m.: "Snails in the Rain" -- See review.

MONDAY

7:30 p.m.: Women's short films.

TUESDAY

7:30 p.m.: Men's short films.

WEDNESDAY

7:30 p.m.: "Southern Baptist Sissies" -- Filmed version Del Shores' play about four gay Texas Christians. With William Belli and Leslie Jordan.

Special price for opening night: One film and party, $25, or two films and party, $30.

General admission tickets are $9 per film or $6 for students, with passes from $45 to $125 also available. Sold at Harris Theater on festival nights, online via www.reelq.org or www.ShowClix.com (also accessible through 1-888-718-4253) or Banner Coin Exchange, 347 Fourth Ave., Downtown.

In Bruno Barreto's fictionalized biopic, Bishop (Miranda Otto) leaves the United States in 1951, for what turns out to be an extended stay in Brazil.

At first invited by an old college friend -- called Mary in the movie -- who has immigrated there to be with her female lover, Elizabeth quickly replaces Mary in the affections of the wealthy Brazilian Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires).

Lota softens the blow by adopting -- actually buying -- a child for Mary, but the resulting quartet is prickly at best, viciously savage in its worst moments. It doesn't help that Elizabeth is an alcoholic and Lota a well-meaning enabler or that Mary uses Elizabeth's addiction as a weapon against both her rival and former lover.

The cinematography is quite beautiful throughout, and Treat Williams provides a pleasant cameo as Robert Lowell. Only lacking are extended excerpts from the real Bishop's poetry, which would have added to the viewer's understanding of this greatly talented but not entirely sympathetic protagonist.

' I Am Divine'

USA, 2013


3 stars = Good
Ratings explained

People magazine called him "the drag queen of the century" -- the 20th century, that is.

Harris Glenn Milstead (1945-88) rose to stardom by adopting a female persona known as Divine and flaunting the social and sexual mores of his time. Raised in a conservative Baltimore family, he collaborated with his high school friend and director John Waters in a long series of films including "Pink Flamingos," in which he performed a scatological act that he was never able to live down.

Grossly fat, addicted to drugs and food, he nonetheless managed to nab handsome male lovers and co-starred with heartthrob Tab Hunter in two cinematic takeoffs on the American Western.

With the 1988 film "Hairspray," Divine exploded on the national scene but claimed on talk shows that he never wanted to do female roles. He wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and finally landed a straight male part on the TV series "Married With Children." Sadly, he died of a heart attack just before that show's first rehearsals.

Jeffrey Schwarz's new, sympathetic and well-produced documentary provides a rounded picture of this unique personality, profusely peppered with scenes from his movies and nightclub appearances. Mr. Schwarz also makes it clear why so many prominent people respected Divine as a serious professional.

Part of Divine's legacy is seen in the mainstream actors who have emulated him, notably in his role of Edna in "Hairspray," transformed into a successful musical on Broadway and film. Divine himself summed it up when he remarked on his unexpected iconic stature: "Can you believe we came this far?"

' The Happy Sad'

USA, 2013


2 1/2 stars = Average
Ratings explained

This is a charming little film about two young New York couples whose lives become embroiled with each other.

One is white and heterosexual: Annie (Sorel Carradine) tells Stan (Cameron Scoggins) at the start that she is "taking time off" because she has become interested in a woman friend. The other couple is gay and African-American: Marcus (LeRoy McClain) and Aaron (Charlie Barnett), after six years of monogamy, decide to try an open relationship.

When Marcus takes up with Stan and lies about it to Aaron, things get rougher than either couple had predicted. The ending is predictable, but the protagonists are all attractive in looks and personality. Nothing to tax the intellect here, but it's all quite engaging and easy to watch.

' Will You Still Love Me Tomrrow?'

TAIWAN, 2013


2 1/2 stars = Average
Ratings explained

Writer-director Arvin Chen, an American of Taiwanese descent, has created an appealing romantic comedy that treats serious emotional issues with a light touch and a lot of humanity.

In present-day Taipei, optician Weichung (Richie Ren, a pop star in his country) has suppressed his true sexual identity and is living, seemingly happily, with his wife, Feng (Mavis Fan), and 6-year-old son. His life turns upside down when he meets a handsome young airline steward and realizes he can no longer go on living a lie. A parallel dilemma faces Weichung's straight sister, engaged to marry a dim-witted admirer she no longer loves.

Their stories unfold with interspersed fantasies: Weichung dreams of flying away, the sister imagines being with a movie star hero. In their day-to-day lives, the protagonists make as many bad decisions as good ones.

And Mr. Chen ignores the cultural differences between East and West. His characters act the way Americans would to marriage issues and gay identity. Once past the initial shock of learning a loved one is gay, they accept and adapt with unconvincing speed. The bittersweet ending, however, is touching, if nonetheless contrived.

' Snails in the Rain'

ISRAEL, 2013


2 stars = Mediocre
Ratings explained

The title's snail analogy is unfortunately apt. This is a lugubrious tale in which nothing much happens in terms of plot or action and time seems to be standing still. Director Yariv Mozer seems to have wanted it that way, but it might be argued that he was a bit too successful in that regard.

The lead character is incredibly handsome Boaz, a linguistics student played by Armani model Yoav Reuveni. He is living with a young woman Noa (Moran Rosenblatt), who has unfulfilled career ambitions of her own. Boaz has had past attraction to men and is receiving amorous letters from an anonymous admirer.

The story is set in 1989 Tel Aviv, where Boaz feels compelled to remain closeted while furtively exploring his true feelings. His caving in to the mores of his society is all the more sad because it rings truer than anything else in this film.

' Interior Leather Bar'

USA, 2012


1 1/2 stars = Bad
Ratings explained

This is a very odd movie. Heartthrob actor-director James Franco, who played a memorable supporting role in "Milk" (2008), collaborates with openly gay filmmaker Travis Mathews in a film that "re-imagines" scenes that were cut by the Hollywood censors from the 1980 Al Pacino film, "Cruising."

The present pseudo-documentary is unconvincing, however, because it does not re-create much of the earlier film. For the most part, the actors describe their feelings about making this film about a film. One character points out that people will come hoping to see Mr. Franco naked. (Spoiler: You don't.)

Mr. Franco is said to be straight, and the lead actor in the "remake," Val Lauren, reminds us persistently that he is straight and uncomfortable with his present assignment. His remarks, along with those of most of the other actors, are tediously sophomoric, especially in discussing their feelings about simulating sex -- or possibly, doing the real thing -- on film.

By the time we get to the re-created scenes, no one much cares, especially because the explicit parts are explicit about faking sex. It's all talk -- well, there's a little real action -- about a movie that we never get to see.

moviesvideo

Robert Croan is a Post-Gazette senior editor. First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM


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