UW Reel Love LGBT Film Fest, Day 4: “Lilting,” “To Be Takei,” “Something’s Must Break”

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The UW-Madison’s Reel Love LGBT Film Festival, now in its fourth year, is still the only Wisconsin film festival (and one of the few campus-based festivals nationwide) exclusively devoted to films with gay, lesbian and transgender subject matter.

The free, 15-film festival runs Thursday through Sunday at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. Once scheduled in the fall, the festival has moved to the spring this year, but is otherwise another terrific collection of new films, including many Madison premieres, that show the wide range of LGBT filmmaking out there. Whether you like broad comedies, tender dramas or hot-button documentaries, they’re represented at this festival.

Each day during the festival, I’ll feature a new review of one of the films playing that day, along with capsules of the others and links to my previous reviews where available. For a full schedule, visit wudfilm.com. And, once again, it’s FREE, people!

Lilting” (5 p.m. Sunday, Union South Marquee) — Ben Whishaw is fast becoming one of my favorite young British actors. Whether he’s playing a certified oddball in a movie like “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” or adding notes of dry wit in “Skyfall,” he just seems incapable of being uninteresting or inauthentic on screen. (I hear he’s even good as the voice of Paddington.)

He gets to show his more vulnerable side in “Lilting,” a lovely British drama from writer-director Hong Khaou. Whishaw plays a young gay man, Richard, grieving the death of his lover Kai (Andrew Leung). Kai’s mother is a Cambodian-Chinese immigrant, Junn (Pei-Pei Cheng), who speaks no English and has been left largely alone in a nursing home, unable to communicate. A randy fellow resident (Peter Bowles) has been trying to court her, but the language barrier is insurmountable.

Although Kai never came out to his mother, Richard introduces himself as Kai’s “special friend” and offers to hire a translator (Naomi Christie) to help facilitate. As Richard and Junn start to be able to communicate, the discussion inevitably turns to Kai, and the things Richard has to say that Junn may not want to hear.

A warm and moving film about the difficulty and the necessity of open dialogue and bridging cultural gaps, “Lilting” is a slow-moving but rewarding film. Whishaw is immensely effective as the kindly Richard, who must restrain his sorrow in Junn’s presence when he most aches to share it, and Cheng is poignant as the mother who needs to understand and accept who her son really was before she can heal. The rapprochement between the two at the end of “Lilting” is probably too pat by half — but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good when it comes.

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To Be Takei” (1 p.m. Sunday) — Even without playing Mr. Sulu on the original “Star Trek,” George Takei would have had an interesting life, starting with his family’s time in captivity in a Japanese internment camp. Since coming out, Takei has used his celebrity status to become an outspoken (and often very witty) advocate for human rights in all forms, and this documentary follows his journey.

Something Must Break” (3 p.m. Sunday) — This raw and tender Swedish drama looks at the bond that develops between a trans woman and a straight man, and how their attraction challenges both their circles of friends and family.

 

 

UW Reel Love LGBT Film Fest, Day 3: “The Duke of Burgundy,” “Pride,” “Stranger by the Lake”

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The UW-Madison’s Reel Love LGBT Film Festival, now in its fourth year, is still the only Wisconsin film festival (and one of the few campus-based festivals nationwide) exclusively devoted to films with gay, lesbian and transgender subject matter.

The free, 15-film festival runs Thursday through Sunday at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. Once scheduled in the fall, the festival has moved to the spring this year, but is otherwise another terrific collection of new films, including many Madison premieres, that show the wide range of LGBT filmmaking out there. Whether you like broad comedies, tender dramas or hot-button documentaries, they’re represented at this festival.

Each day during the festival, I’ll feature a new review of one of the films playing that day, along with capsules of the others and links to my previous reviews where available. For a full schedule, visit wudfilm.com. And, once again, it’s FREE, people!

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“Ex Machina”: These are the droids you’re looking for

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“Ex Machina” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. R, 1:48, three stars out of four.

Novelist Alex Garland wrote the screenplay for Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” which aimed for being an epic science-fiction film but somehow got distracted into becoming a serial killer thriller along the way.

Garland wrote and directed “Ex Machina,” which also aspires to be heady sci-fi. But this time Garland, who seems to be unable to resist the lower pleasures of genre, lets the film turn into something of an erotic thriller. But while “Sunshine” was fatally undone by its tonal shift, the mixing of genres works well in Garland’s beautiful and tense film.

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“The Age of Adaline”: They keep getting older, she stays the same age

Blake Lively Films "Age Of Adaline"

“The Age of Adaline” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinemas. PG-13, 1:53, three stars out of four.

Nicholas Sparks must be kicking himself for not thinking of the idea behind “The Age of Adaline” first. The scribe of “The Notebook” and “The Longest Ride” loves high-concept gimmicky romances that mingle young and old couples together, and “Adaline,” written by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvardor Paskowitz, has a doozy.

And here’s the kicker; “Adaline” is actually pretty good, especially in its second half.

Blake Lively plays Adaline Bowman, a woman born in 1906. At the age of 29, due to a freak mishap (and I do mean “freak”) involving a car accident, a freezing pond and some lightning, she stops aging at 29. She can get hurt or die, but otherwise her body is immune to the aging process. She’s like the dream of the actresses in Amy Schumer’s “Last F—able Day” skit.

But not aging means that she has to watch as everyone else around her does. Adaline becomes adept at moving around, high-tailing it to another town and another identity whenever somebody starts getting suspicious that she looks too good for her age. Her only lasting contact is with her daughter (who grows up to become Ellen Burstyn), but it’s a relationship she can’t publicly acknowledge.

Look, this is silly, and on some level the movie knows it’s silly. (When the storybook-like narration explained the phenomenon would be explained by a scientific theory that wouldn’t be discovered until 2035, I laughed out loud at the sheer audacity of it.) But it’s surprising how much we buy into it, largely because of Lively’s textured performance. She does seem like a woman out of time, friendly but distant, and a little formal. When she talks tenderly and maternally to the 82-year-old Burstyn.

But the movie doesn’t seem to know what to do with its idea for the first half. Adaline plans to leave San Francisco again, only to fall for a kindly philanthropist (Michiel Huisman). Will she tell him the truth, or flee love once again? It all seems melodramatic and inert, with terrible dialogue like “My dad’s head is in the stars — he’s an astronomer!,” despite director Lee Toland Krieger’s (“Celeste and Jesse Forever”) handsome mingling of past and present on the screen.

Harrison Ford The Age of Adaline

About halfway through, I was thinking I might bail on “Adaline” and go get some stuff done. But then Harrison Ford enters the film, as a man with a previous connection to Adaline, and the film just knows what it’s supposed to be, suddenly. Ford’s terrific, lived-in performance, as a man suddenly overwhelmed by emotions he forgot he ever had, elevates and sharpens the film. The writing seems better, the other performances seems better, the film cuts to the heart of things. He saves this movie like it was a stranded hiker.

The presence of Ford’s character provides the emotional foundation it was searching for, and “The Age of Adaline” becomes a genuinely poignant look at lost loves and regret. Your move, Sparks.

 

 

 

UW Reel Love LGBT Film Fest, Day 2: “The Way He Looks,” “Appropriate Behavior,” “The Case Against 8″

thewayhelooks

The UW-Madison’s Reel Love LGBT Film Festival, now in its fourth year, is still the only Wisconsin film festival (and one of the few campus-based festivals nationwide) exclusively devoted to films with gay, lesbian and transgender subject matter.

The free, 15-film festival runs Thursday through Sunday at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. Once scheduled in the fall, the festival has moved to the spring this year, but is otherwise another terrific collection of new films, including many Madison premieres, that show the wide range of LGBT filmmaking out there. Whether you like broad comedies, tender dramas or hot-button documentaries, they’re represented at this festival.

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UW Reel Love LGBT Film Fest, Day 1: “Boy Meets Girl” and “Love is Strange”

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The UW-Madison’s Reel Love LGBT Film Festival, now in its fourth year, is still the only Wisconsin film festival (and one of the few campus-based festivals nationwide) exclusively devoted to films with gay, lesbian and transgender subject matter.

The free, 15-film festival runs Thursday through Sunday at the Union South Marquee Theatre, 1308 W. Dayton St. Once scheduled in the fall, the festival has moved to the spring this year, and offers another terrific collection of new films, including many Madison premieres, that show the wide range of LGBT filmmaking out there. Whether you like broad comedies, tender dramas or hot-button documentaries, they’re represented at this festival.

Each day during the festival, I’ll feature a new review of one of the films playing that day, along with capsules of the others and links to my previous reviews where available. For a full schedule, visit wudfilm.com. And, once again, it’s FREE, people!

Boy Meets Girl” (9:30 p.m. Thursday) — Ricky is probably like a lot of girls living in small-town Kentucky, dreaming of heading to New York and pursuing her career as a fashion designer, and maybe hoping to find Mr. Right along the way.

Well, there’s one thing different about Ricky; she’s transgender.

Writer-director Eric Schaeffer’s sparkling comedy presents Ricky’s identity as a simple fact of life, no different than her best friend Robby’s masculinity. If we’re expecting to see a film about how a small Southern town rejects a transgender person in their midst, instead this is a warm film where everyone accepts Ricky as she is. And, by extension, so should we.

Much of this has to do with the witty writing of Schaeffer, an indie-film veteran (“If Lucy Fell”) who at times in his career has strained too much to be overtly cutesy. Here, his tone works, combined with a terrific performance by Michelle Hendley as Ricky. With her sly drawl and sure sense of self, Ricky is an instantly appealing character.

The plot follows Ricky’s dalliance with a local Southern belle, Francesca (Alexandra Turshen), yearning to experiment a little before marrying her straight-laced boyfriend, who is serving in Afghanistan. Schaeffer keeps the film bouncy and bright, shifting from humorously frank discussions about sexuality between Ricky and Robby to more tender scenes between Ricky and Francesca.

At times, “Boy Meets Girl” seems like it’s trying to hard to educate the audience about the transgender community. But then, given the rare nature of the film, maybe it has to. The deeper value to the film is simply showing us a transgender person who has the same hopes, dreams and fears as everybody else.

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Love is Strange” (7 p.m. Thursday) — My full review is here. In Ira Sachs’ drama, the arrival of gay marriage isn’t the salvation for a longtime couple (Alfred Molina and John Lithgow). In many ways, it’s the start of their problems, as Molina’s character gets fired by the Catholic school he works as a music teacher at, forcing the couple to give up their expensive Manhattan apartment and move in with friends.

Sachs’ poignant drama shows how easily the gears of life can turn against us when we least expect it, and the support network of friends and family that we take for granted can suddenly become so essential. The performances by Lithgow and Molina are wonderful, and Sachs includes some wonderful moments of visual poetry, including a final shot that might make your heart burst.

 

Instant Gratification: “The Babadook” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix

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The Instant Gratification column took the week off while I was immersed in covering the 2015 Wisconsin Film Festival (check out all my reviews here.) But it’s back, headed by one of the best horror films in recent  years.

Pick of the week: “The BabadookMy full review is here. There may be nothing scarier than being a parent, as shown by this wonderful Australian horror film in which a harried single mother comes across a mysterious pop-up book that tells of a fearsome creature menacing a family . . . very much like hers.

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