Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monthly Wallpaper - April 2009: Funny Guys

This month's Movie Dearest calendar wallpaper is all about the April fool's, otherwise known as Funny Guys.

From international men of mystery to 40-year-old virgins, these city slickers and jerks will do anything for a laugh, whether it's donning old lady drag or a nutty fat suit or getting up close and personal with an aluminum foil-wrapped cucumber. As a certain cultural emissary from Kazakhstan would say, "Very nice!"

Just click on the picture above to enlarge it to its 1024 x 768 size, then right click your mouse and select "Set as Background", and you're all set. If you want, you can also save it to your computer and set it up from there, or modify the size in your own photo-editing program if needed.

The Latest on TV: Pedro

Pedro, the feature film biopic of the late Real World cast member and AIDS activist Pedro Zamora, will be broadcast on MTV and several of its affiliates tomorrow night. Click here for Chris' full review of Pedro, which features a script by Milk Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black.

Andy Hallett: 1975-2009

Andy Hallett, best known for his portrayal of the green-skinned, karaoke-singing demon Lorne (a.k.a. "the Host") on Angel, has died. The 33-year-old actor/singer passed away Sunday night after a five year battle with heart disease.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cinematic Crush: Dmitry Chaplin

This is the fourth in an eight-part look at the Hunks of Reality TV:

Crush object: Dmitry Chaplin, dancer/choreographer.

- This rising star of dance hails from Russia.

- He came to fame as a top ten finalist during the second season of So You Think You Can Dance, where he became known for his masculine style, often performing shirtless.

- Currently one of the new professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars, he was originally partnered with singer Jewel this season. However, following a pre-season injury, she had to leave the show and was replaced by Girls Next Door star Holly Madison.

- In addition to SYTYCD and DWTS, he has performed on the American Idol special "Idol Gives Back".

- Off-screen, he has placed in several International Latin dance competitions.

Maurice Jarre: 1924-2009

Maurice Jarre, the Academy Award-winning composer of such iconic film scores as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, passed away yesterday at the age of 84.

Jarre won three Oscars for his collaborations with director David Lean (Lawrence, Zhivago and A Passage to India), and was nominated another six times. He also won four Golden Globes, two BAFTA Awards and a Grammy during his illustrious career, which included scores for over 150 films.

Jarre's other notable scores include the films The Longest Day, Sundays and Cybele, Grand Prix, Topaz, Ryan's Daughter, The Man Who Would Be King, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, Fatal Attraction, Gorillas in the Mist, Dead Poets Society and Ghost, and the television mini-series Jesus of Nazareth and Shogun.

UPDATE: Here's a video montage of Jarre's most memorable scores.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Awards Watch: GLAAD Media Awards New York

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation handed out their first batch of GLAAD Media Awards last night in New York. Among the winners were the films A Jihad for Love for Outstanding Documentary and Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom and Shelter, which tied for Outstanding Film – Limited Release. Tarell Alvin McCraney's Wig Out! and Joey Arias and Basil Twist's Arias with a Twist won in the New York theater categories.

Other winners included TV hosts Tyra Banks, Phil Donahue and Suze Orman, journalist Keith Olbermann and singer k.d. lang, as well as the soap opera As the World Turns, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book and the special radio broadcast The Laramie Project, 10 Years Later - The Lasting Legacy of Matthew Shepard.

Additional awards will be presented in Los Angeles on April 18 and in San Francisco on May 9.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Fore!

Who knew Charlie David had it in him? The gorgeous star of Dante’s Cove and A Four Letter Word has written Mulligans (coming to DVDApril 21), a sweet and poignant film about a summer that changes a family’s life forever.

"Mulligans" are second chances in golf, and when handsome Chase (David) accompanies his studly jock roommate Tyler (Derek Baynham) home during school break, he has no way of knowing that he’ll be the catalyst for Tyler’s father Nathan (the gorgeous Dan Payne) to take his second chance at life. Nathan and Stacey (Thea Gill, also of Dante's Cove as well as Queer as Folk fame) seem to have a perfect marriage, but Nathan has buried his true sexuality so deeply, it’s never surfaced before.

The golf references come from the fact that Tyler and Chase go to work at the golf course where Nathan spends a lot of his time, perhaps escaping the nagging feeling that something’s not right in his life. Of course, when you put handsome studs like David and Payne together in a movie like this and add liquor, you have the makings of a hot, only-in-gay-films hook-up that puts a damper on the family’s vacation, to say the least.

First-time feature screenwriter David (along with first-time director Chip Hale) should be commended for leaving the aftermath messy but truer to life, even if you’re not sure what you should be feeling about what happens to the characters. For a first film, Mulligans isn’t quite a hole-in-one, but it’s definitely a birdie.

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

Friday, March 27, 2009

Out in Film: Sarah Paulson

Idol worship: Sarah Paulson, actress.

- Her first notable role was in the cult TV series American Gothic, followed by such other short-lived programs as Jack & Jill, Leap of Faith and The D.A.

- In addition to memorable guest performances on Deadwood and Nip/Tuck, she is best known for her Golden Globe nominated role as Harriet Hayes on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

- On film, she has appeared in such movies as The Other Sister, What Women Want, Down with Love, Serenity and The Notorious Bettie Page.

- She played Laura Wingfield in an acclaimed Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. Other stage roles include Killer Joe, Talking Pictures and Colder Than Here.

- Most recently, she was seen on the big screen in The Spirit (coming to DVDApril 14) and will star opposite Bobby Cannavale in the revised romantic comedy Cupid, premiering this Tuesday on ABC.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Sex Without Borders

There’s no film subject more controversial than sex (well, ok, maybe violence). Two films opening this Friday in NYC and expanding to LA and other cities in April — Shall We Kiss? and American Swing — revel in discussions and depictions of sex. Although most of the sex shown is of the heterosexual variety, GLBT viewers can certainly glean wisdom from the lessons learned by these films’ protagonists.

Shall We Kiss?, from France, is the least potentially-offensive as well as the less successful of the two. Written and directed by Emmanuel Mouret (Change of Address), it starts out as a one-joke comedy that is indulged for far too long and, in the end, becomes a pat morality tale.

When Gabriel (the dreamy Michaël Cohen, no relation to Movie Dearest’s beloved Neil) meets the transportation-deprived Émilie (the beautiful Julie Gayet, who GLBT viewers might recognize from the 1999 film Confusion of Genders), he offers her a ride but not without ulterior motives. Gabriel hopes to gain a sexual tryst out of his generosity but will settle for a single kiss.

This provides Émilie the opportunity to enlighten Gabriel with a fact-based story detailing the destructive repercussions of even a relatively chaste and non-committal act as a kiss. She recounts the saga of Nicolas (played by Mouret) and Judith (acclaimed actress Virginie Ledoyen, largely wasted here), best friends who begin to have sex despite their involvement with other partners and eventually fall in love themselves.

Shall We Kiss? is too talky by far, and is directed and photographed (by Laurent Desmet) with no particular style. Mouret also utilizes canned classical music selections to repetitive, irritating effect. Despite an effective twist at the end between Émilie and Gabriel, the film is often a slog to get through.

American Swing, on the other hand, is a far more interesting and concise documentary about the positive and destructive effects of casual sex. It unveils the players behind the legendary NYC swingers’ club, Plato’s Retreat.

Established in 1977 by the sexually-insatiable (from all reports) Larry Levenson, the nightclub — originally a gay bathhouse, the Ansonia, where Bette Midler and Barry Manilow got their starts — was nationally renowned until the double-whammy of AIDS and tax evasion on Levenson’s part forced its closure in 1985. (As the film notes, the venue was the first non-gay sex club closed during the initial years of the AIDS crisis.)

Utilizing vintage home movie footage and contemporary interviews with such Plato’s Retreat regulars as feminist Helen Gurley Brown, comedian Buck Henry, filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles and porn actor Ron Jeremy, co-producers/directors Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart reveal the good (previously-repressed women, especially, and men discovering their sexual selves), the bad (self-indulgence run amok and a frightful lack of social responsibility) and the ugly (drug abuse and STD’s of all genuses) of the sexual-liberation movement.

While the sexual freedom graphically shown in American Swing continues to have its appeal, Kaufman and Hart refuse — to their credit — to sugarcoat it. I encourage GLBT moviegoers to see the film and post your own reactions to it.

UPDATE: American Swing and Shall We Kiss? are now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

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

Reel Thoughts Interview: Keach/Nixon

To borrow from my favorite VH1 show, Richard Nixon is having the best year ever! Not only is he alive and well and enjoying his fifth term in the film Watchmen, but no less than two fine actors have brought him to life on stage and screen. First, Frank Langella brought his immensely engrossing portrayal of Nixon from Broadway to Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Frost/Nixon, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. Now, Stacy Keach, an esteemed actor that even other actors revere, has stepped into the role and made it his own in the current touring production of Frost/Nixon.

Keach is well known for playing Mike Hammer on television, but he has a long and distinguished theater career, as well as his film work (The Long Riders, American History X). I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Keach, who I had just been admiring for his performance in Oliver Stone’s W., and I found him extremely gracious and friendly.

NC: How did you approach playing such a famous and much-parodied person after playing a fictionalized version of George Bush’s spiritual advisor?
SK: Well the first thing I did after accepting the role was to go back and revisit the actual interviews between David Frost and Nixon. I remember when they actually happened and I was struck when I read Peter Morgan’s play ... I loved the way he, well, he took poetic license with the interviews. And he did some transpositions, and even though he’s faithful to the original interviews, he puts his own spin on it. And in doing so, he makes it very dramatic and very accessible to a modern audience. A lot of people, we’re discovering (especially young people), don’t really know what Watergate was all about. In some respects, because the movie is out now, it’s very good for people coming to see the play, the (film) ads act as an advertisement for the play Frost/Nixon.

I wanted to go back and say something about W. The wonderful thing about playing the character — I had the luxury of playing a non-historical role in W. He was an amalgamation, a compilation of various evangelical figures (James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham). He was a combination of people, Earle Hudd was, he wasn’t a real person. But when I went down to Shreveport, Louisiana, to film W., Oliver Stone had arranged for me to meet with a couple of evangelical ministers, one of whom was this very aggressive, fire and brimstone sort of guy. And then I had another meeting with a very mild, very meek, very quiet, soft-spoken, professorial academic intellectual type of minister, and he had a sweetness about him. What I did was combine those two guys, and that was Earle Hudd.

When it comes to playing a historical role, all the obligations change because you are obligated to reflect the nature of the character in some fashion. Nixon, as written by Peter Morgan and as played by yours truly, is not an impersonation of an impression, and yet I have to talk a certain way that is Nixonian in order to convey the character. But the measure of success is not how well you emulate Nixon so much as how well you reveal what’s going on in his soul.

NC: Does the stage production resemble the film of Frost/Nixon?
SK: The stage production was the seed for the film. It was originally produced at the Donmar Warehouse in London in front of 250 people, and it was so successful, it moved to the West End, where it was also very successful. Then, it moved to Broadway, where Frank (Langella) won a Tony for it. Peter Morgan wrote the screenplay, so it is very faithful in terms of the dialogue. What the movie cannot do that the play does is give you the live image and the televised image simultaneously. So it’s like being at a sporting event or a rock concert.

NC: Having lived through Nixon, did you have any preconceptions about him?
SK: That’s a very good question. Having lived, as you say, through that whole era, Nixon was Mr. Bad Guy — he was satanic — he was destroying our nation. Watergate was probably the beginning of reality television. We were glued to our sets during these hearings. We got to know members of government. It was the first time something of that nature had really happened. Yes, the Kennedy assassinations were covered, but cable didn’t exist. You only had three networks. CNN wasn’t around.

Television is a very dominant theme in Frost/Nixon, the use of television, the use of image, how to project image on television. Those are the tactics and strategies that are discussed in the play. How best for David Frost, for example, to approach Nixon’s long-winded diatribes, because he goes on and on, in an effort to rehabilitate himself, which he never did.

Whereas David Frost did (get what he wanted from the interviews). David Frost got to throw off the shackles of being considered a talk show host/entertainer and became a serious journalist. It raised his stock considerably. He made the cover of Time and Newsweek, he’s written many books. He’s still around and he loves the fact that this play is out there. It keeps him alive.

NC: Who is your David Frost?
SK: Alan Cox. He’s wonderful, he’s just great. I’ve known Alan since he was born. His father, Brian Cox (L.I.E., X2: X-Men United), and I went to drama school together. We went to the London Academy of Dramatic Art together long before you were born (laughing). I was shooting a picture in London in 1971 and Brian and I were talking and he said (in a perfect Brian Cox voice), “I’ve just had a son! I’m going to call him Alan.” And now I’m working with him. I worked with him six years ago. We did a BBC Radio Broadcast of Booth Tarkington’s play The Plutocrat with Leslie Caron. Talk about esoteric! He’s great. I love playing together. We enjoy working together. It’s very important when you have a long tour that the two main guys not only like each other, but that they love working together.

NC: It would be very difficult if you didn’t!
SK: Oh, very, very. I would not want to be Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn doing Beckett years ago on the road! (laughing).

NC: Where does your heart lie, as far as performing? I know that you started out in theater (before doing films and television like Mike Hammer, Private Eye).
SK: I’ve said it before, it feels like millions of times, if you put a gun to my head and I could only choose one, it would be the theater.

Keach went on to explain that with rapidly changing technology, actors are having to adapt to new types of entertainment and how to get compensated for it, which is why there’s a threat of a Screen Actors Guild strike.

“That’s another reason why theater is a very good thing!” he said, laughing.

Editor's note: Since this interview was conducted, Stacy Keach suffered a mild stroke, but will return to the stage in Frost/Nixon this week. We here at Movie Dearest wish him the speediest of recoveries.

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ab Fab + ABBA

French & Saunders & Lumley take on Walters & Streep & Baranski in Mamma Mia! (part one, part two).

Women We Love: Rue McClanahan

This is the third in a four-part Women We Love salute to The Golden Girls, now airing daily on the Hallmark Channel:

Object of our affection: Rue McClanahan, actress.

- Glamorous star of stage and screen, she made her Broadway debut in the musical Jimmy Shine opposite Dustin Hoffman. Since, she has performed in such productions as California Suite, Nunsense, The Women and Wicked.

- Her breakout role was as the killer nanny Caroline Johnson on Another World, known for kidnapping her charges and poisoning her mistress. She would go on to star in another daytime soap, Where the Heart Is.

- On film, she has appeared in Walk the Angry Beach, They Might Be Giants, Starship Troopers, The Fighting Temptations and as bitter "fag hag" Lita Joyce in the infamous Some of My Best Friends Are ...

- But she is best known for her Emmy Award-winning performance as the man crazy Southern belle Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls, a role she reprised in the series' spin-off The Golden Palace. Prior to Girls, she co-starred with Beatrice Arthur in Maude and Betty White in Mama's Family.

- In addition to various guest spots and made for TV movies, she can currently be seen co-starring as Peggy Ingram on Sordid Lives: The Series.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Not So Super

The drama of getting Watchmen into theaters is more compelling than the convoluted film director Zack Snyder (300) created. Based on Allan Moore’s much-loved graphic novel from the mid-’80s, Watchmen is at first gripping in the same menacing way The Dark Knight was. But then, it disintegrates into an ending that leaves you depressed at the wasted potential. I was also disturbed by elements in the film that I found unfortunate at best and homophobic at worst.

Watchmen tells the story of a group of crime-fighters who are anything but role models. In the film’s alternate reality, it is 1985 and President Nixon is enjoying his fifth term (having abolished term limits), but the country is virtually rotting away with corruption and crime. Superheroes, who live alongside regular people, have been outlawed as vigilantes, except for a glowing blue atomic creature named Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup, channeling his MasterCard ad voice to great effect) who is Nixon’s secret weapon against Russia. The Watchmen, who evolved from a group of crime-fighters in the ’40s called the Minutemen, have mostly gone into hiding or gone to seed.

When a particularly poorly-named “superhero,” The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is brutally murdered, his paranoid fellow crime-fighter Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley, in a brilliant performance) tries to regroup the Watchmen to solve the killing. Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), a.k.a. Niteowl II, is a schlubby nebbish with an arsenal of amazing weapons and gizmos. Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman) a.k.a. Laurie Jupiter, the daughter of the original superhero (a boozy Carla Gugino, who plays her role like Lea Thompson in Back to the Future Part II), is a knockout who hates her neglectful mom. Ozymandias, a.k.a. Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), is the world’s smartest man, and he has used his powers to become incredibly rich and successful. Dr. Manhattan is a God-like do-gooder who is gradually losing touch with his humanity, despite his love for Laurie.

The world is pitted in the kind of nuclear arms race that seems ready to explode, and even having Dr. Manhattan on our side doesn’t seem to be scaring the Russians. In this pre-apocalyptic chaos, Rorschach finds that the killer of his ill-tempered friend may be someone closer than he suspects. At this point, all of the great performances so far can no longer save the admittedly great-looking film. The climax can’t work in a post-Cold War time, not that it would have been very logical or believable in 1987 either.

The opening credits, played as a set of living tableaus that detail the rise and fall of the Minutemen and the Watchmen to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin’”, are riveting and dazzlingly presented. It’s too bad that the rest of the film can’t match its virtuosity. Snyder fills the film with scenes of misogynistic violence and elements that, because they go unchallenged, are likely to inspire anti-gay reactions in less-intelligent audiences.

For instance, Silhouette (Apollonia Vanova) is a strong and sexy crime-fighter who is revealed as a lesbian with a girlfriend she meets at Times Square on V-E Day. Before the credits are over, they’ve both been murdered in an apparent hate crime. When Rorschach refers to her, he equates her with another Minuteman who has gone insane and is institutionalized, and as much as says she was asking for her fate because of her alternative lifestyle. It can also be argued that the killer who is unmasked is also the stereotypical gay villain.

Given the almost fetishistic attention given to the always-naked and well-endowed Dr. Manhattan, and the homoerotic exaggeration of the men’s bodies when in costume, I don’t know that the homophobia was intentional. Still, it’s totally unnecessary, as is the level of brutality shown in the violent confrontations.

Due to its dated premise, overindulgent running time, and unrelenting ugliness, Watchmen is a visually breathtaking waste of time.

UPDATE: Watchmen is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.

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

Poster Post: Walk on the Wild Side

The classic children's story Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak comes to life on the big screen (courtesy of director Spike Jonze) this fall ... and it will apparently star Sweetums.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Spring Cleaning

The same thought kept going through my head while I watched Sunshine Cleaning: “This film is so Sundance!” I wasn’t surprised then to learn that it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at that very film festival (though not this year's, but 2008's). What makes it an almost stereotypical indie film is its earthy, realistic setting, its quirky characters and its small-scale human drama. None of that’s a bad thing, unless you’re looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine.

Filmed in a very realistically portrayed Albuquerque, Sunshine Cleaning tells the story of Rose and Norah Lorkowski, two sisters on opposite ends of the spectrum. Rose (the always-radiant Amy Adams) was the head cheerleader in high school, who is now a single mother working for a mobile maid service. She’s having an affair with her high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn) who married someone else. Through it all, however, she’s determined to do something big with her life. Norah (the always razor-sharp Emily Blunt), on the other hand, is a slacker waitress who lives with their dad (the always wonderful Alan Arkin) and was just fired from her job.

Desperate to send her son to a good school, Rose decides to team up with Norah in a cleaning business devoted to crime scenes and other post-death biohazards. It’s a lucrative but disgusting line of work, yet Rose finds a deeper satisfaction in it. She is happy to be going into such desperate situations and making things better for the bereaved survivors. Meanwhile, Norah is reluctantly happy to be succeeding for once. Both women were scarred as girls when they found their mother after she had committed suicide, but it takes Sunshine Cleaning to help them face the trauma. Rose finds strength in Winston (Clifton Collins Jr. from Capote), who runs the janitorial supply store where they shop.

The film is a nice character study filled with wonderful actors. Director Christine Jeffs errs in making the baby shower where Rose reaches an epiphany too much of a cartoon, but other scenes like the one where Rose consoles an elderly woman while Norah begins to clean up her husband’s suicide scene are utterly moving. The current economy paired with the arid and life-draining Albuquerque setting make the film a little depressing to watch, but its well-earned hopeful ending makes up for it. Sunshine Cleaning may not be a movie you seek out, but afterward you’ll be glad for the experience, even if its generic Sundance feel makes it vanish from your memory like a well-cleaned murder scene.

UPDATE: Sunshine Cleaning is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.

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

Cinematic Crush: Colby Donaldson

This is the third in an eight-part look at the Hunks of Reality TV:

Crush object: Colby Donaldson, reality TV personality/ actor.

- One of the first "breakout stars" of Survivor, the handsome and rugged Texan was the runner-up in the series second season, set in the Australian Outback. His memorable moments include dodging the affections of Jerri, winning nine immunity and reward challenges (a Survivor record), infamously taking coral from the Great Barrier Reef, and picking Tina over Keith to face off in the final Tribal Council.

- He went on to appear on the All-Stars edition of the popular reality show, and was named the sexiest male castaway of the first eight seasons during the reunion special.

- His Survivor days behind him, he has turned to acting, making guest appearances on such television favorites as Reba, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Joey and Bones.

- On the big screen, he had a small role in the Wes Craven thriller Red Eye, and he was also the spokesman for Schick razors in several commercials.

- Currently, he can be seen as one of "Rachael's buddies" on The Rachael Ray Show.

Happy Birthday, Joan!

Today is a very special one, as it marks the 104th anniversary of the birth of our namesake, the late great, one and only Joan Crawford — happy birthday, mommie dearest!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Three Cheers for Ready? OK!

The poignant coming-of-age and acceptance comedy Ready, OK! (available this week on DVD) is a cinematic cousin to the French film, Ma Vie En Rose, and a counterpoint to Charles Busch’s touching film A Very Serious Person. In all three, young boys who are attracted to dresses, dolls, show tunes or cheerleading are forced to grow up and give up the things they love to please a parent or other adult.

In Ready, OK!, all young Josh (newcomer Lurie Poston) wants is to be on the cheer squad. His loving single mother, Andrea (the sublime Carrie Preston), has so much on her plate, working for a demanding diva of a boss and having to support her unemployed brother who comes and goes out of her life, that she doesn’t have time to give Josh the understanding of which she’s capable. It falls to her gay neighbor, Charlie, who is played by Preston’s husband Michael Emerson, to encourage Josh to be who he is and not to let the bullies at school change him. It is quite a departure for Emerson, who is infamously evil as Ben Linus on Lost. He imbues Charlie with a sweetness and integrity that makes it impossible for Andrea to contradict.

Writer/director James Vasquez (29th and Gay) has crafted a warm and appealing picture that proves that disapproving and seemingly judgmental parents aren’t always bad people or religious nuts. Andrea is a good person, but is so pressured by outside influences she can’t accept and embrace her son until shown the dangers of her attitude.

It’s interesting to compare the film with Busch’s drama, because in that film, it is a gay person himself who tries to change the boy. As Josh, Poston is a self-assured young actor — he’d have to be to pull off that Maria Von Trapp dress he wears to school — but he doesn’t bring a lot of charisma or personality to his role. Still, I think most gay people can definitely identify with being an outsider as a child, and that one terrible moment when you first become aware that you’re different. That’s where Ready, OK! succeeds best, and you might find yourself cheering at the end.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

MD Poll: Ladies in Waiting

Last month, we were all excited to see Kate Winslet finally win an Academy Award after five previous losses. But that got us to thinking about all the other talented women in film out there who have yet to take home a little gold man of their own. Which leads us to the latest MD Poll question: "Now that Kate has her Oscar, who is the next actress most deserving of an overdue Academy Award?"

To narrow the field down, we limited the names to only those actresses who have been nominated at least three times previously, and then to only those who have received at least one of those nominations in the past twenty years. Thus, the finalists are Glenn Close (5 previous nominations), Julianne Moore (4 previous nominations), Joan Allen, Annette Bening, Diane Ladd, Laura Linney, Michelle Pfieffer, Sigourney Weaver and Debra Winger (all with 3 previous nominations each). (Ironic, isn't it, that none of these women have Oscars and Hilary Swank has two.)

Obviously, there are some actresses who have either never been nominated before or, if they have, don't fall into the criteria listed above, so there's a wild card slot as well; just list your "write-in vote" in the comments section below. The poll is now available for your votes in the right hand sidebar, and will run for four weeks.

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

MD Poll: Wild About Harry

In our most recent MD Poll, Movie Dearest readers chose Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as their "must-see" movie of 2009. The results are not too surprising, as we were supposed to get it last fall (in fact, it came in second to The Dark Knight in last year's polling).

Following Watchmen, another film delayed from 2008, Star Trek, came in third place, a huge leap from its ninth place finish last year. As usual, you can see the complete stats for this poll in the comments section below.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Out of the Past

By the time I graduated from high school in 1985, “safe sex” was all the rage among sexually active men and women, homosexual and heterosexual alike, as the primary form of protection against HIV/AIDS. I was too young and uninformed then to know that it had taken the controversial efforts of several people to bring safe sex to the forefront of my and others’ consciousness.

An enlightening new documentary, Sex Positive, is coming to theaters this June from Regent Releasing. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Outfest, it uncovers the little-known story and real-life figures behind the philosophical development and subsequent practice of safe sex.

Richard Berkowitz was a young, newly-out gay man involved in the underground S&M scene when the mysterious, deadly epidemic that would become known as AIDS hit New York City hard in the early 1980’s. After watching dozens of friends die in a matter of months, Berkowitz became hell-bent on discovering how to protect himself as well as others.

Berkowitz’s initial attempts at self-defense while remaining sexually active came too late to prevent him from becoming infected. However, his research and growing activism led him to virologist Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and popular musician-activist Michael Callen. The three would become an outspoken team in mid-80’s gay circles, inspiring equal parts appreciation and condemnation.

Sonnabend discovered that gay men with AIDS had sexual histories overwhelmingly characterized by multiple partners and prior diagnoses with other sexually transmitted diseases. Initially, Sonnabend thought his subjects’ promiscuity directly weakened their immune systems to the point that AIDS was the natural result. Berkowitz and Callen became convinced by the doctor’s arguments and began to speak out at gay pride events and in the media against promiscuous sexual activity. They also co-published a 1983 booklet, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic, that is regarded as the first safe-sex treatise.

As Sex Positive reveals, both through vintage news footage and new interviews, the virologist and his two disciples (the Jewish Berkowitz even refers to Sonnabend on-camera as “my personal Moses”) were quickly labeled “the Jerry Falwells of the gay community” for challenging their contemporaries on their risky sexual behavior. The trio’s speaking out against homosexual promiscuity and advocating the use of condoms was regarded by many gay leaders as a betrayal of much of what the community had fought for up to that point. Gay activist-playwright Larry Kramer became one of their most vociferous opponents.

The film’s director, Daryl Wein, has spoken of what motivated him to make Sex Positive. “Both in government and the gay population, the widespread silence during the early years of the AIDS crisis is absolutely shocking,” Wein said. “People my age were not born of the era in which the crisis of AIDS forced behavioral change … I feel it is my duty to challenge the complacency of my generation by instilling the values of those forgotten heroes.”

The “behavioral change” of safe sex remains controversial in some GLBT circles today. The more recent proliferation of adult videos depicting unprotected, “bareback” sex can be regarded as a direct repudiation of safe-sex practices. As a result, we shouldn’t be surprised that HIV-infection rates among gay teens and young adults in the US nearly doubled between 2001 and 2006. Yet many sexually active adults remain committed to safe sex 25 years after the term was coined.

As the movie goes on, it focuses primarily on Berkowitz, who, along with Sonnabend, is still living (Callen died of AIDS-related complications in 1993). Berkowitz is a compelling, well-spoken subject, but Sex Positive grows increasingly one-sided in allowing him and his reflections to take center stage. I would have liked to hear and see more of Sonnabend and more about Callen. Perhaps because he isn’t around to assert himself, Callen and his significant contributions — educational, political and musical — end up being pushed to the side.

But Sex Positive is definitely worth seeing, if for no other reason than the filmmakers’ willingness to shine a spotlight on the unsung yet enduring achievement of Berkowitz, Callen and Sonnabend. After all, a lot of us literally owe our lives to them.

UPDATE: Sex Positive is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

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

Out in Film: Arthur Laurents

Idol worship: Arthur Laurents, writer/director.

- His early days were spent writing for radio, but he found his calling in the theater. However, it wasn't until his third play — The Time of the Cuckoo — that he had a hit.

- Following that success, he penned the books for two legendary musical classics, West Side Story and Gypsy. He would go on to direct the latter twice on Broadway (in 1975 and 2008), receiving Tony Award nominations both times.

- He has won the Tony twice, for writing Hallelujah, Baby! and directing La Cage aux Folles. His other stage credits include I Can Get It for You Wholesale, Anyone Can Whistle, Nick & Nora and Do I Hear a Waltz?, the musical version of his Time of the Cuckoo.

- For the silver screen, he wrote the scripts for The Snake Pit (for which he was infamously denied screen credit by the Writers Guild of America), Rope (starring his then-lover Farley Granger), Anastasia, Bonjour Tristesse, The Way We Were and The Turning Point. For the latter, he was nominated for two Academy Awards, as both writer and co-producer.

- His work can currently be seen on Broadway with the much-anticipated bilingual revival of West Side Story, which officially opened last night. Of the new production, he has said, "This show will be radically different from any other production of West Side Story ever done."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Finding Plenty in The New Twenty

Chris Mason Johnson’s feature debut The New Twenty made an impression last year on the GLBT film festival circuit. Happily, it is receiving a springtime theatrical release starting this Friday in NYC (the film is scheduled for a May 15 opening in LA). While it’s not a perfect movie, I am nonetheless always happy to see quality films receive wider distribution.

Playing not unlike an updated John Hughes movie from the mid-1980’s, The New Twenty largely fulfills co-writer (with Ishmael Chawla) and director Johnson’s stated intent to “depict gay/straight friendships that are free of the usual homosexual panic jokes and unrequited love conflicts that usually dominate the screen.” It focuses on a group of Manhattan-based friends reflecting on their lives’ accomplishments and failures as they near the age of 30, “the new 20” of the film’s title.

Two members of the group are gay men still searching for their ever-elusive Mr. Right. One of them, Ben (played by the endearing Colin Fickes), wears his heart on his sleeve and is prone to honesty even in Internet chat rooms. When a potential hook-up asks what he looks like, Ben accurately but hopefully replies, “Like Sam from Lord of the Rings.” Sadly, it doesn’t get him a positive reaction.

The other out member, Tony (Andrew Wei Lin), surprises even himself when he finds himself attracted to an older, HIV+ college professor (well-played by Bill Sage, who some will recognize from Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin). More accustomed to steam-room quickies, Tony starts to undergo a personal transformation that threatens to take him far from his longtime circle of friends.

While the film’s entire cast is good, Nicole Bilderback gives a breakout performance as Julie, Tony’s sister and fiancée to the aggressively upwardly-mobile Andrew (Ryan Locke). Bilderback won the Best Actress award at last summer’s Outfest in LA for The New Twenty. A veteran of such films as Clueless and Bring It On (in which she played the bitchy Whitney), Bilderback deserves a lead in a major studio film, and soon!

The most familiar and, subsequently, weakest character in The New Twenty is Felix, played by Thomas Sadoski. Felix is a heroin addict who brings to mind Robert Downey Jr.’s tragic junkie in the 1987 film Less Than Zero. It’s no fault of Sadoski’s that Felix is underdeveloped and comes across as hardly deserving of sympathy. Rather, we should blame either the screenplay or editors Todd Holmes and Adam Raponi.

This criticism aside, The New Twenty is the rare GLBT-themed film with truly universal appeal, especially among those who have reached or are about to reach the not-insignificant age of 30. I loved my 30’s, and I hope they do too!

UPDATE: The New Twenty is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.

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