Monday, April 17, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Back to the Beach

 

It may not be summer just yet but it isn’t too early to head to the beach. At least that’s true when it comes to the 18th annual Newport Beach Film Festival. The event will run April 20th-27th at multiple venues in and around its coastal host city. 


Celebrated as one of the leading lifestyle film festivals in the United States, the Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) seeks to bring to Orange County the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. Committed to enlightening the public with a first-class international film program, a forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities, the NBFF focuses on showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films from around the globe.
This typically includes a number of productions with LGBTQ appeal, and 2017 is no exception. Thousands of straight as well as LGBTQ attendees annually make NBFF a smash success. LGBTQ filmmakers participate as well.

Here are some of this year’s notable offerings, both short films and feature-length, of interest to our community:


Alzheimer’s: A Love Story is a potent yet hopeful documentary short that follows longtime gay couple Greg and Michael as they struggle with the title disease, which threatens to destroy the memory of their 40-year relationship.

My Mom and The Girl features a great, diverse cast including Harmony Santana, Valerie Harper and Liz Torres headlines this tale about a dinner with friends that takes a dark turn, leading a retired jazz singer and her caregiver to a proverbial crossroads on the streets of East Los Angeles. There, they encounter The Girl and the three very disparate — and desperate — women pull each other back into the light.

Writer-director Jerell Rosales’ sweet Please Hold details the aftermath when a condom breaks during a random hookup with a stranger. Fearing he may be infected with HIV, young Danny finds an unexpected new friend while awaiting his test results. Shown as part of the fest’s “Around The World In Shorty Gays” program.

Another short films program, ‘Til Short Do Us Part,” will include Thanks for Dancing. In this Norwegian production, a lifelong relationship is coming to an end as we examine two elderly men, both former athletes, during the last winter they are living together.

The North American premiere of The Dam, an Australian film about two lifelong mates (that’s Aussie-speak for “friends”) who revisit the monolithic dam that defined their young lives. An admission from one of the men cracks open a reservoir of silence, loss and regret, and feelings that were impounded long ago cannot be contained any longer.


Although gay marriage was legalized there several years ago, Mexico ranks second in the world in the rate of murders committed against the LGBT population. The documentary Pink Spring in Mexico (Primavera Rosa en México) spotlights the activists who have risked their lives to denounce these hate crimes, but impunity continues to surround the perpetrators.

Pretty M John, in which a 10-year old boy, Danilo, helps his mother run a guesthouse in the Philippines. When Mimi John (a transgender boxer from Manila) arrives, Danilo seizes the opportunity to connect with her as he finds out more about his own gender identity.

The Lavender Scare is an eerily prescient feature documentary. With the United States gripped in the panic of the Cold War during the 1950’s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower deems homosexuals to be security risks and orders the immediate firing of any government employee discovered to be gay or lesbian. This triggered a vicious witch hunt that ruined tens of thousands of lives but thrust an unlikely hero into the forefront of what would become the modern LGBT rights movement.

A couple living in Baja California makes preparations for their grand wedding in No Dress Code Required. There's only one problem: they are both men and their union is considered illegal. Cristina Herrera Borquez’s acclaimed film won the John Schlesinger Award at January’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Tickets for this year’s festival offerings may be purchased by visiting the NBFF website or calling 949-253-2880.

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dearest... 2016: The Leftovers


Every year, many must-see films end up with Oscar nominations. And then there’s the rest, the movies I had no intention of watching but, thanks to the Academy, I now “have” to watch. And the nominees were… 


Deepwater Horizon:
Producer/star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have cornered the market on inspirational “based on a true story” dude movies (see also: Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day) where they can aim for a certain air of prestige while still blowing lots of shit up. Here they take on the infamous 2010 BP oil rig explosion, a real world catastrophe co-opted into a 1970s-ish disaster movie, complete with an all-star cast playing such stock characters as "scruffy veteran" (Kurt Russell), "devoted wife on telephone" (Kate Hudson) and "moustache-twirling corporate villain" (John Malkovich, in full finely-cured ham mode). The result is astonishingly awful in its lack of subtlety, originality or suspense. (3/10)

Marky Mark Meets Jane the Virgin

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi:
Like Wahl-/Berg, Michael Bay is also (in)famous for his overly-macho flicks (see also: anything with the word “Transformers” in the title). His latest is at least grounded in reality, inspired by the 2012 terror attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Libya. The bulk of the overly-long 13 hour 144 minute running time becomes repetitive: terrorists attack, lull in the action, repeat. What enlivens it considerably is the elite team of ripped, hunky hired guns (including The Office’s Jim and Orange is the New Black’s Pornstache) on display, often-shirtless and always sweaty. The testosterone practically drips off the screen, along with an expected heaping helping of Rambo-esque patriotism. (5/10)

Worst drive-thru ever.

Trolls:
If the thought of sitting through a Day-Glo hued feature-length commercial for those frizzy-haired dollar store dolls you see in claw machines and on pencil erasers everywhere truly horrifies you, take heart: it’s not that bad. Sure, the characters literally fart glitter and crap cupcakes, but kids love that kind of stuff and it blessedly zips along at a quick pace. Pitting the perky Princess Poppy (voiced by, naturally, Anna Kendrick) against a race of troll-eaters (that totally don’t look anything like the Boxtrolls), this musical adventure of course has the typical “embrace individuality” moral all animated flicks are required by law to have these days. (6/10)

"I never felt like this before..."

Passengers:
On a 120-year trek to a distant space colony, Chris Pratt is rudely awakened 90 years too early to a ghost ship, with only a Michael Sheen bartender robot to keep him company. After a year of growing a Matt Damon Martian beard he breaks down and wakes up his own sleeping beauty (Jennifer Lawrence). He fully knows he’s dooming her to an isolated life, but hey, at least he’ll get laid. This Sci-Fi Lite doesn’t quite know what to do with the moral questions it raises, and it devolves into an increasingly illogical series of protracted close calls during its second half. (6/10)

At least there's this.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: War Makes Beasts of Us All


 

Rage-filled monsters are currently rampaging across movie screens, and making a lot of money in the process.  A live-action version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast?  Check.  Logan, Hugh Jackman's reportedly final appearance as X-Men mutant Wolverine?  Check.  And the towering granddaddy of them all, King Kong, is appearing for the first time since 2005.


Kong: Skull Island is an unusual prequel/reboot in that it delivers a serious, consistent anti-war message while showcasing impressive special-effects mayhem.  Set in 1973, the titular home of the giant primate is discovered thanks to first-time satellite surveys of our planet.  Shrouded for centuries by its own permanent storm system (upgraded from the giant fog bank seen in earlier Kong films) the mysterious land mass beckons a research team headed by Bill Randa (John Goodman).  He and his associates are convinced Skull Island could be a haven for MUTOs, those Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms introduced in 2014's Godzilla remake.  (Yes, Kong: Skull Island is the second chapter in a planned, connected series of "monsterverse" epics.)

With the US pulling out of Vietnam, Randa is granted the support of a squadron led by a still combat-hungry colonel played by Samuel L. Jackson.  No sooner do their helicopters make it through the violent atmosphere then they begin showering the island with depth charges.  An unhappy Kong quickly appears and makes mincemeat of the battalion.  The scattered survivors, who also include a war photographer (Oscar winner Brie Larson) and a hunky jungle scout (Tom Hiddleston), have to find their way to one another and their mutual rescue point while evading Kong as well as some nasty reptilian critters out for blood.  They also cross paths with John C. Reilly as the film's most interesting human character, a World War II fighter pilot marooned on the island 30 years earlier.

All eventually learn, even Jackson's gung ho military leader, that violence and weaponry only lead to more violence.  Kong is protective of the human natives on Skull Island, and he takes on the vicious "skull crawlers" when they go after the new arrivals.  Larson's pacifist makes a personal connection with the big ape that endears him to her without going as all out romantic as Kong did previously with Fay Wray, Jessica Lange and Naomi Watts.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes an impressive leap to the big budget league following his low-budget 2013 feature debut The Kings of Summer.  He strikes a fine balance between monster battles and more human moments, even as the film's Apocalypse Now allusions prove excessive. Perhaps needless to say, Kong: Skull Island is a vast improvement on producer Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong (1976) and its even worse 1986 sequel King Kong Lives.  And be sure to stay through the film's end credits for a sneak peek at future movie mayhem to feature Kong, Godzilla and other kaiju classics.


Gay director François Ozon's Frantz, now playing in southern California and NYC, also explores the damaging effects of war.  Set in Germany in 1919, it initially explores a family's grief following the combat-related death of the title character in France during World War I.  Frantz's fiancée Anna and his mother and father are generally coping well until a young Frenchman, Adrien, arrives to town and begins leaving flowers on Frantz's gravesite. Soon after, he shows up on the family's doorstep and introduces himself as their late loved one's longtime friend from Paris, although, oddly, Frantz never mentioned Adrien to his family.

While Adrien proves to have a darker agenda related to his wartime experience, he doesn't prove to be a monster.  Things get complicated as Anna falls in love with him and must eventually choose between Adrien and a local man eager to take Frantz's place.  Being an Ozon film, the intriguing story plays out in unpredictable ways and includes a few homoerotic moments.  This is also Ozon's first true period piece and its a visual stunner in this regard.  Cinematographer Pascal Marti shoots most of the film in black and white but several flashback scenes "bleed" into full color.

Frantz is frequently reminiscent of a 1940's post-war melodrama, and its actually a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 Broken Lullaby.  Joan Crawford or Bette Davis would not be out of place in the role of Anna but modern-day actress Paula Beer makes the unfortunate (though not tragic) character her own.  Pierre Niney, recently seen in the title role of Yves Saint Laurent, volleys appropriately between tortured and desirable as Adrien.  Watch for a brief shot of him in see-through underwear following a swim.  Anton von Lucke is great in several scenes of remembrance as the sadly short-lived Frantz.  They all make this film an ultimately hopeful, anti-war morality tale.


Virtually all gay men can attest to the internal war we find ourselves in as we struggle to accept our sexual orientation while coming of age.  One is lucky indeed to make it out alive.  Three films newly available on VOD/DVD serve as vivid illustrations of this rite of passage.  Bromance (TLA Releasing), by Argentinian writer-director Lucas Santa Ana, is the weakest of these offerings but serves as a semi-autobiographical time capsule.  Set in pre-cell phone 1996, three best friends take a trip to a secluded, beach-side campground.  One of them, Daniel, brings along his video camera to record their memorable moments.  These end up including Daniel's coming out to his crush, Santiago, and Santiago's conflicted reaction.  The arrival of a nubile young woman doesn't help matters.  Whereas Bromance ends up affirming Daniel's conviction and bravery, it does so at what struck me as an uncomfortably excessive cost having been there myself.


Departure (Wolfe Video) and Being 17 (Strand) are both, in addition to being French-made, more contemporary yet still envelope-pushing gay coming-of-age dramas.  In the first, Alex Lawther (who played young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) gives a remarkable performance as Elliot, a teenager who embraces his sexuality while helping his mother (the always great Juliette Stevenson) close up their longtime summer home.  Elliot is quickly drawn to a local motorcycle aficionado (a dreamy Phenix Brossard) and finds his attentions returned to a point.  Andrew Steggall, who previously helmed the award-winning gay short The Red Bike, makes a strong feature directorial debut.  Note: one may never look at carrots in quite the same way after watching Departure.


Being 17 is the latest masterpiece by longtime LGBT-interest filmmaker Andre Techine (Wild Reeds).  He receives an insightful assist here from co-screenwriter Celine Sciamma, the developing auteur behind such recent faves as Tomboy, Girlhood and Oscar nominee My Life as a Zucchini.  High school students Damien and Thomas are both gay but don't get along at school.  We eventually learn that Thomas' mother is seriously ill and he is taking his anger out inappropriately on Damien.  The boys are forced to get along better (and how) once Damien's mother invites Thomas to stay with them while his mother recuperates.  All ends happily once they've made it through their numerous trials and tribulations.  A must see.

Reverend's Ratings:
Kong: Skull Island- B+
Frantz- A-
Bromance- C
Departure- B+
Being 17- A-

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


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