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April 2009

Steamed Magnolias

Steam (2009)

Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

"Steam’s" inclusion in the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is a bit tenuous, as only one of the three interweaving story lines has a gay theme. But any film with Ruby Dee, Ally Sheedy and Lane Davies is an embarrassment of riches. What a pity writer-director Kyle Schickner didn’t know what to do with the talent he had to work with.

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Homeless Schizophrenic Easier to Save Than L.A. Times

The Soloist (2009)

Francois Duhamel/Paramount Pictures

“The Soloist” is an impressive technical achievement, a unique visual portrait of Los Angeles and a creative evocation of the orgiastic power of Beethoven and Bach. Still, although the film features many elements conducive to a compelling human drama, it never quite gets there. With a premise that relies heavily on dynamic characters whose dynamism is never tangibly felt, irreparable discordance develops between the high caliber craft and a narrative that’s frankly less affecting than it should be.

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Squandering Resistance for a Pocketful of Mumbles

Fighting (2009)

Phillip V. Caruso/Rogue Pictures

"Fighting," a frenetic and exuberant new film by Dito Montiel ("A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints") follows a young Alabama native trying to survive the streets of New York City. He earns his money by going to the outer boroughs, meeting the local people of color and beating them to a bloody pulp. While most of the film gets by on genuine emotions and humor, on the heels of movies like "Observe and Report" it's beginning to feel like the Year of the Angry White Male.

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Two Men and a Big Baby

Patrik, Age 1.5 (2008)

Per-Anders Jörgensen/Regent Releasing

Sometimes movies should show new things that hadn’t been seen or considered before. Sometimes they delve into human emotions in fresh ways. Sometimes it’s pretty people blowing things up, or just the oldest sins in the newest ways. "Patrik, Age 1.5" tells us an old story, but one that’s still the best: that even though life is messy and complicated and imperfect, it’s still possible to be happy. It’s been a long time since a movie has so perfectly achieved this uplifting affect. And if you’d told me a gay Swedish adoption comedy with a country-music soundtrack would have achieved this, I would have laughed in disbelief.

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Love & Basketball

Dime Western Productions

One could almost bet the farm that “Lady Trojans” director Elizabeth Hesik was the little sister of the focus her film, Annameekee Hesik. Known as Anna, she played basketball throughout her high school career in early 1990s' Tucson, Ariz., and the team and its players were the means through which she discovered her sexuality. A quick Google reveals, to my surprise, the director is actually the older sister, who appears to have been away at college during the events depicted. (Good thing I don’t have a farm.) This closeness to, yet distance from, the events depicted in “Lady Trojans” gave her the means to make this film, perhaps it didn’t also give her a sufficient remove to be objective about the story she is telling.

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Dual Identity Makes an Outcast in Two Communities

Providence Productions

When a young, white gay man, Matthew Shepard, was beaten up and tied to a fence to die in Wyoming in 1998, there was international outrage, huge coverage in the mainstream American media, anti-hate crime legislation drafted in his name and even a movie as a result. But Sakia Gunn’s equally homophobic murder five years later was largely ignored – because she was black? A girl? Someone whose sexual identity was a little harder to describe? For whatever reason, Charles Bennett Brack decided to make "Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film Project" in an attempt to redress the balance.

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One Singular Sensation Revisited

Every Little Step (2008)

Paul Kolnik/Sony Pictures Classics

Generations of dreamers have flocked to New York City, lured by promises of fame and fortune and the chance to make it big. “A Chorus Line” translated its celebration of a group of Broadway aspirants into multiple Tony Awards and a record breaking run. Similarly “Every Little Step,” a documentary that chronicles the casting of the show’s recent revival, candidly reveals the hopes and fears experienced by the men and women facing the imposing odds of auditioning for a Broadway show.

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Off the Record, On the QT and Very Hush-Hush

State of Play (2009)

Glen Wilson/Universal Studios

Even though a BBC miniseries serves as its basis, “State of Play” has a scrapbook worth of major American news items from the past decade such that it might as well tout itself as inspired by true events. The death of researcher Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), the first domino to fall in the film, brings to mind the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy. Standing in for Rep. Gary Condit is Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), a congressman whose extramarital affair with Sonia comes to light as a result of the ensuing investigation. The film has a plethora of these familiar stories about crooked politicians, war-mongering defense contractors and journalists grappling with the quandary of everything from the “fair and balanced” slogan to gossip Web sites like the Drudge Report. When blogging colleague Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) requests some information, our hero journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) responds sarcastically: “I have to read a couple of blogs before I can form an opinion.” Zing.

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Curious Case of Friendship that Transcends Age

Is Anybody There? (2009)

0201 Is Anybody There Photo Nick Wall
Nick Wall/Big Beach Films

“Is Anybody There?,” the latest in a long line of painstakingly sweet British coming-of-age stories, features the requisite elements of such a cinematic production. Peter Harness’s screenplay showcases distant parents, a wide-eyed, curious adolescent, an oddball setting and a surly older father figure. Director John Crowley gives the material a tone that oscillates between humor and sadness, and the heavenly clouds that gather over the seaside setting ideally suit the narrative’s evocation of the major stages in the circle of life.

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Setting Off the Heavy Metal Detector

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009)

Robb and Lips
Brent J. Craig/Anvil! The Story of Anvil

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil” documents the tragicomic story of Anvil, the band of Canadian heavy metal rockers that showed some promise in the 1980s before lapsing into relative obscurity. In the best tradition of such ventures, however, it’s really about much more. The film is not a musical hagiography, or an apologia for the band and its commercial failings. It is instead a hopeful testament to the power of unrelenting optimism and the contentment that can come from refining the definition of success.

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