A Grab Bag of Reels

Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer's End

As activist author Paul Monette (1945-1995) embraced joy and rage, transforming grief into lamentation and pleasure into praise, this unflinching chronicle of the AIDS epidemic becomes a paean to his life. Where Monette's famed memoir, Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, explored his 25-year struggle to come out, writer-director Monte Bramer here records the fruits of that labor on film, documenting his odyssey as a writer and, even more importantly, as a lover. The Brink of Summer's End is at once a collective biography of the gay-rights movement and an intimate portrait of Monette and his lovers (Roger Horwitz, Steven Kolzak, and Winston Wilde); based on snapshots and home movies (and narrated by Linda Hunt), it strikes a poignant balance between the epic and the mundane. Considering Monette's bid to create an inspiring mythology for gays and lesbians, the film's hagiographic style seems entirely apt. (Leslie Dunlap) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 3 p.m.

Idiot Box

Three separate plots unfold in this Australian comedy, the obvious question being: How will they all converge? In the main story, Mick (Jeremy Sims) is a hopeless romantic and a dreadful poet, while his pal Kev (Ben Mendelsohn) is a violent anarchist with a screw loose. Together they make a silly pair of unemployed blokes who sit around all day drinking beer, watching TV, and squabbling with Kev's mom and each other. While broke Kev cooks up a half-baked scheme to rob a bank, the film's second story has two police detectives investigating another string of robberies in the area. Then, just when the movie seems about to become an obvious farce of mistaken identity, a third story tells of a married couple trying to cope with the wife's drug addiction. Director David Caesar's method of cutting between these disparate plots keeps Idiot Box fully packed, even though its payoff comes up empty. (Mark Bazer) Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

Minnesota Shorts Showcase

Sponsored by the locally based IFP/North, this third annual collection of homegrown shorts has a potent hour-long doc at its center. Twin Cities producer-director John Whitehead's "Wannabe: Life and Death in a Small Town Gang" explores the 1995 murder/suicide that claimed the lives of four teenage gang members--three white, one black--in the filmmaker's mostly white middle-class hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. Narrating in voiceover, Whitehead begins his film with the premise that such shocking violence couldn't possibly have occurred in a town of "quiet neighborhoods and leafy parks" where "ethnic diversity meant either Catholic or Lutheran"; then, through a series of unsettling interviews with the boys' friends and parents, he begins to uncover the gang's roots. In particular, two of the boys' well-meaning but dangerously clueless single moms unwittingly reveal their influence on the events, having refused to accept responsibility or put the gang's behavior in context. In turn, Whitehead treads a bit lightly on the racial dimensions of the case, but his final conclusion that the tragedy stems mainly from parental neglect--with the gang representing its "wannabe"s' desperate attempt at a reconstituted family--is persuasively argued. The "Minnesota Shorts Showcase" also includes the previously screened "Male Bonding" by T. J. Larson and "Forbidden City" by Matt Ehling; a reception for the filmmakers at the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewing Pub follows the screening. (Nelson) Bell Auditorium, Saturday at 7 p.m.

La vie de Jesus

Not the Christ story, thank God, but it is a passion play of sorts. Just a hair away from being a skinhead, Freddy (David Douche) is an unemployed and epileptic 20-year-old in the northern French town of Bailleul, alternately hanging out with his crew of biker buddies and pressuring his girlfriend Marie (Marjorie Cottreel) for sex. And that's about the extent of plot in this snail-paced piece of naturalist melodrama, a kind of rural Kids cast entirely with nonactors whose blank stares convey an impending outbreak of mischief. Accordingly, first-time director Bruno Dumont favors endless shots of the kids idly cruising the vacant countryside and a sex scene of such clinical explicitness as to suggest that what Freddy and Marie are sharing isn't love. Still, like an overrevved scooter, the film gathers an aching momentum as the protagonist stews in his jealousy over Marie's Arab suitor (Kader Chaatouf) and quietly plots an un-Christlike revenge. Highly recommended. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 7:15 p.m. and Sunday at 3:15 p.m.

Let's Get Lost

Not to be confused with the Chet Baker doc of the same name, this Danish comedy-(melo)drama jazzes up its own picture of youthful depression with stylistic allusions to Truffaut's early films of the French New Wave. Shot none-too-well with handheld cameras in low-contrast black and white, it follows the newly jilted young Julie (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and three of her layabout male buddies who, much to her chagrin, like to hang around her apartment drinking beer and watching soccer games on TV. Julie is also bummed that her ex (Martin Kongstad) is now practicing the sexual skills she'd taught him on someone else; in the film's rawest scene, she breaks into the guy's apartment and starts sniffing his pillows for the scent of a woman. Otherwise, to borrow a title from Truffaut, it's never quite clear how "such a gorgeous kid" like her could be so blue. Just as its slacker protagonists seem stuck in an inexplicable holding pattern, Let's Get Lost appears caught somewhere between a traditional character study and a vérité portrait of a new Danish youth culture--neither of which rings altogether true. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 9:15 p.m.

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