Flick picks: Reviews of films at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

BFFs Like many romantic comedies, this witty flick tests the theory that being friends first is the best path to a lasting relationship. And like many romantic leads, longtime BFFs Kat and Sam are the last to realize they might be perfect for each other – mostly because until now, the women have identified as straight. But when they pose as troubled lovers in order to attend a free couples retreat, thinking it will be a relaxing weekend away, the pair gets more than they expected. As they explore their past failed relationships with men and personal shortcomings, they begin to wonder if their feelings for each other run deeper than friendship — or is it the “Jedi mind tricks” of the New Age exercises? The film’s stars, real-life friends Tara Karsian and Andrea Grano, also co-wrote the script, and their obvious chemistry and quick-witted banter make this a must-see. Oct. 11, 4 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —Tiffany Razzano

Out to Kill
 It was a no-brainer for the California-based filmmaker, co-founder of Guest House Films, to use Tampa, rather than Los Angeles, as the backdrop for Rob Williams' seventh feature-length film, a gay murder mystery Out to Kill. The witty whodunit centers on a group of gay men living in an Ybor City loft complex. Private detective Jim Noble, who recently moved into the complex, is hired to investigate the murder of one of his neighbors. Sat., Oct. 11, 6 p.m., Tampa Theatre. — Tiffany Razzano

Films already shown ...

Blackbird Julian Walker stars as Randy, who struggles daily to reconcile being gay and a devoted Christian, while also dealing with a missing family member, an emotionally distraught mother (Mo’Nique), and an almost non-existent father (Isaiah Washington). The film is based on a 1986 book that’s considered to be the first African-American “coming out” novel, but it’s so touching and funny that viewers should be able to relate to it no matter what their background. It’s no wonder that TIGLFF picked it as the opening night film and that director Patrik-Ian Polk uses the hashtag #WeAreBlackbird. Fri., Oct. 3, 8 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —Mark Sugden

(Feriado) Set amidst Ecuador’s banking crisis of 1999, Feriado is conspicuously low-budget but makes up for its deficits with muted music and cinematography that mirror the observations of its tender young protagonist, Juan Pablo (played by a tres adorbs Juan Manuel Arregui). Director Diego Araujo cleverly and sparingly draws a parallel between a country in turmoil and the turbulence of a poem-scribbling teen. Dropped off at the country home of his fugitive uncle Jorge (Peky Andino), “Juampi” escapes the tyranny of his bullying cousins and finds himself on a strange overnight odyssey with Juano, a metalhead indigenous boy (Diego Andres Paredes). The script feels a little thin, but Araujo’s gentle hand makes this a believable coming-of-age tale. Sat., Oct. 4, 2:15 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —Julie Garisto

Such Good People
This strained attempt at a gay crime-caper comedy has a starry cast — Randy Harrison of Queer As Folk fame, Michael Urie and Ana Ortiz from Ugly Betty, James Urbaniak, Alec Mapa, even Lance Bass — but it may leave you wondering, how did such good people wind up in such a bad movie? It’s sort of funny at first, poking fun at hypocritical do-gooders (an effectively smarmy Scott Wolf), hashtag addiction, and gay architecture envy; house-sitting a Craftsman bungalow sends the two protagonists into an erotic frenzy à la Faye Dunaway getting off on ratings numbers in Network. But it’s all downhill from there. Sat., Oct. 4, 11 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —David Warner

Skinny Brit heartthrob Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, The Hour) gives a characteristically nuanced performance as Richard, who’s grieving the loss of his boyfriend, Kai (the beauteous Andrew Leung), and trying to come to terms with Kai’s Cambodian Chinese mother, Junn (Pei-pei Cheng, who has the grave watchfulness of Judi Dench). Richard hires a translator to facilitate Junn’s communication with a flirtatious fellow nursing home resident (veteran Brit actor Peter Bowles, very funny), but finally it’s Junn and Richard who must overcome cultural barriers and communicate their mutual heartbreak. As gentle and slow in pace as its title suggests, but ultimately a very moving film. Sun., Oct. 5, 4:40 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —David Warner

The Circle
At once an inspiring love story and an enlightening look at a tragic chapter in the history of gay liberation. Zurich in the late 1950s was notably tolerant of homosexuality, home to a thriving subculture that revolved around a groundbreaking gay organization, The Circle (Der Kreis). In that world, closeted schoolteacher Ernst (the Don Draper-handsome Matthias Hungerbühler) and cabaret artiste Robi (Sven Schelker) meet and fall in love, but a series of murders in the gay underground leads to a vicious police crackdown that ruins lives and ends an era. But the film has a hopeful arc; director Stefan Haupt intersperses the fictionalized narrative with present-day interviews with the real Robi and Ernst, who are still together after more than 50 years and were the first same-sex couple to be married in Switzerland. Mon., Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m., freeFall Theatre. —David Warner

Tiger Orange
The scenario is familiar: Ne’er-do-well younger brother comes back to town, causing trouble for the straight-arrow sibling who stayed home and tended to the family business. The twist in this case is that the straight-arrow, Chet (Mark Strano), isn’t straight, and neither is his bad-boy bro Todd (Frankie Valenti) — and Wade Gasque’s sensitively acted and directed film brings out all the layers of guilt, jealousy and affection that inform the brothers’ relationship, including their very different approaches to being gay — and to living in a small town in Central California where “tolerance” goes only so far. Strano won Outfest 2014’s Best Actor award for his performance, and he is good, though the character’s sad-sack inertia gets a bit tiresome. But the revelation is the charismatic Valenti: Better known in some quarters as porn star Johnny Hazzard, it turns out his acting chops are as impressive as his famous tattoos. Mon., Oct. 6, 9:20 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —David Warner

Tru Love 
When 30-something, commitment-phobe Tru falls for Alice, the recently widowed mother of Suzanne, whose friendship with Tru has been on hiatus since a drunken one-night stand, none of them are quite sure how to proceed. As their lives intersect, with both tense and tender encounters, these three women are forced to challenge their deeply entrenched self-images and evolve as the character-driven storyline unfolds. Tues., Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m., freeFall Theatre. —Tiffany Razzano

My Straight Son
The actual title, Azul y No Tan Rosa (Blue and Not So Pink), sounds more colorful, if less LGBT-correct. Almodovar fans might recognize some of his calling cards in this 2012 Venezuelan import, but director Miguel Ferrari delivers a different sort of gut-wrenching melodrama, with attention to color and intense emotionality. The script follows Diego, a hip young photographer, who’s saddled with an estranged teenage son and suffering the aftermath of a brutal attack on his longtime boyfriend. Just when things begin to feel too morose, Ferrari reminds us that there’s no such thing as a lost cause when it comes to love. Tues., Oct. 7, 9:15 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —Julie Garisto

Literary Ladies Night at TIGLFF
 Two documentaries spotlight two of the world’s most influential, maverick writers and thinkers in one evening at the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Literary Ladies night will feature Regarding Susan Sontag, a Beatnik-inspired exploration — with jazzy, experimental music and artsy imagery throughout — about the late simultaneously revered and controversial writer, filmmaker and theorist; and Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, an against-all-odds tale about the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Learn about Sontag’s beatnik beginnings, what fueled the boldness of her words and her “essential avante-garde-ness” with narration by Patricia Clarkson (High Art, The Station Agent), and hear The Color Purple author speak candidly about the backlash she received tackling violence and gender inequality in African-American culture, how she railed against the status quo through her activism and unapologetically interracial, bisexual love life — including a relationship with “Fast Car” singer Tracy Chapman. Walker’s doc includes interviews with Walker, Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Gloria Steinem, Sapphire and the late Howard Zinn. See Regarding Susan Sontag at 6:30 p.m. and Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth at 8:30 p.m. on Thurs., Oct. 9, at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg. Tickets are $12. —Julie Garisto

Alex & Ali An intriguing documentary both for who made it and who it’s about: Malachi Leopold traces the efforts of his uncle Alex to reconnect with the love of his life, Ali, an Iranian man he met while a Peace Corps volunteer in the ’60s. Separated by the Iranian revolution, the two remained in touch despite being thousands of miles apart, and in 2012, amidst a much-changed and much more dangerous international landscape, they take steps to meet again in Turkey and perhaps reunite for good. Thurs., Oct. 9, 5 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —David Warner

I suppose you could dismiss this as senior-citizen wish fulfillment — hey, guys, even if you wind up addled and decrepit in a nursing home, the gorgeous French Canadian boy cleaning your bedpan will totally fall in love with you — but there’s much more here than that. Writer/director Bruce LaBruce evinces a tender respect for the beauties of the flesh both aging and nubile, and for varieties of affection which don’t follow gay or straight societal norms. Lovely performances by Pier-Gabriel LaJoie as a talented artist whose job as a nurse’s assistant enables him to connect with the elderly people he’s drawn to; Katie Boland as his revolutionary-wannabe pal who supports his fetish even though she’s sweetly, unrequitedly in love with him; and Walter Borden as the elegant old thespian he spirits away on a cross-Canadian road trip. Thurs., Oct. 9, 7:10 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —David Warner

Futuro Beach
is a hopelessly simple movie. Its thesis: we’re all just floating around in this big ocean called life, and that’s just fine, so go on and float young brother. Which is exactly what these man-boy characters do — they float through life in this two-pronged cycle, consisting of long periods of brooding, followed by hedonistic releases. They brood, and then they fuck each other. They brood, and then they dance. They brood, and then they ride motorcycles. Watching the storyline unfold is like watching a distraught shipwreck survivor float through an endless nothingness and jerk-off every 12th mile or so. The film’s cinematography is gorgeous, however — so it has that going for it. Unfortunately, aside from the pretty visuals, this movie isn't much more than an on-screen play-out of a series of sexual fantasies tied together by a few immature and unintelligent characters. Stars Wagner Moura, Clemens Schick, and Jesuíta Barbosa. Thurs., Oct. 9, Tampa Theatre. —Devon Crumpacker

Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy It’s rare that a film can successfully combine raunchy sex jokes with heartfelt stories of love and compassion, but Alec Mapa does just that in his new hour-and-17-minute documentary. The film chronicles a day in the life of the comedian — from sun-up to sun-down — including a sold-out stand-up show of Mapa’s. Throughout the routine, jokes about gay porn give way to perceptive stories about the American adoption process for gay couples. The part that had me laughing the hardest: Mapa’s rendition of Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA,” sung like Bette Davis. Fri., Oct. 10, 5 p.m., Tampa Theatre. — Devon Crumpacker

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