(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Apocalypse, Now


The end of the world is just around the corner...

Alex Garland made an impressive directorial debut four years ago with Ex Machina, one of the best true science fiction films in recent memory, but sadly stumbles with this, a murky and convoluted adaptation of the award-winning novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It starts with a promising premise: biologist Natalie Portman risks her life to save her soldier husband (played by Oscar Isaac, so yeah, it’s easy to understand her concern) by entering “The Shimmer”, a quarantined zone infected by some mysterious alien force. She is joined by a uniquely all-female suicide squad (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Westworld’s Tessa Thompson and Jane the Virgin herself Gina Rodriguez) who, after experiencing lost time, watching a literally “viral” video, and being mauled by mutated alligators and bears (oh my), are killed off in reverse order of famousness. Don’t fret, this is not a spoiler, as Garland employs early the old “sole survivor” trope, wherein Natalie is grilled by HAZMATted government types who are just a little curious as to why she’s the last lady standing. Alas, her tale – and the movie’s – slowly devolves into pseudo-2001 sci-fi hooey. (5/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

A Quiet Place:
Director/co-writer John Krasinski manages to inject some new ideas into the over-saturated subgenre of post-apocalyptic thrillers (not an easy feat) with this springtime hit. He co-stars with his real-life leading lady, a luminous Emily Blunt, as the parents of last year's "wonder" kids, Wonderstruck's Millicent Simmonds and Wonder's Noah Jupe; they are a rural family who, having suffered a devastating loss, have managed to turn their farm into a reasonably well-fortified sanctuary... the titular quiet place. Why the need for the silent treatment? Seems the planet has been invaded by a particularly nasty breed of bloodthirsty extraterrestrials (think a hybrid of a Cloverfield beastie and the Stranger Things Demigorgon), whose blindness is more than made up for with their highly-attuned hearing. A tense, tactile atmosphere is maintained throughout, and special kudos for the expert sound work; prolonged silence has never been more nerve-racking. It's a shame that some rather deep plot holes (most acutely the rather obvious weakness of the alien antagonists) nearly derail the whole thing. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Dearest Review: Big Little Guys


A frothy romp whose stakes aren't too high is just what we needed after the sturm und drang of Avengers: Infinity War and just what we get with Ant-Man and the Wasp, the latest (and possibly lightest) entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With a little heist caper flick here, a little retro sci-fi à la Fantastic Voyage there, director Peyton Reed makes A&W just interesting enough to be fun while it's going on, although one can't help but see it all as merely a mild diversion between bigger-budgeted tent poles. Paul Rudd generously feeds into his DILF-ness here as ex-con/single dad-turned-mighty mite Scott Lang/Ant-Man. He is joined in the action this time by Evangeline Lilly as his distaff partner in/against crime, the high-flying Hope van Dyne, code name: Wasp. Unfortunately she is just the latest one-note superheroine who isn't entirely boring because that one note is "yo, girl power, kick some ass" but still, can't the ladies have a little personality, you know, a little sense of humor?

Little Big Man

Speaking of humor, it fits into Ant-Man's corner of the MCU better then its brethren since, well, it's Ant-Man, but the jokes are overly-calculated, all protracted set up with minimal pay off, as with the even more rapid-fire shtick of Michael Peña's "um, is this a racial stereotype?" sidekick character. Joining the MCU ranks, Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne add some class to the joint, but are really not given much to do except banter with a grumpy Michael Douglas; still, it's nice to see some seasoned veterans in the mix, even if they do mutate them back to the days of Married to the Mob/Boyz N the Hood/Basic Instinct with that creepy de-aging CGI for flashbacks.

Still, by the time the effects of a certain offscreen finger snap reach our characters here during the worst-timed experiment ever resulting in the most-expected cliffhanger ever, your memories of the adventures of Ant-Man and the Wasp will likely be dissipating into the ether as well.

MD Rating: 6/10

Review by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Getting Out to Outfest 2018


Trans bodybuilders, controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, teenagers sent to a gay aversion therapy camp, and New York’s legendary Studio 54 are just a few of the subjects that will be on view during the 36th annual Outfest. The Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival, presented by HBO, will run from July 12th through July 22nd.

Outfest is an internationally-renown, non-profit organization that promotes equality year-round by creating, sharing and protecting LGBTQ stories on the screen. With two-thirds of the festival’s content this year directed by women, people of color and trans filmmakers, Outfest once again brings together the most diverse and highest-quality LGBTQ films from around the world.

“I am incredibly proud of all the ways Outfest Los Angeles continues to step onto a larger stage,” stated Christopher Racster, Outfest’s Executive Director. “This year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences named Outfest as an Academy Award-qualifying film festival for their Short Film Awards. This recognition acknowledges our long history of discovering extraordinary short films and the talented filmmakers who have used Outfest as a platform to launch their careers.”

This year's festival will also take place in more Los Angeles neighborhoods than ever before. New venues include Plaza de la Raza, the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the California African American Museum, and Regal Cinemas at LA Live. Outfest will also be returning to the newly-renovated, outdoor Ford Theatre for several screenings under the stars.

Outfest 2018 will open on July 12th at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA with Studio 54, Matt Tyrnauer’s vibrantly nostalgic documentary about the famous NYC dance club. It will close on July 22nd with The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Desiree Akhavan’s startling drama about so-called reparative therapy that won the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (see interview with Akhavan below).

In between, the fest will feature five world premieres: Bao Bao, a deeply felt film from Taiwan (one of several spotlight movies from Taiwan); Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, directed by Michael Urie of Ugly Betty fame and starring the hilarious Drew Droege; Laura Madalinski’s Two in the Bush: A Love Story, detailing a polyamorous romance; Tucked, about two drag performers connecting across generations; and Room to Grow, a documentary exploration into the lives of queer teenagers today. Several North American and US premieres include Eva & Candela, Sodom, Canary, Cola De Mono and Daddy Issues.

“With 221 films and 13 TV series, this festival’s lineup is bursting at the seams with the most anticipated queer and trans stories of the year,” commented Lucy Mukerjee, Outfest’s Director of Programming. “Notable recurring themes in 2018 include escapism and sexual liberation, and we continue to raise the bar in non-fiction storytelling as we shine a spotlight on unsung LGBTQ communities in our documentary competition.”

I was privileged to screen three films in advance that I consider don’t-miss standouts of this year’s fest. Although it will screen on Friday the 13th, you won’t experience any bad luck while watching the sexy, biographical Mapplethorpe. British actor Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame transforms himself physically and vocally to play the gay photographer, who died too young of AIDS complications in 1988 but not before sparking a revolution in the then-conservative art world. Smith and award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner provide a no-holds-barred look at the late artist.

1985, screening on July 16th, is another significant drama set during the early years of the AIDS pandemic. It is written and directed by Yen Tan (who previously made the gay-themed Pit Stop and Happy Birthday), and is beautifully shot in rare black & white by the single-named Hutch. Cory Michael Smith (who is terrific as the Riddler on TV’s Gotham) headlines as Adrian, a closeted young man who returns home for Christmas of the titular year after several years’ absence. He is intent on revealing several secrets to his family but it won’t be easy. Michael Chiklis (Smith’s Gotham co-star) and the ever lovely Virginia Madsen play Adrian’s struggling parents.

My third fave is Man Made, an eye-opening documentary produced by actress Tea Leoni about female-to-male trans competitive bodybuilders. It will screen on July 21st. I didn’t know there were such athletes nor that there is an annual competition for them, Trans Fit Con. Director T Cooper (who is trans himself) follows six competitors in various stages of their transitions, training and personal relationships. Their stories are inspiring and the movie overall is illuminating. To top it off, Florence + the Machine provides a great song over the end credits.

For more information about the offerings during Outfest 2018 and to purchase advance passes or tickets, visit the Outfest website.

Desiree Akhavan made a splash at Outfest in 2014 with her feature film debut Appropriate Behavior. She returns this year with The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which will serve as the Closing Night gala screening. An adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s celebrated YA novel, it was awarded the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in part for its sincere exploration of religion with well-intentioned queer characters.

Set in 1993, the plot centers on lesbian teen Cameron (played by the luminous Chloë Grace Moretz of the Kick-Ass movies). She is sent to a Christian conversion camp after she gets caught having sex with her female best friend. At the camp, Cameron reluctantly undergoes various tactics used to “cure” same-sex attraction from persistent faith leaders Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who are intent on “saving” LGBTQ teens from their “sinful” lifestyles. Cameron eventually forms a resistant alliance with the rebellious Jane (American Honey's Sasha Lane) and two-spirit Adam (The Revenant's Forrest Goodluck).

Akhavan recently took the time to speak with me about her new film via phone from a British editing room.
CC: What are you doing in England?
DA: I’ve been living here for three years now, working with my co-writer and producer who is from here. I was visiting more and more often so decided to make it my permanent home.
CC: How did you react when The Miseducation of Cameron Post won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance?
DA: I was shocked but pleased. I was really excited and grateful. You don’t expect something like that. Well, at least I didn’t. I had never won anything big before in my life. (Laugh)
CC: What has been the public reaction to your film?
DA: I’ve gotten a really positive response. People are really nice, at least to my face. (Laugh) Strangers have told me they could really relate to it, which is exciting. Both queer and straight people have responded well to it, including my family. They loved it and they’re all straight.

Desiree Akhavan (in blue) and her cast

CC: Was the novel or your approach to adapting it autobiographical at all?
DA: The novel was not autobiographical. My approach was a little personal in that I spent time in a rehab center and group therapy. I could relate to those aspects and wanted to depict them realistically. But none of us involved have undergone same-sex attraction aversion therapy (as the process is formally called).
CC: The cast is excellent. Can you talk a bit about your casting process?
DA: When it came to the principals, it was a matter of making offers. Chloe was a no-brainer. I knew she could carry a movie but I wanted to see her play against her persona. I also didn’t want the characters played by Jennifer (Ehle) and John (Gallagher Jr.) to be seen as villains. I cast them because they are both so warm and relatable.
CC: Were you raised in a religious environment? If so, how could you relate to Cameron’s plight?
DA: No, not at all. I was raised in a traditional Iranian family. My family is Muslim but lived through the Iranian Revolution so we learned how destructive religion can be. They weren’t pro-gay but didn’t try to change me.
CC: What are plans for your movie after Outfest?
DA: It will be released in theaters on August 3rd.
CC: And what are you working on now?
DA: A TV series, a bisexual dating comedy called The Bisexuals. That’s what I’m in the editing room with now. It will be on Hulu in October.

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