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Frameline37: 10 notable films in the 2013 LGBT festival lineup

June 15, 2013

YellowBrix

June 15--A tortured priest in Poland repressing his sexual longings, an uppity Yale grad working on an Oregon farm, and a female law student running afoul of a bad-news rich girl. What unites them?

They're among the intriguing characters you can meet up with on the screen at this year's Frameline37, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

The annual festival kicks off June 20 with a screening of "Concussion," an award-winning drama about a woman whose behavior changes after she suffers a head injury. It closes June 30 with "G.B.F.," a high school comedy that takes the notion of the "gay best friend" to another level.

In all, Frameline37 will screen 240 films at four Bay Area locations. Here are reviews of 10 films that have some buzz.

--"C.O.G.": The acting couldn't be finer in this decent adaptation of a short story taken from the pages of humorist David Sedaris' best-seller "Naked." Jonathan Groff ("Glee") impresses as a disagreeable Yale grad "roughing it" while working on an Oregon farm. His rite of passage leads to encounters with whacko characters including a charming yet creepy apple-packing factory supervisor (scene-stealer Corey Stoll of Netflix's "House of Cards"), and a devout Christian (Denis O'Hare of "True Blood") harboring a dark streak, among others. It's an interesting film, but I wasn't convinced there was enough in its short-story roots to make a feature-length film. (9:15 p.m., June 22, the Castro).

--"The Happy Sad": Sexy and soapy, this modern-day romance about sexually adventurous couples mixing things up is a gem. Director Rodney Evans (the worthwhile "Brother to Brother," starring Anthony Mackie) maneuvers us through the spiced-up interminglings of two attractive New York couples -- one gay, the other ostensibly straight. The result is a resonant adult drama that explores our sexual desires with candor, insight and, of course, melodrama. (9:30 p.m. June 25, the Castro).

--"In the Name Of": It's little wonder director Malgorzata Szumowska's evocative, slow-burner of a character drama took home the Teddy Award -- best queer film -- at this year's Berlin Film Festival. It's just that good. The provocative story centers on an alcoholic priest (Andrzej Chyra, brilliant at playing conflicted and tortured) who is stuck in a small village in Poland where he's grappling with his sexual feelings while working with troubled older male teens. "In the Name Of" is rich in every sense of the word, from its natural performances to its striking visuals and on to its powerful, surprising narrative arc. (7 p.m. June 25, the Castro).

--"Interior. Leather Bar.": What the hell? That was my first reaction after watching this James Franco/Travis Mathews film, a bizarre, not fully formed project that reimagines the raunchy bits that got hacked out of William Friedkin's controversial gay-themed serial killer film "Cruising" to avoid an X rating. The result is a well-intended Film 101 experiment that doesn't work. The "action" mostly pingpongs between the nervous actor playing Al Pacino's cop character and the graphic, unerotic porn sequences. (9:15 p.m. June 23, the Castro).

--"Breaking the Girls": Been hankering for a steamy film noir a la "Wild Things"? Look no further than festival honoree filmmaker Jamie Babbit's twisting and twisted homage to Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train." Agnes Bruckner (TV's "Private Practice") stars as a scrappy law student/bartender who becomes the object of the obsessive affection of a rich and crazy wild young thing (Madeline Zima). Duplicitous shenanigans and pool makeouts ensue. A delicious, totally cuckoo guilty pleasure. (6:30 p.m. June 22, the Castro).

--"White Night": If you prefer challenging artistic statements over the rampant acts of tawdriness that play out in "Breaking the Girls," put this South Korean film on your must-see list. An attractive but emotionally numb flight attendant hooks up with a boyish motorcycle rider sending the duo on a volatile nightlong journey that dredges up rage stored up over a hateful act from the past. Director LeeSong Hee-il is more interested in mood and effect than a meat-and-potatoes narrative, and the result is a trancelike experience that every so often moves you in a quite profound way. (10 p.m. June 20, the Castro; 7 p.m. June 28, the Victoria).

--"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?": Closeted eyewear salesman Weichung (Richie Ren) sets his sights on a flight attendant in Arvin Chen's sweet, satisfying dramedy. Chen treats his delicate characters with care and respect, including Weichung's wife, Feng (Mavis Fan). A subplot involving Weichung's impetuous sister and her husband-to-be may be cute but serves as nothing more than silly filler. It's when Chen keeps his focus on the two main characters that "Tomorrow" turns touching, and even a little -- just a little -- complex. (9:30 p.m. June 26, the Castro).

--"The Campaign": Proposition 8, the divisive 2008 ballot initiative that stopped gay marriage in California, is a topic worthy of exploration and analysis: Why did the "No on 8" campaign lose after being so comfortably ahead in early polls? What could have been done to prevent that outcome? These questions never get thoroughly addressed in Christie Herring's earnest but obvious documentary. (1 p.m. June 23, the Castro)

--"Pit Stop": One browse through the gay romance section on Amazon reveals an avalanche of titles featuring macho cover boys. The predictable and likable "Pit Stop" is very much like one of the better examples in this subgenre, with two ruggedly handsome men -- one a recently out contractor (Bill Heck) still living with his wife, and the other a forklift operator (Marcus DeAnda) who kicks his ex out -- who ultimately find each other. Director Yen Tan is in no rush to tell the story, getting us to like these two guys, faults and all, before they hook up at the end. Nicely filmed, nicely done. (4 p.m. June 21, the Castro; 7 p.m., the Elmwood in Berkeley, June 27).

--"Valencia": I admire the renegade spirit in this freewheeling adaptation of San Francisco author Michelle Tea's memoirs, which is entirely in keeping with the nature of its honest narrator. But in the end, the chaotic and daring elliptical framework contributes to the film's undoing, as various performers portray Tea and as different directors helm 18 separate vignettes. The bold idea winds up creating a blur rather than an impression, with too many Teas spoiling the broth. But dangitall if you can't help but admire the film's go-for-broke effrontery. (9 p.m. June 27, the Castro; 9:30 p.m. June 27, the Elmwood).

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