Between the dual finales of Outfest and Comic-Con on Sunday, most industry folks here in Los Angeles are suffering withdrawals this week. The enthusiastic receptions accorded many of the GLBT films screened during Outfest combined probably couldn’t equal gay fanboys’ excitement over director Zack Snyder’s Comic-Con announcement that Superman and Batman will appear together in his 2015 Man of Steel sequel. Talk about a dynamic duo!
Though not superheroes, the gay amateur sleuths played by Marc Anthony Samuel and Brian McArdle in Hot Guys with Guns are worth watching. Written and directed by Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc), this Outfest premiere spins an amusingly sordid mystery around Hollywood sex parties. Someone is drugging and robbing these parties’ A-list attendees, and it falls to a struggling actor-waiter and his ex-boyfriend to figure out whodunit. The screenplay, while not without its excesses, is generally a hoot and the film’s attractive, gay-list cast includes Spearman’s fellow Noah’s Arc alum Darryl Stephens, Jason Boegh, Kevin Held and Trey McCurley. Particularly good is the James Bond-ish opening credits sequence and theme song!
Similarly imperfect but entertaining is Anna Margarita Albelo’s Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? Albelo plays an unsuccessful, single, lesbian filmmaker who understandably experiences a midlife crisis. She becomes inspired to direct an all-female remake of Mike Nichols’ classic movie of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?
Lesbian acting icon Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) takes over for Elizabeth Taylor and won a special Outfest award for her performance (see the full list of award winners in the comments section below). Hilarious supporting turns are rendered by True Blood’s Carrie Preston and gay fave Drew Droege, the latter of whom seemed to appear in virtually every LA-based feature and short film screened during Outfest. This women’s-interest film with crossover appeal was co-written by Michael Urban, who wrote the memorable 2004 satire Saved!
One of the big Outfest award winners this year was Test, Chris Mason Johnson’s assured look at the incursion of AIDS among a group of professional dancers in 1985 San Francisco. One of them, Frankie, grapples with the decision to take the new HIV antibody test at the same time he is called upon to fill in for one of the dance company’s soloists. His tense relationship with a sexy fellow dancer gradually gives way to respect and even love. Some of Johnson’s metaphorical points are belabored, especially those involving a mouse infestation in Frankie’s apartment, but the film is ultimately evocative and affecting and the dance sequences stunning.
My two favorite men’s features from Outfest 2013 were among its more bittersweet, international offerings. Bwakaw, by Jun Robles Lana, was the Philippines’ official entry for last year’s Academy Awards. It focuses on an elderly gay man, Rene (a beautifully cantankerous yet sensitive performance by Eddie Garcia, who has starred in nearly 600 movies and TV shows during his long career), whose only friend is a stray dog he reluctantly takes in. The dog, Bwakaw, helps open Rene’s heart to other relationship possibilities, including with a tough, married taxi driver (well-played by Rez Cortez). Things don’t always turn out successfully — having Kleenex handy is highly recommended — but Rene learns much along this lovely, unsentimental journey.
Out in the Dark, my other fest fave, is a provocative Israeli-Palestinian co-production about the plight faced by a pair of gay lovers from those two disparate nations. Palestinian student Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) and Israeli attorney Roy (Michael Aloni) meet cute one night in a Tel Aviv nightclub. As things heat up between them, they are confronted by a host of obstacles including anti-gay immigration officials, their self-righteous parents’ disapproval, and some vicious gangsters. Once Nimr’s student visa is revoked and his family disowns him, Roy must make a dramatic sacrifice to save him. Co-written by Michael Mayer and Yael Shafrir and directed by Mayer, who was named one of Outfest’s “5 in Focus” filmmakers to watch, Out in the Dark is a timely and bracing romantic-drama. Watch for it.
Hot Guys with Guns: B
Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?: B
Out in the Dark: A-
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.