Monday, September 1, 2014

Monthly Wallpaper: September 2014: Let's Hear It For the Boy

Let's hear it for the boy this month with the September Calendar Wallpaper from Movie Dearest!

Our salute to popular boy characters from some of our favorite movies stars such future leading men as Christian Bale, Jamie Bell and Roddy McDowell and features such familiar names as Andy Hardy, Mowgli and Harry Potter.

All you have to do is click on the picture above to enlarge it, then simply right click your mouse and select "Set as Background". (You can also save it to your computer and set it up from there if you prefer.) The size is 1024 x 768, but you can modify it if needed in your own photo-editing program.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Trying for Greatness

Few still living are knowledgeable about American attorney and judge Francis Biddle, who passed away himself in 1968. Biddle became a household name in the 1940’s as both US Attorney General under President Roosevelt and the presiding American judge at the Nuremberg trials after World War II ended, where he helped convict a number of Nazi war criminals. He was also a descendant of founding father and former president James Madison as well as a relation of Anthony Drexel Biddle, Jr., subject of the play and Disney movie musical The Happiest Millionaire (1967).

Judge Biddle is now having his own time in the theatrical spotlight in International City Theatre (ICT) of Long Beach’s production of Trying, running now through September 14th. The play was written by Joanna McClelland Glass, who actually served as Biddle’s secretary during his final months, and was first staged in Chicago ten years ago. For someone largely unaware of Biddle’s life (such as myself), ICT’s Trying serves as both a fascinating lesson in 20th century American history and as excellent, emotionally engaging theatre.

Sarah (based on playwright Glass) is a naïve, 25-year old newlywed when she is hired by Biddle’s wife to serve as the 81-year old retired judge’s secretary. Partly crippled by arthritis but still sharp and cantankerous, Biddle has already run off three previous secretaries and is initially doubtful of Sarah’s abilities. What begins as something of a battle of wills between the pair gradually becomes, scene by scene over five months’ time, a devoted partnership. Sarah finds Biddle’s wisdom and worldly experience particularly helpful once she discovers herself pregnant in the midst of some marital strife.

Trying is a literate, beautifully written two-hander. Dramatically, one can argue that it goes into too much detail on some minor biographical points (i.e., Biddle’s disappointment in a grand-nephew who has apparently become a hippie) while not going into enough detail on Sarah’s largely unspecified problems with her husband. So long as the playwright and director John Henry Davis keep the focus on the increasingly personal relationship between Sarah and Biddle, brought to life via delectable performances by Paige Lindsey White and Tony Abatemarco, this production soars. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit the ICT website.

A decidedly more contemporary, and arguably less noble, work is on display in actor-turned-director Joe Manganiello’s documentary La Bare. Now available on VOD from FilmBuff, Manganiello was inspired by his turn as a stripper in 2012’s Magic Mike to further explore the lives of men who strip for a living. He chose club La Bare in Dallas, Texas, which has been operating since the 1970’s, as his base of operations.

“Men want to see naked women; women want the show, the cabaret,” the establishment’s manager reveals in the film. We also learn the La Bare cast members have otherwise led fairly routine lives. They are former high school dancers, military, athletes, surfers and bouncers. One “all-American kid” newcomer names himself “Channing” after Magic Mike star Channing Tatum and states without hesitation “I love attention” when asked what drew him to stripping. Manganiello also includes footage from La Bare’s monthly amateur night, where even more average, everyday guys get the chance to strut their stuff.

Disappointingly but somewhat understandably, the doc doesn’t delve into most of the dancers’ personal sexuality. I doubt they are all straight, but it is likely still the case that publicly identifying oneself as a gay stripper in a heterosexual-oriented club could potentially damage one’s popularity and, subsequently, one’s livelihood. While Manganiello takes a generally straightforward, positive approach to his subject(s), he does show a bit of the dark side of the stripping world in incorporating the murder of a former La Bare star. Anyone interested in the art and/or commerce of male stripping will surely enjoy La Bare.

This Labor Day weekend offers a great opportunity to check out any number of new releases, either in theaters or at home. I highly recommend the spooky-sexy Jamie Marks is Dead (previously reviewed here), opening today in LA.

Not so worthy of one’s attention is the new DVD releaseAftermath. This dramatic thriller directed by Peter Engert has a potent premise — a group of diverse strangers (including a pair of possibly gay comic book geeks) take refuge in the basement of a Texas farmhouse in the wake of a nuclear attack on the US — but suffers from poor acting by the majority of its no-name cast. The lone exception to this is former bad boy Edward Furlong (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Pecker), who is most effective as a redneck expectant father.

Whatever you do, have a great holiday weekend!

Reverend’s Ratings:
Trying (ICT in Long Beach): A-
La Bare: B
Jamie Marks is Dead: B+
Aftermath: C

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reverend's Interview: Lovely Alfred Molina

Award-winning actor Alfred Molina may be most recognized for the heavies he has played on screen: the treacherous Satipo during the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark (which marked Molina’s film debut); Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2; and Snidely Whiplash in the live-action version of Dudley Do-Right, among others.

In person, though, the British-born Molina is genial, complimentary and very funny. He co-stars with John Lithgow in the acclaimed drama Love is Strange, opening August 22nd. They play a longtime, recently-married gay couple, Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina), who finds their lives turned upside down when George is subsequently fired by his Catholic school employers. Molina recently spoke with us about his new film and other highlights of his career.

CC: Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to speak with me. I understand you’re currently shooting a new TV series, Matador, in which you star. How is it going?
AM: Yeah, it’s on the El Rey network, the new network founded by (filmmakers) Roberto Orci and Robert Rodriguez. It’s gone quite well. I’ve done television shows before but I don’t understand everything about how TV shows are viewed and rated today. But I understand the audience anticipation was big.

CC: How did your new and excellent movie, Love is Strange, find its way to you?
AM: In the usual way. I got sent the script to gauge my interest. By page 20, I was thinking “Oh shit, I’ve got to do this” (laugh). Then, I had a couple of long phone conversations with Ira Sachs, the writer-director (who last made the gay-themed, award-winning Keep the Lights On), talking about his experiences that led him to write it. I just couldn’t refuse it.

CC: Had you and John Lithgow worked together before? How was it working together on this and playing a couple?
AM: No, we’ve been friends for some years but had never really worked together before. When this came along, we thought this would be a great opportunity playing a couple and the intimacy of a relationship. We had a lot of fun doing it. John’s a prankster and always making jokes. All in all, it was lovely.

CC: You have played gay characters a few times during the course of your career. What have you learned from them?
AM: I’m not sure there is something one can learn. The first point is always the character. A character’s sexuality is secondary, as a person’s sexuality is secondary. A lot depends on their circumstances when it comes to the characters I’ve played. In Prick Up Your Ears (1987), I played a self-loathing gay man who ends up murdering his lover. Love is Strange is really about a relationship. It’s very simple but deals with how quickly the things we take for granted can be taken away from us. Now, personally, one gay friend of mine taught me how to tie a double windsor knot in my tie, and another taught me how to avoid buying cheap Italian leather shoes, so I guess I have learned something (laugh).

CC: You have also been very involved in the fight against AIDS, for which I and many of my readers thank you. What fuels your advocacy or commitment?
AM: That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. I think it’s because all my life I’ve been surrounded by gay men and women. My mother worked in catering back in the 1960’s and 70’s with many with many such people and her acceptance of them impressed me. Working in the theatre, you meet many gay men and some have become great friends. I was once told by a gay friend that I’m the gayest straight man he knows, so something must have rubbed off (laugh).

CC: You were recently seen in the very well-received HBO movie of The Normal Heart. How was that experience?
AM: It was amazing. I lived through that AIDS crisis in the early 80’s while I was in London. There was something unique about the epidemic in New York. I’ll tell you a story: I was flying from London to New York, it was probably 1984, and I bumped into an American director I know. We were sitting next to each other and talking and I told him, “I’ve lost five friends to (AIDS).” And he replied, “Try thirty-five.” I couldn’t believe it. I saw the original London production of The Normal Heart with Martin Sheen as Ned Weeks. When the movie came along I said, “I’ve got to be a part of this.” It was quite the contrast playing a homophobe (Ned’s attorney brother) right after doing Love is Strange. At least I can’t be accused of being biased (laugh).

CC: If Wikipedia is to be believed, you decided to become an actor after watching Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) when you were 9 years old. True? What was it about that movie that inspired you?
AM: Yeah, I think so. I remember seeing it and remember going back to my mother and saying, “I want to be an actor.” Something about that film stayed with me, and I watch it every now and then. It seemed to me at that age to be about real people. I realized they were all actors but there was something very raw and real about that film. I didn’t come away saying “I want to grow up to be Kirk Douglas” but I wanted to be a part of what he was doing.

CC: Also, again if Wikipedia is to be believed, you are the only actor to have three Lego mini figures modelled after you (Satipo, Doctor Octopus and Prince of Persia’s Sheik Amar). Dare I ask how often you play with yourself?
AM: (Hearty laughter) Very often and hopefully for profit (laughs again). My daughter actually saw that on Wikipedia and asked “Dad, is that true”? Apparently it is. If that’s the best I can do with my career, that’s pretty good. I’ll live forever in toy boxes everywhere (laugh).

CC: Do you have a preference when it comes to working on stage, television or film?
AM: No, not really. I love theatre and I go back to it as often as I can. If I could make a living exclusively in the theatre I would, but all actors do TV and film because that’s where the money is. It’s our bread and butter, for better and worse. Doing theatre for less money is kind of a weird addiction, like a former girlfriend you never quite get over, and producers know this and exploit it (laugh).

CC: Are there any classic plays or roles you haven’t yet performed that are on your bucket list?
AM: Oh yeah, too many to mention. One day I’d love to play Willie Loman (Death of a Salesman). There are a couple of Ibsen plays, like Enemy of the People. I’d love to do more Tennessee Williams and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There are wonderful, wonderful parts out there, mostly in the theatre. I’m trying to learn to live frugally now so I can play them one day. I’m only eating a can of sardines and an apple each day (laugh).

CC: That’s good for weight loss too!
AM: Yeah, you’ve got your protein, your vitamin C and your fiber. I look fabulous! (Laugh) It’s the Molina diet!

CC: Thanks again so much for your time, and continued best of luck to you.
AM: Oh, thank you. Very nice meeting you. It’s been lovely.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: The Confounding & the Courageous

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I am late to the work of gay Mexican filmmaker Julian Hernandez. Over the last decade, Hernandez wrote and directed the widely acclaimed Broken Sky, A Thousand Clouds of Peace and Raging Sun, Raging Sky. The latter two both won the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award for best queer-themed feature, making Hernandez the only filmmaker to date to win the award twice. He has also helmed a large number of short films.

Alas, I haven’t seen any of his previous movies, which makes his new I Am Happiness on Earth (opening today in Los Angeles and New York City theaters and available on DVD and VOD beginning August 19th) my introduction to Hernandez’s style and technique. As evidenced by his latest work, Hernandez can be both impressive and confounding. The film’s central character is Emiliano (played by Hugo Catalan), a narcissistic director in the mold of Nine’s Guido Contini. While shooting a new film involving dancers, Emiliano lays his smoldering eyes on the hot young Octavio (Alan Ramirez) and the two quickly begin an affair. Octavio becomes emotionally attached, to his eventual disappointment, to the philandering Emiliano, who also makes no secret of his disdain of commitment and especially of marriage via a controversial television interview.

Time passes, and Octavio moves on to dance school while Emiliano finds himself floundering and stuck in a relationship with a hustler named Jazen (Emilio von Sternerfels). Things between Octavio and Emiliano eventually come full circle, but not before an odd, lengthy film-within-a-film glimpse of Emiliano’s latest, sexually-explicit production. Art imitates life and vice versa, as is the case in so many movies about the making of movies. Hernandez is hardly breaking ground here.

There are plenty of pretty men on display in the grandiosely-titled I Am Happiness on Earth, with the barely-clad Ramirez making a particular impression when he performs Octavio’s climactic dance recital piece. That scene alone is well worth the price of admission or rental. The rest of Hernandez’s film though is heavy on slow, sensual storytelling (Alejandro Cantu’s gorgeous cinematography is a plus in this regard) that more often than not demands viewers’ intuition rather than offer clearly delineated characters and relationships. It is somewhat refreshing to see Emiliano punished to a large degree for his cynical views on relationships and marriage, but we learn precious little about how he came to his perspective in the first place. Hernandez provides loads of sexy scenery but not much sense.

Each July, there are at least a few premieres I end up failing to catch during LA’s Outfest LGBT film festival and Ken Roht’s Perfect Cowboy was one such example this year. Thankfully, one of the drama-with-music’s executive producers, Mickey Cottrell, made its brand new final cut (about 10 minutes shorter than the version that screened last month) available to me for early review.

Stage and screen veteran Roht not only wrote and directed Perfect Cowboy but heads its cast as Jimmy Poole, an alcoholic country-western singer just getting out of prison after serving three years for vandalizing an ATM. So far, so familiar, but this screenplay offers a few bold twists: Poole is openly gay, has a longtime “stand by your man” partner in band mate Tyler (hunky Jeffrey Watkins), and serves as a contentious second father to Tyler’s young adult son, Mark (the cute and emotionally expressive William Nicol, who has appeared on Showtime’s Masters of Sex). Also, Poole is returning home with HIV, which he contracted while behind bars.

Perfect Cowboy has a generally understated, emotional maturity to it that is unique, especially in gay film circles, and it is truly courageous in its handling of such hot-button issues as addiction, codependency, same-sex parenting and HIV/AIDS. Set as it is in the rural South, the movie also entails Christian themes of reconciliation, redemption and baptism and deals with them respectfully, which is also rare in LGBT films (although Patrik-Ian Polk’s current Blackbird commendably does the same). Throw in some bluegrass tunes written by Roht and Paul Goldowitz especially for the film as well as a smattering of traditional hymns, and one has a nearly-divine moviegoing experience. Watch for Perfect Cowboy on the film fest trail or at a theater near you in the not too distant future.

Reverend’s Ratings:
I Am Happiness on Earth: C+
Perfect Cowboy: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Guardians and the Gays

Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios’ latest box office behemoth, certainly has gay appeal, what with its hunkified, occasionally shirtless leading man Chris Pratt, a preening villain played (too briefly) by a Liberace-fied Benicio Del Toro, a prominent supporting turn by stage and screen diva Glenn Close, and a queer-ish bromance between a talking raccoon and a walking tree. If all this isn’t enough, the film also features side and rear nudity of chief baddie Ronan the Accuser, personified by The Hobbit trilogy’s Lee Pace (or, perhaps in these shots, an impressive body double). I noticed several other gay men in the opening weekend screening my partner and I attended, so some of us definitely contributed to this sci-fi comedy’s stellar, $94 million bow.

The unwitting heroes of the film’s title are a ragtag, rather motley crew of five diverse aliens. Peter Quill (Pratt), who much prefers the name Star-Lord (who wouldn't?), is an earthling who was abducted by aliens as a boy in the immediate wake of his mother’s untimely death 26 years earlier. Gamora (Zoe Saldana of Avatar and Star Trek fame, as if she needed another franchise) is the green-skinned, traitorous daughter of master Marvel villain Thanos, who himself makes a brief appearance. Drax the Destroyer, played by pro wrestler Dave Bautista, is a heavily-tattooed and amusingly literal-minded strongman. And then there are Rocket and Groot, the first a genetically-enhanced critter with the ability to speak and an inflated ego (“Ain’t no other thing like me except me”) and the second a massive, self-regenerating piece of foliage with a severely limited vocabulary (“I am Groot” is all he can say, ad nauseam). These two audience pleasers are voiced, respectively and effectively, by A-listers Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.

There is a lot of plot packed into the screenplay by James Gunn (who also directs) and Nicole Perlman between character back stories, villainous schemes, jetting from intergalactic location to location, some political history and laying the groundwork for an inevitable sequel, already scheduled for release in 2017 (in addition to other future Marvel productions). Speaking of, be sure to stay through the end credits for a terrific cameo that could well foreshadow a certain character’s further return to the big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy is also visually busy, loud, crass, unremittingly though not graphically violent, and somewhat derogatory toward women despite Close’s high-ranking role.

Some fanboys and even fellow critics are claiming Guardians ranks right up there with the original Star Wars as a humor-tinged space opera. It really doesn’t come near that classic’s filmmaking innovation or mythological sweep. Heck, it doesn’t even exceed Marvel’s own The Avengers (2012) in acting or storytelling prowess. It also takes a good hour for Gunn to find the proper blend of comedy and seriousness in Guardians of the Galaxy, as the spectacle’s first half lurches uneasily between the two. Once it hits its stride, though, the movie offers undeniable pleasures and unexpected emotional heft… especially whenever Rocket and Groot are involved.

Another new release focuses on a man who may be considered a real life hero to some, but it is doubtful Fifi Howls from Happiness will gross anywhere near $90 million. Too bad. Mitra Farahani’s beautifully modulated documentary about gay Iranian artist Bahman Mohassess is now playing in New York City courtesy of Music Box Films and is scheduled to open in Los Angeles on August 15th. Farahani not only succeeded in finding her long-missing subject living in quiet, self-imposed exile in Rome; she inadvertently captured the moment of his sudden death in 2010, which is heard but respectfully not shown.

To those unaware, as I was before watching this doc, Mohassess was a successful painter and sculptor in Iran prior to the revolution there that deposed the shah and ushered in the rule of the even less tolerant ayatollahs. The artist fled, destroying much of his own work in the process so it wouldn’t “fall into the wrong hands” or be sold to private collectors, since many of his creations had been commissioned by the government for all the people of Iran. “I am a human rights prisoner,” Mohassess declares to Farahani, whom he more often than not calls simply “the lady” during filming (he also serves as something of a co-director, often specifying how he wants certain lines subtitled or certain images used in the finished film).

The chain-smoking Mohassess comes across as well read and highly intelligent in addition to being flamboyant and outspoken, and he possessed an endearing, snickering laugh. He was also openly gay in a culture and time that largely prohibited such sexual self-expression. Mohassess wouldn’t be considered a champion of LGBT rights today, however, based on such positions he claims in the documentary as “equality is an idiotic notion” and, in regard to the growing acceptance of homosexuality, “all the (political, artistic and philosophical) beauty was in its prohibition.” It is nonetheless worth hearing and considering his perspective.

Divided into four chapters and perhaps one chapter too long, Fifi Howls from Happiness (the title refers to Mohassess’ personal favorite among his paintings) offers a remarkably uncensored glimpse into a very significant life through creation, exile and its inevitable yet noble end.

Given his critical stance on modern-day gay visibility, Mohassess likely would not approve of at least one of two new gay-interest DVD releases. I wouldn’t blame him. Eroddity(s), the latest from prolific writer-director-cinematographer-editor Steven Vasquez (Luna Park, Vampire Boys 2), is a self-described “twinkapalooza” tribute to The Twilight Zone. Sadly, talented though he is, Vasquez is no Rod Serling.

This four-story anthology (available on DVDfrom TLA Releasing) boasts plentiful full-frontal nudity plus sex of both the homo and hetero varieties, some of which appears to be non-simulated, as well as a couple of not-bad songs/musical performances. The stories deal in turn with an incestuous relationship between brothers, boyfriends cheating on each other with the help of a time-manipulating mix tape (Guardians of the Galaxy's Peter Quill might like that one), a voyeuristic high school student playing with the camera he got for Christmas, and a dead gay boy who rises from his grave seeking revenge. While they aren't bad, the middle two are overlong and all are lacking in Serling's trademark irony. What really cripples them, however, is the generally awful acting. The boys are uniformly attractive but classically trained they ain't. The sole exception out of all four mini films is Alderic Vitale, who plays a conflicted but compassionate "half breed" townie in the final story. He's got true potential.

Meanwhile, French gay porn star François Sagat is making his much-ballyhooed "mainstream" acting debut in Christophe Honore's Man at Bath (Homme au Bain), now available on DVDfrom Canteen Outlaws. Honore is well regarded for such prior international hits as Love Songs and Ma mere, but there is little that can be called mainstream about Man at Bath. The plot about two male lovers (played by Sagat and Honore regular Omar Ben Sellem) separated for a time, perhaps permanently, while one travels to New York City for work is negligible and features abundant nudity and graphic sex. The movie also serves as something of an homage to the sexual-existentialist work of American writer Dennis Cooper, who even appears in one scene as a sadistic gay neighbor.

Sagat, he of the trademark tattooed scalp, has sex appeal to spare and a body that doesn't quit. Unfortunately, he doesn't exude as much charisma playing an "average" person. It wouldn't hurt him to smile a bit more frequently, and this film does provide a good first step toward more artistically legitimate opportunities. Man at Bath, while not uninteresting, falls disappointingly short of providing complete satisfaction.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Guardians of the Galaxy: B
Fifi Howls from Happiness: B+
Eroddity(s): C-
Man at Bath: C+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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