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FALL ARTS PREVIEW 2017: Not-so-‘Sordid’ fall movie slate

‘Tom of Finland,’ ‘Call Me By Your Name’ among hotly anticipated gay films

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2017 gay movies, gay news, Washington Blade, gay films

Timothee Chalamet (left) as Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver in ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ a gay, coming-of-age romance that was a Sundance hit earlier this year. It opens in wide release in December. (Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

A quick reminder before we get started in earnest: the D.C. Shorts Film Festival and Screenplay Competition is running now and continues through the weekend. It closes Sunday, Sept. 17.

The fall LGBT movie season gets off to a rousing start on Oct. 15 with the inspirational documentary “Dolores.” The film chronicles the passionate life of fiery activist Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the first farm worker unions with Cesar Chavez. One of the most defiant feminists of the 20th century, Huerta has been a leader in the fight for racial and social justice and has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights.

The AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center (afi.com/silver), always a great showcase for Hollywood classics, indie films and international cinema, kicks off its fall season with the amazing AFI Latin American Film Festival. Running through Oct. 14, the festival includes “Chavela,” a documentary about Chavela Vargas, a legendary musician who also served as a reluctant LGBT icon, and “The Untamed,” a psychosexual thriller from Mexico.

Other highlights of the festival include “The Queen of Spain” starring Penélope Cruz and “Breadcrumbs” with Cecilia Roth. Other AFI fall programming includes the Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival, the Silent Cinema Showcase and a celebration of the Joan Fontaine Centennial.

The Washington Jewish Film Festival (wjff.org) kicks off its fall programming with “5777: A Year in Review.” In preparation for the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, WJFF commemorates the incredible cinematic contributions of major Jewish artists who have recently passed away. Highlights include screenings of “Postcards from the Edge” (a tribute to Carrie Fisher), “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (Debbie Reynolds) and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (composer Leonard Cohen).

“Battle of the Sexes” looks back on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (who came out in 1981) and Bobby Riggs. Emma Stone and Steve Carell looks great in their tennis whites; Austin Stowall and Andrea Riseborough appear as King’s husband and girlfriend.

The Maryland Film Festival (mdfilmfest.com) is teaming up with Everyman Theatre to present a screening series that pairs shows from Everyman’s current season with classic films. First up is the play and film “M. Butterfly.” The play runs from Sept. 6-Oct. 8 and the film screens Sept. 26. Screenings take place at the newly renovated SNF Parkway Theatre in Baltimore.

The festival is also running a special double feature of “Magic Mike” and “Magic Mike XXL” on Oct. 2.

“A Very Sordid Wedding” is finally walking down the aisle in Washington for one night only. On Oct. 3 at the Avalon Theatre, writer/director Del Shores will be on hand to present the sequel to his cult favorite “Sordid Lives” (2000).

On Oct. 6, Netflix screens David France’s new documentary “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.” France (“How to Survive a Plague”) turns his lens on the life of the pioneering trans activist who was a ringleader at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and a leader in the LGBT movement until her mysterious death in 1992.

The annual Reel Affirmations Film Festival (reelaffirmations) runs Oct. 12-15 at the Tivoli Theatre. The Festival opens with “God’s Own Country,” a festival circuit favorite about gay love on a Yorkshire farm, and closes with “Freak Show,” a portrait of an eccentric kid in an ultra-conservative high school. The festival also includes several other feature length movies and three programs of LGBT shorts.

In the meanwhile, the Reel Affirmations monthly XTRA film series continues with “Raising Zoey” on Sept. 29“Cold Breath” on Nov. 11 and the World AIDS Day screening of “Small Town Rage” on Dec. 1.

The Middleburg Film Festival (Oct. 19-22) is a potent blend of politics and cinema set in the middle of Virginia’s scenic wine and horse country. Founded by entrepreneur and film producer Sheila Johnson, the festival features the latest narrative and documentary films from around the world, including sneak peeks at holiday releases. The event (middleburgfilm.org) also includes celebrity speakers, performances and master classes.

Gay auteur Todd Haynes (“Carol”) returns with “Wonderstruck” (opening in Washington Oct. 27). Starring Julianne Moore and based on Brian Selznick’s critically acclaimed novel, the film follows two children from different eras who secretly wish their lives were different.

Wonder Woman’s real origin story is revealed in “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (Nov. 3). Written and directed by Angela Robinson (“Hung” and “The L Word), the movie tells the true story of William Moulton Marston who drew on his unique psychological theories and his unconventional polyamorous relationship to create the iconic (and initially quite controversial) comic book. Marston is played by Luke Evans, with Rebecca Hall as his wife Elizabeth and Bella Heathcote as their lover Olive Bryne.

“BPM” (Beats Per Minute) by French writer/director Robin Campillo is a deeply moving drama about the personal, political and erotic lives of Parisian AIDS activists in the 1990s. Slated for a Nov. 17 D.C. release, this Cannes favorite offers a refreshing reconsideration of the AIDS crisis from an international perspective.

Finally, the jam-packed LGBT fall movie season closes with two extraordinary releases: “Tom of Finland” (Dec. 8), a biopic of the late Finnish artist known for his homoerotic fetish art, and the highly anticipated “Call Me by Your Name” (Dec. 15). Set in Italy in the 1980s, it tells of the passionate relationship between teen Elio and Oliver, an academic staying at the family villa. James Ivory adapted it from the novel by Andre Aciman.

Beyond these LGBT offerings, the fall movie season includes some great mainstream releases:

• “Brad’s Status” (Sept. 22), written and directed by Mike White (“Chuck and Buck”)

• “Manolo” (Sept. 29), a documentary about the famous shoe designer

• “Victoria and Abdul” (Sept. 29) with Judi Dench returning as Queen Victoria

• “Blade Runner 2049” (Oct. 6) with Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford reprising his role as Deckard

• “The Florida Project” (Oct. 13), starring Willem Defoe and directed by Sean Baker (“Tangerine”)

• “Human Flow” (Oct. 13), a documentary about the international refugee crisis by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei

• “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Oct. 27) directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”) and starring Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman

• “LBJ” (Nov. 3) starring Woody Harrelson

• “Thor: Ragnarok” (Nov. 3) and “Justice League” (Nov. 17)

• “Goodbye Christopher Robin” (Nov. 10), a biopic about the creator of Winnie the Pooh

• “Murder on the Orient Express” leaves the station, again, on Nov. 19 with an all-star cast

• “Molly’s Game” (Nov. 22) with Aaron Sorkin making her cinematic directorial debut

• “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Nov. 22) starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens

• “The Disaster Artist” (Nov. 22) starring James Franco as eccentric filmmaker Tommy Wiseau

Fittingly, movie fans of all tastes will hopefully have their holiday wishes fulfilled by the two big year-end releases: “The Greatest Showman”starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum (Dec. 25) and “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” (Dec. 15).

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‘Being the Ricardos’ pops with excitement of 1950s TV

Acclaimed film is Sorkin at his best

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Nicole Kidman in 'Being the Ricardos.' (Screen capture via Amazon Prime Video)

If the cold and COVID have brought you down, check out “Being the Ricardos.” The entertaining film, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, is streaming on Amazon Prime.

“Being the Ricardos” is the TikTok of a week in the McCarthy era that was a season in hell for gay icon Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem).

Ball was a gay rights supporter. “Some of the most gifted people I’ve ever met or read about are homosexual,” she told People magazine in 1980.

“I Love Lucy,” the 1950s sitcom starring Ball, was the most-watched show on TV.

From 9 to 9:30 on Monday evenings, Americans watched Lucy and her bandleader husband Ricky (Arnaz) Ricardo and their best friends Ethel (Vivian Vance) and Fred (William “Bill” Frawley) Mertz. They laughed at Lucy’s antics – such as when she and Ethel can’t keep up on a chocolate factory assembly line. “I Love Lucy” is streaming now on Hulu, and clips of it are on YouTube. 

“Being the Ricardos” takes place during the filming (from the table read to performing it in front of a studio audience) of an “I Love Lucy” episode.

As work on the episode begins, Arnaz and Ball are distressed to hear a “blind” item on right-wing gossip-monger Walter Winchell’s popular radio show. In the heyday of McCarthyism, Winchell tells America that a “top” comedian has Communism connections.

Ball and Arnaz know that being labeled a Communist could ruin not only your career but that of anyone associated with you.

Ball, who lived from 1911 to 1989, had a rough childhood. After her father died when she was 10, Ball was raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather was a socialist. Out of respect for her grandfather, in 1936, Ball registered to vote as a Communist.

Previously, the House Un-American Activities Committee had compelled Ball to testify. After she testified, they told her that they had cleared her of suspicions of being a Communist.

Ball and Arnaz are gobsmacked to hear from Winchell that she’s under suspicion again. Other than once checking a box for the Communist Party in the 1930s, Ball hasn’t had anything to do with Communism. “My grandfather cared about the working man,” Ball tells the executives from CBS and Philip Morris (the program’s sponsor).

Much of the suspense of the movie lies in rooting for Ball to be cleared of HUAC’s baseless charges. But Sorkin, taking some liberties, has added on added layers of tension.

In real life, these events didn’t happen at the same time. But, in “Being the Ricardos,” while Ball is dealing with HUAC, she discovers that she’s pregnant with her second child.

The CBS and Philip Morris execs are freaked by this news. It’s the early 1950s, and people on TV (even if they’re as happily married as the Ricardos) sleep in twin beds. What will America do if they see a pregnant woman on TV? What do you mean, you’re 12 weeks pregnant, the suits ask Ball and Arnaz. “It means 12 weeks ago, I fucked my husband,” Ball says.

In yet another twist, Ball is dismayed when “Confidential,” the TMZ of its time, comes out with a story showing Arnaz with a sex worker.

There has been controversy about the casting of Kidman as Ball and Bardem as Arnaz. Because Kidman isn’t a comedian and Bardem is Spanish and Arnaz was Cuban.

Perhaps, because she’s not doing an impersonation, I think Kidman is terrific as Ball (as Ball off-screen and as Ball playing Lucy Ricardo). She won the Golden Globe this week for Best Actress in a Drama for the role.

As a white woman, I don’t feel comfortable weighing in on the controversy surrounding the casting of Bardem. But to me he nails it in his portrayal of Arnaz.

The other actors in the film are also terrific, especially, J. K. Simmons as William Frawley, Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance and Tony Hale as (showrunner) Jess Oppenheimer.

 “Being the Ricardos” is Sorkin at his best. It pops with screwball banter and the excitement of early 1950s TV. It’s not “Vertigo,” but you won’t want to take your eyes off the screen.

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‘Potato’ charms with tale of gay Russian immigrant and his mom

Awakening to queerness during collapse of the Soviet Union

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Luminous Pariah and Tyler Bocock in ‘Potato Dreams of America.’ (Photo courtesy Dark Star Pictures)

January can be a difficult month for film buffs. With so many awards contenders clamoring for your time and attention, there is certainly no shortage of titles among them to choose from, so it’s not a question of slim pickings. Sometimes, though, watching one “prestige” movie after another for an entire month can feel a little bit like being a student overloaded with homework; even if you’re studying a subject you like, you still need to take a break and do something just for fun every now and then.

Fortunately, in today’s ever-hungry market for fresh streaming content there are new choices to be had even in the middle of Awards Season, and this month’s pick of the crop is exactly the kind of fun, quirky, off-the-beaten-track queer story to provide the perfect palate cleanser when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the heavier fare queued up on your “watch next” list – though considering that it’s the tale of a gay Russian boy and his mother who flee a life of repression and hardship in their native country by emigrating to America, you might not expect it to be.

Set in the 1980s, “Potato Dreams of America” is an autobiographical offering from writer/director Wes Hurley. The “Potato” of the title is its lead character, a Vladivostok boy obsessed with American movies who is awakening to his queerness during the collapse of the Soviet Union. His mother Lena is raising him on her own, and as a prison doctor who is daily witness to the violence and hardship of being an adult male non-conformist in Russian society, she fears for his future safety. She decides to market herself as a mail order bride, and before long she and Potato are on their way to Seattle – where they will have to learn how to navigate life in America, a whole new culture with forms of oppression all its own.

Admittedly, it’s a synopsis that reads pretty bleak – but that’s precisely why “Potato Dreams of America” turns out to be such a delight. Rather than delivering the stark immigrant drama we’ve come to expect from stories such as this one, it turns those expectations upside down by offering twist after twist (along with a wry and consistent sense of humor) that keep it from becoming a predictable tale of woe and turn it instead into something much less dreary.

To begin with, there are the two central characters, a memorable pair of plucky souls who win our attention and our sympathies with their against-the-grain attitudes and refusal to give up on their dreams. They are surrounded by an ensemble largely made up of broadly drawn eccentrics; there’s Grandmother Tamara (Lea DeLaria), a no-nonsense traditionalist who lovingly doles out toxic cultural assumptions with her grandmotherly advice; there’s also John (Dan Lauria), Lena’s rigid and seemingly conservative American husband whose fundamentalist views might just be a smokescreen for a life he has always kept hidden. Characters such as these provide a layer of satire and social commentary but remain grounded enough in the emotional arc of the story to serve as believable characters, thereby investing them with enough humanity to soften the sharpness around their edges. This is even true of Jesus – or rather, the imaginary version of Jesus (Jonathan Bennett) Potato concocts as he struggles to come of age, whose serene aloofness is somehow made completely relatable by the good-natured gay insouciance with which he is played.

Likable characters are a big part of the movie’s charm, but the infectious sensibility that wins our hearts comes straight from the filmmaker himself. In telling the story of his own life – albeit a highly stylized version of it – he gives full rein to the love for cinema, and specifically American cinema, which fueled his own young dreams of America and ultimately led him to a career behind the camera that includes two seasons of the critically acclaimed comedy series “Capitol Hill” (starring Jinkx Monsoon, Ben DeLaCreme, Waxie Moon and Robbie Turner). 

His movie is full of cinematic flourish, indulging in bold strokes to help its narrative unfold. Most striking of these is the choice, midway through the film, to swap out both the leading players for different actors – Potato and Lena in Russia are played, respectively, by Hersh Powers and Sera Barbieri, and in America by Tyler Bocock and Marya Sea Kaminski. From a practical perspective, of course, the abrupt change aids in depicting Potato’s transition into gay life in America simply by introducing a significantly older actor who can appropriately appear in the scenes when things inevitably start to get sexy; but on a deeper level, this calculated recasting invites contemplation on the relationship between our environment and our identity, highlighting the filmmaker’s seeming assertion that changing the world you live in requires you to become a different person – or perhaps, in light of the film’s opening quote (“I’ve always been America in my heart,” from queer trailblazer Quentin Crisp), that becoming the person you are meant to be requires finding a world where it is possible to do so, even if you have to build it yourself.

Still, even if Hurley’s ambitious conceits bring a kind of aspirational magic realism to his film, they never become pretentious, nor do they derail for an instant the movie’s sense of fun. In this, the filmmaker is greatly aided by his talented cast, peppered with familiar faces like DeLaria, Lauria, and Bennett (all of whom do exceptional character work while giving a sly and ironic nod to their own familiar persona), but dominated by the masterful performances from the four actors playing his two leads. Both Barbieri and Kaminski are exceptional as Lena, making her the unorthodox and empowering heroine she deserves to be; as the two incarnations of Potato, both Powers and Bocock bring powerful charisma to the role – but the younger Powers deserves special kudos for a thoroughly mature and self-aware performance worthy of an actor twice his age or older.

“Potato Dreams of America” made a big splash at last year’s SXSW, as well as at Los Angeles’ Outfest, where it won Hurley the festival’s Grand Jury award for Best Screenplay because of its “unique non-traditional portrayal of a gay immigrant’s transition to America and his relationship to his mother.” It’s this quality that makes it a must-watch experience. As Hurley says in his official director’s statement for the film: “Despite the heavy subject matter, the story of my mom and I coming to America is not only very funny but also very inspiring, with an ending that will have to be seen to be believed. I believe this story of unconditional love, human resilience and the power of hope is what the world needs right now.”

After watching his truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story and thoroughly enjoying it, we can safely assure you that he’s not wrong.

“Potato Dreams of America” opens for a limited theatrical run on Jan. 14. It releases on VOD platforms Feb. 22.

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Looking ahead to a very queer year at the movies

A boost in trans representation and bi role for Harry Styles

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Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno in ‘Am I OK?’ (Photo courtesy Gloria Sanchez Productions)

It’s only the first week of the new year and awards season has barely begun – but before we dive headlong into the process of bestowing honors on the best movies of 2021, it seems like a good time to pause and take a look forward to the movies coming our way in 2022 – specifically those with LGBTQ appeal.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited. After a year with zero trans representation on the big screen, the next one promises several offerings that not only feature trans characters, but put them front-and-center – and that’s not even counting the remake of queer author Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” with trans actress Jamie Clayton as Pinhead. There are also a plethora of same-sex romcoms, a notable increase in diversity among the leading players, and at least one high-profile title that hopes to help Hollywood make its tradition of bi-erasure a thing of the past.

SCREAM 

Horror fans are doubtless already aware of (and eagerly anticipating) the return of the “Scream” franchise to the big screen. Set to debut on Jan. 13, the fifth installment of the wildly popular 1990s slasher film series is a reboot in which a fresh crop of teens find themselves being stalked by a killer in a Ghostface mask. The new generation of potential victims – which includes Kyle Gallner, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Sonia Ammar, Jack Quaid and Melissa Barrera – are joined by returning veterans Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox, when the emergence of a new killer prompts the return to Woodsboro of original final girl Sidney Prescott (Campbell). The iconic franchise has always had plenty of queer appeal – original screenwriter Kevin Williamson recently revealed in an interview with The Independent that it was inspired by the “gay survival” mindset he developed as an openly gay teen – but the upcoming film ups the ante by introducing an out queer character (played by Brown), and the trailer hints strongly toward a same-sex romance as part of the movie’s plot.

BROS

Possibly the biggest news in LGBTQ movies for 2022 is this hotly anticipated romantic comedy spearheaded by gay comedian and actor Billy Eichner — touted as the first gay romcom from a major Hollywood studio — which arrives in August. Co-written by Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller, there’s not a lot of detail about the plot besides the fact that it revolves around two men attempting a relationship despite their shared fear of commitment, but that’s enough to get us all on board considering that the two men are played by Eichner and hunky Luke Macfarlane. Better still, in a reversal of the usual Hollywood standard, all the roles in the film – even the straight ones – are played by LGBTQ performers, including Harvey Fierstein, Amanda Bearse, Guillermo Diaz, Jim Rash, and Bowen Yang. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a new normal.

FIRE ISLAND

Speaking of Bowen Yang, the out “Saturday Night Live” star also heads to the big screen this year alongside fellow comedian Joel Kim Booster in this modern-day comedy of manners inspired by Jane Austen’s classic novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Written by Booster and directed by Andrew Ahn, it revolves around two gay besties who head to the titular New York queer retreat for a week of fun and frolic with an eclectic group of friends, setting the stage for a satirical observation of the social behavior and class hierarchies of gay men — not just around economic status, but around such manufactured dividing lines as body type and ethnic heritage. Also starring Margaret Cho, Conrad Ricamora, Zane Philips, and Nick Adams, there’s no release date slated yet for this one – but with a premise like that, it can’t come soon enough for us.

WHAT IF?

Billy Porter makes his directorial debut this year with this teen romance written by Ximena García Lecuona. A love story about a high school senior who must overcome his shyness in order to win the affections of the girl he’s been crushing on. It sounds like typical fare, but there’s a refreshing twist — his crush is trans. With Porter behind the camera, you know it’s not going to be dialing down any of the inherent queerness of that scenario, and with real-life trans actress Eva Reign as the star, it’s a sure bet that this sweet story of teenage love (based, incidentally, on a real-life Reddit post) is going to be a real ground-breaker. Release date TBA.

AM I OK?

Directed by the wife-and-wife team of Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne, this promising entry is the story of two best friends, Jane and Lucy, whose lives are thrown into chaos when them gets a promotion that requires a move to London and the other comes out as gay. Billed as “a relatable, poignant, and often humorous look at the transformative power of human vulnerability,” it stars Dakota Johnson and Sonoya Mizuno. With its debut slated for the Sundance Film Festival at the end of January, it’s likely to be coming our way for wide release later in 2022.

FRAMING AGNES

Also premiering at Sundance is this Chase Joynt-directed historical drama about a pioneering, pseudonymized transgender woman who participated in Harold Garfinkel’s gender health research at UCLA in the 1960s. Described as a “rigorous cinematic exercise that blends fiction and nonfiction” and “endeavors to widen the frame through which trans history is viewed,” it features an impressive lineup of trans stars – including Zackary Drucker, Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Max Wolf Valerio, Silas Howard, and Stephen Ira – reenacting and bringing new perspective to an important chapter of trans history. Again, we can expect to see this one some months after its January debut at Sundance.

MY FAKE BOYFRIEND

Another romcom, this Gen-Z and Millennial-targeted offering stars actor/musician Keiynan Lionsdale (“Love, Simon”), Dylan Sprouse (“Riverdale”), and Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”) in a story about a young man (Lonsdale) who, under the direction of his unconventional best friend creates a fake boyfriend on social media in order to keep his “awful ex-lover” from trying to come back into his life – only to have the plan backfire when he meets someone he thinks might be the real love of his life. Slated for release sometime around Pride month, this one will likely be popular on the strength of its attractive young stars alone.

MY POLICEMAN

As far as attractive young stars go, you can’t do much better than pop musician-turned-actor Harry Styles, who stars in this UK-set romantic drama from Michael Grandage and Greg Berlanti as a bisexual policeman who loves a man (David Dawson) but marries a woman (Emma Corrin) because same-sex relationships are illegal. Four decades later, his former lover re-enters his life, and his long-held secret might not be the only thing that comes out. Linus Roache, Gina McKee, and Rupert Everett portray the older versions of the three members of this star-crossed romantic triangle. No release date has yet been announced, but with the star power involved in this one we can be sure it will make a big splash when it lands later this year.

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