Sunday, May 31, 2009

Awards Watch: MTV Movie Awards 2009

Apparently the tween fangirl population was out in full voting force regarding the MTV Movie Awards, as their beloved Twilight took home five popcorn trophies earlier tonight, including Best Movie. The film's star, Robert Pattinson, snagged three awards for his broody vamp Edward Cullen: as Breakthrough Performance - Male and one-half of both Best Fight (with Cam Gigandet) and Best Kiss, shared with Best Female Performance winner Kristen Stewart.

Disney stars Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana: The Movie), Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale (both of High School Musical 3: Senior Year) also won, further proving that only teenage girls took these awards seriously. Other winners included Jim Carrey (Yes Man), Amy Poehler (Baby Mama), Ben Stiller (the "lifetime achievement"-like "MTV Generation Award") and the late Heath Ledger, as Best Villain for his Joker in The Dark Knight.

Curiously, (thankfully?), the latter award was not presented during the live broadcast, perhaps because such a somber occasion would not have fit in with all the Adam Samberg antics and vulgarity present throughout the garish ceremony. But in a night of crass outrageousness, the real award goes to Sacha Baron Cohen, who — dressed in angel wings, a gladiator toga and a jockstrap as his flamboyant gay character Brüno — descended from the rafters to land, bare ass-to-face, in the lap of notoriously homophobic rapper Eminem, who promptly stormed out of the auditorium. The whole stunt was obviously staged, although it appears "poor" Em was not in on the joke.

UPDATE: Well, what do you know: Eminem actually does have a sense of humor.

Monthly Wallpaper - June 2009: Queer Cinema

In celebration of Gay Pride month, Movie Dearest once again offers up a special calendar wallpaper for June paying tribute to some of the best in queer cinema.

The 2009 edition features such old and new GLBT favorites as Were the World Mine, Brokeback Mountain, Go Fish, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Tongues Untied, Paris is Burning, Shelter, Wilde, Maurice and My Beautiful Laundrette.

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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Future Shock

Everyone in this part of the galaxy heard Christian Bale’s incredible super-freak-out on the set of the new Terminator sequel, Terminator Salvation. After seeing his work in McG’s action-packed adventure, my reaction is, “Duh, of course he blew a profanity-laden gasket!” The film is so full of fights, violence and warfare, an actor of Bale’s dedication probably couldn’t help but end up acting like a drill sergeant.

He plays John Connor (previously played by Edward Furlong and Nick Stahl), the proclaimed savior of that portion of the human race not yet decimated by rampaging machines. In 2018, Skynet’s machines have turned America into a bombed-out wasteland, but there is a large resistance movement of humans who are constantly trying to find a way to defeat the machines. Terminator Salvation positions itself right into the mythology of the other Terminator films, and until its ridiculous conclusion, it is a worthy successor.

Bale’s Connor knows that he has to rescue Kyle Reese (Star Trek's Anton Yelchin, taking over for Michael Biehn), who will ultimately become John Connor’s father. Aren’t time shifts crazy? Added into the drama is a mysterious guy named Marcus Wright (Aussie hottie Sam Worthington) who is seen getting executed in 2003 during the opening minutes, but who reappears in 2018 with no memory of how he got there. He meets up with Kyle Reese and saves his life along with a mute little girl, and the three go out in search of John Connor.

The action in Terminator Salvation echoes that of recent war films, giving it a timely feeling, especially since the warfare seems so futile. Unfortunately, there are two ending codas that cost the film a lot of its enjoyment. The first one is such fourth-rate medical soap opera plotting, it really should be cut out of any future editions of the film. The second is a voice-over that essentially says, “By the way, although it looks like we ended the story, actually, we didn’t, and there’s a lot more work to be done in the many sequels we hope to make.” It’s too bad, because otherwise, I really enjoyed the way Terminator Salvation incorporated lines, jokes and characters from the previous films.

The performances are great, including Bale, Worthington (although his accent slips in and out, but I guess that’s natural after 15 years of suspended animation) and the improbably-named Moon Bloodgood (which is what I thought Sylvester Stallone named his son) as a kick-ass resistance fighter. If you’re in the mood for an action film and you’ve seen Star Trek, Terminator Salvation is not a bad way to spend a hot summer day.

UPDATE: Terminator Salvation is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

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

Reverend's Previews: Lights! Camera! Dance!

Dance performances and film festivals are rife throughout southern California, but only one event combines the two. The Dance Camera West 8th Annual Dance Media Film Festival will take place June 5 to June 21 at venues throughout greater Los Angeles.

Acclaimed as one of the world’s foremost celebrations of dance on film, Dance Camera West (DCW) brings together dancers, filmmakers and other artists to explore, in the words of the festival’s press materials, “the intersection of cinematography and choreography.” As festival founder-director Lynette Kessler explains, “Dance is an art form that is universally understood and celebrated; it can break down the barriers that oftentimes separate (southern California’s) culturally diverse communities.”

These communities include the GLBT presence. Mindful of the longstanding contributions of gay and lesbian artists to dance, DCW’s 2009 festival will spotlight several significant gay dancer-choreographers. First up is the legendary Jerome Robbins, who transformed the possibilities of the Broadway musical with such mid-20th century triumphs as On the Town, The King and I, Gypsy, West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. He extended his artistry from the New York stage to Hollywood with several of their film adaptations.

AMERICAN MASTERS Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About is a feature-length documentary exploring the man’s life and achievements. It will be shown as part of DCW on June 13 at the Hammer Museum. Admission is free and no reservations are necessary but seating is on a strictly first come, first served basis. The film aired nationally in February on PBS, but Kessler persuaded local affiliate KCET to postpone any additional southern California broadcasts of it until after the festival.

Through vintage interviews of Robbins, contemporary interviews with many who knew him (including gay faves Chita Rivera, Stephen Sondheim and Rita Moreno), and archival footage of the famed choreographer at work, many previously-hidden facts about Robbins come to light. Among them is Robbins’ tortured struggle with his sexuality. His one-time fiancée, Rose Tobias Shaw, reveals Robbins “had relationships with men and women all his life,” and recalls the night closeted actor Montgomery Clift showed up drunk on their doorstep. Shaw quickly realized Clift was Robbins’ ex-boyfriend. AMERICAN MASTERS Jerome Robbins: Something to Dance About is a fascinating film about an extraordinary, if often conflicted, man.

On June 21, DCW will present “Contemporary Sacred: Indigenous Dance Artists in Contemporary Culture” at the Autry National Center. Two documentaries will be shown that depict First Nation and Native American — and openly gay — dancer-choreographers Byron Chief-Moon and Jock Soto.

I had the privilege of screening the film about Soto, Water Flowing Together (the title is an English translation of the artist’s Navajo clan name), in advance. Raised on a remote reservation in northern Arizona, Soto displayed an early interest in and talent for dance. He was only 16 when George Balanchine selected him to join the New York City Ballet. Once in New York, Soto not only defined himself as a modern ballet dancer and a gay man but also helped define Balanchine’s company.

The documentary introduces viewers to Soto shortly before his retirement from dance in 2005 at the age of 40. After 24 years with the New York City Ballet, the damage caused by years of physical injuries has caught up with Soto. He wrestles with his fears as he discerns what else he will do with his life, as well as with an impending reunion with his Navajo family for the first time since he left the reservation for New York.

Directed, produced, photographed and edited (whew!) by Gwendolen Cates, Water Flowing Together shouldn’t be missed. In fact, there is little to nothing about Dance Camera West 2009 that doesn’t warrant our GLBT community’s support and participation.

For additional screening and ticket information, please visit Dance Camera West's official website.

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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Out in Film: Jesse Archer

Idol worship: Jesse Archer, actor/writer.

- He is best known for starring as Luke in Slutty Summer and its follow-up, A Four Letter Word. In addition to starring in the latter, he co-wrote the script (which won a Grand Jury Prize at LA Outfest) with director Casper Andreas.

- His other film appearances include Boy Culture and Hustler WP.

- As well as a monthly column for Out magazine, he wrote the book You Can Run: Gay, Glam and Gritty Travels in South America,based on his two years spent "sparkling through" the exotic continent.

- On stage, he starred in the Off-Broadway hit Birdy’s Bachelorette Party.

- He'll return to the role of Luke once more next year with the film Bye Bye, Fruit Fly, which he wrote as well.

See more pictures of Jesse Archer in The Back Room (NSFW).

Daisies' Last Hurrah

Fans of the Pie Hole (and you know who you are) will finally get some sort of closure in the coming weeks as the last three, never-before-seen episodes of the late, lamented Pushing Daisies will begin airing tomorrow night on ABC.

Additionally, the complete second (and *sniff* final) season of last year's Movie Dearest Television Show of the Year will be available on DVD and Blu-rayon July 21.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Saying Goodbye

When recently laid-off classical musician Daigo comes across a want ad for someone to help with “departures,” he thinks he’s applying for a job at a travel agency. Once hired, he is surprised to learn his new employer is a mortician and his job is to assist with a traditional Japanese funeral ritual.

The unexpected winner of the 2008 Best Foreign Language film Oscar (it beat out the highly-touted Waltz with Bashir and The Class), Departures is easily the best movie I’ve seen thus far this year. It opens in LA and NYC this Friday, and will be expanding across the US this summer courtesy of my fave distributor of GLBT films, Regent Releasing.

Departures has truly universal appeal. My “day job” is working with terminally-ill patients in a hospice, and this movie gets so much so right about death, grief and people’s fears of death. While it is an emotional rollercoaster, the film is beautifully done.

The ritual depicted in Departures is called “encoffination,” and is a formal washing and dressing of the deceased’s body prior to cremation. As Daigo (who is played by the attractive Masahiro Motoki, star of the original Japanese version of Shall We Dance?) quickly learns, death can strike anyone at any time. Those he encoffinates include young people, elderly people, seemingly healthy people and even a transgendered person. There is a moving moment related to the latter, Tomeo, whose father professes, “He may dress like a girl, but he’s still my son.”

Also moving is a subplot involving Daigo’s long-lost father. I strongly suggest you have Kleenex with you while viewing this film. There wasn’t a dry eye or nose in the house at the end of the screening I attended. I didn’t find Departures depressing, however. On the contrary, it is an often funny and ultimately just plain human story.

Departures is written and directed by the revered Yojiro Takita, who has been making films in Japan for the past 30+ years. I predict his Oscar-winning achievement here will translate into big box office, at least for a foreign language film.

Some of my fellow critics have been dissing Departures in recent weeks, with one calling it “a paean to the good-looking corpse” and another writing the movie off as “a relentlessly mediocre tear-jerker.” Don’t listen to these heartless pundits. Departures is a must-see.

UPDATE: Departures is now available on DVDfrom

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Women We Love: Greer Garson

Object of our affection: Greer Garson, actress.

- For her film debut in the 1939 classic Goodbye, Mr. Chips, she received the first of seven Academy Award nominations. She would win the Oscar three years later for her most famous role, as Mrs. Miniver; legend has it that she gave the longest acceptance speech in Academy history.

- Her other Oscar nominations were for Blossoms in the Dust, Madame Curie, Mrs. Parkington, The Valley of Decision and Sunrise at Campobello. For the latter, she received Best Actress honors from the Golden Globes and the National Board of Review.

- She actually made her first screen appearance on television in a 1937 production of Twelfth Night, the first known instance of a Shakespeare play performed on the then-new medium. As fate would have it, her final screen appearance was also on television, but this time it wasn't exactly Shakespeare, but a 1982 episode of The Love Boat. She is also remembered for narrating the Christmas classic The Little Drummer Boy.

- Her other classic films include Pride and Prejudice, Random Harvest, Julia Misbehaves, That Forsyte Woman, The Miniver Story (the sequel to Mrs. Miniver), Julius Caesar, The Singing Nun and The Happiest Millionaire. Her most frequent co-star was Walter Pidgeon; they co-starred in eight movies together.

- On Broadway, she replaced Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame while Russell was making the movie version of that play, and also produced several productions, including the original On Golden Pond.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Shaken & Stirred

Martini the Movie is an original comedy musical short about Martini Glass, the legendary actress of Hollywood's Golden Age. Set in the present, the story follows Martini as she prepares to audition for the comeback role of a lifetime. Along the way, with cocktail in hand, she dishes the Tinseltown dirt with a flourish! With her fame fading, she is left to question whether her star will ever shine brightly again!

Filled with hot shirtless hunks, sassy one-liners and a toe-tappin’ show tune (titled “Martini Glass, Exclamation Point! In Lights”), Martini the Movie is certain to leave you shaken and stirred! The screenplay (by Robert L. Camina, who also produced and directed) is based on the stand up comedy and character of Martini Glass created by Steven Jay Crabtree.

Martini the Movie will be screened at three upcoming GLBT film festivals: QCinema (Forth Worth) on May 30, FilmOut (San Diego) on May 31 and Newfest (New York) on June 6. Click here to watch the hilarious trailer!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cinematic Crush: Jensen Ackles

Crush object: Jensen Ackles, actor.

- He won a Soap Opera Digest Award and three Daytime Emmy Award nominations for his role as Eric Brady in Days of Our Lives.

- Moving to prime time, he landed roles on the sci-fi series Dark Angel and the teen drama Dawson's Creek.

- Next, he joined the fourth season cast of Smallville, having previously auditioned for the lead role of Clark Kent when the series began.

- His role as paranormal crime fighter Dean Winchester on Supernatural has brought him the most fame to date; the hit series will return for its fifth (and reportedly final) season this fall.

- On film, he recently headlined the 3-D remake of the cult horror flick My Bloody Valentine, now availableon DVD and Blu-ray.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Wolverine Makes Me Howl

Between getting excommunicated in late April and taking a trip back east in early May, I just last night got around to seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I had two initial reactions to it. First, it's a pretty darn good, worthy prequel to the earlier X-Men series of movies. Second, it's the gayest allegedly-straight movie ever, easily beating such predecessors as 1989's Tango & Cash (which teamed frequently naked then-hotties Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell), the Patrick Swayze-Keanu Reeves bromance Point Break, and the campy musical Moulin Rouge!

Director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) takes advantage of every opportunity to clothe his predominantly male, physically fit cast in pec-hugging tank tops (if they have to wear shirts at all) and tight pants. This certainly isn't a complaint, not when the cast includes Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds and Liev Schreiber. Taylor Kitsch, who makes a memorable appearance as Cajun energy-wielder Gambit, ain't hard on the eyes either.

Jackman, returning in the title role, is especially, repeatedly exposed. Buffer than ever, he rarely buttons his shirt when he's actually wearing one, and is shown nude from the rear and side multiple times during an extended sequence depicting Logan's/Wolverine's escape from the military compound where he has just been injected with indestructible adamantium. You go, Hugh!

Apart from all the flesh on display, there's also a hint of gayness in the closer-than-brothers (even though they are 150-year old siblings), love-hate relationship between Logan and Victor, a.k.a. Sabretooth (Schreiber). While Victor is the more violent of the two, one gets the impression he'd give it all up if only Logan would retire with him to a cozy cabin in the remote woods.

So while there is plenty to satisfy gay sensibilities in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, straight viewers can appreciate the film's intelligent script (by David Benioff and Skip Woods), great editing, excellent photography and spectacular (if occasionally video game-esque) special effects. It is consistent with the first two, well-regarded X-Men movies in quality and storyline, and is superior to X-Men: The Last Stand.

And did I mention it stars the super-talented, underdressed Hugh Jackman? Whether playing Wolverine or Peter Allen, hosting the Tonys or the Oscars, Jackman is a smart, resourceful performer who knows how to please a broad audience ... especially the gay boys in it.

UPDATE: X-Men Origins: Wolverine is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Poster Post: Moonin'

There's plenty to swoon over in the first poster images from the next chapter of the Twilight saga, New Moon. In addition to stars Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart above, we have the whole wolf pack below.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon, directed by Chris Weitz and based on the bestseller by Stephenie Meyer, opens in theaters November 20.

UPDATE: The eagerly awaited first trailer for The Twilight Saga: New Moon will premiere during the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday May 31.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Out in Film: Rose Troche

Idol worship: Rose Troche, director/writer/producer.

- While studying film at the University of Illinois, Chicago, she made several short films, including Let's Go Back to My Apartment and Have Sex, This War is Not Over and the Gabriella series of short films.

- During the making of the latter, she met and started a relationship with actress/writer Guinevere Turner, which led to their breakthrough project, Go Fish. The groundbreaking independent film, one of the first lesbian-themed movies to deal with the subject honestly and realistically, was a film festival favorite and won several awards.

- Following the success of Go Fish, she directed the gay romantic comedy Bedrooms and Hallways and the Glenn Close drama The Safety of Objects.

- For television, she not only wrote and directed several episodes of The L Word, but also served as producer of the landmark series.

- Her other TV credits include directing episodes of Six Feet Under, Touching Evil and Ugly Betty.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Toon Talk: Good Flik

A few months late of its 10th anniversary, Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life makes its high def home video debut this week with the release of a Blu-ray editionthat will reintroduce you to the wonderful world of Flik and Company.

Coming on the groundbreaking heels of Toy Story, the world’s first fully-computer animated feature film, A Bug’s Life had a lot to live up to … not to mention prove. As director John Lasseter mentions in the “Filmmakers Roundtable” feature (one of two brand new bonuses on the Blu-ray), a dreaded “sophomore slump” was definitely feared by all involved in Pixar’s second movie. Not only did Bugs (as it was first titled) have to stand up next to its critically adored, blockbuster hit predecessor, it also leapt ahead in terms of technology, tackling as it did such new to the medium aspects as widescreen, crowd scenes and a wholly organic cast of characters and settings.

Re-watching A Bug’s Life in high definition, it is easy to say that all challenges, both technically and artistically, were met with flying colors … literally, as the beautiful blues and lush greens of the film’s color palette pop like never before. Heretofore unnoticed nuances in the character designs are also readily apparent, such as the contours of the various bug faces; for example, I never before realized that Princess Atta had a beauty mark (as all good princesses should).

Also while watching A Bug’s Life again after all these years, I was struck by how well done the story is. Sure, there are the welcome morals of standing up for what is right and being true to yourself, but there are also some surprisingly mature themes hidden among the laughs (of which there are plenty that still hold up today, unlike the dated pop culture references of say, DreamWorks’ Antz). The main conflict between the humble ant colony and the exploitative grasshopper gang has certain political and racial connotations upon closer inspection; one could even liken it to apartheid, with a minority oppressing the majority. Naturally, whether or not such “deep messages” were intended or not by the filmmakers of what is basically a family-friendly enterprise is up to interpretation, but it certainly makes for a compelling analysis of a film that still, like its protagonist, is more than meets the eye.

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of the new Bug's Life Blu-ray at

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Women We Love: Delta Burke

This is the fourth in a four-part salute to the Designing Women We Love, the first season of which finally makes its DVD debutMay 26:

Object of our affection: Delta Burke, actress.

- The former beauty queen-turned-actress landed the perfect role when she was cast as former beauty queen-turned-Designing Woman Suzanne Sugarbaker. Her performance of the outspoken, eccentric Southern diva earned her two Emmy Award nominations, the only leading actress from the show to be so honored. She also met her future husband, Gerald McRaney, while on the series; he played one of Suzanne's many ex-husbands.

- In a much-publicized falling out with the makers of Designing Women, she left the show after its fifth season and went on to star in the short-lived sitcoms Delta, DAG and Women of the House. In the latter, she reprised her role as Suzanne after reconciling with Women creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.

- Prior to her time at Sugarbakers, she was also a regular on Filthy Rich and 1st & Ten. Her many television guest spots include appearances on Simon & Simon (opposite her husband McRaney), Popular, Boston Legal, Any Day Now and Family Law (the latter two with her Designing co-stars Annie Potts and Dixie Carter, respectively).

- Her stage performances have included Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie (a role also played by her Designing sister Carter) and Truvy in Steel Magnolias, both on Broadway.

- On the big screen, she has co-starred in such movies as What Women Want and Del Shores' Sordid Lives. Her next film will also be with Shores: an adaptation of his play Southern Baptist Sissies.

Wayne Allwine: 1947-2009

Sad news from the Magic Kingdom today: Wayne Allwine, the voice of Mickey Mouse, died Monday at the age of 62 following complications from diabetes.

Allwine, a former Walt Disney Studios sound effects editor and Foley artist, was only the third person to officially voice the Mouse (following Jimmy MacDonald and the original Mickey, Walt himself) and the one to do so the longest (over 30 years). He began his dream role in 1977, voicing the animated lead-ins for The New Mickey Mouse Club, and had voiced Mickey in everything from theatrical cartoons (Mickey's Christmas Carol), feature films (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), television series (Mickey's Mouse Works), video games (Kingdom Hearts), theme park attractions (Mickey's PhilharMagic) and merchandise ever since.

In a truly sweet instance of life imitating art, Allwine was married to fellow voice actor Russi Taylor, best known as the voice of Minnie Mouse. The two, who wed in 1991, were both named Disney Legends last year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Trivial Pursuits: Bug Facts

In recognition of today's Blu-ray debutof the Disney/Pixar favorite A Bug's Life, here are some fun facts about the movie:

  • It’s Tough to Be a Bug, a 3-D animated attraction starring Flik and Hopper, made its official debut on the opening day of Disney’s Animal Kingdom on April 22, 1988, seven months prior to the release of A Bug’s Life in theaters on November 25.
  • A second version of It’s Tough to Be a Bug opened at Disney’s California Adventure on that theme park’s opening day as well, February 8, 2001. Since, it has been joined by a whole Bug’s Land area, including Flik’s Fun Fair, which features such kiddie rides as Francis’ Ladybug Boogie and Heimlich’s Chew-Chew Train.
  • Dave Foley (who originally auditioned for the role of Slim) returned to voice Flik in It’s Tough to Be a Bug, but Kevin Spacey declined to reprise his vocal performance of Hopper, so Bug’s Life co-director Andrew Stanton took over as the nasty grasshopper.
  • Stanton can also be heard in the film itself, along with director John Lasseter; they voice the flies being zapped by the bug zapper.
  • In that same scene, the Pizza Planet truck from Toy Story can be seen parked next to the mobile home.
  • Randy Newman’s jolly score for A Bug’s Life won a Grammy Award and was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Newman’s end title song, “The Time of Your Life”, was also nominated for a Grammy.
  • The film itself also won awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Casting Society of America, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Motion Picture Sound Editors Guild and the Golden Satellite Awards. It also received nominations from the Annie Awards, the British Academy of Film & Television Arts and the Saturn Awards.
  • High School Musical diva Ashley Tisdale gave one of her first performances in A Bug’s Life, as the lead Blueberry Scout. She originally auditioned for the role of Dot.
  • The film also marked Roddy McDowall’s last performance; he voiced the supervisor ant Mr. Soil.
  • The plot of A Bug’s Life strongly resembles not only Seven Samurai and its American western remake The Magnificent Seven, but also the comedy Three Amigos! A line (“Boy, these folks are sure hard up for entertainment”) is even “borrowed” from the latter.
And be sure to "toon" later this week for my Toon Talk review of the new Bug's Life Blu-ray.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Bigger IS Better!

I have become addicted to the XM satellite radio station Cinemagic. This past Sunday night, they played a tribute to giant-monster movies, featuring selections from all three versions of King Kong, both versions of Godzilla, Gorgo and Cloverfield. While the programmers didn’t include the score of the new movie Big Man Japan (now playing in LA and NYC), what was played served as a perfect musical follow-up to this smart spoof of Japanese entries in the genre.

The brainchild of its talented director-producer-writer-star, Hitosi Matumoto, Big Man Japan is a faux documentary about the fabled ”protector of Japan,” who has more recently fallen on hard times. While he earns a respectable government salary of $5,000 a month (he bluntly states he’d prefer $8,000), the giant monsters that used to threaten Tokyo with regularity just aren’t as powerful or as numerous as they used to be.

We learn that this defender is actually Big Man Japan VI, the latest in a biological line of electrically-enhanced, corporate-sponsored supermen who can grow from normal-sized to 50-feet tall in a matter of minutes. He lives in the shadow of Big Man IV, who was a national hero and had board games, comic books and action figures named for him. It turns out that his once-mighty grandfather is still alive, though living with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home. Grandpa’s condition, however, doesn’t prevent him from occasionally enlarging himself and wreaking havoc on the city.

The reality-style interview sections of the film are broken up by amusing sequences of Big Man VI battling such low-rent beasts as the Strangling Monster, the quite sexually-ambiguous Stink Monster and his/her companion, and the one-legged Leaping Monster. But Big Man Japan may have met his match when a previously unknown, Satan-esque creature appears.

Big Man Japan gets a little long, especially during its ironic and rather bizarre finale, and the joke starts to wear thin, but there is much social commentary to appreciate along the way. Of note is the title hero’s feeling like “a stray,” and his subsequent identification with the homeless cats in his neighborhood. Even giant Japanese superheroes get the blues.

UPDATE: Big Man Japan is now available on DVDfrom

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

Cinematic Crush: Laurence Olivier

Crush object: Laurence Olivier, actor/director/producer.

- Generally regarded as the most renowned and respected actor of all time, his talent graced the silver screen, the international stage and television for almost 70 years.

- One of the foremost Shakespeare interpreters of the 20th century, among his many roles were Puck, Romeo, Hamlet, Henry V, Macbeth, Richard III, King Lear, Mark Antony and both Iago and Othello. Other theatrical productions he starred in include Uncle Vanya, Private Lives, Caesar and Cleopatra, The Entertainer, Becket and Long Day's Journey Into Night.

- In addition to the film adaptations of some of his stage successes, he starred in such cinematic classics as Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Pride and Prejudice, That Hamilton Woman, Spartacus, Sleuth, Marathon Man, A Little Romance, The Boys from Brazil and Clash of the Titans.

- On television, he appeared in such acclaimed programs as The Moon and Sixpence, David Copperfield, Love Among the Ruins, Jesus of Nazareth and Brideshead Revisited, as well as more stage adaptations, such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Come Back, Little Sheba.

- Throughout his career, he won numerous accolades, including four Academy Awards, two BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globes and five Emmy Awards. And in 1999, he was named one of the top 50 screen legends by the American Film Institute.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: Trek Redux

The new prequel/remake/alternate-reality version of the venerable (and multiple) Star Trek TV and film series didn’t remind me so much of former incarnations as much as it brought to mind another big screen adaptation of a sci-fi television show from the 1960’s: Lost in Space. Trekkers will likely want to jettison me out the shuttle hatch for saying so, but the current box-office bonanza looks and is plotted a lot like the widely-panned (although I admire it) 1998 movie of producer Irwin Allen’s so-silly-it’s-cool “Space Family Robinson” saga, right down to their shared time-tripping scenarios.

Also similarly, the new Star Trek movie is produced and directed by J.J. Abrams, who, like the late Allen, hops back and forth between feature films and TV series, including Lost and Alias. Readers familiar with his past work can have fun seeing how Abrams’ take on the early years of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, etc., confirms many of the producer-director’s fetishes: long-haired, exotic and/or ethnic women; giant, clawed monsters à la Cloverfield; bone-crunching, mano-a-mano fight scenes; and the reality-bending as well as redemptive possibilities of time travel (as anyone who watches Lost knows).

In the current film, the newly-acquainted and barely-trained crew members of the USS Enterprise are thrown into action against a renegade Romulan, Nero (played by Eric Bana, a fine actor here reduced to glowering menacingly and little more). Nero and his loyal crew possess futuristic technology that enables their squid-like ship to travel through time and turn planets into black holes in a matter of minutes. The villains have a vendetta against Spock, although not Zachary Quinto’s younger incarnation (which is fine) so much as the older Ambassador Spock, a.k.a. Leonard Nimoy.

Nero & Co.’s obsessive hunger for vengeance struck me as more than a bit borrowed from 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which Ricardo Montalban’s genetic superman is blinded by his desire for revenge against William Shatner’s Captain Kirk. Of course, there is no better source to borrow from than Wrath of Khan, generally regarded as the best of all the Trek films.

If it sounds like I’m carping, I’m merely trying to point out that it takes more than a younger cast and a hip producer-director to re-invent a long-lived and formerly-prosperous franchise, at least artistically. That being said, the new Star Trek is well-cast and well-acted (I especially liked hottie Chris Pine’s rambunctious Kirk and Karl Urban’s channeling of DeForest Kelly as McCoy). It boasts spectacular special effects and fast-moving direction, and, in the end, provides two hours of highly enjoyable entertainment. The re-boot’s script (written by Transformers duo Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), however, falls short of engaging viewers as intellectually or emotionally as the best prior movies and TV episodes have done.

UPDATE: Star Trek is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

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

Reverend’s Reviews: A Fantastick Night in LA

The Fantasticks — the off-Broadway phenomenon by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt that made its debut way back in 1960 and became the world’s longest-running musical — is an odd and somewhat dated show. However, Los Angeles' Reprise Theatre Company, director Jason Alexander and a great cast of gay favorites have done probably the best job possible in making it relevant and enjoyable for modern audiences with a too short-lived revival that unfortunately closes today.

Headlined by Will Truman himself, Eric McCormack, and boasting co-stars Lucas Grabeel (the High School Musical series as well as Milk) and out actor Barry Dennen (Jesus Christ Superstar’s original Pontius Pilate, interviewed here on Easter), this production of The Fantasticks is splendidly sung and acted. McCormack and Grabeel make especially strong vocal impressions as, respectively, the show’s sinister narrator, El Gallo, and its innocent young-man-in-love-with-the-girl-next-door (Alison Woods). McCormack also sports tight leather pants the whole time!

Alexander stages the action on a simple round, raked platform surrounded by gauzy white draperies. The draperies double as scrims, on which are occasionally projected season-appropriate images of autumn leaves, spring flowers and winter snowflakes. Driscoll Otto’s lighting design also utilizes splashes of color and sunlight befitting the characters’ locations and/or moods.

With Jones’ approval, Alexander and company have made at least one significant change to the text: one of the two conniving fathers has become a mother. The change won’t even be noticed by someone unfamiliar with the original version, and Eileen T’Kaye pulled it off perfectly. Stage and screen vet Harry Groener paired well with her as Luisa’s father, Bellomy.

I had the privilege of meeting Eric McCormack after the performance I attended. He’s a very nice, easy-going guy, and is currently filming the period comedy My One and Only with Kevin Bacon and Renée Zellweger. McCormack previously starred in The Music Man on Broadway and has great song-n-dance chops. If not The Fantasticks, hopefully we’ll get a chance to hear him in another musical in the not too distant future.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2009

MD Poll: From Screen to Stage, Class of 2008-2009

With the close of the 2008-2009 Broadway season, it is time to take a look back at the four musicals and one play that braved the transition From Screen to Stage and pick your favorite.

Did 9 to 5 punch your clock? Were you left dreaming of a White Christmas? Did Billy Elliot leave you cheering, or was Shrek more your cup of (green) tea? Or perhaps To Be or Not To Be answered all your questions (yeah, I know, probably not).

Vote for your favorite in the MD Poll located in the right hand sidebar, and check back in three weeks (on June 6, the eve of the Tony Awards) for the results!

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

MD Poll: Ford Tough

It was quite a fight to the finish, but in the end it was James Ford — better known as Sawyer — who was named your favorite Lost character in the most recent MD Poll. It was a tight race between the sexy Southerner (played by Josh Holloway) and Jack Shephard, Ben Linus and John Locke, who all placed strong and in that order. For the full rundown, see the comments section below.

And speaking of Lost: how about that season finale the other night? Can't believe that we have to wait until at least January to find out what happened to everybody after the "big bang" ... or that we're roughly a year away from knowing what it all means. Something tells me though that it will all be worth the wait.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Disney World Goes Up

The cast of Disney/Pixar's Up made their debut at Disney's Hollywood Studios this week in preparation for the animated film's debut later this month. You've got to love the detail on these costumes, from Russell's Wilderness Explorer badges to Carl Fredricksen's wedding ring, down to the tennis balls on his walker.

And Dug the talking dog already looks to be the breakout star of Up, which lands in theaters May 29.