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    Knight at the Movies: Animals; LGBT festival films on DVD; notes
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

Animals, the debut feature from Spanish director Marcal Flores, is easily one of the oddest coming-out stories audiences are likely to encounter—and, after years of these movies, that's a compliment.

An LGBT-festival favorite ( which included Reeling, which I programmed ), Animals walks the same weird little path that Donnie Darko, American Beauty, Elephant and Kaboom trod. It's a haunted, unconventional coming-of-age tale that is often bizarre and tragically intense ( in the way that many of these movies focusing on the primal teenage years are ). It's also, at times, surprisingly funny—albeit in a dark, twisted way. The film is out on DVD and available on iTunes.

Talk about teenage angst! The brooding Pol ( played by Orial Pla ), who loves to play punk music on his guitar in his bedroom and wander the woods near his home, is one of his high school's biggest misfits. It doesn't help that his best friend is a walking, talking stuffed bear named Deerhoof who speaks in a clipped British accent ( and, no, this bear is in no way related to Seth MacFarlane's Ted ). Pol's older brother wants nothing more than for Pol to get rid of the stuffed furball but Pol isn't ready to let go of his four-legged blankie.

Considering the strange goings-on at Pol's school—the disappearance of a local girl who turns up dead; a host of odd occurrences involving his gay best friend David ( Dimitri Leonidis ); his unresolved, same-sex attraction to Ikari ( Augustus Prew ), a hunky new transfer student; and the suspicions of his English teacher ( The Hobbit's Martin Freeman )—it's not surprising that Pol needs Deerhoof as a confidant. After an awkward attempt to get physical with his female gal pal Laia ( Rosier Tapas ), Pol faces his desire for Ikari. This aligns with his decision to "put away childish things" and grow up. But Pol soon learns that leaving Deerhoof behind isn't going to be as easy as he thinks—or, perhaps, wants.

The movie's eerily beautiful cinematography by Edward Grau ( not surprising, considering Grau also shot the sumptuous A Single Man and claustrophobic Buried ) help Flores' script ( which Flores co-wrote with Enric Pardo and Aintza Serra ) and purposely surreal tone. The forest through which Pol and Deerhoof roam is magically beautiful and slightly ominous—something the nearby lake ( which plays a large part in the plot ) underlines. Admittedly not for all audiences, Animals is nevertheless one of the most startling debut features of 2013 and I await Flores' follow-up—hoping that it will again contain strong LGBT themes and characters.

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A raft of other queer-themed movies, of varying quality, that have played the LGBT film festival circuit over the last year are either now available for home viewing ( via DVD or VOD ) or will be by the beginning of the month ( many from Breaking Glass Pictures ).

Longing Nights follows four young, mostly gay hardcore nightlife denizens trolling the drug-fueled club world of Spain for yet another anonymous sexual encounter. As the film goes on and the partners and drug intake increase, the nightlife carousel spins faster and faster. The four principals seem to be riddled with self-loathing or have major cases of boredom—yet, they never seem to take a break from their illicit pursuits long enough to face the music. It's not my cup of tea but the copious amounts of male nudity will be enough for some.

Gay-porn star/distributor Michael Lucas is determined to find the sexy side of the Holy Land in Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land, a short that has been expanded to 45 minutes for its DVD release. Those expecting one of Lucas' over-the-top porn epics will be unhappy to discover that this is merely a travelogue ( and a rather rote one at that ) that examines Israel's gay culture ( the existence of which seems to be news to Lucas ).

Peyote is a slow but ultimately rewarding story of a shy Mexican teenager who travels to a small town in the bowels of Mexico with his best friend, upon whom he has a huge crush. This small road film, nuanced and featuring strong performances from its two leading actors, is a charming winner.

C.O.G. ( which I reviewed in my Sept. 18 column ) is based on an autobiographical story by gay writer David Sedaris and stars Jonathan Groff as an intellectual snob fresh out of college who opts for a job picking apples in the American Northwest in order to get a taste of "real life" but, naturally, gets taken down a peg or two instead. The performances of Groff, Denis O'Hare and other fine supporting actors are the best reason to see this eccentric piece that worked better in print.

Bridegroom is the heartbreaking documentary portrait of a young gay couple whose promising future was cut short when one was killed in a freak accident. The events that occurred when Tom Bridegroom's conservative family stepped in after his death can be guessed at from the first moments of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's film, which a YouTube video from the surviving partner, Shane Bitney Crone, inspired. For some, that familiarity will breed contempt and there is, indeed, an underlying mawkish quality to this story but for others—and I include myself in this category—the powerful emotions and frustration on display in the film sweep those hesitations aside. Get out your Kleenex.

Film notes:

—Whoopi Goldberg's warm directorial debut, I Got Somethin' to Tell You, a documentary portrait of Moms Mabley, the African-American stand-up comic who broke the mold for women of color, is playing all this month on HBO.

Goldberg's film includes vintage footage of Mabley in performance on television variety programs like The Ed Sullivan Show along with the expected interviews with comedians like Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Kathy Griffin, and others ( including Whoopi herself ) who weigh in on the importance of Mabley. The film also includes a rare peek into Mabley's lesbian offstage life. http:// www.hbo.com/#/documentaries/whoopi-goldberg-presents-moms-mabley

—Happy Anniversary! The historic Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., is celebrating its 30th anniversary Nov. 22—Dec. 5 with a raft of special screenings that harken back to its old format in which the venue daily booked two classic films back to back. The movies run the gamut from the Harold Lloyd silent The Freshman ( which will include live organ accompaniment and a post-screening reception on Nov. 23 ) to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Other highlights include Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, North By Northwest, Singin' in the Rain, A Clockwork Orange, and Bonnie & Clyde. The celebration concludes Dec. 5 with the Chicago premiere of Medora, a documentary that focuses on the financial struggles of a small town and the basketball team that might help change their fortunes. www.musicboxtheatre.com

—Save the dates: The Music Box Theatre is also celebrating Thanksgiving with its annual Sing-a-Long Sound of Music screening events ( Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at various times ) and kicking off a host of festive holiday movies with a Sunday, Dec. 8, matinee of the gay-themed Scrooge & Marley ( which I co-wrote and directed and which was Executive Produced by Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim ). The 2:30 p.m. screening will include a festive carol sing-a-long and prize giveaways. www.scroogeandmarleymovie.com

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