Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Sexual Politics


 

"Is sex political?," a reporter asks the openly gay, real-life filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini in a newly-released biopic. "Of course," Pasolini replies, "There's nothing that isn't political." This query opens Pasolini, Abel Ferrara's 2014 movie that is only now being released in the US thanks to Kino Lorber. It opens this weekend in New York.


The controversial artist, who considered himself a writer first and foremost, was also an avowed Communist and atheist. This didn't exactly ingratiate him with the public in his native Italy or elsewhere during the 1960's and 70's. Few people were surprised when Pasolini was found beaten to death, presumably by someone he met for sex, in 1975. He would have a final word, however, when his shockingly graphic anti-fascism film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, had its premiere just a couple of weeks later. Nonetheless, Pasolini is generally revered among cinephiles today. Even the Vatican has acclaimed his 1964 version of The Gospel According to St. Matthew as the best film about Jesus Christ yet made despite the filmmaker's unbelief, not to mention his homosexuality.

Four-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe stars as Pasolini in Ferrara's film. Clad in bell bottoms and constantly sporting dark sunglasses, it is a good personification despite Dafoe's lack of an Italian accent. The main action in the movie takes place on the day Pasolini would die. Flashbacks reveal significant moments and interests from his past. This device proves confusing at times, especially since other actors play the younger Pasolini.

This biopic, though long delayed, marks an appropriate subject and fine big-screen return for Ferrara. After all, the "bad boy" American director made his mark with 1992's Pasolini-esque Bad Lieutenant. The movie was also beautifully photographed on location by Stefano Falivene. Don't miss this opportunity to get re-acquainted with Ferrara and more intimately acquainted with Pasolini himself.


Non-Fiction, award-winning director Olivier Assayas' latest, is also now playing in US theaters courtesy of IFC Films. It also dabbles in political and romantic/sexual topics via challenges confronting the contemporary publishing industry. Leonard (played by the endearing Vincent Macaigne) is a successful author of what he terms "auto-fiction," or fictional stories inspired by his own life. This doesn't please the thinly-veiled ex-girlfriends and other actual people who populate his works.

Having grown tired of Leonard's style, his longtime publisher Alain (handsome Guillaume Canet) decides not to print the writer's latest. This sets off existential and relational angst not only for Leonard but for Alain's actress wife Selena (Oscar winner Juliette Binoche), who has been having an affair with Leonard, and Leonard's current political-advisor girlfriend. Alain, meanwhile, is having an affair with Laure, his company's bisexual head of "digital transition" as they try to adapt to an increasingly online readership.

Set primarily in Paris, Assayas' screenplay is a brainy, bracing dissertation on our modern cultural zeitgeist. It includes such perceptive zingers as "addiction is now our default setting" and defines our "post-truth," "fake news" era as "people living in a fictional world ruled by their prejudices." Critics are obsolete (exempting myself, naturally) as public opinion and internet algorithms reign supreme. The film also features a very funny meta moment involving Binoche. But its most accurate observation may actually be one quoted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's 1958 novel The Leopard: "Everything must change for things to stay as they are."

I haven't actually seen any of Assayas' previous films such as Personal Shopper and The Clouds of Sil Maria, which I intend to seek out. Non-Fiction serves as a great, enjoyable primer on the auteur's style and technique.


A writer-director with whom I am very familiar is Stewart Wade, who previously helmed the LGBT-themed indies Coffee Date, Tru Loved and Such Good People. His new release, Say Yes, is now available on Amazon Prime and is well worth renting. It is a touching dramedy in which a married straight couple deal with the wife's unexpected terminal illness. Her twin brother moves in to help care for her. This is initially challenging for her husband but he and her brother develop a friendship. Prior to her death, his wife makes an unusual last request: she wants her husband and brother to be a couple after she's gone. While neither of them is gay, the men begin to explore their "hetero-flexibility" with surprising results. Say Yes is low budget and the acting amateurish at times but it is a moving look at modern love.


I wish I could be as positive about TLA's new gay DVD release, The Skin of the Teeth (not to be confused with Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth). Billed as "Get Out meets Grindr," Matthew Wollin's bizarre movie lacks the best elements of either, although lead actors Pascal Arquimedes and Donal Brophy are attractive. They play Josef and John, respectively, who get together at John's place after connecting online. Josef unwisely ingests an "experimental" pill he discovers while snooping around, which leads to unusual complications and hallucinations... or are they? Unfortunately, the stranger things become, the less interesting the film is and it grows prolonged and boring. There is some good cinematography and use of shadow during a police interrogation scene. Wollin seems to be going for something David Lynchian but sadly doesn't succeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
Pasolini: B
Non-Fiction: B+
Say Yes: B
The Skin of the Teeth: D

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: How to Stream Like a Queen


 

Let’s take a time machine trip back to the groovy 1970’s. On second thought, let’s not. In terms of home entertainment, it was a primitive time when there were only three national television networks plus a handful of public TV and cable access stations. The 1980’s introduced several dozen pay cable options, which was an improvement, but painfully few if any of these regular TV or cable networks featured shows with positive depictions of LGBTQ characters. What’s more, everything could only be watched on a boxy, heavy TV set.


My, how things have changed in the modern era! There are hundreds of satellite and cable channels today and as many or more websites offering a plethora of LGBTQ-interest shows. Some channels and sites broadcast nothing but LGBTQ shows! Our long-deceased, more conservative elders would probably roll over in their graves…although, in fairness, my grandfather was a big fan of Billy Crystal’s pioneering portrayal of an out gay character on the late-70’s sitcom Soap.

Freed from traditional constraints, LGBTQ writers, producers, actors and directors have found welcome freedom in today’s TV and internet landscape. Network and original shows streamed online provide a storytelling environment that viewers around the world can tune in to any time. Streaming shows also provide greater storytelling flexibility. Individual episodes can range from just a few minutes to the more traditional 30 or 60 minutes. Blessedly, many of them are shown without ads or commercials. And we can watch today’s shows through a variety of media: on our televisions, our phones, our laptops, iPads and more. Viewers are now able to keep up with their favorite shows anytime, anywhere: during lunch and bathroom breaks at work or school, or while riding the bus, plane or train. One can watch an episode at a time or “binge” an entire series in one sitting.


The “DC Universe” of series adapted from classic comic book superheroes has been one of the most popular and inclusive when it comes to LGBTQ characters. Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning, all available on cwtv.com as well as Netflix, feature an assortment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer heroes, villains and/or associates. Joining them this fall with her own CW show will be the lady-loving Batwoman.

Lest the CW be solely populated by DC’s characters, the comics giant recently inaugurated its own streaming network. DCuniverse.com provides a number of original series and classic movies for the low monthly price of $7.99. Chief among these in terms of queer content is Doom Patrol, about a diverse band of antiheroes. Out actor Matt Bomer plays Negative Man, a gay man with a troubled past including an ex-boyfriend with whom he longs to re-connect.

Here’s a rundown of several other LGBTQ-interest shows currently streaming that I recommend most highly:


Special (Netflix):
Ryan O’Connell created and headlines this autobiographical series about a gay man with cerebral palsy. While he is accepting of and open about his homosexuality, he has a hard time embracing his physical disability. Heartfelt and hilarious by turns, Special is special indeed.


American Gods (Starz):
An adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed novel about a brewing war between traditional deities brought to the shores of North America by immigrants and newer, human-created “false idols.” Now in its second season, it is a sexually explicit series that features a hot gay jinn (or genie) and his lover among its heavenly hosts.


Now Apocalypse (Starz):
Envelope-pushing queer filmmaker Gregg Araki recently debuted his first-ever streaming series. It explores identity, sexuality and artistry in ways both comedic and serious, as a struggling artist grows increasingly troubled by foreboding dreams. The cute young cast is frequently undressed and definitely worthy of ogling.


The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime):
A superb, frightening show inspired by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s novel. It envisions an alternate past in which Nazi Germany and Japan won World War II and have taken over the US. A revolution is brewing, however, led in part by an out and proud gay man. The series also features a closeted, conflicted lesbian who heads the Nazis’ propaganda office.


The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu):
Another scary, dystopian series, this time based on Margaret Atwood’s classic book. Here, the religious right has risen to power in the US and is forcing fertile women to bear children for the impotent upper class. Alexis Bledel, all grown up after her prior teenager role on the popular Gilmore Girls, plays a persecuted lesbian plotting to take the anti-LGBTQ leadership down.


Gaycation with Ellen Page and Ian Daniel (Hulu):
Openly lesbian actress Ellen Page set out with her gay best friend Ian to explore LGBTQ communities around the world in this documentary series. Eye-opening and frequently funny, it’s a streaming trip worth taking.


The Umbrella Academy (Netflix):
Speaking of Ellen Page, she is also part of the ensemble of this new, offbeat superhero series adapted from a graphic novel. She plays Vanya, one of eight children from different mothers gifted with special powers. Adopted by a manipulative billionaire, they end up a dysfunctional family but must unite to stop the end of the world. One of the other siblings is Klaus (Robert Sheehan), a time-tripping drug addict grieving the death of his male lover during the Vietnam War.


Grace and Frankie (Netflix):
This sitcom starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin is now in its 5th season but is must-see TV. The pair play former frenemies who bond after their secretly-gay husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, fall in love with one another. While it’s always fun to see Fonda and Tomlin together (they previously co-starred in the movie 9 to 5 way back in 1980), Sheen and Waterston are equally great as the women’s newly liberated exes.


Black Mirror (Netflix):
This creepy-cool series about the unexpected costs of technology has featured a fair share of LGBTQ storylines and characters. The best may be the touching episode “San Junipero,” a time travel tale about two women in love that won a pair of Emmy Awards.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your favorite device and start streaming!

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Newport Beach Film Fest Celebrates the Big 2-0


 

Smile, Newport Beach Film Festival, it’s your birthday! A small-scale event initially, NBFF will be celebrating 20 years of growing, international recognition from April 25th through May 2nd, 2019.


The festival strives each year to bring to Orange County, California the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. Its organizers are committed to enlightening the public with a first-class international film program, providing a forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities, and showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films from around the world.

NBFF’s global focus isn’t only reflected in the movies shown but in nightly parties and receptions. An Irish Showcase Celebration will be April 28th’s main event, with other nights devoted to Latin, European and Pacific Rim places and people.

In addition to standard film fest categories like narrative features, documentaries and family films, NBFF has developed several unique showcases over the years. These include movies centered on culinary subjects, action sports, architecture, music and the environment.

Notably, NBFF’s growth over the last 20 years has paralleled a broader interest in and mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ films. A number of productions with LGBTQ appeal are screened during the fest each year. Although the 2019 feature film lineup has not been announced yet, organizers shared that a whopping 80+ LGBTQ short films in a variety of genres and styles will be shown.


Here is a mere sampling of these many fantastic-sounding shorts:

Older Than What? – A documentary that brings LGBTQ elders sharply into focus with humor, frankness, wit and charm. Twelve seniors answer questions about aging and share stories about how they made history.

Black Lips – A lonely abalone trader is awakened by a longing he’s never explored before.

Like Glass – A club kid grappling with their identity finds liberation in NYC nightlife, while haunted by the pressures of societal norms.


Black Hat – Shmuel is a pious Hasidic man leading a fairly simple life. By day, he dutifully prays at the local synagogue and manages a busy dry cleaning business. But when his wife and daughters leave town, Shmuel steps out at night into a more complex world. When he misplaces his black hat along the way, his two lives will interconnect in a way he never expected.

Swimming – A coming-of-age story of an American-born Chinese teen trying to handle her possible homosexuality when her 3-month old half-sister seems to have stolen the attention of the entire family. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Ming-Na Wen co-stars.

Aphrodite – A crossdresser driven by her dream of becoming a singer puts her own sexual identity at stake for an uncertain opportunity to shine in Hollywood.


The Buttcheek Boys – An animated spoof in which brothers Billy and Bobby Buttcheek do their darndest to solve a really big case.

As One – A short documentary created by Orange County filmmakers explaining why Pride festivals are still important today.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin –A feature documentary exploring the remarkable life and legacy of groundbreaking science-fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 88.


Blush – A guy and his girlfriend are forced to navigate new territory when he's caught wearing her dress.

You Say Hello – A suicidal young gay man retreats to his family's beach house to end his life, but a chance encounter with a hustler changes his plans.

My Dad Works the Night Shift – Felix, a 14-year old boarding school student, spends the weekend at his conservative father's house. Felix starts a relationship with a much older boy, secretly hoping he will get caught so he can reveal his homosexuality to his father.


Hank – Recent LA transplants Hank (out comic Jason Stuart) and his husband Tommy attempt to save their 15- year marriage by entertaining the idea of an open relationship. While this might be working well for Tommy, Hank struggles to cope with the change as well as the challenges of being old.

Out of the Shadows – A theatre class at California State University Long Beach creates a play to tell the stories of undocumented immigrants, some of whom are LGBTQ.

I’ve Been Thinking – When Julian gets a boyfriend, his best friend Josh realizes it's time to reveal how he really feels. A romantic dramedy about a friendship that becomes something more, and the seeming impossibility of a perfect union.


Mack Wrestles – Mack Beggs broke records and changed history when he won the Texas state title as a transgender wrestler. Now, with high school ending and college on the horizon, the sports champion, national activist and high school hero must grapple with what comes next in this documentary.

Three Corner House – The lives of a suspicious wife, closeted husband and sex-obsessed son collide. Starring Michael J. Burg (BlacKkKlansman), Russell Koplin (Iron Fist) and Kathryn Kates (Orange is the New Black).

Silverlake Afternoon – Michael is 33 and he's never been with a guy. His first encounter is going to be awkward... and also kinda great.


All Cock & No Bull! – Relaxing in your backyard is one thing. Relaxing naked in your backyard with an old friend is something else entirely, and may have consequences.

Headlock – John, a closeted high school athlete, grapples with his attraction to a teammate in the days leading up to prom.

Homecoming – When a college sophomore returns home to share some important news with his parents, things don’t go exactly as he had expected…until they do.


Stay Tonight – This romantic dramedy follows the lives of two men who grew up together in Brooklyn, New York. Michael is bisexual and Tony is heterosexual. As life moves on, however, both men find themselves in a difficult situation that requires difficult decisions.

Broken Sunflower Hearts – When his ex-boyfriend Sam shows up on his doorstep a year after separating, Anthony weighs the impact it will have on his life and young daughter Luna.

Hiding in Daylight – After a gay purge in the not too distant future, four best friends are surviving by living in fake marriages to each other. They secretly meet once a week to see their true spouse and play a "game" where they reminisce about their former openly gay lives. But one night, emotions run high, friendships begin to unravel, and everything changes in an instant.


One Leg In, One Leg Out – Documentary in which a lively, strong-willed sex worker struggles to move from the streets and into a career as a social worker, hoping to help fellow trans sex workers find acceptance.

Mr. Sam – Today is a big day for Mr. Sam. Not only is he going to reveal to his mother that he’s finally found the love of his life, he’s also telling her that he’s gay. But Sam is in for a huge surprise: the secret he has managed to keep hidden from everyone for so long will be revealed in the most dramatic of ways by his best friend, Sandra.


Sequins - 17-year-old Paul's journey of self-discovery takes a unique turn when he embarks on his ambition to become a drag queen, despite fear of ridicule from his peers and being ostracized by his family.

Land’s End – Set in a bleak and poetic world on England’s southeast coast, this explores the magnetic relationship between Adam, a naïve but hopeful young man, and Michael, a charismatic ex-con and drag artist.

Individual tickets and festival passes are now on sale. They may be purchased by visiting the NBFF website or calling 949-253-2880.

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