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Coming attractions

Gay themes in both indie and mainstream fall film fare

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Nicole Kidman as Charlotte Bless in Lee Daniel’s steamy ‘The Paperboy.’ (Photo courtesy the Karpel Group)

The LGBT fall film calendar gets off to an exciting start with the D.C. release of “How to Survive A Plague” on Sept. 28.

The inspirational documentary by first–time filmmaker David France tells the story of two coalitions — ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (the Treatment Action Group) — and how they changed medical and political history. France, a journalist who has been covering the AIDS crisis for 30 years, draws on archival footage, much of it shot by the activists themselves, to tell the stories of the brave men and women who banded together to fight the plague.

The film examines how they saved the lives of millions of people by battling apathetic government bureaucrats and politicians, developing shocking outreach strategies to spur a complacent media into action, exposing greedy pharmaceutical companies and educating a scared and ignorant populace.

Lee Daniels, the openly gay director of “Precious,” returns to the big screen with “The Paperboy.” Based on the novel by Pete Dexter and set in the swamplands of Florida in 1969, The Paperboy offers a provocative, sexually charged tale of desire, ambition, prejudice and crime.

The film centers on two brothers returning to their hometown. Jack Jansen (Zac Efron) has been kicked out of college and is now working as a paperboy for his father, the local newspaper publisher. Miami journalist Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) comes home to prove the innocence of death row inmate Hillary Van Welter (John Cusack). Ward’s investigation reveals of tangled web of sexual tension, mixed motives and shadowy facts.

The cast is rounded out by Nicole Kidman as vampy death-row groupie Charlotte Bless, David Oyelowo as Ward’s hotshot writing partner Yardley Acheman, and Macy Gray as Anita, the family maid. The film’s producers hint that a central plot twist involves a character’s emerging sexuality, but are tight-lipped about which character comes out. They do, however, confirm the tabloid rumors that Zac Efron dances in his underwear and frequently appears shirtless. It opens Oct. 5.

On a lighter note, “For a Good Time, Call …,” helmed by openly gay director Jamie Travis, is a comic look at two Manhattan women who get involved in the phone sex industry. Estranged college friends Katie Steele (Ari Graynor) and Lauren Powell (Lauren Miller, who also co-wrote the script with Katie Anne Nayton) are reintroduced by their gay mutual friend Jesse (Justin Long) when both face a housing emergency.

Katie is initially shocked when she overhears her new roommate talking to one of her clients, but quickly sees dollar signs. The two establish their own company, and are quickly raking in the cash as they resume their friendship — and possibly more. The film includes cameos by Seth Rogan, Ken Marino and Kevin Smith as three clients. It’s in theaters now.

“Keep the Lights On”  is a drama about a closeted lawyer (Zachary Booth) and a documentary filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) and their mercurial relationship. It opens Sept. 21 in D.C. at West End Cinema.

“Diana Vreeland: the Eye Has to Travel” is a documentary about the former Vogue editor. It opens Sept. 21.

And speaking of documentaries, details are still be worked out, but former Log Cabin president-turned-documentarian Patrick Sammon is finalizing details for a screening of his first film about the life of Alan Turing (called “Codebreaker”), the gay World War II-era legend. It’s tentatively slated for an October opening and a November wider release in 20-30 U.S. cities.

Other LGBT releases expected this fall include:

  • “Pitch Perfect,” a battle-of-the-sexes comedy about the rivalry between two college a cappella singing groups (Oct. 5).
  • “Bear City 2,” a sequel to the popular movie that takes the cast of bears and chasers from their New York City lairs to the wilds of Provincetown. It will be screened as part of Reel Affirmations in D.C. on Nov. 4.
  • “Gayby,” about the problems that ensue when frustrated single Jenn asks her gay best friend Matt to help her conceive a child the old-fashioned way. It’s also in Reel Affirmations. Look for it Nov. 3.

Speaking of Reel Affirmations, D.C.’s annual international LGBT film festival, the 21st festival is scheduled for Nov. 1-4 and the selection committee is currently hard at work finalizing the schedule. In the meantime, RA XTRA offers monthly film screenings. September’s screening, a double feature of “Cloudburst” and “Men To Kiss,” will be held on Sept. 20 at the Carnegie Institute for Science.

“Cloudburst” is a romantic road movie about two lesbians (played by Oscar winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker) who flee their nursing home in Maine and drive to Nova Scotia in an attempt to be legally married. “Men To Kiss” is about Ernst and Tobias, a gay couple in Berlin whose lives are upset when Ernst’s old friend Uta draws them into her schemes.

The Chesapeake Film Festival in nearby Easton and Oxford, Md., is Sept. 21-23 and includes two LGBT-themed films — “Trans” and “Queen of Country” (both screening Sept. 22 at the Academy Art Museum). Visit chesapeakefilmfestival.com for details.

The D.C. Shorts Film Festival continues through this weekend. It, too, has LGBT content in several films. Visit dcshorts.com for details.

The fall film season comes to a spectacular close with the much-anticipated release of the cinematic adaptation of the hit Broadway musical “Les Miserables” (Dec. 14). Based on the classic Victor Hugo novel with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, lyrics by Alain Boublil and screenplay by William Nicholson, the epic movie traces the decades-long battle between escaped convict Jean Valjean and obsessed police inspector Javert. The all-star cast includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.

 

 

 

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Photos

PHOTOS: Pride Reveal

‘Totally Radical’ announced as this year’s theme

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Miss Capital Pride 2024 performs at the Pride Reveal party on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Pride Alliance held its annual Pride Reveal party at Penn Social on Feb. 29. “Totally Radical” was announced as this year’s theme for Pride.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

Gay author takes us on his journey to fatherhood in ‘Safe’

One man’s truth about the frustrations and rewards of fostering

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(Book cover image courtesy of Atria Books)

‘Safe: A Memoir of Fatherhood, Foster Care, and the Risks We Take for Family’
By Mark Daley
c.2024, Atria Books
$28.99/304 pages

The closet is full of miniature hangers.

The mattress bumpers match the drapes and the rug beneath the tiny bed. There’s a rocker for late-night fusses, a tall giraffe in the corner, and wind-up elephants march in a circle over the crib. Now you just need someone to occupy that space and in the new book, “Safe” by Mark Daley, there’s more than one way to accomplish that dream.

Jason was a natural-born father.

Mark Daley knew that when they were dating, when he watched Jason with his nephew, with infants, and the look on Jason’s face when he had one in his arms. As a gay man, Daley never thought much having a family but he knew Jason did – and so, shortly after their wedding, they began exploring surrogacy and foster-to-adopt programs.

Daley knew how important it was to get the latter right: his mother had a less-than-optimal childhood, and she protected her own children fiercely for it. When Daley came out to her, and to his father, he was instantly supported and that’s what he wanted to give: support and loving comfort to a child in a hard situation.

Or children, as it happened. Just weeks after competing foster parenting classes and after telling the social worker they’d take siblings if there was a need, the prospective dads were offered two small brothers to foster.

It was love at first sight but euphoria was somewhat tempered by courts, laws, and rules. Their social worker warned several times that reunification of the boys with their parents was “Plan A,” but Daley couldn’t imagine it. The parents seemed unreliable; they rarely kept appointments, and they didn’t seem to want to learn better parenting skills. The mother all but ignored the baby, and the child noticed.

So did Daley, but the courts held all the power, and predicting an outcome was impossible.

“All we had was the present,” he said. “If I didn’t stay in it, I was going to lose everything I had.” So was there a Happily-Ever-After?

Ah, you won’t find an answer to that question here. You’ll need to read “Safe” and wear your heart outside your chest for an hour or so, to find out. Bring tissues.

Bring a sense of humor, too, because author and founder of One Iowa Mark Daley takes readers along on his journey to being someone’s daddy, and he does it with the sweetest open-minded open-heartedness. He’s also Mama Bear here, too, which is just what you want to see, although there can sometimes be a lot of tiresome drama and over-fretting in that.

And yet, this isn’t just a sweet, but angst-riddled, tale of family. If you’re looking to foster, here’s one man’s truth about the frustrations, the stratospheric-highs, and the deep lows. Will your foster experiences be similar? Maybe, but reading this book about it is its own reward.

“Safe” soars and it dives. It plays with your emotions and it wallows in anxiety. If you’re a parent, though, you’ll hang on to every word.

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Television

Lesbian road movie returns with campy ‘Dolls’

A retro-inspired, neon-lit road trip/neo-noir thriller

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Geraldine Viswanathan, Margaret Qualley, and Beanie Feldstein in ‘Drive-Away Dolls.’ (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

Let’s admit it: by the time Hollywood’s awards season draws to a close, most of us are more than ready for a good mindless “B movie” to cleanse our palettes. After the glut of “serious” and “important” films dominating the public conversation, it’s just incredibly freeing to watch something that feels — at some level, at least — more like entertainment than it does like doing homework.

That’s one of the biggest reasons why the timing of “Drive-Away Dolls,” which hit screens on Feb. 23, feels like a really savvy move, especially since it comes from a major Hollywood studio and boasts a multi-Oscar-winning director – Ethan Coen, who alongside brother Joel is half of one of Hollywood’s most prodigious filmmaking teams – at its helm. A retro-inspired and neon-lit road trip/chick flick/neo-noir thriller featuring lesbian leading characters and leaning hard into the visual palette of the ‘70s-era exploitation drive-in movie fodder it aims to both emulate and reinvent, it lays no claim to lofty purpose or intellectual conceit; instead, it takes its audience on an unabashedly raunchy 1999-set wild ride in which a pair of mismatched adventurers find themselves unwittingly entangled in a caper involving a mysterious briefcase and the eccentric trio of thugs tasked with tracking it down. It tells the kind of story we expect to be able to check our brains at the door for, and just sit back to enjoy the mindless thrills.

In this case, that story centers on two young queer Philadelphia women – free-spirited sexual adventurer Jamie (Margaret Qualley), whose infidelity has tanked her relationship with girlfriend Suki (Beanie Feldstein), and square peg Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), whose discomfort with the hedonistic social scene of big city lesbian life has her longing for the simpler pleasures of her childhood home in Tallahassee – who embark on a road trip together to Florida in search of new beginnings. It’s clear from the start that they’re at cross purposes; Jamie sees the trip as an opportunity to “loosen up” her uptight friend, while Marian just wants to get back to where she once belonged. Unbeknownst to either, however, a shady cadre of operatives (Colman Domingo, Joey Slotnick, C.J. Wilson) is on their trail, thanks to something hidden in the trunk of their rental car, and their journey is about to take a detour into unexpectedly dangerous territory.

As a premise, it’s not hard to see close parallels to many of the themes one often finds running throughout the Coen Brothers’ films; the quirky trappings of its crime story plot, the granular focus on the behavioral oddities of its characters, the whimsical (if often pointed) irony it deploys for narrative effect – all these and more give Ethan’s first “solo flight” without collaboration from his brother the kind of familiarity for audiences one can only get from four decades of previous exposure. Yet while “Drive-Away Dolls” might bear a lot of the trademark Coen touches, it’s also distinctively its own creature, with a more radical stylistic approach that one might glimpse in more flamboyant outliers to their joint filmography like “The Hudsucker Proxy” or cult-favorite “The Big Lebowski,” but which here brings its heightened sense of absurdity to the forefront in service of a story which is about, as much as it is anything, the role of causality in determining the circumstances and outcomes of our lives. In other words, it’s a movie which drives home (no pun intended) the point that – at least sometimes – our paths are determined by fate, no matter how much control we think we exert.

If you’re thinking that all this analysis doesn’t quite fit for a movie that presents itself as a madcap escapist romp, you’re not wrong; in spite of its ostensible B movie appeal, Coen’s movie – co-written with his wife, Tricia Cook – evokes some pretty weighty reflections, and while that might lend a more elevated layer to the film’s proceedings than we expect, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We can be entertained and enlightened at the same time, after all.

Perhaps more detrimental to the movie’s effect, unfortunately, is its intricately-conceived plotting. Weaving together seemingly coincidental or irrelevant details into a chain of events that propels the story at every juncture, Coen and Cooke’s screenplay feels more devoted to cleverness than authenticity; outlandish plot twists pile up, under the guise of some esoteric cosmic significance, until they threaten to collapse in on themselves; in the end, for many viewers, it might all seem just a little too forced to be believable.

Fortunately, there are things to counterbalance that sense of overthinking that seems to permeate the script, most vital of which is the movie’s unambivalent embrace of its queer narrative. While it may borrow the familiar lesbians-on-the-run road tropes queer audiences have known for decades, it presents them in a story refreshingly devoid of shame or stigma; the sexuality of its heroines is something to be explored with nuance rather than subjected to the fetishized bias of the so-called “male gaze,” and it succeeds in giving us “tastefully” explicit scenes of same sex love that celebrate the joy of human connection rather than turning it into a voyeuristic spectacle. Even more important, perhaps, “Drive-Away Dolls” omits one particularly toxic cliché of queer stories on film by refuising to make its queer heroines into victims; they’re way too smart for that, and it makes us like them all the more, even if we don’t quite find ourselves absorbed in their story.

For this, full credit must go to Qualley and Viswanathan, who individually build fully relatable and multi-dimensional characters while also finding a sweet and believable chemistry within the awkwardness of finding a romantic love story between two friends – a complex species of relationship that surely deserves a more extensive and nuanced treatment than it gets space for in Coen’s film. As good as they are, though, it’s Feldstein’s relatively small supporting turn that steals the movie, with an unflinching-yet-hilarious tough-as-nails performance as Qualley’s ex that both acknowledges and undercuts the stereotype of the “angry lesbian” while striking an immensely satisfying blow for queer female empowerment. The always-stellar Domingo underplays his way through an effectively civilized supporting performance as the chief “heavy”, and Matt Damon makes a sly cameo as a conservative politician, while daddy-of-the-decade Pedro Pascal shows up for a brief but key role that gives winking service to fans who remember him from his “Game of Thrones” days – though to say more about any of those appearances would constitute a spoiler.

“Drive-Away Dolls” has been met with mixed reviews, and this one is no exception. There’s an unmistakable good intention behind it, and much to be appreciated in its sex-positive outlook and commitment to an unapologetically queer story and characters, but while its stylistic embellishments provide for campy enjoyment, it’s ultimately diffused by its own cleverness. Still, the queer joy that frequently peeks through it is more than enough reason to say that it’s a good choice for a fun date night at the movies.

At the end of the day, what more can you ask?

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