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FilmWatch Weekly: Queer Horror Film Festival, ‘American Homeboy,’ cat videos, and much more

Plus: "Landscape with Invisible Hand," the films of animator Ishu Patel, and Pietro Marcello's "Scarlet."

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Diarmaid Murtagh stars in "Bad Boy Buck," screening in the Queer Screams Film Festival
Diarmaid Murtagh stars in “Bad Boy Buck,” screening in the Queer Screams Film Festival

Although triple-digit temperatures will have abated by this weekend, plenty of opportunities to duck out of the late-summer heat and into an offbeat, if not unique, cinematic experience remain. Foremost among them is the debut edition of the Queer Screams Film Festival, a three-day event spotlighting independent films that put an LGBTQ+ spin on horror.

As festival organizer J.T. Seaton says, “Queer audiences gravitate toward horror films because we can identify with The Other—the outcast of society, in essence, The Monster.” It’s no coincidence that a gay filmmaker, James Whale, directed Frankenstein, one of the first horror films to take a sympathetic approach to its ostensible villain. And the array of short films, screening in five blocks over Saturday and Sunday, promise a similarly subversive approach. Of the smattering I was able to review, the tone runs the gamut from dystopian sci-fi to psychological horror to amusing spoofs on familiar genre tropes. A couple of standouts are Bad Boy Buck, about a married Irish farmer forced to confront his sexuality after a one-night stand with a man, and The Séance, in which a man confronts the spirit of his recently dead husband and gets a chance to set some things straight.

The festival kicks off on Friday night with a double feature of 1970s cult classics, David Cronenberg’s 1975 Shivers (aka They Came from Within) and George Romero’s 1973 The Crazies. Actress Lynn Lowry, who appears in both films, will be on hand for a Q&A session between the films, and to sign autographs on Saturday. And things wrap up on Sunday night with a benefit screening of Elvira’s Haunted Hills—after all, no queer horror fest would be complete without an appearance by Cassandra Peterson’s camp creation. Elvira/Peterson won’t be there in person, but the film’s director, Sam Irvin, will be. The proceeds from Sunday night’s screening will go to the Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center at New Avenues for Youth. (Friday through Sunday, Clinton Street Theater)

Another visiting filmmaker is Brandon Loran Maxwell, an essayist and speaker making his documentary directing debut with the fascinating American Homeboy. The movie examines the origin and evolution of the pachuco and cholo subcultures from pre-war El Paso, Texas to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1940s Los Angeles to a frequently misunderstood prevalence today. Looking beyond sartorial cliches and low riders, Maxwell documents a rich history in which (primarily) Mexican-Americans resisted assimilation with Anglo culture, adopting terms such as Chicano and cholo (which means, essentially, “mongrel”) as points of pride. To do so, he weaves together a riveting wealth of archival footage and a series of insightful interviews with historians, activists, cholos, and others. The result is a powerful reminder that behind almost every stereotype is a story waiting to be told. (Thursday, August 17, Hollywood Theatre. Director in attendance.)

Yet another post-film Q&A, this one very Portland-centric, will take place following the premiere screening of History, Mystery & Odyssey: Six Portland Animators. This admiring look at some of the folks who made the Rose City into an independent animation mecca is reviewed by ArtsWatch’s Morgan Shaunette here, and I’ll just add that it’s a worthy tribute to a stalwart band of creators. (Sunday, August 20, Cinema 21)

ALSO OPENING THIS WEEK:

Landscape with Invisible Hand: Well, this is a strange one. In the year 2036, it’s been five years since humanity’s first encounter with the alien Vuvv. These bizarre creatures look like, in one character’s words “gooey coffee tables,” and communicate by rubbing their tentacle-flipper things to make weird squishing noises. Nevertheless, they have basically taken over Earth in order to save the planet from ecological destruction. Except it hasn’t worked out so well for the vast majority of Earthlings, who scrounge for resources on the ground while the Vuvv (and a few relatively lucky humans) live in one-percenter luxury on giant cities floating hundreds of feet in the air. When a pair of teenagers decide to earn cash by streaming their romantic relationship on a Vuvv app, they end up learning a lot more about how economic exploitation works. Writer-director Cory Finley (working from M.T. Anderson’s YA novel) has a lot to pack in, and never quite succeeds in meshing the coming-of-age story, the racial dynamics, and the critique of end-stage capitalism. One thing the film does get right is the way that the humiliation of poverty can create resentment and hostility between downtrodden folks who would be better served as allies. (Opens Friday, August 18, at Regal Fox Tower and other area theaters)

Amanda: Poor Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli). She doesn’t have a boyfriend. She doesn’t really have any friends. But is it her fault that her wealthy, isolated, pampered upbringing has left her bereft of anything resembling social skills? Now, at 24, she longs for a connection, so when she learns about a girl she was childhood friends with who seems to have similar issues, she embarks on an implacable quest to become best pals. It doesn’t necessarily go well. Italian writer-director Carolina Cavalli makes a strong feature debut with this dark comedy about aggressively unlikable women. (Opens Friday, August 18, at Living Room Theaters)

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Catvideofest: Perhaps the most review-proof piece of cinema ever released, this compilation of cuteness features the finest felines ever featured on film. Or at least on YouTube. Sure, you could sit home and scroll through this stuff like a lonely loser, but it’s much more fun to coo in unison with your fellow felinophiles (and raise some cash for local animal shelters to boot). (Opens Friday, August 18, at Living Room Theaters)

How Death Came to Earth: The Indian-born animator Ishu Patel made a series of films in the 1970s and ’80s at the National Film Board of Canada, many of which use simple but psychedelic styles to explore mythological or spiritual concepts. The Church of Film presents an evening of his work as part of their Animation August. (Screens Wednesday, August 23, at Clinton Street Theater)

HOME VIEWING PICKS:

Scarlet: It’s a shame that director Pietro Marcello’s follow-up to the great Martin Eden didn’t get a theatrical run in Oregon (as far as I know). It’s a visually stunning saga set in the years between the World Wars. When the granite-faced, rough-handed woodworker Raphaël (Raphaël Thiéry, who could play The Thing with minimal makeup) returns home to his French village after the First one, he learns that his wife has died, leaving him with an infant daughter to raise. Over the next twenty years, Juliette grows into a beautiful young woman (Juliette Jouan, in an intoxicating debut) as the world around her changes in rapid and unexpected ways. As in his previous work, Marcello treats working-class people with respect and not a hint of condescension, and captures an authentic historical feel, shooting on grainy 35mm that enhances the hint of magical realism in the tale. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray, to digitally borrow through Hoopla, and to stream on AppleTV, Amazon, and Vudu.)

Outrage: A feminist fable from a different era, director Ida Lupino’s taboo-breaking 1950 drama captures the trauma and shame endured by a young woman (Mala Powers) who, shortly after getting engaged, is raped on her way home from work one night. Combining film noir technique with a potent exposé of the hypocrisy and patriarchy of small-town America, the film was added to the National Film Registry in 2020. This new Blu-ray edition comes with an illuminating commentary track from the perceptive critic Imogen Sara Smith. (Available on DVD and Blu-Ray)

ALSO SCREENING THIS WEEK:

FRIDAY: The 1970s surf epic Big Wednesday (Academy, all week); The original Creature from the Black Lagoon (Academy, all week); George Romero’s Creepshow (Cinemagic, also Sunday); The Last Starfighter (Hollywood, 35mm)

SATURDAY: Brian de Palma’s Carrie (Cinemagic, also Thursday); Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (Hollywood, also Sunday); Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (Cinema 21, 11 a.m.); Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (Cinemagic, also Monday & Wednesday)

SUNDAY: The 1995 anime omnibus film Memories (Hollywood); Rob Reiner’s Misery (Cinemagic, also Tuesday)

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MONDAY: Sally Potter’s Orlando (Hollywood, 35mm); The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Clinton Street, benefit screening for the Quileute Indian Reservation)

TUESDAY: Raquel Welch stars in the Western revenge thriller Lady Gunfighter (aka Hannie Caulder) (Hollywood)

WEDNESDAY: Bizarre Argentine horror flick The Attachment Diaries (Cinema 21); Paul Newman and Oregon star in Sometimes a Great Notion (Hollywood, 35mm)

THURSDAY: Jean Harlow stars in the 1932 pre-code classic Red-Headed Woman (Hollywood, 35mm)

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since, as the manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité; and as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, he pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017 and graduating cum laude in 2020 with a specialization in Intellectual Property. He now splits his time between his practice with Vérité Law Company and his continuing efforts to spread the word about great (and not-so-great) movies, which include a weekly column at Oregon ArtsWatch.

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