NOW IN ITS 14th year, the 2010 Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival opens with the Allen Ginsberg flick Howl, closes with the period drama The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister, and screens 18 other homo-related dramas, documentaries, and comedies in the meantime. For more info, see Film Shorts, next week's Mercury, and plgff.org.
Howl (dirs. Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, screens Fri Oct 1, Cinema 21)—It should come as no surprise that James Franco is great in the role of Allen Ginsberg—after all, Franco's done his best work to date portraying stoners and gays. (See: Freaks and Geeks, Pineapple Express, Milk.) Perhaps Franco also found some connection to the role via his own literary aspirations, though the less said about his fiction output, the better. (Don't see: "Just Before the Black," Esquire, March 24.) Whatever the source of his inspiration, Franco immerses himself convincingly in Ginsberg's character in Howl, which juxtaposes interview transcripts with courtroom scenes from the obscenity case against Grove Press, publisher of Ginsberg's controversial poem.
Howl is a mostly successful historical reenactment—the Grove trial is lent additional fascination by the casting of Mad Men's Jon Hamm as Grove's lawyer. Unfortunately, significant portions of the film superimpose Franco's voice, reading "Howl," over animations based on the poem. These attempts to capture the spirit of the poem—instead of sticking to a historical record that offers no shortage of fascinating material—fall embarrassingly flat. ALISON HALLETT
Bear Nation (dir. Malcolm Ingram; screens Sat Oct 2, Cinema 21)—A more accurate title might have been Bear International: This documentary hunts in Canada, the US, and England for its burly, hirsute prey. As the film asks, "What is a bear?", the answers vary from body type to state of mind, but generally include embracing guys who're often marginalized by conventional gay archetypes. The film includes interviews with Bob Mould, executive producer Kevin Smith, and plenty of big, furry men and their admirers. Expect "woofing" during the screening. Director Malcolm Ingram in attendance. BRAD BUCKNER
Brotherhood (dir. Nicolo Donato, screens Sun Oct 3, Tues Oct 5, Thurs Oct 7, Living Room Theaters)—"Gay Nazis in love" might seem like an unfuckwithable premise for a film, but leave it to Denmark. While certainly not a total wash, Brotherhood's ham-fisted struggle to illustrate the "big message" homoerotic hypocrisy of skinhead culture is so clumsy and ALL CAPS that it nearly sinks the film. Also: Gay or not, I still can't believe any Nazi would be caught dead frolicking. ZAC PENNINGTON
Gen Silent (dir. Stu Maddux, screens Sun Oct 3, Cinema 21)—It's official: The folks who marched in the first gay pride rallies are now elderly. This respectful documentary focuses on a handful of queers facing failing health and end-of-life issues, examining the perils associated with an insensitive, even hostile health care system. It's serious food for thought because, let's face it, you're not getting any younger either. BRAD BUCKNER
A Marine Story (dir. Ned Farr, screens Tues Oct 5, Cinema 21)—Alexandra (Dreya Weber) is discharged from the Marines and returns to her Fresno-area home, where she takes on the role of mentor to a troubled young girl (Paris Pickard), preparing her for enlistment into the military. She also drinks a lot of tequila and comes to terms with her homosexuality. The movie's skillfully told in quiet, careful tones, examining the hypocrisy of the military's DADT policy; even the ramped-up violence of its conclusion doesn't keep this powerful film from ringing true. Actress/producer Dreya Weber in attendance. NED LANNAMANN
The Secret Diaries of Anne Lister (dir. James Kent, screens Sat Oct 9, Hollywood Theatre)—Pride and Prejudice for the queer set, this beautifully shot film details the true, extensive, and cryptic diaries of Anne Lister (Maxine Peake), a confident, self-possessed 19th century lesbian. Anne grapples with the love of her life (who marries an old fart), her mother (who thinks her lovelorn ennui can be fixed with a visit to the "leech woman"), and the rest of upper-class English society (who accept her as an intelligent oddball). SARAH MIRK