Monday, September 4, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Qfilms Brings Our Community Together



Now in its 24th year, Long Beach's QFilm Festival has grown to become one of the seaside city's preeminent social events.  It has also come to be regarded as the greater LA area's second-biggest exclusive showcase for LGBTQ movies, after Outfest.


The 2017 Long Beach QFilm Festival — often referred to as Qfilms for short — will take place September 7th-10th.  The historic Art Theatre located at 2025 East 4th Street will present all screenings, while the neighboring LGBTQ Center of Long Beach will host receptions and other festive gatherings throughout the weekend.  Both are located on Long Beach’s renowned “Retro Row” consisting of antique and vintage shops in addition to unique eateries and wine bars.


Long Beach’s longest-running film festival since 1993, the QFilm Festival annually presents narrative features, documentaries and short films that embody the rich diversity and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.  More than 1,500 attendees gather to savor a mix of West Coast, California and local premieres as well some of the most acclaimed features on the current film festival circuit.  Numerous filmmakers and cast members of the films to be shown will be present for audience discussions after many screenings.  Other festival events include nightly parties, a Saturday afternoon ice cream social, and a Drag Brunch on Sunday, September 10th.

This year's Qfilms will open the evening of Thursday, September 7th with the Long Beach premiere of The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, a new and acclaimed documentary about the longtime activist and author of the popular Tales of the City book series.  All fans of Maupin's writing will find this film inspiring.  The screening will be preceded and followed by an Opening Night party for all pass- and ticket-holders at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, located directly next door.


Two feature films will have their local premieres the night of Friday, September 8th.  The Feels is a hilarious yet heartfelt comedy about a woman who has never had an orgasm but receives unexpected help from her girlfriends during a lesbian bachelorette party. Cast member Ever Mainard won a Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress at July’s Outfest film festival.  The Feels will be followed by Something Like Summer, a romantic drama with musical interludes that explores the relationship between two gay friends over a decade.  It is based on the bestselling young adult novel.  A festive party for all attendees will take place at the Center between Friday night's screenings.

A number of great narrative and documentary features will screen on Saturday, September 9th.  They include The Lavender Scare (Los Angeles premiere), a revealing documentary about the persecution of LGBT employees of the US government during the Cold War; A Million Happy Nows (Long Beach premiere), in which a longtime lesbian couple confronts the challenge of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease; Extra-Terrestrials (Los Angeles premiere), a story about family secrets and the first feature film by award-winning Puerto Rican writer-director Carla Cavina; and Sebastian (California premiere), an enjoyable gay romance co-starring Katya from RuPaul’s Drag Race that results when a man falls for his boyfriend’s visiting cousin.


On Sunday, September 10th, the award-winning Saturday Church will have its Long Beach premiere.  This charmer is about a young queer boy experimenting with his sexuality and gender identity who finds refuge in an unusual church.  Additional Sunday features are Signature Move (Long Beach premiere), in which a Pakistani-Muslim woman and a Mexican-American woman discover romance, and Alaska is a Drag (official Los Angeles premiere), a delightful expansion of Shaz Bennett’s award-winning short film about an aspiring drag superstar stuck working in an Alaskan fish cannery.  A Closing Night party will be celebrated on Sunday starting at 5:30 pm.

QFilms 2017 will also boast four spectacular short film programs between Saturday and Sunday: Men in Briefs, Women in Shorts, Queer & Trans Shorts, and the festival's first ever Latinx Shorts Spotlight.  Jury and Audience awards will be given to worthy films in several categories.  All net proceeds from the festival will benefit the non-profit LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and its important community outreach programs.  Sponsors of the 2017 QFilm Festival include Here Media, the Arts Council for Long Beach, Anderson Real Estate Group, California State University Long Beach, Regal Medical Group and the Port of Long Beach.


Discounted full-festival and 5-film passes as well as individual screening tickets are now available for purchase at the Qfilms website.


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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: Opening Nights



Health and family issues conspired, sadly, to prevent me from attending an opening night at Los Angeles' storied Ahmanson Theatre since the end of last year.  Thankfully, I was able to break out of this vicious cycle last week in time for the LA premiere of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Not only was this 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play (in addition to several other Tonys) outstanding in virtually every way, but I was seated next to out actor-screenwriter Peter Paige (the US Queer as Folk, The Fosters) as well as just down from the fabulous, always friendly Wilson Cruz.  Cruz will soon be seen as one of the first two openly gay characters ever to grace a Star Trek TV series, with Broadway's Anthony Rapp playing his partner.


Curious Incident isn't a gay-themed play per se.  Adapted from Mark Haddon's bestselling 2003 novel by Simon Stephens, it follows the adventures of 15-year old Christopher Boone.  This intelligent British teen lives with his widowed father and is apparently on the autism spectrum, though this is never specifically mentioned.  Christopher has very particular likes and dislikes, doesn't relate well to other people and hates to be touched.  He has affection for his pet rat Toby, as well as video games, Sherlock Holmes detective stories and his neighbor's dog.

One night, Christopher discovers the dog next door dead in its yard, a pitchfork protruding from its side.  He sets out to discover who could have committed such a ghastly, seemingly unwarranted act.  The incident proves to be just the tip of the iceberg for Christopher, who ends up uncovering family secrets that lead him to travel alone (well, with Toby) beyond his home town for the first time.


The production is stunningly, engrossingly directed by Marianne Elliott, whose current London revival of Angels in America is drawing similar raves to her Tony Award-winning work on this.  Elliott and her design team do an impressive, at times overwhelming job of staging the action from Christopher's perspective.  It is frequently but necessarily loud, busy and visually irritating.  Audience members can't help but feel what life for someone living with autism or Asperger's must be like.

While the entire, notably diverse cast of the touring production is exceptional, young Adam Langdon was nothing less than amazing as Christopher during the opening night performance (Benjamin Wheelwright alternates in the role during Saturday and Sunday matinees).  It would be a demanding, challenging role for the most experienced actors but Langdon portrays Christopher beautifully, with both sensitivity and profound strength.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Ahmanson through September 10th and will then resume its national tour.  It absolutely should not be missed.


Speaking of opening nights, there is a fun, new, gay-interest film with that very title now available on DVD from Wolfe Video.  Opening Night finds a strong roster of both characters and actors occupying Isaac Rentz's backstage musical-comedy.  Topher Grace (where has he been?) headlines as Nick, the flummoxed stage manager of a new Broadway musical entitled One Hit Wonderland.  A celebration of such 1980's and 90's songs as "Rock Me Amadeus," "I Melt With You" and "Living La Vida Loca" ("Come On Eileen" is conspicuously missing) the show stars NSYNC's JC Chasez.  These and other musical numbers are energetically choreographed by Aakomon Jones of Pitch Perfect and Dreamgirls fame, assisted by Amy Allen.

Anne Heche plays the musical's Cher-esque leading lady but a backstage accident sidelines her.  Her understudy, who also happens to be Nick's ex-girlfriend, assumes the role to the initial chagrin of the production's high-strung producer (Rob Riggle).  Meanwhile, gay dancer Malcolm (the always delicious Taye Diggs) is battling a hilariously foul-mouthed Lesli Margherita for the attentions of the show's hot new male dancer.

The movie's plot doesn't amount to much but it serves as a great showcase for the cast as well as its retro song score.  Andre Lascaris's colorful, dynamic cinematography is also of note.  Opening Night is great for a quiet summer night at home, especially for fans of its showcased one-hit wonders.


My personal travails earlier this summer also prohibited me from reviewing two new-ish films that demand attention.  The Ornithologist, by gay, Portuguese writer-director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, isn't unlike a queer film as directed by David Lynch.  The film's hunky title character, Fernando (played by Paul Hamy), encounters all sorts of unusual people and adventures as he paddles down a river searching for rare birds.  Cute, deaf-mute Jesus (Xelo Cagiao) is memorable as a lonely goatherd who crosses Fernando's path with dramatic results.  There is also plentiful Catholic imagery at play, which naturally caught Reverend's attention along with the men on display.


And then there is South Korean filmmaker's Joon-ho Bong's Okja, now available on Netflix as well as in some US theaters.  Alternately delightful and disturbing, it is at heart an E.T.-like story of a girl and her beloved giant, genetically-engineered pig friend.  Young Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) embarks on a journey to the decadent old US of A when Okja is abducted by the evil corporation that created it, headed by Tilda Swinton in dual roles as the company's hilariously insecure CEO and her downright vicious sister.  Mija and Okja also become targets of an animal rights group and a demented TV host à la the late Steve Irwin, portrayed by a surprisingly whacked-out Jake Gyllenhaal.  The remainder of the movie's all-star, multi-national cast includes Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins and The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun.  Okja isn't for kids, despite its cute & cuddly star, but it serves as a potent adult fable.  Have some hankies handy.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (on tour): A
Opening Night: B
The Ornithologist: B+
Okja: A-

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Outfest 2017 Promises to be Fabulous


 

Nearly 200 LGBTQ short and feature-length films from around the world will be screened during Outfest 2017. That would be a lot of celluloid if movies were still released in non-digital formats. Running July 6th-16th at various venues in and around Los Angeles, the annual festival will be more fabulous than ever thanks to its roster of local premieres.


Outfest began as a three-day media conference on the campus of UCLA way back in 1982. 35 years later, it is the largest LGBTQ film fest in the world and the largest of the many film festivals that take place in LA each year. 40,000 attendees, filmmakers, community leaders and other bigwigs (in some cases, such as the screening of Suspiciously Large Woman: Bob the Drag Queen Comedy Special on July 10th, people literally wearing big wigs) participate in Outfest’s plentiful screenings, panels and parties.

Caftans might actually be fashionable this year thanks to the July 12th debut of The Fabulous Allan Carr. While his name may be unfamiliar to the under-40 crowd, plenty of us more mature gays recall the flamboyant producer of such big-screen musicals as Grease, Grease 2 and Can’t Stop the Music as well as the original Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles. Award-winning documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz (who previously made Vito, I Am Divine and Tab Hunter Confidential) crafted this loving expose of Carr, who also helmed the notorious 1989 Academy Awards ceremony before his untimely death at the age of 62.

“Growing up I was totally obsessed with the movie Grease, which came out when I was nine years old,” Schwarz confessed to me via email. “Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was a visionary producer responsible for making all this magic happen and his name was Allan Carr.”


Schwarz continued: “I was delighted to discover Robert Hofler’s Allan Carr biography Party Animals, and knew right away it had all the elements I look for when choosing a subject. A film adaptation would tie together themes of all my previous documentaries, (which are) stories of visionary mavericks who create larger than life personas to make their dreams a reality; all are stories of outsiders becoming insiders.”

Carr became a multi-millionaire with Grease, which remained the most successful live-action movie musical from 1978 until this year’s Beauty and the Beast. Sadly, he lost much of his fortune not to mention his reputation just two years later when he produced the uber-campy Village People biopic Can’t Stop the Music. “The challenge with The Fabulous Allan Carr was to look beyond the caricature and explore the inner life of a complicated, contradictory man,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz was able to secure the on-camera participation of many of Carr’s friends and collaborators such as Bruce Vilanch, Lorna Luft, Steve Guttenberg, Valerie Perrine, Maxwell Caulfield and more. “So many people wanted to be part of this film because they loved Allan but there were also some who wanted to make sure we saw him as a human being with his own faults and insecurities,” according to Schwarz. “Everyone we spoke to helped present a portrait of a man whose mission in life was to make people happy, but happiness in his own personal life was sometimes elusive.”

I found The Fabulous Allan Carr revelatory in addition to just plain entertaining and can’t recommend it enough. Beyond Outfest, people can follow the film on its website as well as on its Facebook and Twitter pages.


The term fabulous can also be applied to Billy Bloom, the central character of Freak Show. Based on James St. James’ acclaimed novel, Freak Show will serve as this year’s Closing Night Gala screening on July 16th. Making the comedy-drama even more noteworthy is a rare big-screen appearance by newly-anointed Tony Award winner Bette Midler as Billy’s eccentric mother. Laverne Cox and Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine herself, are also featured.

Billy (played by the extraordinary Alex Lawther) unexpectedly finds himself shipped off to live with his conservative father. His new high school, Ulysses S. Grant Academy, doesn’t take well to Billy’s larger-than-life personality and fashion sense. Just when all seems lost, he finds a friend in the school’s super-cute star football player, who is secretly a budding artist. Newly empowered, Billy goes up against Breslin’s bitchy Bible-thumper for the title of Homecoming Queen. Freak Show is a visually dazzling crowd-pleaser thanks to the participation of legendary cinematographer Dante Spinotti (Beaches, The Mirror Has Two Faces and L.A. Confidential, among many other credits).

Speaking of visually dazzling, there are probably no two more gorgeous men to be found on screen during Outfest than out actor Russell Tovey (of Looking and Pride fame) and Arinze Kene (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). They co-star in The Pass, screening July 7th, as fellow pro athletes who end up having a complicated relationship. It is a thoroughly unpredictable, ultimately bittersweet romance, and it doesn’t hurt that both in-shape actors are minimally dressed throughout.


This year’s festival isn’t without a fabulous movie musical! Hello Again is a polysexual song and dance saga adapted from Michael John LaChiusa’s celebrated off-Broadway show. The film will have its LA premiere on July 11th. An all-star cast including Martha Plimpton, Audra McDonald, T.R. Knight, Rumer Willis (especially good) and Cheyenne Jackson play an assortment of intertwined lovers who cross paths over the course of 12 decades. Tom Gustafson, who previously helmed the 2008 Outfest hit musical Were the World Mine, directs.

Opening night on July 6th will feature the LA premiere of Sundance award winner God’s Own Country, a love story between a British sheep farmer and a Romanian migrant worker. Also, openly gay TV producer Bryan Fuller (American Gods, Hannibal and Pushing Daisies) will be presented with the 2017 Outfest Achievement Award.

All in all, Outfest 2017 is going to be fabulous. Visit the Outfest website for the full festival schedule and to purchase tickets.

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

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