Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dearest... Short Cuts 2016, Part 2: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

ShortsHD once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming device near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make our break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Two British and three American short documentaries are the finalists for the Oscar this year, with loss and global conflict the dominant themes.

In addition to my reviews and trailer links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each documentary short nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...

Extremis, Dan Krauss (USA, 24 minutes).

Set in the bustling confines of a hospital intensive care unit, compassionate doctors help families make the agonizing decisions on whether or not to keep their loved ones on life support (the title refers to the Latin phrase in extremis, which means “at the point of death”). Needless to say, this one is an intense, but effective, emotional roller coaster, and the one nominee here most likely to hit close to home. Krauss was previously nominated in this category for The Life of Kevin Carter.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Manchester by the Sea is steeped in grief and guilt.

4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki (USA, 26 minutes).

4.1 miles is the distance across the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, where thousands of refugees, fleeing from the war in Syria, attempted to cross the perilous waters on flimsy inflatable rafts. Most wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the tireless rescue efforts of the Greek Coast Guard. The raw footage here is absolutely harrowing, with child after child plucked from certain death right in front of your eyes. Visceral and immediate, you won’t soon forget this one, already a Student Academy Award winner.

Watch trailer, or watch in full here.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Documentary Feature nominee Fire at Sea, another view of the plight of refugees.

Joe's Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen (USA, 24 minutes).

A 91-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor donates his treasured violin, which immigrated with him to America, to a school instrument drive, where it is adopted by a 12-year-old schoolgirl from an impoverished neighborhood. I hate to bag on something so well-intentioned, but this one feels so manufactured it’s practically a reality show. Even the big “emotional moment” when the two meet feels forced and falls flat. Sigh; Holocaust-related documentaries have become the Meryl Streep of this category, automatically nominated regardless of their actual merit.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on YouTube.
Dearest Rating: 5/10
Pair it with: another inspirational heart-tugger, Hidden Figures.

Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis (UK, 40 minutes).

The family of a Free Syrian Army commander live on the literal frontline of the Syrian Civil War, where bombs and gunfire are such everyday occurrences that the children actually “play ISIS”. After the father is captured, the family flees to Germany. Not sure what this one is trying to say, as it’s hard to sympathize with a father who would keep his children in a war zone or a mother who wants to go back to where her husband has been likely tortured and/or brutally murdered.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 4/10
Pair it with: The grim Jim: The James Foley Story.

The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara (UK, 40 minutes).

They are the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteer rescue workers who rush in to recently bombed-out neighborhoods to save as many victims as they can. You’ll witness their triumphs (rescuing a “miracle baby” from under tons of rubble) and defeats (not all of them make it home). Above all, you’ll be struck by not just the bravery of these selfless heroes but also their steadfast commitment to preserve life. Even after all the death and destruction, the filmmakers (previously nominated for the documentary feature Virunga) end their story on an uplifting note.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: For more drama on the frontlines, try 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Coming soon: Part 3 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

Click here for Part 1, my reviews of this year's Animated Short Film nominees.

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dearest… 2016: Family Matters


The 2016 movies for the whole family (mostly).

The Jungle Book:
Kipling knows we didn’t need yet another version of this classic story but then, what do you know, it turns out to be pretty darn terrific. Iron Man director Jon Favreau makes it all fresh and fun, and even manages to squeeze in some of the famous songs from Disney’s 1967 animated fave. Amid an all-star voice cast that boasts Bill Murray as Baloo and no less than three Oscar winners, youngster Neel Sethi shines as “man cub” Mowgli, the one flesh and blood character on screen. But the real star of this show is the eye-popping photorealistic visual effects and scenery, which completely transport you to the land where the “bear necessities of life” rule. (8/10)

The Wrath of Khan

Pete’s Dragon:
Disney raided their vault for another remake last year with this non-musical retelling of their 1977 favorite. This one is grounded more in reality, that is as much as a movie about a boy and his fire-breathing best friend can be. So we get a downer back story on how Pete became an orphan and instead of belting out power ballads from atop a Maine lighthouse, the female lead (here a dewy-eyed Bryce Dallas Howard) is a forest ranger in the Pacific Northwest. Like Mowgli, Pete is a “wild child” raised by, not wolves, but Clifford the Big Red Dog Elliot the Big Green Dragon. Seriously, does every animated critter have to act like a pokey little puppy? Bonus eye candy if you’re into lumberjacks. (6/10)

How Not to Train Your Dragon

The BFG:
Like Rudyard Kipling, author Roald Dahl has had quite a few of his works translated for the big screen, but it took this long for his beloved “Big Friendly Giant” to make that big leap. Steven Spielberg makes his most kid friendly live action flick since 1991’s Hook, but it blessedly turns out a lot better than that disaster. A CGI-enhanced Mark Rylance stars as the title character, who befriends an orphan girl and the Queen of England (Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton) to thwart his fellow giants, who are a lot less friendly and a lot more giant. There’s a definite Harry Potter vibe, for better or worse, but where else can you see Spielberg do fart jokes? (7/10)

Make that "whizzpopper" jokes.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople:
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a would-be juvenile delinquent taken in by the loving Bella and her much-less enthusiastic husband Hector (Sam Neill), who live on a remote farm in New Zealand. After an unexpected loss, Hector and Ricky (along with his pet dog Tupac) trek off into the bush, which prompts a nationwide manhunt when the authorities wrongly assume it’s a kidnapping. This scruffy adventure is a lot of fun and even sweet, a scrappy tale of unlikely male bonding. Marred slightly by its cartoonish villains and their assumption that Hector is a pedophile, it is a little less family friendly then it really should be. Also features the best alternative to “Happy Birthday to You” like ever. (8/10)

Take that, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

LGBTQ Love on the Silver Screen


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and Cupid is getting his bow and arrows ready. Some of us hope to be struck while others may be doing everything we can to dodge his arsenal, but there is no doubt that love will be in the air for the next few weeks.

Lots of people turn to romantic movies this time of year for both encouragement and solace, which got us thinking about those LGBTQ-themed films that can be considered the most romantic. I have my personal preferences but I also enlisted the help of nearly thirty gay and lesbian Facebook friends to identify their favorites.

Sunday Bloody Sunday
The notion of romantic movies geared toward our community is actually fairly recent, with few such films made before the 1990’s. Most previous films featuring LGBTQ characters usually saw them being killed, committing suicide or otherwise being punished for their non-conforming yearnings. Pioneering early productions incorporating more positive depictions of LGBTQ protagonists include Midnight Cowboy (1969), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Making Love (1982) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).

Things really started to improve with 1987’s sympathetic Maurice. This gorgeous Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel, which Forster refused to allow to be published while he was living, focuses on the repressed feelings shared between two young, upper-class British men (James Wilby and Hugh Grant). While their relationship doesn’t endure, the title character is more successful with a dark and handsome groundskeeper (memorably played by Rupert Graves).

Desert Hearts
Pre-90’s romantic favorites among the ladies include the true story Silkwood (1983), in which Cher plays a lesbian power plant worker caring for her radiation-exposed friend (Meryl Streep); Desert Hearts (1986), a passionate, 1950’s-set love story between a divorcee (Helen Shaver) and the Nevada ranch hand (Patricia Charbonneau) she meets; and Personal Best (1982), Robert Towne’s graphic-at-the-time exploration of love between two female athletes (Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly) and the male coach who threatens to come between them.

Two recent, admirably unapologetic additions to the lesbian love canon are Blue is the Warmest Color, the acclaimed and erotic 2013 film about a young French woman’s sexual awakening, and 2015’s award-winning Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women having a secret affair in the closeted 1950’s.

Beautiful Thing
For many LGBTQ people, the most cherished romantic movies are coming-of-age stories. Frequently cited in my survey were 1996’s Beautiful Thing, the British tale of tentative first love between two put-upon high school boys (based on Jonathan Harvey’s hit play); the similar but lesbian-themed The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995); and Get Real (1998), in which a brainy gay boy crushes on his school’s star athlete and finds his attentions reciprocated, at least for a time. Two of my personal favorites in this subgenre are 1996’s Lilies, about a tortured love triangle in a Catholic school for boys, and Come Undone (2000), a no-holds-barred French drama about two toned and tanned young men who fall in love on the beach during summer vacation.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love
Love and loss often seem to go hand-in-hand in real life, so it isn’t surprising that a few gay-themed films considered the most romantic also involve death and dying. The Oscar-winning gay cowboy saga Brokeback Mountain (2005) is the undisputed champ in this regard, and the film has resonated even more strongly in the wake of co-star Heath Ledger’s tragic death just a few years after its release. Other tragic love stories mentioned by my Facebook pals are the revolutionary AIDS dramas Parting Glances (1986) and Longtime Companion (1989), Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy (1988), the fact-based Soldier’s Girl (2003), A Home at the End of the World (2004) and the 2009 Peruvian gay ghost story Contracorriente (Undertow).

A Single Man
I would add to these David Lewis’ 2009 film Redwoods, starring gay fave Matthew Montgomery and the beautiful Brendan Bradley as two men who embark on a life-changing relationship that endures beyond death, as well as Tom Ford’s exquisite A Single Man (also 2009). Colin Firth scored a deserved Academy Award nomination for his moving yet frequently funny turn as a gay university professor grieving the sudden death of his partner.

As if being homosexual, bisexual or trans wasn’t considered unorthodox enough, a few recent movie gems feature unexpected romances between unusual pairings. From Beginning to End is a 2009 Brazilian film about an Olympics-bound swimmer in love with another man. The catch? The two are half-brothers who were raised together from a young age. So controversial it was never released theatrically in the US, it is worth seeking out on home video or streaming. And then there’s Plan B from Argentina, in which two heterosexual men bond as friends over one’s messy breakup with his girlfriend (whom the other man is now dating) but ultimately become lovers. I found this film refreshing in its disdain for sexual labels and very touching in the end.

Soldier's Girl
2010’s Paulista, also from Brazil, boasts a male-to-female trans title character who knowingly has an affair with her initially in-the-dark but increasingly vulnerable father. It isn’t for everyone but some trans viewers may find their dilemma intriguing, to say the least. More recently, The Danish Girl recounts the story of the first man to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. This 2015 biopic is unique in that it begins as a heterosexual romance between its married subjects but becomes more queer as the wife (Alicia Vikander, in an Oscar winning performance) grows to support her transgender spouse (Eddie Redmayne).

The Circle (2014) is an even more factual, inspiring love story. Director Stefan Haupt employs a combination of documentary footage and dramatic recreations to relate the decades-spanning romance between Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp. They met as young men in the 1950’s and fought right-wing oppression in their native Switzerland. Both were still alive and together at the time of the film’s production.

Of course, the newest gay, cinematic love story is current awards darling Moonlight. Based on an autobiographical play, it depicts a neglected black boy’s coming of age including his first sexual experience as a teenager with his best friend. They reconnect as adults in the film’s final, hopeful segment.

Trick, Jeffrey, Fried Green Tomatoes, Yossi & Jagger (I would add its 2012 sequel, simply titled Yossi, too), The Wedding Banquet, Carrington and Big Eden wrap up the remainder of my Facebook friends’ nominees for most romantic LGBTQ films of all time, and I agree with most of these.

Wherever you find inspiration, we wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day!

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

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