Saturday, January 31, 2009

Monthly Wallpaper - February 2009: Best Pictures

February is all about Oscar here at Movie Dearest, as seen in our latest movie calendar wallpaper dedicated to a few of our favorite Best Picture winners of the past. Now you can bask in the glow of the best of the best all month long.

And speaking of Academy Award winners and month-long celebrations, Turner Classic Movies will present their 14th Annual "31 Days of Oscar" starting tomorrow. This year's theme: "TCM University" ... don't be late for class.

UPDATE: Here's the TCM promo for "31 Days of Oscar". And also, be sure to check out the nifty "TCMU" widget (updated daily) at the bottom of the page.

All you have to do is click on the picture above to enlarge it, then simply right click your mouse and select "Set as Background". (You can also save it to your computer and set it up from there if you prefer.) The size is 1024 x 768, but you can modify it if needed in your own photo-editing program.

Awards Watch: Panda Upset at the Annies

Kung Fu Panda swept last night's Annie Awards, leaving its fellow Oscar nominee WALL-E empty-handed. Not only did the DreamWorks Animation hit win in all ten feature film categories (thereby breaking the record nine wins set by Ratatouille, another Disney/Pixar favorite, last year), its video game and DVD spin-offs picked up an additional five trophies.

No doubt that this surprise Pixar shut-out will stir up some scandal for the International Animated Film Society (I still say DWA bought and paid for each of those awards). Regardless of their past record of matching up with the Academy Award winners (only once since the Animated Feature Oscar was introduced in 2001 have they not), WALL-E is still the front-runner ... and the Annies are now officially irrelevant.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: Leslie Jordan

There are few actors as distinctive and consistently hilarious as Leslie Jordan. The Emmy-winner is best known as Beverley Leslie on Will & Grace or as Brother Boy in Sordid Lives (written by his good friend Del Shores). Jordan will be coming to Phoenix as a Valentine’s present, when he appears with the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus in an evening of entertainment called Under the Big Top. He’s been touring the country in his wonderful one-man show, My Life Down the Pink Carpet, which Phoenix audiences were lucky enough to see last year.

“I tell you, I’m a little exhausted,” Jordan explained. “You know, I did forty-five cities with this one man show, which I’m bringing portions of to Phoenix. My mistake was that I came home in December and I should have just rested, but my manager said, “Let’s just do a little three week run in L.A., which was just exhausting. I’m supposed to be in New York and I have no idea how I’m going to make it,” he laughed. “I just can’t imagine doing six, seven eight performances a week. I’ll probably just have to live like a monk.”

He also spilled the news that he’s thrown his hat in the ring for another high-profile gig. “I want to be on Dancing with the Stars!”

He’s excited for the show in Phoenix. “They came up with a wonderful idea where I’ll tell stories, some from the show and some from other things I’ve done, and then they’ll sing around it, 'cause I don’t sing,” he laughed. “We’re going to put on a wonderful show. I told them, Under the Big Top? You should have Top underlined! There’ll be surprises galore.”

“Brother Boy may even show up,” he continued. "That’s a big “if”! They’re begging, but I thought, I don’t know – I have to shave my whole body, it’s so torturous to do that character. People think I just throw on a dress and there I am. You have no idea,” he laughed. “It’s no fun shaving. Del Shores made me. He said, “You can’t have a hairy Brother Boy (in the TV series Sordid Lives).” He agreed as long as all publicity photos were taken while they were filming. Of course, two months later, Shores called back to say they needed more publicity shots. “They’re going to have to Photoshop out my hair, I’m not shaving again.” We put me in that orange jumpsuit, and I’m really hairy. I looked like a big monkey. We put that orange jumpsuit on me and we just laughed and laughed. They said, “We can Photoshop out a lot of things, but we can not Photoshop out that hair.” So, I ended up having to shave again. It’s not bad when you do it, it’s bad when it grows back.”

Jordan hails from Chattanooga, Tennessee. “The internet always says I’m from Memphis, but I’ve only been to Memphis once or twice. I guess they’ve got me mixed up with Elvis. Where I grew up was called Missionary Ridge,” he said with a chuckle.

Jordan’s mood dampened when I asked about a great show that he filmed called Twelve Miles of Bad Road, costarring Lily Tomlin and Mary-Kay Place. “I think it’s pretty much history,” he said. “It was just the saddest thing that ever happened to me. I have all six episodes on a DVD and I show it to people and their mouths just fall open. It was just a matter of taste and they brought in these new people. The whole regime at HBO left, who were fans of our show. It was similar to Sordid Lives in that it wasn’t everybody’s taste, but for the people who loved it, they would have gone crazy over it. It was a big, loud, raucous Texas comedy about millionaires, so it was the opposite of white trash. We were the Texas elite, but we still sort of acted like white trash.

“Lily Tomlin was just brilliant in it, and I thought that I did some of my best work in it, and then I hear that this guy over at HBO just hated my character. He’s apparently gay and he thought that my character was a poor representation of the gay community, which sort of angered me. I just thought, “Since when do we have to be politically correct?” You know, I think we’ve reached this point where there’s all kinds of gay people. There’s good, there’s bad. Now, I think we’re at a point where we don’t have to be politically correct. I played the richest homosexual in Texas who had a penchant for young hustler boys. I have no idea where they got that idea! It was hilarious. I’ve always got some hustler who’s hounding me or blackmailing me.”

I suggested that fans could bombard HBO with a letter-writing campaign, but Jordan didn’t think it would make any difference. “They didn’t just cancel it, they buried it. It was the most expensive comedy in television history, so no one else could afford it.” Linda Bloodworth-Thomason shopped the show at Lifetime and FX, but it was too costly. “Then I heard rumors that the gay networks asked them to just let them air it, they wouldn’t even have to pay them, but they said no.”

“You would have laughed your ass off. It was brilliant. They thought it was “too broad”, but then again, why do you hire Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Lily Tomlin, Leslie Jordan and Mary Kay Place. What did they expect? The John f***ing Adams miniseries?” he laughed. “You get what you hire. I thought I was being very subtle.”

Jordan told a funny story about pitching a show idea with Shores. “We wanted to do a show called C.L.A.P. — Christian Ladies Against Pornography, and we were going to dress in drag, but we wanted to look real. We wanted to do this reality series where we would protest gay events, and we were just hollerin’ in this room and they just stared at us. They just stared at us like, “We don’t get it”.

He got the same reaction when they pitched a show called The Happy Hollimans about a gospel singing family headed by Tomlin that was decidedly un-Christian offstage (a pill-popping daughter, a gay son, et cetera). “When you put Del Shores and I together, it’s like a dog and pony show. We act out all the parts. His agent said, “You should teach a class on how to pitch a show,” he said, laughing. “Ah, well. It’s a wonder anything gets on TV at all. I think that’s going to be the death of network television. There are too many cooks in the kitchen. The head of HBO came from “Business Affairs”! He was a lawyer!”

Still, Jordan keeps positive about his future projects, and has resolved not to let it upset him so much. “Along for the ride in 2009 is my motto,” he stated. He considers himself very lucky to have his career, and he takes time out to donate money and time. He has to be selective, given his schedule, but he states that there are a select few that he will never turn down. “I never say no to the Human Rights Campaign. The Trevor Project, which helps gay teens who are contemplating suicide, is one of Jordan’s favorite organizations. “Most of the calls come from the Bible Belt, and that’s my story. I thought that’s just heartbreaking ... someone who’s considering killing themselves because their family has disowned them.”

His charity work has also brought him to the Valley of the Sun. “I’ve come to Phoenix several times. I’m real involved in the whole recovery movement, because I’ve been sober for ten years. I’ve been to Phoenix twice to big recovery conventions.” He went on, “I’m so blessed. I’ve just had this amazing career, and they teach you in recovery that you have to give back, for what you have been so freely given.”

He also came to Arizona while filming a show called Hidden Palms, which was set in Palm Springs. “We filmed in Glendale in August ... God, what a hell hole that was! Can you imagine?”

Then he concluded the conversation in true Beverley Leslie fashion. “I love Phoenix. Phoenix has the best rent boys – I don’t know why! I think it’s because there are a couple of shady internet sites out of Phoenix, like “” I’m always amazed at what’s available for an aging homosexual with a few dollars in his pocket,” he joked.

Leslie Jordan in Under the Big Top will be performed February 14 in Phoenix. For tickets and more information, visit the official website of the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus.

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Out in Film: Patrik-Ian Polk

Idol worship: Patrik-Ian Polk, writer/director/producer.

- His feature film debut, Punks (described as a "male Waiting to Exhale), won several awards at festivals around the world, including L.A. Outfest, plus an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

- He created the popular series Noah's Arc, which aired for two seasons on Logo. It too won a special award at L.A. Outfest.

- The big screen spin-off, Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom, premiered last year and quickly became one of the most successful independent features of 2008.

- The film was just nominated for a GLAAD Media Award and has also received three nominations from the NAACP Image Awards, including two for Polk as writer and director.

- Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom will be available on DVDFebruary 3.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Serbis With a Smile

Serbis (Service in English) is set in a dilapidated movie theatre in Manila. The former movie palace, which now shows dated adult films, is run by and serves as the home of three generations of the Pineda family. It is also one of the city’s centers of male prostitution.

The theatre barely provides enough income for the Pinedas to survive, so they turn a blind eye to the gay sex that takes place during screenings. If they were to prohibit the prostitutes from congregating there, it is unlikely their theatre would have much business at all. At least the “serbis boys” and the men who want to meet them pay for admission.

The Pineda family members also have their own, internal issues to focus their attention on. In particular, son Alan (the attractive Coco Martin) is overwhelmed by the unplanned pregnancy of his girlfriend, a painful boil in an inconvenient place, and the desire to escape his current, dead-end life.

Serbis is grim and often sexually explicit, but provides important insights into another culture as well as harsh economic realities. It is extremely well-directed by Brillante Mendoza (The Masseur, Tirador) as a reflection on the dual themes of family and service to others, in the various forms service can take.

Making its US debut after being the first Filipino film in 24 years selected in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Serbis is scheduled to open tomorrow in limited release.

UPDATESerbis (Service) is now available on DVD from

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Gump

... or is it The Curious Case of Forrest Button? Funny or Die has the answer.

From Screen to Stage: Guffman Returns and More

Our favorite mockumentary's Broadway future leads off the latest in all things From Screen to Stage:

- Jane Lynch tells MTV that Christopher Guest is taking Waiting for Guffman to Broadway.
- Oscar winner Estelle Parsons will headline the national tour of August: Osage County. Could she be gearing up for the upcoming film version?
- Meanwhile, it looks like Jennifer Lopez could be taking up residence In the Heights ... either on stage or screen.
- Cue the dancing zombies: Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" video heading to the Great White Way.
- Saturday Night Live alum Ana Gasteyer leads The First Wives Club in an upcoming reading of the new stage musical.
- The Addams Family also had a recent reading in New York, with Nathan Lane as Gomez, Bebe Neuwirth as Morticia and Kevin Chamberlin as Uncle Fester. Two snaps up for that casting!

- "A 5-6-7-8!" The documentary Every Little Step, a backstage look at the recent Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, will debut in theatres April 17.
- The hit West End revival of La Cage aux Folles was named Best Musical at the 2008 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards.
- Elsewhere in London, a stage adaptation of On the Waterfront washes up on stage.
- Seth Rudetsky reveals some possible casting (Norbert Leo Butz, Kerry Butler) for the Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman-penned Catch Me If You Can in his latest column.
- I guess the shoe didn't fit: Ever After musical postponed.
- And finally: this week's new DVD editionof Mary Poppins includes new bonus features on the making of the international stage musical, including the complete "Step in Time" production number.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reverend's Reactions: Oscar Noms '08

It has taken me several days since the 81st Academy Award nominations were announced to collect my thoughts, and not because I was stunned silent by the strong showing of The Reader. (I actually like The Reader a lot, but more on that in a minute.) The films and artists both cited and neglected by the Academy this year point out to me what an unusually and perhaps unexpectedly strong year 2008 was at the movies. Here are my musings on some of the films both highlighted and ignored when the nominees were announced last Thursday:

The Reader: While I haven't met anyone in Hollywood — including a couple of Academy members — who admits to liking this unusual, morally complex love story, its nominations for best picture, director, screenplay and actress shouldn't surprise those devoted to late producer-directors Sidney Pollack and Anthony Minghella ... which is a lot of people in the industry. Minghella's and Pollack's sudden, unexpected deaths a few weeks apart last year left a void in the hearts of many who worked with them, and the final film they co-shepherded has clearly helped to fill it.

I was disturbed by much of The Reader, and consequently found it one of the more thought-provoking films of 2008. Kate Winslet gives a strong performance (and I'm betting she's going to win the Oscar for it), and her young, previously unknown co-star David Kross is just as good.

The Wrestler: This was #11 on my list of the best films of last year, and narrowly missed being included in my top ten. The nominations for comeback kid Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei are well deserved, but I was disappointed by the Academy's screenwriter members' failure to nominate The Wrestler for best original screenplay. Robert Siegel nails the mindset and experience of a fallen, former superstar and his script is alternately tough and graceful. While I haven't seen best screenplay nominee In Bruges, I haven't heard anything about it that makes it sound half as accomplished as The Wrestler. Hats off as well to director Darren Aronofsky, who is one of the very best filmmakers we have.

The Dark Knight: Eight Oscar nominations, even if in mostly technical categories, is hardly worthy of disappointment. I wasn't as impressed by this Batman epic as the die-hard fanboys, but it is a significant achievement for a comics-inspired adventure. It is also a dark, chilly film that doesn't have the universal appeal its nearly $600 million in box office would indicate. Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker was deservedly recognized by the Academy, and he'll likely be only the second posthumous winner of an acting Oscar. Hopefully, the next, inevitable Batman movie will be this well-crafted as well as accessible and entertaining to the under-10 and over-60 crowds. Batman should be a hero to them, too.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: This romantic-fantasy's leading 13 nominations cement it in my mind as the most overrated movie of 2008. I don't think the film is bad, but merely OK with a lot of attractive parts that don't coalesce into a satisfying whole despite its nearly three-hour running time. The story's aging-in-reverse conceit doesn't say anything unique or significant about love, and actually struck me at times as creepy. I did find it affecting — finally — in the last ten minutes, but WALL-E, The Reader and even the so-so Australia impressed me more as love stories.

Gran Torino: Completely snubbed, this odd take on race relations should have been nominated for something. No, not best actor, as Clint Eastwood's snarling, growling performance often seems on the brink of caricature; and no, not the script, which jumps from day to day and location to location faster than a head-scratching episode of Lost. But Gran Torino is an entertaining, unpredictable tale that is clearly resonating with multi-ethnic and multi-generational audiences to the tune of nearly $100 million at the box office. Best direction? Best song? Best cinematography? I don't know, but some recognition is warranted.

Finally, I'm thrilled that all the principal actors in Doubt were nominated by the Academy. When was the last time that happened, anyway? Has it every happened? (Come on, Kirby, you unofficial Academy Awards historian you) (Editors note: Yes it has, and you'll find out the answer in an upcoming Oscar-themed Trivial Pursuits post.)

It's an extraordinary cast and a great film. Heck, Meryl Streep's speech upon winning the Screen Actors Guild award the other night for her portrayal of Sister Aloysius deserves some kind of nomination or award too! Reverend lovingly shouts out to my fellow "holy rollers" Meryl, Philip, Amy and Viola: You go!

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Women We Love: Renée Zellweger

Object of our affection: Renée Zellweger, actress.

- After small roles in big movies (Dazed and Confused, Reality Bites) and big roles in small movies (Empire Records, The Whole Wide World) (not to mention Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation), she became a star with her performance of Dorothy "You had me at hello" Boyd in Jerry Maguire.

- That hit dramedy led to more dramas (A Price Above Rubies, One True Thing) and comedies (Me, Myself & Irene, Nurse Betty) of varying degrees of success, capped off by her first Golden Globe win for the latter.

- Her at-first controversial casting as the title character in Bridget Jones's Diary led to another Globe nod, as well as her first Academy Award nomination. She would win her second Globe, two Screen Actors Guild Awards and another Oscar nod for playing the merry murderess Roxie Hart in Chicago.

- Oscar gold was finally achieved for her performance of Ruby Thewes in Cold Mountain, which also netted her yet another Globe and SAG as well as the BAFTA, Critics' Choice and several other awards.

- Other notable films she has starred in include White Oleander, Down with Love, Shark Tale, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Cinderella Man, Miss Potter, Bee Movie, Leatherheads, Appaloosa and this week's new rom com New in Town.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Hot DVDs for a Cold Winter Night

As temperatures typically hit their lowest in many parts of the country and the amorous spirit of Valentine’s Day permeates the air, February is a good month to curl up on a couch or in bed with a good, romantic movie. There are several new and worthwhile DVD releases for same-sex couples to consider in your pursuit of a “hot” time.

Bangkok Love Story(now available from TLA Releasing) is an engrossing, provocative tale of a hit man who unexpectedly falls in love with the male police informant he’s been hired to kill. I can’t resist quoting the plot description on the DVD’s back cover: “An indelible bond is forged when the vulnerable assassin (Maek, played by Arucha Tosawart) is nursed back to health by handsome, married Iht (Chayawart Sangthong). But as taboo feelings of desire swell between the swarthy new lovers, their relationship is discovered.” Uh-oh.

Set in and around the title city, Bangkok Love Story is by turns violent, sexy and touching. I can’t help but liken it to Brokeback Mountain … if that cowboys-in-love classic had been set in modern Thailand and directed by Martin Scorsese. The lead actors are very attractive, so much so that the film’s finale — in which their characters are shown years later as old men — is thoroughly unconvincing.

The plot of Whirlwind(available today from Wolfe Video) is more unsettling, but the movie is no less populated by hot-looking actors. Winner of the Audience Award for Best Feature at the Atlanta LGBT film festival, Whirlwind focuses on a group of longtime friends in New York City who find their relationships torn asunder by a conniving newcomer.

Bryan West (Hairspray) stars as one-half of the committed, monogamous couple that becomes the interloper’s main target. David Rudd plays the sinister Drake, who is perhaps the most sociopathic queer yet depicted realistically. Directed by Richard LeMay (200 American) and written by Emmy-winner Jason Brown, Whirlwind could well scare any couples who find themselves “on the fence” this Valentine’s Day into monogamy.

Lest I neglect the ladies, the lesbian romance Drifting Flowerswill be released by Wolfe Video on February 3. This trilogy of poetic tales has been called a “complex queer drama and the most irresistible butch lesbian character of the year” by Written and directed by Spider LiliesZero Chou, Drifting Flowers likely has more than enough romance, identity crises and girl-on-girl action to keep you and your honey warm all winter long.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Awards Watch: GLAAD Tidings 2008

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) announced the nominees for their 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards today.

The film nominations are led by the Academy Award nominated Milk, obviously the front-runner to win here (and a far cry from last year, when they had to give it to a gay pirate). Brideshead Revisited, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, RocknRolla and Vicky Cristina Barcelona round out the "Wide Release" nominees, while the indie faves The Edge of Heaven, Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom, Save Me, Shelter and XXY are competing in the "Limited Release" category. Documentaries in the running include Chris & Don: A Love Story, A Jihad for Love, Saving Marriage, the WE tv series Sex Change Hospital and last year's Oscar winning short Freeheld.

On the television front, Brothers & Sisters and Ugly Betty are looking for their third straight win in a row in the drama and comedy series races, respectively. Meanwhile, both Donald Strachey Mysteries, On the Other Hand, Death and Ice Blues, are up for made-for-TV movie. Legit theater nominees include Broadway's Billy Elliot and Los Angeles' The Little Dog Laughed.

The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies will be held in New York on March 28, in Los Angeles on April 18 and in San Francisco on May 9. See the comments section below for a quick look at all the movie, TV and theater nominees.

UPDATE: Visit our sister site, The QuOD - The Queer Online Database, for a full list of all the GLBT nominees. PLUS: Here's a video look at the major nominees.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cinematic Crush: Gilles Marini

Crush object: Gilles Marini, actor/model.

- The French hottie steamed up the silver screen as Dante, Samantha's Casanova-next-door, in last summer's Sex and the City movie. His shower scene alone was worth the price of admission.

- Other film appearances include The Boys & Girls Guide to Getting Down, One and the Other (L'Une et L'Autre) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

- As a model, he has can be seen in commercials and print ads for such companies as Avon, Budweiser, Chrysler, Clairol, Coca-Cola, GNC and Lord & Taylor.

- He got his acting start on such soap operas as Passions and The Bold and the Beautiful.

- In primetime, he has appeared on Criminal Minds, Ugly Betty and Dirty Sexy Money.

Reel Thoughts: High School Confidential

One of the many pleasures of watching a foreign film is the utterly alien way they tell a story. The language isn’t even an obstacle when the acting is so emotion-packed and, in the case of Schoolboy Crush(available tomorrow on DVD), the beauty of its cast is as foreign as the dialogue.

The Japanese film opens with an encounter between Aoi and a male prostitute named Sora. Aoi (Kotani Yoshikazu) has just been dumped, and Sora (Kanno Atsumi) is sympathetic. He’s attracted to the older man, and programs his number into his cell phone. Gradually, we discover that Aoi is a science teacher at an expensive boy’s prep school, and he is horrified to find Sora is their newest transfer student. High drama ensues as Aoi becomes obsessed with the fact that Sora has his number on his cell phone, and he is sure that Sora will get him fired.

The longhaired and somewhat androgynous-looking Sora, on the other hand, is considered the hottest thing to hit the school by his fellow students. Sora is paired with a nerdy roommate who becomes fixated on him, and for some reason, this raises the ire of the super-rich school bully.

Elements of Fatal Attraction mix with plot mysteries that end up with surprise twists, and it seems like all of the boys at the school are gay in some way or other. Jealousy over Sora leads to tragedy, but director Terauchi Kotaro gives the film a dreamy quality that glosses over its melodrama.

Schoolboy Crush is being sold as part of the TLA Video's Guilty Pleasures Collection, I guess because of the overall youth of the cast, but I found myself fascinated by some of the actors’ facial expressions, especially Yoshikazu, who plays most of his scenes with his eyes set to pop out of their sockets. The tangled web of boys behaving badly is an interesting glimpse at Japanese culture gone wild.

Click here to watch the trailer for Schoolboy Crush.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

SAG Awards '08: Best Cast

Slumdog Millionaire

SAG Awards '08: Best Actor

Sean Penn in Milk

SAG Awards '08: Best Actress

Meryl Streep in Doubt

SAG Awards '08: Best Supporting Actor

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

SAG Awards '08: Best Supporting Actress

Kate Winslet in The Reader

Reel Thoughts Interview: Wrestling with Demons

Daren Aronofsky and Marisa Tomei talk about creating The Wrestler

On an unseasonably cloudy November day, director Daren Aronofsky and Academy Award-winner Marisa Tomei met local press at the swanky Valley Ho in Scottsdale, Arizona to talk about their new film The Wrestler, starring Mickey Roarke in the title role. The weather fit the film’s cold and depressed New Jersey setting. When I arrived, Aronofsky was already there, mingling with the group. He was so down-to-earth and friendly, I at first mistook him for another critic.

I wondered why Roarke wasn’t part of the publicity tour, since he is the heart and soul of the film. He plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging pro wrestler who is forced to face his mortality and loneliness. Aronofsky explained that Roarke really wouldn’t have been up to the grind of all the traveling — it just wasn’t his thing. And considering the raw, moving (and now Oscar nominated) performance he gives in the film, he is certainly forgiven.

Roarke and Aronofsky.

Aronofsky is known for taking huge risks as a filmmaker, first with the independent sensation π, and then the virtual blueprint for drug addiction films, Requiem for a Dream. His next film, The Fountain (starring his partner, Rachel Weisz, and Hugh Jackman) was an effects-filled enigma few people understood. Now, with The Wrestler, Aronofsky has created a terrific film that is as straight-forward and stripped-down as it can be. (David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is similarly uncharacteristic of the Seven director’s work, although it’s still full of flourishes; it is interesting to watch how these cutting edge filmmakers change with each project.)

The Wrestler is a naturalistic character study of a man who is just now realizing that his bigger-than-life existence may be coming to an end. With a mane of bleached hair that makes him look like Dog the Bounty Hunter, Roarke seizes the opportunity to show Randy’s diminished power as a performer, but also the respect he shows his opponents off-stage and his helpless hunger for a connection with his estranged daughter (Rachel Evan Wood) and a sympathetic stripper (Marisa Tomei).

The director and his cast at the Los Angles premiere.

Aronofsky traveled to meet-and-greets of former wrestlers just like the ones he depicts in the film and found it sobering to see what the sport had done to these men like Captain Lou Albano (better known as Cyndi Lauper’s “manager”) and others (some on oxygen tanks or suffering from other terrible health issues). “We went to an autograph show that was just desperate. There were all these legends there and there were no people there. The scene with the catheter was fictional, but there was a guy in a wheelchair. It’s just sad, still holding out for that glory. We’ll see what Paris Hilton turns into — it’s the reason I stay alive, just to watch her decay,” he joked. Still, The Wrestler refuses to make Randy an object of pity. He will screw up and disappoint people, but ultimately he is going to live his life the way he wants.

Soon, Tomei arrived from another interview and someone asked how she keeps in such great shape. “Tell them your secret,” Aronofsky prompted. “Hula-hoops,” Tomei replied. Aronofsky probed her on how often and for how long she uses the 50’s throwback. “The longer you do it, the better! It’s my protective circle,” she laughed. “Will it drop in an hour or can you keep it going?,” Aronofsky asked. In an answer sure to please her fans, Tomei replied, “I can keep it going. Well, I probably drop it in an hour, but no, I can keep it up. I try to get more people into it. I gave a lot of hoops for Christmas last year. I’m checking up on them.”

The Wrestler is about people who hide behind personas and avoid human connection. While Randy the Ram is a prime example, Tomei’s character, Cassidy (her stripper name) is another. A single mother, she spends her hours at the club making guys feel however they want, but when Randy reaches out to her, she falls back on her “no dating the customers” rule. Tomei gives an exquisite performance (also recently Oscar nominated), full of doubt but also full of life when she starts to let Randy in. In one of the film’s best scenes, Cassidy helps Randy pick out a coat for his estranged daughter. Randy’s choice is a garish baseball jacket with an “S” emblazoned on it (which was probably a promotional item for Stride Gum). Cassidy picks out a pea coat that Randy ends up giving his daughter, and his look of gratitude when Stephanie loves it speaks volumes.

Tomei enjoyed working on the film, and at first didn’t recognize her costar. With his gold mane and bulked-up physique, she thought Roarke really was a wrestler, maybe an extra. She admits learning the stripper pole was challenging. “It’s more athletic, like gymnastics. It’s like the uneven bars, which I was never very good at. I’m more of a balance beam, floor work kind of girl,” she laughed.

Tomei has continued working hard both onscreen and in the theater. She recently starred on Broadway in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, which co-starred Martha Plimpton and Mary Beth Hurt. I asked her what she liked about stage work. “It just takes more from me and it pushes me harder. It scares the hell out of me, and I like it,” she explained. “There never fails to be a point in that process where I’m like ‘Why did I decide to do this? Are you serious? I have to get up on that stage?’ and the overcoming of that fear is why I keep doing it.”

Mr. Cohen and Miss Tomei.

I asked how the role of Cassidy affected her. “We shot a lot at night, and I was already up doing stuff in the clubs, and I was also working really hard on (Top Girls) at the same time. I had three parts in that — I had a Scottish accent, and then a lower class British and an upper class British character. It overlapped with this for about ten days, so I was really, like, partying a lot. I had to burn off all that energy. The character didn’t affect me emotionally, I liked the dancing so much, it didn’t make me that depressed (playing her). But I definitely went, “I need to go out, I need to sing and dance, I need a drink” — I needed to let off a lot of steam.”

As far as her future plans, Tomei would enjoy working with director Catherine Hardwicke, Robert Downey Jr. (again) and Sean Penn and admires actresses Laura Dern and Toni Collette. She admitted that she’s eager to do a lead role, which was surprising to hear from an Oscar winner. Based on her great work in The Wrestler, casting agents should definitely grant her wish.

UPDATE: The Wrestler is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

By Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Awards Watch: PGA Winners, More

This year's awards race is starting to sound like a broken record, as Slumdog Millionaire, Man on Wire and WALL-E took the top prizes in their respective categories at the Producers Guild of America Awards last night. As previously announced, Milk was honored with the Stanley Kramer Award for "dramatically illuminating provocative social issues".

In more Awards Watch for the week, the Motion Picture Sound Editors guild announced their Golden Reel Award nominees, including a Career Achievement Award for WALL-E MVP Ben Burtt. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight and Iron Man led the nominations with three each; see the comments section below for a quick look.

And the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will air live on both TNT and TBS this evening. In addition to the usual trophies, James Earl Jones will receive their Life Achievement Award. And as usual, we will be live blogging all the film winners right here at Movie Dearest. The festivities start 8:00 PM EST.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

MD Poll: If You Picked the Oscars 2008

It's that time of year again! Time for you to pick what movies and performances you would vote for if you were a member of the Academy and could vote for the best of film 2008 in the actual Oscars.

Last year, not only were these the most popular MD Polls to date (and still are, with an average of roughly 500 votes per poll), but you also matched the real thing in three out of the five major categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

There are five separate polls, located in the right-hand sidebar, so be sure to vote in each one! The polls will run from now until Oscar Eve, February 21, so you have four weeks, plenty of time to vote!

UPDATE: This poll is now closed; click here for the results, and click here to vote in the latest MD Poll.