Jan Miller Coran presents one of the only films I’ve seen this year featuring the COVID pandemic. “Along Came Wanda,” written and directed by Coran, is a simple story of a woman, Mary Beth (Constance Brennaman), who attempts to find herself again by agreeing to take a road trip with her toilet paper delivery person Wanda (Cathy DeBuono). The rom-com is well intended as this is the writer’s screen debut. Mary Beth breaks the fourth wall throughout the film to cue the audience as she grapples with her inner thoughts about what’s happening. Some provide backstory while others relay her doubts and insecurities which cue up the next sequence of events driving the story forward. The yin to Mary Beth’s yang is Wanda, a free-spirited, out and proud lesbian who offers a shoulder and her delivery truck to help her new friend. The film is about second chances for both and feels a bit cliché. The production value suffers from the social distancing and mask usage throughout the film as dubbing is not used to level out the sound quality. Still the two actors give admirable performances, especially DeBuono when she is not hamming it up in some forced slapstick moments as the story progresses. At best, “Along Came Wanda” is an interesting debut for Coran, especially with the pandemic obstacles to overcome, but unfortunately the production value and pacing distracts the film from showing its true heart.
Billy Tipton became infamous posthumously in1989 when the world discovered the accomplished jazz musician was transgender. The legend of this trans pioneer is told in the documentary, “No Ordinary Man.”
Tipton’s story is told through two lenses: the historical and a production casting call. The two perspectives weave this nuanced story of Tipton’s life from his first stage performances to the impact his life had on the trans community. Directors Aisling Chin Yee and Chase Joynt take loving care to let the story unfold through archival footage, anecdotes, and discussions from historians, trans actors, and Billy Tipton Jr. who breathes new life into the many tales of Tipton. The production is lush and glossy and heightens the nostalgia on screen while making the story that unfolds mesmerizing. Yee and Joynt’s take on their subject is methodical and primarily focused on Tipton’s impact on the community that embraces him. That’s not a bad thing, but Tipton Jr’s experience coping with his father’s secret – a prominent point in the second act of the film – feels somewhat dismissive, which is unfortunate. It tries to right that misstep in the fourth act of the film, but it is fleeting.
Overall, “No Ordinary Man” is an enlightening and fascinating documentary that pages a fitting homage to a legend in the queer community that is definite worth viewing.
This coming-of-age film centers around Antonio (Giancarlo Commare), a dedicated house husband who gets an unexpected jolt when his partner decides to go in another direction. Emotionally and financially insecure, he finds a room with his new free-spirited landlord Denis (Eduardo Valdarnini). At this point the film kicks into gear. Denis hooks Antonio up with an apprenticeship at his friend Luca’s (Gianmarco Saurino) family bakery. The trio becomes fast, intimate friends that help the lost, naïve man find his passions in and out of the bedroom. Alessandro Guida, Giuseppe Paterno Raddusa, and Matteo Pilati’s script is wickedly funny as Antonio grows beyond his previous relationship. Commare is endearing and lovable, but it’s really Valdarnini’s Denis that is the heart of the film, which he plays almost effortlessly with a memorable performance that stands out above the others. Guida and Pilati who also directed the film keep the shots bright and open to invite you into Antonio’s world and his circle of friends. While the plot is a bit predictable, the performances and the Italian veneer adds the zest to keep the story fresh. “Mascarpone” is a deliciously fun, fresh take on a common theme that can easily become a queer classic.
There’s something joyful about Maurice Hines. Beyond his amazing talent and lengthy career on stage and screens, his personality is infectious and unfiltered. He shares these gifts with the audience in “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back.”
This biographical story follows Hines on the road through a series of performances and outings while the triple threat (dancer, singer, and actor) shares anecdotes and insights into his upbringing on the stage, his rise on Broadway, and the complex relationship with his brother, Gregory Hines. Directed by John Carluccio, known for capturing Black cultural stories in films like “Battle Sounds” and “Wax Poetics,” takes stays in his proverbial lane, doing what he does best – letting the subject tell its own story with very little footprint from the filmmaker. Hines is front and center, and with that you feel every bit of his incredible energy through his ups and downs. He shares his unique perspective as a Black gay man making a name for himself in the business with and without his family. You can’t help but laugh, cry, and cheer with him along the way. This film is full of beats, feet, lessons, and history that is as entertaining as the legend it captures. It’s a must-see for old and new fans alike.
While most comic lovers are familiar with the works of Stan Lee, Bob Kane, and Todd McFarelane, they may not know of the trailblazing works of gay comic creators that date back decades. The story of these artists is the focus of “No Straight Line: The Rise of Queer Comics.” The film is an amazing history lesson told by the artists who crafted classic comic books. Director and producer Vivian Kleiman treats the subject matter with the respect it deserves with candid, matter-of-fact interviews from artists including Come Out Comix creator Mary Wings, the first lesbian comic from an out lesbian; Rupert Kinnard, whose character the Brown Bomber is the first serialized queer Black character in comics; Cartoonist Howard Cruse, the creator of the award-winner graphic novel “Stuck Rubber Baby” and “Dykes to Watch Out For;” and “Fun Home” creator Alison Bechdel.
To balance the discussion from these inspiring artists, Kleiman interviews new voices in the genre to make the legacy conversation truly inspiring and revered. “No Straight Line: The Rise of Queer Comics” takes a novel approach to delivering history that is just as enjoyable as the comics and the artists it profiles.
“Hochzeitsflug” is the title of the book this film is based upon. It means wedding fight in German and foreshadows the tumultuous circumstance our titular character is thrust into. Beyto (Burak Ates) is a smart, talented, but naïve swimmer on the national team. His swim mate Mike (Dimitri Stapfer) has him in his sights. As expected, the two hook up and fall crazy in love. The whirlwind affair is upended when Beyto’s parents discover his penchant towards Mike and devise a plot to marry him off unbeknownst to their son. What ensues is a nuanced story pitting eastern and western values against one another with Beyto solely in the middle. Gitta Gsell takes deliberate care to highlight the quandary. The immigrant family is shown embracing the opportunity of western culture, a stark contrast to their reaction as they grapple with the expectations his actions will bring upon the family and the community. “Beyto” has dimension, but it is the push and pull of his love of Mike and his reluctant commitment to Seher (Ecem Aydin that anchor the plot and the central character in this coming-of age film. “Beyto” is a well-crafted film with a clear message for the audience that is meaningful and entertaining.
Trans in Trumpland
Oct. 2, 2 p.m., Out Front Theatre Company; Oct. 3, virtual
Originally presented as a four-part series, “Trans in Trumpland” profiles four transgender Americans and the impact the Trump administration had on their lives. Written and directed by Tony Zosherafatain, the film gives a candid view into the challenges trans of citizens while simultaneously uplifting their continued perseverance and courage. The first act features Ash, a student in North Carolina who is dealing with gender dysphoria. The second focuses on Rebecca, a trans Mexican immigrant living in a border town in Texas coping with the administration’s hard-line asylum policies. Evonne is the subject of the third act of the film who starts the first trans-focused non-profit in the state after her best friend and roommate is murdered. The final act takes the cameras to Idaho and features Shane Ortega, a retired Army veteran impacted by Trump’s repeal of transgender citizens serving in the military. Zosherafatain’s approach is immersive as he narrates each leg of his journey from a point of self-reflection. The result is a polished, comprehensive dive into the trans community that is rarely seen and gained insight into the matters that affect them. The only downside of the doc is the credits that roll after each segment, so it feels less like a film and more like binge-watching a tv series. But that’s okay, the stories alone are worth it.
One Four Three
Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m., Out Front Theatre Company; Oct. 3, virtual
Part Harlequin Romance, part mystery, author Jade Winters’ first film is based on her book of love found, love lost, and love renewed. Photographer Genevieve (Ella McCready) meets Rebecca (Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart), an arts critic. Their affair is expected, as the setup is rather obvious. The unexpected twist is when Genevieve is attacked and develops amnesia. This upheaval of the plot is unique and offers a refreshing addition to the Valentine story arc because as a same sex couple, prejudices and social norms are pronounced in the subsequent acts. Winters’ debut is purposeful and offers a relatable story for its literary merits, but the production flaws and casual acting at times is a distraction from the quick moving plot. The story reveals itself slowly but is female focused from beginning to end with no need or effort to apologize for being as such. The theme of second chances is obvious and predictable, but the film has heart and the characters, though flat, have enough edge to root for. With all its flaws, “One Four Three” has something there. It’s fleeting and hard to pin on technical merits, but it garners an appreciation on its messaging.
Oct. 3, 4 p.m., Out Front Theatre Company; Oct 4, virtual
Astar Elkayam makes her writing and directorial debut in this emotional account of a young couple’s challenges to conceive. “Two” follows picturesque couple Omer (Mor Polanuer), a dancer, and Bar (Agam Schuster), a chef, madly in love and engulfed in passion. Their personalities are infectious from the first scene and set up the premise of the film when Bar, eyes full of love and promise, innocently suggests they have a baby. The coy and uncertain Omer says yes and thus starts the duo on their complex journey to parenthood. Elkayam’s script is a bit idyllic at first, bursting at the seams with rom-com wit and fairy tale setups. But as the story unfolds, she makes a concerted effort to shake the two with the realities of the invitro fertilization process and the emotional expanse between surrogate and supporter. As the story ebbs, Polanuer and Schuster are simply stunning sorting out the complexities of the process along with the physical and emotional limits it provokes. Pair the performance with the curated backdrop of Israel, and you have a compelling story that draws you into a love story full of hope from beginning to end.
Keep the Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way
Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m., Out Front Theatre Company; Oct. 4, virtual
Flashback to 1994. MTV’s hit reality series “The Real World” is in its third season welcoming seven new roommates to a house in San Francisco. One roommate is Pedro Zamora, the hot Cuban cast member that was openly gay and living with AIDS. Zamora’s groundbreaking story is chronicled in “Keep The Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way.”
The story created by first time writer Collen Andrae, Claire Colby, and Ellen Goodrich and directed by Wiliam Horner and Stacey Woelfel, tells the tale of Zamora’s arrival to Miami from Cuba through this tenure on the series. To piece his life together the film uses interviews from family; cast members Judd Winic, Mohammed Bilal, Pam Ling, Cory Murphy, and Rachel Campos-Duffy; and U.S. officials Anthony Fauci and President Bill Clinton to share the ripples his brief moment on television created.
The film is filled with ‘90s nostalgia and transports you back to an era when our country was passive to the plight of the LGBTQ community in the height of an international health crisis. While moments such as these are grim, Zamora’s passionate and charming presence shines through and makes the film truly memorable.
Sept. 24, virtual
Writer and director Alex Liu pulls no punches with his comical look into the cause and effect of traditional American sex education in his documentary “A Sexplanation.” Told through the lens of his personal experience, he seeks to understand how his lack of sex education growing up attributed to his anxiety, depression, and an adolescent suicide attempt.
Liu, a seasoned television writer, frames the difficult subject with clarity as he takes viewers through the history of sex education in America’s school systems and the effect it had on himself, his parents, his friends, and others. As each question is posed, he seeks experts to walk through the cause and effect of sexual misinformation. Sex is not an easy topic to digest, but Liu, who narrates the various sexual queries on camera makes an effort to break it down and make it as entertaining and digestible as a newsworthy production can be. Be warned, while Liu discusses her personal gay experience with sex, the topics addressed are more homogenous and hardly veers in that direction.
“A Sexplanation” is a light, quippy, and informative debut for Liu that gives the audience lots to download and contemplate about the lack of comprehensive sex education in our schools and its potential consequences that is sure to be a conversation starter as its intended to be.
Down in Paris
Sept. 24, virtual
In this solid, impressive misadventure movie co-written and directed by Antony Hickling and filmed throughout the streets of Paris, Hickling plays Richard Barlow, a filmmaker in a creative rut on the verge of a breakdown. He needs to find inspiration and in a neurotic fit, takes a night stroll that becomes an incredible journey of connections with the people and places to fuel his stalled soul. Hickling gives an honest performance full of range that is only amplified by the tete-a-tetes between the people he encounters. The standout moments happen when Barlow has discussions between a treasure of performances by veteran actors Dominique Frot, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, and Manuel Blanc. The conversations are relevant to the plot as it strips away the caricature of Paris and unveils its true heart through the people who live and love there. “Down in Paris” is a redemptive story that is a true gem of a film that delivers incredible performances fitting for the City of Lights you won’t soon forget.
Sept. 24, virtual
Filmmaker Lauren Hadaway has a tight grip on the audience in her debut feature film “The Novice.” Rowing is the subject in this phrenic tale of obsession and isolation as Alex Dall (Isabelle Furman), a competitive and driven college student, decides to tackle rowing, her goal is to become one of the few novice rowers to join the varsity team. Jamie (Amy Forsyth), a natural athlete with similar ambitions, is Alex’s only friend on the crew, but her driven nature only causes her to become fixated on besting Jamie whatever the cost. The rigors to obtain her rowing goals are brutal, and the film tactfully frames these moments beautifully, if not a bit jarring at times. The display of Alex’s neurotic machinations is disturbing and Hadaway’s moody, kinetic style matches pace with its troubled subject. The only break throughout the tense tale is the contrastingly calm relationship with her partner Dani (Dilone). Dani’s easy breezy nature is a stark contrast to her lover and heightens the contrast that Hadaway artfully illustrates. “The Novice” is a spectacular piece of work that challenges the notion of knowing thyself as a cautionary tale that leaves you haunted and contemplating its electrifying message.
P.S. Burn This Letter Please
Sept. 24, virtual
In the recesses of a storage unit in Los Angeles, hundreds of letters were discovered addressed to Reno Martin an up-and-coming radio disc jockey. The letters dating back 60 years is the subject of “P.S. Burn This Letter Please,” a five-year journey to piece together the letter writers and reveal a missing piece of America’s diverse yet missing history.
Writers Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera travel coast to coast to track down the writers of the letters, and through personal stories connect the dots providing a timeline of the NYC drag scene of the late ‘50s through the eyes of Martin’s circle of female illusionist friends: Daphne, Charlie, Billie, and Josephine. Michael Alogna, Henry Arango, Claude Diaz, and Joseph Touchette are just a few of the men interviewed who add color and backstory as the letters are read. The film rounds out its storyline with a glut of vintage photos, home movies, and news footage. However, the true stars of the film are the letters. Portions of letters are presented as interstitials with vintage wallpaper and applique with voiceovers to capture the wit and tone of the gals’ correspondence. The result is a journey from then to now paying tribute to a scene that was progressive, inclusive, diverse and accepting. “P.S. Burn This Letter Please” is deliciously satisfying with a message of history and pride that sticks with you from beginning to end.
Editor’s note (September 27, 2021): This article has been edited to correct an incorrect attribution of the role of Denis is “Marscapone” to Eduardo Baldarini instead of Valdarini.