Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Reverend's Interview: Basking in the Afterglow with S. Asher Gelman

Good communication is key to the success of any long-term relationship – gay, straight or otherwise. Without honesty and openness, there is little chance for growth. Don’t just take my word for it; ask your local marriage or relationship counselor.

This month will mark the West Coast premiere of the hit Off-Broadway and London sensation Afterglow. This gay-themed play recently opened and performs through Saturday, June 19th at the Hudson Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. Tickets are available at here. Of note, the play opened simultaneously in Madrid, Spain and will also enjoy productions this season in Ft. Lauderdale, San Juan, and Buenos Aires.

Written and directed by S. Asher Gelman, Afterglow is a raw one-act play exploring the emotional, intellectual, and physical connections between three men and the broader implications within their relationships. When Josh and Alex, a married couple in an open relationship, invite Darius to share their bed one night, a new intimate connection begins to form. All three men must come to terms with their individual definitions of love, loyalty and trust as futures are questioned, relationships are shaken and commitments are challenged.

The LA cast will feature Noah Bridgestock as Josh, James Hayden Rodriguez as Alex, and Nathan Mohebbi as Darius. This production also boasts the original Off-Broadway team of designers.

S. Asher Gelman

Creator S. Asher Gelman is a director, choreographer, playwright and producer. Afterglow, which ran for 14 months Off-Broadway in 2017-2018, was his first original play. He subsequently produced the Off-Broadway musical We Are the Tigers, written by Preston Max Allen, followed by Gelman’s second play, safeword. He most recently directed and choreographed two dance films, The Greatest City in the World and in memoriam.

Originally from Chevy Chase, Maryland, Gelman received his Bachelor’s degree in Dance and Theater from Bard College and his Masters of Fine Arts in Dance from George Washington University. While living in Israel, he co-founded The Stage, Tel Aviv’s premier English language performing arts organization, and served as its first Artistic Director from 2013 to 2016. Gelman today serves on the Advisory Board of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. He lives in New York City with his husband, Mati.

This talented multi-hyphenate recently spoke with me in advance of Afterglow’s LA premiere.

CC: What is Afterglow about, in your own words?
SAG: It’s about honesty and communication, and what happens when it falls apart. Or when relationships fall apart because we can’t communicate honestly and openly with each other.

CC: What was the genesis of the story or play?
SAG: About eight years ago, while my husband and I were living in Tel Aviv, we opened our relationship. Then I met a man and we were together for a couple months. But soon it became clear that he wanted to supplant my husband and ruin my marriage. I knew at the time that I did something wrong but I didn’t understand what. That search within myself was the seed that would become the play. I ultimately wanted the situation to be the antagonist rather than any one character.

CC: Are you making any changes or updates for the LA production?
SAG: The show has become more nuanced, because my understanding of the situation has become more nuanced. My husband and I now have a partner, and I have a boyfriend. We all understand polyamory much better now. There is no room for nuance in our society today, when communications are distilled to a few words in a text message or a few minutes online. My whole team is understanding and taking this more nuanced approach, and its amazing working with them.

CC: How was the casting process? Is this the first time that these actors are doing the play?
SAG: Correct, although our original Alex is now the assistant director. Fun fact: We were supposed to open in LA two years ago and our final day of callbacks was March 12th, 2020, the day Broadway shut down. One of the actors was cast then so he’s had the part for two years. The others were cast via video or Zoom more recently. We all returned to LA on March 12th, 2022, exactly two years since we all left. These actors are so giving, so generous, and it’s a joy to work with them. A joy and such a privilege.

CC: Has anything surprised you or particularly touched you in terms of reactions to your play?
SAG: Look, the dream is you hope your mom sees it and then everyone beyond her is a net positive. (Laughs) One year ago, I saw the first foreign performance in Madrid. It was in Spanish, which I don’t understand, but I wrote the play so I could understand it. It was beautiful. It’s been amazing to see it touch so many people and hear from people from all over the US and all over the world. In New York, I knew some people who wouldn’t see the show with their partners because they were afraid of the conversations it might engender. I thought it was terrible that their relationships were so fragile because they were living in fear. The worst thing is not to be alone; it’s to be in a relationship and be unhappy.

CC: Wow, that is sad. I’m curious: Did you begin your performing arts career as a dancer?
SAG: I did both dancing and acting. I was a little theatre brat in middle school, and then I went on and got my BA and MA. I never studied playwriting until my husband and I moved to New York in 2016. I was surprised writing came so easily to me. And then it was amazing to see these characters I’d written on a page, these lives, come to life on stage!

CC: And now you are moving into film, correct?
SAG: I made a couple of dance films during the pandemic. I love that I can use different mediums to tell different stories. We try to label and pigeonhole people as one thing, and now I’m doing all the things I can do! I do not know what is next for me, and I love that. I can do whatever I want!

CC: That’s awesome! What do you hope California audiences will take from Afterglow?
SAG: I hope they take away the same thing that every other audience has taken away from it: the courage to have the difficult conversation, whatever the conversation is about. To have that bravery and move your life to a better place.

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Reverend's Interview: Sailing the High Seas with Vico Ortiz

There have been many media portrayals of pirates during the last century. Some have been fearsome, some not so much. From big-screen Errol Flynn classics like Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk to Broadway’s The Pirates of Penzance; TV’s Black Sails to Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean attractions and films, historical swashbucklers have long captured the public’s imagination.

We can now add the new, comedic HBO Max series Our Flag Means Death to this list. Queer-friendly, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok) serves as executive producer. He also directed the pilot episode and co-stars throughout the series as the real-life pirate Blackbeard. The show was inspired by the life of Stede Bonnet, an 18th-century aristocrat turned pirate enjoyably personified by Rhys Darby.

Enter actor Vico Ortiz, who plays the mysterious crew member “Jim.” Jim (more privately known as “Bonifacia”) is on a quest for revenge, even as they are questioning their gender identity and falling in love with a fellow crew member. Ortiz is a proud Latine/x non-binary/gender fluid actor/activist born and raised in Puerto Rico. From birth, Ortiz grew up in an artistic environment as both their parents, Gerardo Ortiz and Evelyn Rosario, are respected and accomplished stage actors. They have fond memories of rehearsing lines with their parents at home, accompanying them to the theater regularly, being backstage observing rehearsals while doing homework, and even sometimes helping with props and costumes.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Vico wanted to follow in their parents footsteps and be an actor. While the stage was their first love, Ortiz has also excelled in fencing since their pre-teens. Most of their teenage years were spent traveling the world representing Puerto Rico in their national fencing team as their saber fencer, including the Panamerican Games in Rio 2007. Prior to finishing high school, Ortiz spent a summer at the UCLA Theater Camp and that experience confirmed acting was their calling. They moved to Los Angeles soon after and received their education at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Ortiz got their feet wet in the professional world of acting during the three-year program, working in theatre and student films. But it was Ortiz’s gift for fencing that led to their breakthrough in the entertainment industry working as a stunt performer. Their first co-star role was in the hit Amazon series Transparent, which paved the way to well recognized television appearances in such popular shows as The Fosters, Lucifer, American Horror Story: 1984 and Criminal Minds, among many others.

2022 is expected to be Ortiz’s biggest year yet thanks to the success of Our Flag Means Death. I had the very enjoyable privilege of chatting with them recently via Zoom about their life and work, during which they were wearing a fabulous multi-colored shirt.

CC: Vico! Thanks so much for your time and congratulations! I think Our Flag Means Death is going to be major exposure and a big hit. It’s such an enjoyable show.
VO: Thank you! Yeah, it’s been bananas. I’m really excited for it to come out already and just happen!

CC: Talk to me about how you got cast in it.
VO: It happened rather quickly. I was in Puerto Rico in May of 2021 for a theatre project. I had just finished doing it on Sunday and Tuesday I get the email for a self-tape, because everything now is a self-tape. I haven’t been to an in-person casting in a couple years. I do the thing, and when I first got the email with the scenes I was like, “Oh my God, this is incredible!” It was due the next day but I was like “I will knock it out in a couple hours, I got this.” I sent it immediately and then the next day I get a call back, and then the next day I have a meeting with (series creator) David Jenkins and then the next day I get the offer. And then on Sunday I was on my way back to LA to start (costume) fittings on Monday.

CC: Were they looking specifically for a non-binary actor for a non-binary character? Did you know that going in?
VO: Correct. Yeah, when the character was described to me it was looking for a non-binary person to portray a non-binary character and Latine. So I was like “this is perfect,” and what they didn’t know when I auditioned for it is that I also have a background in fencing so I know how to swordfight. I also do drag, I’m a drag king, so I’m very familiar and comfortable with exploring what masculinity means to me and what femininity means to me on my own terms. I was like, “this is oddly specific.” I even had a couple directors during the season ask me “Was this written for you?’ and I was like, “It was not at all.” It was really awesome because once I got into the project there was some Spanish but very little, like one word every so often, so I talked to David Jenkins and asked if I could add more Spanish and he said “Yeah, make it yours.” So that was really rad.

CC: Did you do a lot of research into pirate lives or that whole history, which is fascinating. I know there were queer pirates, I don’t know how well known they are, but were there non-binary pirates? What did you find out?
VO: That’s the thing. We’ve all heard about pirates and normally we all focus on the violent or the gruesome and chaotic or intense part of it. But as I really started looking into the detailed stories I was like, “These are really very queer people.” Like, in general they were getting gay married left and right and it was totally normal, totally chill, and there were a couple of pirates who had a very similar experience to what Jim has in the show. So that’s what’s interesting when you start looking at history, right, the way it’s written you have these two women pirates who got into this boat dressed as men. But one of them, Anne Bonny – I’m going to use she/her pronouns because that’s what we had at the time – but she had always been dressing up as a boy. When you look at her story, she had always been doing this since she was a little kid and then goes into the boat and stops wearing what’s considered men’s clothes but continues in that style, so it makes me question if Anne Bonny was living in this day and age with the language we have now, would this person be a non-binary or a trans person? What I love about playing Jim is it’s a chance to be reclaiming those stories. There were stories of queer people who found themselves in these extraordinary situations that allowed them to actually access a part of themselves that otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to. Pirates are overall very queer and they were very gay for each other, and it was like really sweet. They were carving their own path and making their own rules.

CC: It’s funny, I was thinking while watching Our Flag Means Death that next time I go on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland I will never look at those pirates the same!
VO: (Laughs) Not at all! And a lot them were not monogamous. They were also having polyamorous relationships. Literally, they were making their own utopia.

CC: I’m sure that was part of the appeal though to so many of them, being able to live life by your own rules or with no rules.
VO: Which relates a little bit to the show. With a lot of our stories the common denominator is to have a second chance, to have agency of your own life. It’s like a moment to be like, “Oh, I can be who I am and be accepted for who I am in this world” and to be loved and to love.

CC: Talk to me a bit about working with Taika Waititi, both as director and as fellow actor. How was that experience?
VO: An absolute dream. Taika, both as a director and as an actor, has such a beautiful sense of wonder and child-like curiosity. You can see how he’s envisioning the setting and telling the story. He’s fascinated by all of it. He’s super fun. I love that in the beginning he was like, “Stick to the lines, absolutely stick to the script” but then the second we were filming he was like “Try it this way, try this other thing, go crazy!” And we were like, “OK, I guess I’m not doing the lines anymore as they were written.” Everything was always something new, every take is like fresh and I love that.

CC: That’s cool! Talk to me a little bit about how is Jim, your character, like you personally and how is Jim different from you.
VO: Um, so, I love this question because there are so many similar things but at the same time not at all, which I love because people think non-binary, “oh, it’s the same thing” and I’m like no, the way that I express myself and the way I walk in this world is like this flowery, flamboyant, I love love and I’m here for it. Whereas Jim is very much walls up, I don’t want you to know anything about me, if you look at me weird I will stab you. But he does have a very soft side that’s layered in a lot of childhood trauma, which I love as well. And then again I know fencing and I trained how to swordfight to compete, whereas Jim trained to kill, so very different intentions. Jim is chaotic, and I’m chaotic but on a different level. (Laughs)

CC: Has your family always been pretty supportive of you or were there challenges?
VO: Thankfully, they have been. It has definitely been a lot of conversations and a lot of patience on both ends. Obviously I recognize that there’s been a lot of stuff that I’ve had to unpack and unlearn and deprogram, and then learn and absorb. When I started conveying that same information to my parents and my brother I was like (loudly claps their hands together) “Get it!” Right? And then I was like, “Hold up, maybe I’m going a little bit too fast and I need to slow it down a couple notches and really allow for the process to happen.” Because it is a lot and as much as it’s about me, once they began realizing that the same system that is trying to put me in a box is the same system that has put them also in boxes and has told them what can you and cannot do based literally on what you were born with is when they went, “ooohhh” and realized it’s not just about me fighting for my rights but is literally about everyone trying to live authentically no matter what. Which is something that I also love about playing Jim. I want people to question “What makes me a man? What makes me a woman? What makes me a human being outside of societal structures and expectations?” And then define them on their own terms.

CC: Wow. Well, thank you so much for your time, Vico. It’s been great meeting you and I wish you every success. And send me that shirt when you’re done with it.
VO: (Laughs) Absolutely, isn’t is fabulous? It’s a good time, it’s a good time.

Watch Chris' interview with Vico below:

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

Thursday, March 24, 2022

If We Picked the Oscars 2021

Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert from back in the day, we here at Movie Dearest are once again presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars"! These aren't predictions, but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy. We also chime in with our picks for the "egregiously overlooked" non-nominees in each category as well as what we deem are the "Worst Nominations of the Year".

So without further ado, the envelope please...


The nominees for Best Picture are: Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog and West Side Story
CC: One would be forgiven for questioning (as I do) whether the Academy needed ten nominees this year per their more recent regulations. Nevertheless, this is a strong list with the possible exceptions of the fairly familiar Dune and Nightmare Alley, not to mention West Side Story.  But I would be remiss if I didn't vote for my #1 film of last year, The Power of the Dog.
KH: Sixty years after the classic story of the Sharks vs. the Jets first hit the silver screen, Spielberg's West Side Story proved you can catch lightning in a bottle twice, and it deserves to catch Oscar gold for a second time as well.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: There were three spectacular movie musicals released in 2021 that I hold in equal esteem: Cyrano, In the Heights and Tick, Tick...Boom!  They are all stronger accomplishments in my opinion than the dated, unnecessary West Side Story remake.
KH: In a year with so many great movie musicals, it's disappointing to see only one in Oscar's top 10. Two other New York-based musicals, In the Heights and Tick, Tick... Boom!, should of been contenders too.

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #10, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1. The Power of the Dog, 2. Belfast, 3. Drive My Car, 4. Don't Look Up, 5. Licorice Pizza, 6. King Richard, 7. Nightmare Alley, 8. West Side Story, 9. Dune (Sorry to say I haven't been able to watch CODA yet.)
KH: 1. West Side Story, 2. Belfast, 3. The Power of the Dog, 4. Drive My Car, 5. King Richard, 6. Dune, 7. Nightmare Alley, 8. CODA, 9. Don't Look Up, 10. Licorice Pizza


The nominees for Best Actor are: Javier Bardem in Being the Ricardos, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick… Boom!, Will Smith in King Richard and Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth
CC: I am a "Cumberbitch" and feel he is past due for Oscar recognition (he should have won for The Imitation Game), but I was truly blown away by singing and dancing Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick...Boom!
KH: As Phil Burbank in The Power of the Dog, Benedict Cumberbatch created an indelible portrait of a despicable man drowning in self-loathing and unrequited lust that you still somehow feel sorry for in the end.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Similar to Andrew Garfield above, I was very impressed by singing and dancing Peter Dinklage's affecting performance in Cyrano.
KH: Udo Kier gave the performance of his career as a has-been hairdresser on a mission in Todd Stephens' Swan Song.


The nominees for Best Actress are: Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter, Penélope Cruz in Parallel Mothers, Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos and Kristen Stewart in Spencer
CC: This is the most difficult category for me out of all of them this year. Colman was great as usual but I found her film lacking. Chastain and Kidman were superb emotional/dramatic doppelgangers but their prosthetic makeup was distracting. Cruz was excellent but she has won previously. Therefore, I would vote for Kristen Stewart's lovely, understated turn (pearl-eating dinner scene aside) in Spencer as the gone-too-soon Princess Diana.
KH: After eliminating the leading ladies of three of my least favorite movies of 2021, that leaves Chastain and Cruz. They both gave amazing performances, but I like to spread the wealth around and Penélope already has her Oscar, so my Eyes are on the the prize for the overdue Jessica Chastain.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: While Paul Thomas Anderson's nostalgic Licorice Pizza is overrated in many ways, musician Alana Haim proves herself the real deal cinematically and should have been recognized here.
KH: Talk about overdue... Tessa Thompson was breathtaking, brilliant in Passing.

Don't Look Up

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Ciarán Hinds in Belfast, Troy Kotsur in CODA, Jesse Plemons in The Power of the Dog, J.K. Simmons in Being the Ricardos and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Power of the Dog
CC: Kodi Smit-McPhee blew me away with his gay-positive performance in The Power of the Dog, even if his character could be a budding psychopath... work that anthrax, girlfriend!
KH: With a subtle defiance lurking under a naive countenance, Kodi Smit-McPhee delivered a surprising, subtle turn as the hero ... or was he the villain? ... of The Power of the Dog.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Mark Rylance was deliciously bonkers as the Steve Jobs/Elon Musk-esque genius in Don't Look Up.
KH:  In Belfast, Jamie Dornan was a devoted father and a dreamboat of a husband... how could anyone resist him crooning "Everlasting Love"?

Drive My Car

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Jessie Buckley in The Lost Daughter, Ariana DeBose in West Side Story, Judi Dench in Belfast, Kirsten Dunst in The Power of the Dog and Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard
CC: Although she's no Rita Moreno (who is?), Ariana DeBose does make a terrific Anita in West Side Story.
KH: A star was born last year and she wore a banana yellow dress with a burst of crimson petticoats when she did it: Ariana DeBose, an Anita for a new millennium in West Side Story.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: What?!?  Perennial nominee Meryl Streep was overlooked for her Trump-lampooning president in Don't Look Up???  There had to have been a conspiracy against her... recount!
KH: With not one but two delicious femme fatale performances (both in Best Picture nominees), Cate Blanchett should have been nominated for either Don't Look Up or Nightmare Alley (my pick would be for the latter).


The nominees for Best Directing are: Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza, Kenneth Branagh for Belfast, Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi for Drive My Car and Steven Spielberg for West Side Story
CC: Jane Campion, with her anti-toxic masculinity powers at full throttle in The Power of the Dog.
KH: Fuck Sam Elliott: Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Broadway wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda made a truly impressive film directorial debut with Tick, Tick...Boom!
KH: Almodóvar. Parallel Mothers. Viva Pedro!


The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: CODA, Drive My Car, Dune, The Lost Daughter and The Power of the Dog
CC: The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion's faithful yet somewhat deeper adaptation of Thomas Savage's 1967 semi-autobiographical novel.
KH: Jane Campion, again, for The Power of the Dog.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: How could West Side Story rack up so many nominations while neglecting Tony Kushner's critically updated script?  I'm calling Officer Krupke!
KH: Tony Kushner took Arthur Laurents' original 1957 book for West Side Story and made it relevant for today without sacrificing any of its innate innocence or grit.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Belfast, Don’t Look Up, King Richard, Licorice Pizza and The Worst Person in the World
CC: I loved Belfast but found Kenneth Branagh's autobiographical tale somewhat derivative of John Boorman's 1987 classic Hope and Glory. My vote would go to the observant, funny and undeniably timely Don't Look Up by Adam McKay and David Sirota.
KH: With his nominations this year for Belfast, Kenneth Branagh has now been nominated in more categories than any other artist in Academy history, yet he has yet to win... let's fix that here with his autobiographical homage to his homeland.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Fran Kranz's unjustly neglected Mass proved to be a potent exploration of such interwoven topics as grief, guilt, religion and parenthood.
KH: Almodóvar. Parallel Mothers. Viva Pedro!


The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Dune, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth and West Side Story
CC: This category would nearly represent the one vote I would have gave to Dune, if it weren't for Ari Wegner's gorgeous, more naturalistic work on The Power of the Dog.
KH: With West Side Story, this is Janusz Kamiński's sixth nomination for a Spielberg film and should be his third win.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Seamus McGarvey's lovely, similarly naturalistic work on Cyrano.
KH: There were so many monochromatic movies in 2021 they could have split the category between black and white and color like they did for years back in the day. Regardless, it's a crime that Eduard Grau's phenomenal photography for Passing was overlooked.

King Richard

The nominees for Best Production Design are: Dune, Nightmare Alley, The Power of the Dog, The Tragedy of Macbeth and West Side Story
CC: Big sets (I'm looking at you, Dune) aren't necessarily better.  I was most impressed by the appropriately nightmarish period carnival sets of Nightmare Alley.
KH: Taking viewers on a journey from ragtag carny tents to the Art Deco realms of the wealthy, Nightmare Alley was vintage Hollywood style done right, courtesy of production designer Tamara Deverell and set decorator Shane Vieau.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Jade Healy's historically accurate yet otherworldly work on David Lowery's excellent Arthurian fantasy The Green Knight.
KH: Last Night in Soho transported you back to swinging mod London and back.

Licorice Pizza

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Cruella, Cyrano, Dune, Nightmare Alley and West Side Story
CC: Cruella had my vote upon my first glimpse of her garbage truck-delivered gown!
KH: Paul Tazewell reinvented the iconic looks of West Side Story; he should win for costuming the "America" number alone.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It's a little gay indie sadly overlooked in all Academy categories, but Todd Stephens' delightful Swan Song (not to be confused with last year's sci-fi mortality flick of the same name starring Mahershala Ali) attires star Udo Kier in an assortment of increasingly iconic looks.
KH: One thing that House of Gucci got right was its 70s fashions: shoulder pads, wide collars and all.


The nominees for Best Original Score are: Don’t Look Up, Dune, Encanto, Parallel Mothers and The Power of the Dog
CC: Even without memorable songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Germaine Franco's sensitive score for Encanto would make it a winner. (Btw, Franco is somewhat surprisingly the first woman to score a Disney animated feature film.)
KH: I was thrilled when Alberto Iglesias' Herrmann-esque score for Parallel Mothers was nominated and would love to see it win.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Hans Zimmer's score for the James Bond thriller No Time To Die may have referenced too many previous Bond themes to be eligible, but it does so masterfully.
KH: His Dune tunes did get nominated, but Hans Zimmer's No Time To Die score should have been too.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Be Alive" from King Richard, "Dos Orugitas" from Encanto, "Down To Joy" from Belfast, "No Time To Die" from No Time To Die and "Somehow You Do" from Four Good Days
CC: I hated "No Time To Die" when I first heard it a full year before the film's COVID-delayed release.  However, Billie Eilish's understated vocals grew on me, and the song ultimately turned out to suit the film pretty perfectly.
KH: At least this year they threw in some opening credit songs along with the end credit ones, but that just makes it easier for the songs that are actually a part of the story to stand out more, and that applies to just one this go round, Encanto's "Dos Orugitas" (turn on the subtitles, you'll cry), which will make 2021 MVP Lin-Manuel Miranda an EGOT winner as well.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: We don't talk about Disney and the Academy absentmindedly neglecting "We Don't Talk About Bruno".  No, no, no.
KH: I don't get Disney's recent strategy to just submit one song for its animated musicals, but Encanto surely deserved more than one tune in the mix, from "The Family Madrigal" to "Surface Pressure" to, yeah, even that one "About Bruno".

Nightmare Alley

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: Don’t Look Up, Dune, King Richard, The Power of the Dog and Tick, Tick… Boom!
CC: I go with the musical razzle-dazzle of Tick, Tick...Boom!
KH: Sports films usually do well in this category, so I'll go with King Richard for the win.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The dance numbers in West Side Story are equally razzle-dazzling yet strangely omitted here, especially given that it is a Best Picture nominee.
KH: The absence of the choreographed action of No Time To Die and the choreographed dances of West Side Story here is baffling.

No Time To Die

The nominees for Best Sound are: Belfast, Dune, No Time To Die, The Power of the Dog and West Side Story
CC: I bought a D-Box herky-jerky theater seat for the first time in which to view No Time To Die.  I still have the bruises to prove the effectiveness of this Bond film's explosive sound.
KH: I'd go with the Bond film here too, No Time To Die.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Either Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or Spider-Man: No Way Home. I'd also be happy with a nomination for the completely neglected Eternalswhich I enjoyed sonically and visually more than either of those other Marvel flicks.
KH: Let's throw some award love Marvel's way for either Black Widow or Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Parallel Mothers

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Dune, Free Guy, No Time To Die, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Spider-Man: No Way Home
CC: The effects in likely winner Dune are more realistic but I'm partial to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings' more fantastical dragons and soul-sucking vampire bat thingys. (And shirtless Simu Liu is also a deserving "special effect.")
KH: Dune did have some spectacular effects, but my vote goes to the crazy comic book action of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Eternals, per my Best Sound note above.
KH: A giant lizard and big ape fight it out on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean... and they nominate Free Guy instead of Godzilla vs. Kong?

The Power of the Dog

The nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are: Coming 2 America, Cruella, Dune, The Eyes of Tammy Faye and House of Gucci
CC: Cruella's black and white hair design plus Emma Thompson's tight buns (ahem) get my vote.
KH: The cosmetic magicians behind The Eyes of Tammy Faye transformed Jessica Chastain into the infamous Mrs. Baker, tear-smudged mascara and all.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: While their Lucy and Desi makeup are also distracting at times, how did Tammy Faye get nominated here but not Being the Ricardos?
KH: The Benedict Cumberbatch movie where he didn't wear a cowboy hat or a cape, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, had some truly excellent prosthetics work.

Raya and the Last Dragon

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Encanto, Flee, Luca, The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Raya and the Last Dragon
CC: This is a toughie as I liked all these nominees to greater or lesser extent. Flee may be the more socially significant, yet I'd lean toward The Mitchells vs. the Machines.
KH: If only I could vote for both of the Disney movies in their 2021 Girl Power Double Feature, Encanto and Raya and the Last Dragon, but when push comes to shove my pick would be the former.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Vivo, which also features fun tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda à la Encanto, could have been nominated over Luca and I wouldn't have complained.
KH: Wow, it looks like I only saw five animated movies last year, and these are them.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The nominees for Best International Feature Film are: Drive My Car (Japan), Flee (Denmark), The Hand of God (Italy), Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan) and The Worst Person in the World (Norway)
CC: Despite its excessive three hour running time, Drive My Car is the clear and deserved winner here.
KH: Although I too think that that run time was a tad overindulgent, I've got to give it to Drive My Car for taking me along on its unexpectedly fascinating journey.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Parallel Mothers, one of the few Almodóvar films to not be nominated in this category. (Spain didn't even submit it!)
KH: Almodóvar. Parallel Mothers. Viva Pedro!

Spider-Man: No Way Home

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Ascension, Attica, Flee, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) and Writing With Fire
CC: Flee gets my vote here rather than in the Animated Feature category. I do hope it wins at least one of the three categories in which it is nominated!
KH: My knowledge of the 1971 uprising at a certain New York state prison didn't go much farther than that famous Al Pacino quote from Doy Day Afternoon, so I found Attica enthralling and, ultimately, nightmarishly bone chilling.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Procession presented a uniquely personal, healing perspective on the sad history of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.
KH: The Academy's stuffy documentary branch rarely recognizes artist biographies like the delight- and insight-filled Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided To Go for It.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: Audible, Lead Me Home, The Queen of Basketball, Three Songs for Benazir and When We Were Bullies
CC: In our current US political climate where bullies reign supreme, When We Were Bullies serves as a potent antidote.
KH: It's a tough choice for me between the inspiring The Queen of Basketball and the heartrending Lead Me Home, with my vote eventually going to the latter, a shocking, eye-opening exposé on the reality of homelessness in America today.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker... see my interview with its director, Ryan White!
KH: Although I found its framing device unnecessary and a bit too pandering to modern sensibilities, Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker was an illuminating profile of the iconic artist.

Tick, Tick... Boom!

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: Affairs of the Art, Bestia, Boxballet, Robin Robin and The Windshield Wiper
CC: Sorry to say I haven't yet seen any of these, so must defer.
KH: I found Affairs of the Art to be hysterical and I loved the old school pencil-drawn animation.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: It was a bit surprising that Disney's Us Again was left out of the running here.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: Ala Kachuu – Take and Run, The Dress, The Long Goodbye, On My Mind and Please Hold
CC: The only one of these I've seen is The Dress. It features a strong story and lead performance; I only wish it had a happier ending.
KH: This year's batch was mostly underwhelming, but the heartbreaking performance of Anna Dzieduszycka in The Dress gets it my vote.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: The powerful When the Sun Sets is better than most of the final nominees combined.

West Side Story

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: Fanboys will hate me but I found Dune plodding, lifeless and no more comprehensible than David Lynch's much-maligned 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's truly great novel. It is incomprehensible to me that it landed among the Academy's nominees for Best Picture. Some members have clearly been ingesting too much spice.
KH: From the first trailer for Being the Ricardos it was obvious (at least to me): Javier Bardem looked too old to play Desi Arnaz during the production of I Love Lucy (there's around a 15 year age gap between the two). That fact could probably be overlooked if his performance was anything more than the proverbial "hotblooded Latin Lothario" (admittedly part of the blame for that must go to Aaron Sorkin for writing and directing him that way). And yet, here Javier is, a Best Actor nominee. Honestly, I could have included Bardem's two nominated co-stars, Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, along with him for this ignominious honor, but at least they acted their age in this woefully misguided project. Watch Amy Poehler's documentary Lucy and Desi (also streaming on Amazon Prime) instead.

Being the Ricardos

And so the final march to Oscar glory begins. Tune in to the Big Show this Sunday to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, hottest escorts and most heartfelt acceptance speeches.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine, and Kirby Holt, creator, editor and head writer of Movie Dearest.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Short Cuts 2022, Part 3: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

For the 17th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater near you (watch the trailer here). In the last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

American shorts in general and those produced by Netflix in particular dominate this category this year, which is usually more international. Nevertheless, this is the strongest batch of nominees in the short film categories, which tackle a wind-range of relatable topics, from substance abuse to bullying to homelessness.

And the nominees are...

Audible, Matthew Ogens & Geoff McLean (US, 39 min.), trailer.

Amaree McKenstry-Hall faces a daunting senior year as the star player of the Maryland School for the Deaf football team. A diverse cast (including a gay cheerleader) and a distinct lack of spoken dialogue (naturally) sets this Critics' Choice Award nominee apart from the pack. Questions about fitting into the world at large and what it means to be a member of a team make its message a universal one.

Oscar Connection: Fellow 2021 Oscar nominee CODA also deals with the subject of deafness.

MD Rating: 8/10


Lead Me Home, Pedro Kos & Jon Shenk (US, 39 min.), trailer.

Filmed over three years in three cities – Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle – where homelessness has become a "state of emergency", the battered faces and broken spirits of those caught in its grip tell their stories. Aerial photography captures the stunning omnipresence of the displaced, those of all races, ages and backgrounds (including a trans youth). Heartbreakingly powerful and eye-opening; "where are they supposed to go?"

Oscar Connection: Pedro Kos was the editor of Waste Land and The Square, while Jon Shenk was a cinematographer on Crip Camp and No End in Sight, all Oscar nominated documentary features.

MD Rating: 8/10

The Queen of Basketball, Ben Proudfoot (US, 22 min.), trailer.

A forgotten sports legend, Lusia "Lucy" Harris was the first and only female basketball player to be drafted by the NBA, among many other superlative accomplishments. She was also a humble, gregarious woman, with a winning smile and infectious laugh on full display in this Critics' Choice Award-winning profile that, following her death earlier this year, serves as a fine tribute to her legacy, and one that ensures that anyone who watches it will never forget her.

Oscar Connection:  Ben Proudfoot was nominated last year in this category for the equally terrific A Concerto Is a Conversation.

MD Rating: 8/10


Three Songs for Benazir, Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei (Afghanistan, 22 min.), trailer.

In a displacement camp in Afghanistan, Shaista and his new bride Benazir are expecting their first child. Wanting to provide for his family, Shaista seeks to enlist in the National Army, but circumstances force him to take up another job that proves equally dangerous. This, the one cinéma vérité (and only non-American) entry this year, deftly shows that not all naive young man become casualties of war on the battlefield.

Oscar Connection:  Fellow nominee this year Flee, the first film to be nominated for three feature Oscars (International, Documentary and Animated), also takes place (partially) in Afghanistan.

MD Rating: 7/10


When We Were Bullies, Jay Rosenblatt (US, 36 min.), trailer.

When an unexpected reunion awakens the memory of a 5th grade bullying incident, the filmmaker tracks down his former classmates to help him understand why it happened... and why they were all complicit in it. An interesting concept – revisiting childhood trauma from the point of view of the antagonist – ultimately feels self-serving, and the director's ample use of animated cut-outs to illustrate the schoolyard event is trite and tedious.

Oscar Connection: For playing the ultimate bully in The Power of the Dog, Benedict Cumberbatch received his second Best Actor nomination this year.

MD Rating: 5/10


Coming soon: A Movie Dearest annual tradition: "If We Picked the Oscars".

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