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SCREENING ROOM

A humorous hodgepodge

`Best of the Fest' showcases short films from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.

November 23, 2006|Robert Abele | Special to The Times

THE American Cinematheque on Tuesday will screen a 90-minute program of short live-action and animated films from March's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival (a.k.a. the HBO Comedy Festival) in Aspen, Colo., called "Best of the Fest." As with any shorts program, even one that has supposedly been sifted from a festival-wide selection (itself presumably representing the cream of the submitted crop), it's a mixed bag of one-note gags that don't work and artfully played-out jokes that do.

There's also a flight-of-fancy surprise in Gaelle Denis' live-action/animation combo "City Paradise," a trippy little tale of a lonely Japanese girl in an alien London. (You'd feel isolated, too, if you were surrounded by human heads with sped-up voices on jaggedy, stop-motion bodies.) There, she discovers a secret watery underworld that finally gives her a sense of happy nonconformity.

David Dean Bottrell creates a nifty farcical tinge to his mistaken-identity tale "Available Men," switching the players in two blind dates -- one a business meeting between an agent and screenwriter and the other a setup for two gay lonely-hearts -- so that the cutthroat lingo of Hollywood deal making takes on an insanely aggressive homoerotic tone. And you could give the O. Henry award to the darkly whimsical Irish short "Jellybaby," directed by Rob and Ronan Burke, about the scary-funny idea that a frazzled twentysomething dad has to end his infant's incessant crying once and for all.

But my favorite of the batch is probably British writer-director Chris Waitt's "Dupe," a deadpan gem of slacker humor and sci-fi caution. Waitt also stars, as a game-playing apartment rat named Adam who buys a cloning machine on EBay with the idea that another him will take care of the cleaning. The problem is that Adam No. 2 thinks maybe an Adam No. 3 should be on chore duty. You can see where this is going, but Waitt has a wonderfully unforced visual wit as a filmmaker; the multiple-Adam effects are low-key funny, never pushed. This is coupled with a keen sense of the inherent irony in the rebellion of the lazy. Even the title is funny, and how often does that happen?

Fusion Festival

Starting Dec. 1, it's the fourth go-round for Fusion: The Los Angeles LGBT People of Color Film Festival, presented by Outfest, and the yearly increases in attendance have warranted the inclusion of an extra theater this year, as well as a larger schedule of films, videos, workshops, panels and live performances.

In the films being screened, you'll meet male sex workers in Mumbai who spill the beans about their lives (the regrettably titled documentary "Happy Hookers"), gay Chinese British men and their romantic entanglements (the feature comedy "Cut Sleeve Boys"), and a quartet of real-life, happily-together African American gay and lesbian couples on the topic of same-sex marriage (the short "Jumpin' the Broom: The New Covenant").

A standout is undoubtedly Alex Hinton's documentary "Pick Up the Mic," which spends considerable time arraying the various personalities who make up the vibrant gay hip-hop scene and is brimming with infectious performances.

A rejuvenating correlative to the uglier, intolerant attitudes that have too often been a stain on the most revolutionary recording genre of the last few decades, the men and women in this film who rap passionately, angrily and humorously about their gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender lives are perhaps the ultimate proof that hip-hop truly is the God-sent music for the disenfranchised.

Hinton emphasizes the diversity of attitudes and entertainment styles, from the politically conscious spoken-word jags of dreadlocked African American performer Tim'm T. West to the burning, charged rhythms of South San Francisco's JenRo, who's been rapping since age 10, and the outrageously profane sex raps of Johnny Dangerous. A big question among the artists is who's an activist first, and who's an aspiring entertainer first. But what's undeniable after watching "Pick Up the Mic" is that these are musicians who feel very intensely, who have made their struggle to get their music out as crucial to their well-being as their struggle to keep their identity from being marginalized and disrespected.

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