(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, November 9, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Gay Movies on the Bay


Although this November will mark its third edition, the Coronado Island Film Festival is now garnering our fullest attention. This increasingly popular event will run November 9th-12th at San Diego’s iconic Hotel del Coronado and other nearby locales.

Coronado Island’s enduring love affair with Hollywood began back in the earliest days of filmmaking, when “movie people” were irresistibly drawn to the still-legendary hospitality of the host hotel (which also serves as the festival’s Presenting Sponsor). The hotel was built right on the sand in 1888. Coronado’s world-class beaches, perfect weather, and proximity to Hollywood have made it a favorite go-to spot for the stars since those halcyon days when Errol Flynn, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin strolled the Avenue.

The film festival, inaugurated in 2016, is an intimate, pedestrian-friendly festival, with most screening venues an easy walk from one another. Organizers promise a weekend to remember with films of every genre, many introduced by their makers; memorable panel discussions; a welcoming Hospitality Lounge; live performances; numerous parties; a “Meet the Jury” reception; and a signature Celebrity Tribute hosted by renowned film critic Leonard Maltin, back for his third year as Festival Host and Honorary Jury President. Jury awards will be presented in several categories.

A number of gay-interest movies will be screened this year. They include Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story; the acclaimed documentaries Love, Cecil and Studio 54; and the cross-dressing comedy classic Some Like It Hot.

Another film of significant interest to LGBT viewers is Words and Music by Jerry Herman. Amber Edwards’ insightful look at the life of the gay, Tony Award-winning composer will be screened the afternoon of Sunday, November 11th. Although Edwards made her documentary a decade ago, Herman has been in the spotlight once again thanks to the smash Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!.

Herman is also renowned as the songwriter behind La Cage aux Folles, Mame and Mack & Mabel, among other shows. He made his Broadway debut at the age of 29 with the Jewish-themed musical Milk and Honey, and subsequently scored his first Tony nomination. The documentary features interviews with such luminaries as Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury, Michael Feinstein, and the late great Charles Nelson Reilly. Now 87, Herman often works as a coach to budding theatre artists.

I asked Edwards about the films with LGBT appeal that will be screened during the Coronado Island Film Festival during a recent phone interview. “There are quite a lot of them, including mine,” she replied from her home in Connecticut. “Jerry Herman is a gay man but the film is primarily about his career as a Broadway composer; I think it’s a sign of progress that the gay-interest films are no longer in a separate or niche program.”

The director attended last year’s event and presented Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past, her most recent documentary. “One of the things I found (about the fest) and made me feel good is that they pay a lot of attention to the people who make the films — animators, composers, production designers, etc — versus big stars or actors,” Edwards said upon reflection. “There is an emphasis on peeling back the layers of a film and filmmaking as a holistic thing, rather than focusing on name stars or directors.”

Edwards described another significant benefit of this festival’s size and location. “For one thing, they don’t overpack it in terms of screenings. When you have too many films, you can’t find common ground to talk about them because everyone has seen something else. (Finding common ground) is one of the great, socializing aspects of film festivals.”

Word and Music by Jerry Herman provides plenty of fodder to get attendees talking, especially gay viewers. Herman discusses the AIDS-related death of his partner, Marty, as well as his own HIV+ status. He has been living with HIV for approximately 30 years. The doc also boasts generous use of vintage and backstage photography of fantastic musical numbers from Herman’s classic musicals.

It sounds like the third edition of the Coronado Island Film Festival shouldn’t be missed. “I really just fell in love with the people who run it and the community,” Edwards noted. “The local community was so interested and excited; usually, the organizers of a festival are really excited but nobody else (laugh). This is a great, very well-run festival.”

Visit the Coronado Island Film Festival website for full details and tickets.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


This year is shaping up to be a great year for actresses, especially those whose characters are doing all they can do to not lose their minds.

In reverse order of their ability to keep their shit together, here are 2018’s “women on the verge of a nervous breakdown”:

Private Life (now streaming on Netflix):
WOTVOANB: Rachel Biegler, played by Kathryn Hahn.
Supportive spouse: Richard, played by Paul Giamatti.
What’s driving her crazy: This middle-aged New York couple’s increasingly desperate attempts at getting pregnant.
How bad does it get?: They resort to asking their step-niece (Kayli Carter) to be their surrogate, drawing the wrath of her mother, another WOTVOANB, played by Molly Shannon.
Oscar Moment: Rachel has a street freak out when Richard supports the previously off-the-table idea of surrogacy.
Review: Fertility issues usually crop up in long-running TV shows when the writers decide to tackle a pregnancy storyline and want to draw it out as long as possible. Thankfully, writer/director Tamara Jenkins (The Savages) nicely manages to make this oft-told scenario fresh and funny. She also smartly cast two warm and wonderful character actors as her leads; it is especially gratifying to see Hahn (easily the best thing in the incredibly overrated Transparent) finally in the spotlight.
Rating: 7/10

Tully (now available on DVD and Blu-ray):
WOTVOANB: Marlo Moreau, played by Charlize Theron.
Supportive spouse: Drew, played by Ron Livingston.
What’s driving her crazy: Already on shaky ground dealing with her two young kids (one of whom is obviously autistic yet the film rather shamefully just labels “quirky”), Marlo is pushed over the edge in the aftermath of the birth of her third child.
How bad does it get?: Actually, it gets better with the arrival of Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a night nanny of the “manic pixie dream girl” variety. But then a diner waitress uniform enters the picture and it gets weird…
Oscar Moment: Sitting on her living room sofa nursing the baby, Marlo wonders if it is her life that is empty or just her right breast.
Review: Eleven years after Juno, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody revisit the topic of pregnancy, this time from a postpartum perspective, with their sharp comedic sensibility still intact. A once-again de-glammed Theron grounds the story, even when it goes in unexpected directions, with her lived-in performance.
Rating: 7/10

The Kindergarten Teacher (now streaming on Netflix):
WOTVOANB: Lisa Spinelli, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Supportive spouse: Grant, played by Orange is the New Black’s Michael Chernus.
What’s driving her crazy: As the titular educator, Lisa discovers that Jimmy (Parker Sevak), one of her young charges, is a poetry prodigy and becomes determined to nurture his natural talent… no matter what.
How bad does it get?: Plagiarism, adultery and child endangerment are just a few of the many lines Lisa crosses.
Oscar Moment: Lisa confronts Jimmy’s preoccupied father and tries to convince him his son is the next Mozart.
Review: A remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same name, writer/director Sara Colangelo creates here an engrossing tale of mounting anxiety anchored by a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-her, career best performance from Gyllenhaal (who also co-produced the film). Her character starts out with the best intentions and, even though she ends up committing highly questionable acts, we kind of see her point, which is then proven correct by a gut-punch of a final moment.
Rating: 8/10

Hereditary (now available on DVD and Blu-ray):
WOTVOANB: Annie Graham, played by Toni Collette.
Supportive spouse: Steve, played by Gabriel Byrne.
What’s driving her crazy: Where to start? There’s a couple of funerals, a few ghostly sightings, some light witchcraft, plus an unnervingly disembodied tongue click or two, all topped off with some mounting paranoia and a heaping helping of soul-crushing grief.
How bad does it get?: You. Have. No. Idea.
Oscar Moment: When questions of guilt and responsibility arise during a family dinner, an increasingly unhinged Annie verbally lashes out at her grieving son Peter (My Friend Dahmer’s Alex Wolff).
Review: Honestly, the less you know about Hereditary (a masterful feature debut for writer/director Ari Aster) the better the scares, of which there is a plentiful amount. Trust me, this is not for the faint of heart. Yet if you are in the mood for a good dose of terror, this is definitely the one for you. Finally, a horror film that actually lives up to being compared to The Exorcist.
Rating: 9/10

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Thrills & Chills at NewFest & Everywhere


It's Halloween, and this year's just-concluded NewFest in New York City presented appropriately darker hues of the current LGBTQ experience. The festival opened October 24th with the New York premiere of Yen Tan's acclaimed, literally dark (it's filmed in black & white) 1985, previously reviewed here. 1985 was also the year I graduated high school, so it evoked frightfully memories for me in that regard. The best film featured at NewFest and several other LGBT festivals this year, however, is A Moment in the Reeds. This poignant love story between a Finnish man and the Syrian asylum-seeker his father hires to work on their house proves to be the most sensual, soulful gay movie I've seen in years (sorry, Call Me By Your Name) but nonetheless ends on a bittersweet note.

The hands down spookiest film to screen at NewFest was Devil's Path. Out actor Matthew Montgomery makes an impressive directorial debut with this tale of a gay man, Noah, searching for his missing gay brother in a woodsy cruising area. As one fellow tricker warns him: "Love doesn't exist on Devil's Path, sunshine." Montgomery and co-screenwriter Stephen Twardokus (who also plays Noah) throw in several twists toward the end of this suspense thriller. It is beautifully shot by Stephen Tringali in the northern California wine country and features an effective music score by Ceiri Torjussen. Montgomery makes a Hitchcockian cameo as does his husband, actor Steve Callahan (the two previously co-starred in Role/Play).

Featured in one of the short film programs at NewFest was No More We, by talented Swedish writer-director David Fardmar. It depicts the intense breakup of the marriage between husbands Adrian and Hampus in non-linear fashion, kind of like a gay non-musical version of The Last Five Years. It's every gay married couple's worst nightmare. Bjorn Elgerd and Jonathan Andersson are simultaneously adorable and heartbreaking (heartbreakingly adorable?) as the former lovers.

Mario, which also made its NYC debut during the festival, is an exploration of a still-scary environment for gay men: professional sports. In this Swiss production, the title character is a young football (i.e. soccer) player long groomed for the big leagues by his ex-pro father. On the verge of success, Mario falls in love with new team transfer Leon, who is both gorgeous and more openly gay. They soon embark on a passionate but conflicted affair. Mario is forced to make a choice once scandal erupts, and let's just say the pair don't end up happily ever after. It is a sexy if by now familiar story, featuring de riguer underwear shots with an occasional naked ass.

Beyond NewFest, the most terrifying movie for many gay men that is newly available on VOD this Halloween is the documentary American Circumcision. Writer-director Brendon Marotta turns an unflinching lens on the history and controversy behind "the most common surgery in America." Most interesting is the perspective of the so-called "intactivists" or "anti-circs" who oppose circumcision and/or call for foreskin restoration surgery for men who were circumcised as infants against their presumed will. American Circumcision isn't uninteresting but it is overlong and clearly on the side of the intactivists. It ultimately struck me, as one who was allegedly "maimed" as a child, as much ado about very little (no pun intended).

For more traditionally scary Halloween film fare, one can currently choose between the aptly-titled, big-screen sequel Halloween or the new Netflix miniseries inspired by Shirley Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House. Sorry to say, I was mightily disappointed by the latest entry in the 40-year series initiated by John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic Halloween. It is much of the same, with Jamie Lee Curtis giving a charismatic but one-note performance as Laurie Strode, her traumatized character from the original film. Psychotic "boogeyman" Michael Myers escapes from his mental institute and starts killing innocent people, who most disturbingly and unapologetically include a dance-loving, presumably gay teenager. The movie stuck me as unimaginative at best and, at worst, offensive.

Meanwhile, The Haunting of Hill House bares little resemblance to Jackson's original work or the prior films adapted from it but emerges as its own memorable, frequently creepy story. Writer-director Mike Flanagan has re-imagined it as a decades-spanning family saga starring the likes of Carla Gugino, Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton, and Henry Thomas, the all-grown-up Elliot from Steven Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Gugino's and Thomas's married couple moved into the cursed title domicile in the 1990's with their five children, intending to fix it up and "flip" it. It isn't long before supernatural forces conspire against them. The grown-up children have to confront both literal and figurative ghosts from their past, including the very scary "Bent-Neck Lady" and the unnaturally tall, bowler hat-wearing master of the house. Definitely a worthy chiller for this All Hallow's Eve.

Reverend's Ratings:
A Moment in the Reeds: A-
Devil's Path: B-
No More We: B+
Mario: B
American Circumcision: B-
Halloween (2018): D
The Haunting of Hill House: B+

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