Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monthly Wallpaper - July 2009: Vintage Musicals

For the month of July, the Movie Dearest Monthly Wallpaper is celebrating the best of Vintage Musicals, classic black and white tuners that have never lost their luster.

Such legendary couples as Fred & Ginger, Mickey & Judy, Bojangles & Shirley and Nelson & Jeanette join with Gene, Lena, Ruby and Maurice (not to mention a certain Busby) for a full month of classic musical memories.

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.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cinematic Crush: Cary Grant

Crush object: Cary Grant, actor.

- The epitome of cinematic class and sophistication, he was born Archibald Leach. Following stints as a stilt walker in a traveling theatrical troupe and an actor in light Broadway comedies, he came to Hollywood and was rechristened Cary Grant.

- Stardom came quickly, with such hits as Blonde Venus, She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel. In a string of beloved "screwball" comedies, including The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story, he perfected the art of the befuddled romantic leading man.

- A favorite of Alfred Hitchcock, he starred in the director's classic thrillers Suspicion, Notorious, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest.

- Additionally, his filmography reads like a list of some of the most popular movies ever made, including such favorites as Topper, Gunga Din, Only Angels Have Wings, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Bishop's Wife, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, An Affair to Remember, Charade and many more.

- Only nominated twice for an Academy Award (for Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart), he received an Honorary Oscar in 1970 for his "unique mastery of the art of screen acting". In 1981, he was inducted into the Kennedy Center Honors, and the American Film Institute named him the second greatest male star of all time in 1999.

With this 100th post, Cinematic Crush will be going on hiatus for the immediate future.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Two for the Road

Gee, what audience are they going after with the ads for Away We Go?

It’s not that audiences who liked Juno, Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine won’t enjoy watching Maya Rudolph’s perfectly nuanced performance as Verona, a mother-to-be unsure of where she should be. Anyone with a pulse should love Rudolph (daughter of the late singer Minnie Riperton) as she runs the gamut from depressed to aghast to amazed to euphoric, sometimes in the same scene. As her bearded and equally aimless boyfriend Burt, John Krasinski (The Office) is what he is, an all-purpose, somewhat-bland everyman who’s interchangeable with Justin Long and that guy who plays Chuck.

Rudolph and Krasinski play a couple that finds themselves in limbo when Krasinski’s self-absorbed parents (Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels) suddenly announce that they’re moving to Belgium. Realizing that they have no reason to stay in the frigid Colorado purgatory now, the couple decides to take a series of cross-country trips to visit friends and family and decide where to settle down and raise their baby. First stop? Away to Phoenix! And a dustier, tackier Phoenix they couldn’t have found. In a hilarious vignette set at the Phoenix Greyhound Park, Allison Janney plays Lily, an old work friend of Verona’s, who brays and jokes and insults her children within their hearing range. Jim Gaffigan plays her morose conspiracy-nut hubby with scary realism — these people definitely exist in real life.

Off to Tucson, Burt and Verona go to meet Verona’s pretty sister Grace, as well as one of the funniest movie kids in recent history. After a little sisterly bonding in a bathtub warehouse, the couple leaves Tucson for Madison and a priceless visit with Maggie Gyllenhaal as LN (pronounced "Ellen"), Burt’s childhood friend who has become a militant Earth Mother and “family bed” proponent. The movie hits its comic peak as Burt and Verona try to endure LN’s pretentious and patronizing parenting lessons.

Montreal and Miami are also on the itinerary before Burt and Verona can come to terms with their lives and Burt can confront Verona with why she doesn’t want to marry him. Sam Mendes almost redeems himself after the cinematic depressant Revolutionary Road, which actually turned his stunning wife Kate Winslet into an annoying shrew, and he shows a much lighter touch with the material. He stacks the deck with a bit too much horrifying local “flavor” and drags the Montreal section on too long, but he captures the real angst of thirtysomethings unsure of what to do with their lives. The ending, while predictable yet inexplicable, is nonetheless sweet and satisfying as the meandering soon-to-be parents finally find a place to call home — each other.

If you like indie films with a lot of quirky characters and sharp dialogue, you’ll want to say Away We Go.

UPDATE: Away We Go 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.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: A Wonderful Wicked Woman

When Wicked returns to Tempe's Gammage, we'll have reason to celebrate. Playing Glinda is Katie Rose Clarke, who was so moving in the production of The Light in the Piazza that toured. If you missed that gorgeous production but managed to catch the show on PBS (filmed from its Broadway production after Kelli O'Hara left), you also got to see the talented Texas native playing the emotionally challenged Clara.

In her long reign as the Good Witch of the North in training, Clarke has made a wonderful impression on audiences and critics alike. She is able to act without batting an eyelash even when her heel broke off in her big "Popular" number, pausing to 'zap' her foot with her wand in the hope that a new shoe would appear. I had the opportunity to speak with Clarke about playing every tween girl's fantasy role in the runaway hit.

NC: How has this experience been, touring with Wicked?
Katie Rose Clarke: It's been amazing. I've learned so much and it's been life-changing for me in a lot of ways. Being in a show that's so wildly popular and so well-received is such a blessing, and I just feel really lucky. It's been a great experience.

NC: How would you contrast it with your experience with The Light in the Piazza?
KRC: It is different ... Piazza was a smaller company and a smaller scale show comparatively. Wicked is quite a spectacle, it's impressive technically. The sets and everything for Piazza were the same way in a different way, so it's been a completely different experience in great ways. I of course will always miss Piazza. It holds a very special place in my heart.

NC: Is it all fun and games "behind the curtain" at Wicked?
KRC: With a show that is so well known with roles that are so well known, it can be intimidating. It feels like there's a little bit of pressure living up to what the expectations are for a role like this. So in that way, it can be stressful, but it's still open for interpretation. There have been so many different witches at this point, so many actresses have been able to bring their own personalities and experiences to the role, in that way the pressure has been lifted. I think if the stakes weren't this high, the show wouldn't be this good, so it's also fun to meet that challenge. It's a demanding role physically and emotionally, so for me it's a lot of stress offstage to stay healthy and to be ready to perform every night. You work out, you eat healthy, you get as much rest as your body needs, and you have to try to forgive yourself when you don't.

NC: How have you put your own stamp on the role of Glinda?
KRC: I approached it as Glinda is a person who undergoes so much change and in my view of her, she comes from a place where she has to appear perfect and be perfect and be the center of attention. There's a pressure on Glinda to be a certain way and as she grows up and we track her journey throughout the show, she sees that there are certain parts of life and of the world that aren't perfect that shape her into becoming the woman that she is by the end of the show. I sort of just approached her as a young girl who grows up. To track that journey every night is pretty fun, and something that I can relate to and most women can.

NC: And you came straight from school into The Light in the Piazza, so that had to be quite a journey. What kind of reactions do you get from your fans at the stage door?
KRC: It's rewarding after a show to come outside and see that it was well-received and to get that encouragement from the people who you just sort of poured your heart out for for three hours. That's like the ultimate gratification, that never gets old! We're so fortunate to have that. I've had people who've gone through certain tragedies in their lives say that they haven't laughed that hard in months or even a year. They come to the theater and forget their problems and we can make them laugh and go to another world. That is truly rewarding and that makes it completely worth it.

Clarke admitted that performing Light in the Piazza for the cameras, knowing that it would be broadcast live made her a little nervous hoping that she wouldn't trip or fall down the stairs. "It's a scary thing, but it's also fantastic," she explained. She hasn't watched the entire show, fearing that she'll be too hard on herself.

As for Wicked, she hopes that girls watching it will appreciate the great friendship between Glinda and Elphaba (the so-called Wicked Witch of the West) and how it helps change the two women. She also agreed with me when I suggested that the show is popular with GLBT audiences because they appreciate Elphaba's struggle to be who she is and to be appreciated for her strengths and not allow herself to be shunned for being different.

The warm and charming Clarke ended the interview by thanking me, demonstrating again why she is such a successful and well-loved artist. "Thank you for knowing so much about the show and about me. It always makes the interview much better for us, so I appreciate that. Thank you!

I went online and saw some candid scenes of Ms. Clarke in Wicked and can conform that she is wonderful in the role and truly makes it her own and is not in Kristin Chenoweth's diminutive shadow. Knowing how well this mammoth show sells, you'll want to book your trip to Oz right away!

Wicked plays at ASU Gammage from July 1 to 26. For future tour dates, visit the musical's official site.

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

Friday, June 26, 2009

Out in Film: Don Roos

Idol worship: Don Ross, writer/director/producer.

- He paid his dues writing scripts for such TV series as Hart to Hart, The Colbys and Matlock.

- Turning to features, he contributed the screenplays to Single White Female, Love Field, Boys on the Side and the 1996 remake of Diabolique.

- His directorial debut, The Opposite of Sex, netted him two Independent Spirit Awards, for Best First Feature and Best Screenplay.

- Since, he has written and directed Bounce and Happy Endings, produced All Over the Guy and scripted the hit Marley & Me. His next film, Love & Other Impossible Pursuits, will be released later this year.

- Next month, he will be honored by Outfest with their 13th Annual Outfest Achievement Award, which is "presented in recognition of a body of work that has made a significant contribution to LGBT film and media".

With this 100th post, Out in Film will be going on hiatus for the immediate future.

Awards Watch: Saturns 2009

The Academy of Science Fiction Fantasy & Horror Films went bats for The Dark Knight, bestowing the blockbuster with five Saturn Awards last night, including a Best Picture prize in the Action/Adventure/Thriller category. As for the science fiction, fantasy and horror Best Pictures, winners were (respectively) Iron Man, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, while WALL-E and Let the Right One In triumphed in the animated and international races.

Acting honors went to Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., as well as Changeling's Angelina Jolie, Knight's Heath Ledger, Button's Tilda Swinton and The Day the Earth Stood Still's Jaden Christopher Smith. The evening's big surprise was a win for Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau over Dark director Christopher Nolan.

Honorary awards were given to actors Lance Henriksen and Leonard Nimoy and producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. Click here for the complete list of winners.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: A Lovely, if Odd, Film

To call the award-winning indie Lovely by Surprise "unique" would be an understatement. The film, scheduled for release on DVDand through download on July 7, is a hugely original take on familiar themes of parental abandonment, wish fulfillment and the artistic/literary process.

Movie Dearest fave Carrie Preston (of Straight-Jacket and Ready? OK!, and arguably the best thing about the recent Duplicity) gives a remarkable, nuanced performance as Marian, a talented writer struggling to finish her first novel. The book centers on two developmentally-stunted, underwear-clad brothers, Humkin (Michael Chernus) and Mopekey (Dallas Roberts, who gay viewers may recognize from A Home at the End of the World), who are trying to survive without needed adult supervision in a mobile home.

It gradually becomes clear through flashbacks that the story of Mopekey and Humkin parallels Marian's continued grappling with the loss of her mother and father while she was a child. Young Marian is shown living with her loving if unbalanced car-salesman dad, Bob (an excellent Reg Rogers). In addition to the ghosts of her past, adult Marian also has to contend with her lecherous former creative-writing teacher (the always enjoyable Austin Pendleton) and his wife (a hilarious Kate Burton).

The storyline of Lovely by Surprise is quirky in spades and murky at times, which may provoke viewer frustration. It is written and directed by talented newcomer Kirt Gunn, who gets great support from cinematographer Steve Yedlin and production designer Timothy Whidbee. Another cast member worth noting is Richard Masur, perhaps best remembered as the college recruiter in Risky Business, who plays Bob's flummoxed boss.

If you take a chance on Lovely by Surprise — and I encourage you to do so — stay with it to the end. The film may well reward you in emotional, even healing, dividends.

Click here to watch the trailer for Lovely by Surprise.

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

Michael Jackson: 1958-2009

The King of Pop is dead: multi-Grammy Award winning superstar Michael Jackson died today at the age of 50.

Farrah Fawcett: 1947-2009

Farrah Fawcett, iconic sex symbol of the 1970's as one of the original Charlie's Angels, lost her battle with cancer today. She was 62.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Awards Watch: Oscar Goes to 10 in '10

Wow. A big change (perhaps the biggest) in the Oscars is coming next year. In a surprise announcement today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will double the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten films beginning with the 2010 Oscars (honoring films released this year).

Citing a desire to recognize more films (and harkening back to the early days of the Academy, which saw up to 12 Best Picture nominees in some years), this new ruling will have major repercussions in all aspects of Oscar watching, from campaigning to predictions to the telecast of the ceremony itself. And let's face it, it doesn't take much reading between the lines to surmise that this decision was made with the TV broadcast in mind. With more slots to fill in the top category, there is a better chance that such crowd-pleasing blockbusters as last year's The Dark Knight and WALL-E would be nominated, thereby increasing interest for Joe Public, which in the end equals more viewers and better ratings.

On the other hand, it could also help the smaller movies that always seem shut out of the big race; think last year's Frozen River or The Wrestler. And, in addition to animated features, the opportunities are better than ever for foreign language films (especially those deemed ineligible in their own increasingly-frustrating category) and even documentaries.

And while some Oscar watchers are in an uproar over the news (claiming that with so many nominees, the importance of the award will be diminished; I believe that has already been accomplished when Crash won), I say the more the merrier. Two things are certain though at this point: first, Pixar (whose Up is arguably the only movie so far this year worthy of a BP nomination) is surely celebrating today, and second, the Oscars sure got a lot more interesting.

UPDATE: More Oscar changes: honorary awards to be bestowed separately, and the music branch messes around with the Original Song category some more.

Reverend's Reviews: Patti & Mandy, Together Again

An onstage reunion of Evita co-stars and Tony winners Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin is always cause for celebration. The opening night June 23rd of An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles certainly didn't disappoint.

From the moment they stormed out onto the elegantly ghost light-strewn set to the tune of Stephen Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" from Company, both performers held the audience tightly in their grasp. The two-hour set featured a liberal helping of Sondheim, as well as the best of Rodgers & Hammerstein. The R & H selections included medleys from South Pacific and Carousel, and the songs were interspersed with dialogue from these classic musicals that showcased Patinkin's and LuPone's acting as well as singing abilities.

Patinkin — who also directed the production, with a choreography assist from Ann Reinking — has often been teased for his more histrionic flourishes. While he didn't disappoint his critics in this regard, especially during the Vaudevillian "God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues" from Follies, Patinkin utilized lovely restraint with his renditions of Little Shop of Horrors' "Somewhere That's Green" and "The Hills of Tomorrow" from Merrily We Roll Along. He also displayed surprisingly operatic vocal chops as Billy Bigelow during the Carousel vignettes.

I had not seen LuPone perform live before, outside of Tony Awards telecasts. I was immediately impressed not only by her interpretations but by her ability to connect intimately with the audience. She brought the house down with Company's rapid-fire "Getting Married Today," despite dropping a few words at one point and seemingly losing her breath at another. LuPone seemed disarmingly moved by the songs from Carousel and had to wipe away tears several times. And of course she reprised her signatures, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses," to tremendous effect.

The song selections were top-notch, with John Beal and the acclaimed Paul Ford providing superb support on bass and piano, respectively. An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin provides a midsummer night's dream to show tune-loving queens everywhere. But you'd better hurry: it's only playing in LA through June 29.

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon: 1923-2009

Legendary television personality Ed McMahon, best known for his many years as Johnny Carson's sidekick on The Tonight Show, passed away today at the age of 86.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cinematic Crush: Casper Van Dien

Crush object: Casper Van Dien, actor.

- Early television roles included stints on One Life to Live and Beverly Hills, 90210.

- 1997 was his big year: he played James Dean in the TV biopic James Dean: Race with Destiny and sci-fi hero Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers.

- Other high profile film roles included Tarzan in Tarzan and the Lost City and Bram Bones in Sleepy Hollow. He also played American Psycho Patrick Bateman in The Rules of Attraction, but all his scenes were cut.

- He starred in the prime time soap Titans as well as the drama Watch Over Me, co-starring his wife Catherine Oxenberg. The two had previously acted together in The Collectors and The Omega Code and appeared in the reality series I Married a Princess.

- Most recently, he returned as Johnny Rico for the direct-to-video sequel Starship Troopers 3: Marauder.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Film Art: Here's Daddy!

To celebrate Father's Day today, here's a rare family portrait of the Torrences ... in happier times, needless to say.

Click here for more of Kirk Demarais' clever colored pencil portraits of such cinematic dysfunctional families as the Freelings and the Lundegaards.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Out in Film: Kelly McGillis

Idol worship: Kelly McGillis, actress.

- Reuben, Reuben was her film debut, but it was her role in Witness that made her a star. She received Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations for her performance of an Amish widow who finds unexpected passion with police detective Harrison Ford.

- Stardom was sealed when she co-starred opposite Tom Cruise in the blockbuster hit Top Gun, followed by her performance as Jodie Foster's lawyer in The Accused.

-Her other films include Made in Heaven, The House on Carroll Street, Winter People, Cat Chaser, The Babe, North, At First Sight and The Monkey's Mask.

- On stage, she has played the title character in Hedda Gabler, Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate and Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes, plus numerous Shakespearean productions, including The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night.

- In addition to several made for TV movies, her television roles included a guest stint on The L Word.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Righteous Outrage

Director Kirby Dick has in just a few years become the cinema's exposer-in-chief of institutional hypocrisy. In his 2005 Twist of Faith, he put a candid, personal face to the tragic phenomenon of sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clergy. The film received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Dick followed that up with This Film is Not Yet Rated, which revealed the secrecy and double standards employed by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Outrage, which is gradually being released in major US cities, is Dick's most ambitious and accomplished exposé yet. In it, the filmmaker uncovers the damage caused by closeted gay lawmakers and politicians. The self-protective, hypocritical behavior of such former and current leaders as Larry Craig, Jim McGreevey and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, among others, is laid bare through eyewitness accounts and personal testimonials.

McGreevey, to his credit, has seen the error of his ways while he was the closeted Governor of New Jersey. He and his ex-wife, Dina, are the film's most honest and compelling interview subjects. Other interviewees include playwright/activists Larry Kramer and Tony Kushner, out congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, out congressmen Barney Frank and Jim Kolbe, AIDS activist Rodger McFarlane (who just recently passed away) and commentators Andrew Sullivan and Michelangelo Signorile.

Dick and company rail effectively against their closeted targets' anti-GLBT protection and legislation records, though journalistic balance is sometimes lacking. This is most notable when the film reviews each politician's voting history on matters of importance to the GLBT community.

While some have a reprehensible 0% vote in favor of gay adoption, same-sex marriage, AIDS funding and/or the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, we're told a few have voted in favor of our community's concerns as much as 27% of the time. However, Dick fails to acknowledge those GLBT issues they supported. He runs the risk of demonizing all the politicians equally, when some may well deserve our disdain more than others.

This is a relatively small criticism, though, compared to the personal, cultural and national tragedies wrought by a handful of ambitious, seemingly self-loathing homosexual men hiding behind "beard" wives and religious zealotry. Outrage is a most appropriate title not only for the film, but for many viewers' reaction to it.

Click here to watch the trailer for Outrage.

UPDATE: Outrage 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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Women We Love: Joan Crawford

Today's post marks the 100th edition of Women We Love, so in honor of the occasion, we are shining the spotlight on our Movie Dearest namesake, Miss Joan Crawford.

- Born Lucille Fay LeSueur, she made her way to Hollywood (after dancing with touring companies and on Broadway) and was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925, where she was re-christened "Joan Crawford" by way of a contest dreamt up by the publicity department. Initial roles were small and undemanding, so she gained national notoriety as a flapper, and her star rose at MGM in such popular films as Our Dancing Daughters, Untamed, Grand Hotel, Rain, Dancing Lady, Sadie McKee, Chained and Forsaking All Others. One of the highest paid women in America at the time, Life magazine named her the "First Queen of the Movies" in 1937; however, by the end of the decade, she was branded "box office poison". Despite memorable performances in The Women, Strange Cargo and A Woman's Face, her contract with MGM was terminated in 1943.

- Signing up with Warners, she actively campaigned to be cast in the title role in the film adaptation of the bestseller Mildred Pierce, even consenting to a screen test. The movie was a huge success, and her performance a triumph, earning her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Her comeback was cemented with two more Oscar nominations, for Possessed and Sudden Fear, as well as such hits as Humoresque, Daisy Kenyon, Flamingo Road, The Damned Don't Cry, Harriet Craig, Torch Song, Johnny Guitar, Queen Bee, Autumn Leaves and The Best of Everything.

- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (in which she played the wheelchair-bound Blanche Hudson opposite her longtime rival Bette Davis in the title role) led to a string of bizarre thrillers in her later years, including Strait-Jacket, I Saw What You Did, Berserk! and her notoriously awful final film, Trog. Also during this time, she made several television appearances, including the pilot episode of Night Gallery in a segment directed by a then-newcomer named Steven Spielberg.

- Following her death in 1977, she was the subject of a "tell-all" book by her disinherited adopted daughter Christina, in which allegations were made that Crawford was emotionally and physically abusive to her and her brother Christopher. In 1980, the infamous Mommie Dearest was adapted into the camp classic film of the same name, starring Faye Dunaway in a performance that earned her a place as one of the top 50 cinematic villains of all time by the American Film Institute in 2003.

- The real Joan Crawford was ranked number ten on AFI's list of the top female screen legends in 1999. And, despite Mommie Dearest (or maybe because of it), her legacy as one of the greatest stars of the silver screen lives on, as both actress and icon (as seen here in this special video tribute).

With this 100th post, Women We Love will be going on hiatus for the immediate future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: This Babe’s Truly Scrumptious!

There was a burst of laughter and Kelly McCormick exclaimed, “I knew you were going to ask me that!” This was in response to my question if the accomplished actress ever gets to play a character with a normal name.

Lucky Arizona Theatre Company audiences first fell in love with McCormick when she played Babe in their hit production of The Pajama Game, and now she’s passing through Tempe in a famous flying car, as Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. McCormick admits that it took her a little while to get over the immodesty of admitting that she is indeed Truly Scrumptious. She is enjoying the tour of the London and Broadway hit musical, adding that she really enjoys working with the children in the cast.

Someone else that Phoenix audiences will enjoy seeing is Oliver Wadsworth, who has been amazing in so many Actors Theatre of Phoenix productions like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Angels in America and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Get ready to be afraid, be very afraid of Wadsworth this time, as he is playing the infamous Child Catcher, who terrified a whole generation of kids when the film came out in 1968, and again when the musical opened.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is based on the book by James Bond author Ian Fleming, as well as the film script written by Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). The songs are by the Sherman Brothers, best known for their work with Disney on such films as Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. The story revolves around eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts, widowed father of two, who creates the titular vehicle, which can fly, float and generally rescue its owner when needed.

McCormick plays Truly Scrumptious, daughter of a candy manufacturer to whom Potts sells his newest invention, Toot Sweets, a musical treat. At first, Truly and Caractacus clash over his parenting skills, but when a bizarre Baron and Baroness plot to steal Chitty, the two work together and of course, fall in love. The most fantastic elements occur when they venture to Vulgaria, the bizarre Barony where children are outlawed and rounded up by the fearsome Child Catcher.

I had the chance to talk with McCormick, who, in addition to her outstanding theatrical talents, has another title altogether: Rabbi’s wife. Her husband, Rabbi Jonathan Blake, tends to his congregation while McCormick is on the road, but she is thankful that this production allows her breaks between engagements to go home and spend time with him. She is also excited to return to the Valley of the Sun.

“I’m thrilled to be coming back,” she exclaimed. “I really enjoyed my time there with ATC, and I have family in Phoenix, so it’s great on a personal and a professional level.”

I kidded her about not having a Jewish-sounding name and she replied, “When I meet people at Temple and they say, ‘McCormick? What kind of Jewish name is that?’ I just tell them ‘It’s Sephardic.’ And hopefully, they get the joke.”

She is grateful for having such a great job in particularly tough economic times, and she loves the response the show has received from people who grew up with the movie and the children they bring. She had nothing but praise for her time at Arizona Theatre Company as well.

“I consider ATC in many ways to be a model regional theater company,” she explained. “They treat their actors like gold. I tell everyone the housing where they put us up, especially in Tucson, is the finest regional theater housing I’ve seen anywhere. And they just make it easy. You feel treasured, you feel supported and you feel like you’re part of a family. I mean, David Ira Goldstein is so good about nurturing people’s creative instincts and making it a collaboration. How can you not have a great finished product when the whole collaborative process along the way has just been a joy?”

I mentioned to McCormick how happy I was that Oliver Wadsworth was in the cast as well, and she responded happily, “Oh, you know Ollie? Oh my gosh, he’s incredibly sweet. And what a fine actor; I mean, he really sets the bar so high for the rest of us. You know, musical theater can tend to get muggy or overdone or all about the ‘cha-cha-cha’, and Ollie has never done a musical before. So to watch the way he comes in and he just stays grounded every single night, but is able every night to find new things and new nuances in the character of the Child Catcher, it’s just remarkable.”

She remarked how interesting it is to see that parents who were affected by the movie’s darker elements are now bringing their own kids to the show to experience the same adventure. “Interestingly, the adults who grew up watching the movie and were terrified of that character still carry that with them, and it’s this whole trip backward to their childhood where that just scared the crap out of them, and here they’re reliving it again,” she laughed. “For the most part, I think the kids can handle it pretty well, but there are some nights where I can hear wailing coming from parts of the audience and I just think, “Oh no, that poor child is just going to be scarred for life. I hope they can get over this.”

McCormick is learning to embrace her character’s tasty name and she admits it’s kind of a pleasure as an actress to step into the iconic high-button shoes. “God bless these authors who create such delightful characters and do a lot of your work for you straight out of the gate,” she said. “When someone hears that your name is Babe or your name is Truly Scrumptious, they know what to expect. All you have to do it deliver!”

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opens tonight at the ASU Gammage Auditorium and runs through June 21. For future dates, visit the touring show's official website.

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

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cinematic Crush: John Stamos

Crush object: John Stamos, actor/producer.

- As Blackie Parrish, he heated up the daytime soap General Hospital and received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination.

- Greater fame came with his performance of "Uncle Jesse" on the long-running, wholesome family hit Full House.

- Following the short-lived sitcom Jake in Progress, he joined ER as hot doc Tony Gates for its final four seasons.

- In addition to his Emmy Award nominated made-for-TV biopic The Beach Boys: An American Family, he has co-starred in several television movies, including Wedding Wars, in which he played a gay wedding planner who goes "on strike" in support of same sex marriage.

- On Broadway, he has starred in the hit revivals of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Cabaret and Nine. He will return to the Great White Way next season as Albert Peterson in a new version of Bye Bye Birdie.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Grieving Over Dim Sum

While touring China a few years ago, I fell in love with dim sum. These tasty dumplings, sometimes savory and sometimes sweet, are renowned for their ability to "touch the heart" in addition to pleasing the palate and filling the stomach. I similarly wanted to love Dim Sum Funeral (now in limited release and expanding during the summer) which — like the Chinese delicacy — features a number of special ingredients. Sadly, they don't add up to a satisfying cinematic whole.

The promising yet ultimately too-clichéd plot centers on the dysfunctional progeny of the late Mrs. Xiao, who reunite for the first time in years for their hardly-beloved mother's funeral. These include youngest daughter Meimei (Steph Song), a long-ostracized lesbian who arrives with her partner, Dede (the always watchable Bai Ling); eldest daughter Elizabeth (Julia Nickson), who is weathering the break-up of her marriage while still grieving the death of her young son; and only son Alexander (attractive Russell Wong), who is in an unhappy marriage to Cindy (Kelly Hu, Lady Deathstrike from X2: X-Men United) and is subsequently cheating on her.

The reunion is orchestrated by Mrs. Xiao's caregiver and "executrix," Viola (Talia Shire, whom it is good to see again). She informs the children that their mother's wish was to have a traditional, 7-day long Chinese funeral, complete with an in-home shrine and chanting Buddhist monks. Predictably, the real motivation behind the elaborate send-off is to force the siblings to work out their issues with Mom and one another.

Donald Martin's script is too simplistic to be believable, filled with tired philosophical musings like "Death changes everything" and explaining away the characters' stranger choices with "We're Chinese!" If I were Chinese, I'd likely be offended. Meimei's and Dede's desire to conceive a child is also handled distastefully: they pursue one of the chanting monks in hopes he will become their sperm donor!

Director Anna Chi, who is Chinese and — as the film's press notes somewhat oddly state — a former symbol of the Communist Party under Mao, does an adequate job, and Michael Balfry's cinematography is warm and elegant. The cast's performances are mixed, but all are likely doing the best they can with the shallow material. A manipulative plot twist late in the film may engender as much anger from audience members as it does from some of the characters.

Instead of sitting through Dim Sum Funeral, I recommend heading to your local Chinese restaurant for some of the real thing. It would make for a more satisfying evening.

UPDATE: Dim Sum Funeral 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.

Reel Thoughts: Lost and Delirious

Land of the Lost opportunities is more like it. The original Land of the Lost was a TV show filled with iconic silliness that still managed to scare me as a kid. Marshall, Will and Holly went over a ridiculous waterfall in a rubber raft only to end up in a world where their only friend was a hairy ape-boy named Chaka and they were terrorized by dinosaurs and slimy lizard men called Sleestaks. The new Will Farrell oddity is better than his ravaging of Bewitched only because the source material is so much lamer to begin with, so he can't really "ruin" it. The best part of the film is Anna Friel from Pushing Daisies, who plays Holly with her native British accent.

Farrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall in what I like to call his "kinda floundering" mode, basically boring and deadpan with a 30 percent chance of humor. Marshall has almost created a machine by which he can enter alternate realities and somehow solve the energy crisis. He is laughed off of the Today Show, and his career is as dead as the LaBrea Tar Pits (where he works) until grad student Holly Cantrell shows up bearing a fossil with his lighter imprinted in it. The two head out to a sleazy tourist trap run by Danny McBride (Pineapple Express) and the three find themselves sucked into a time warp that deposits them in a parallel universe full of odd creatures and various items from our world strewn about.

There they meet Chaka (Jorma Taccone) and the dreaded Sleestaks (who are never called by name), as well as a strangely intelligent T-Rex, but mostly the film putters around with whatever struck Farrell as hilarious. You can count on anything funny (A Chorus Line references, a bad drug trip, etc.) being beaten to death, but then the Land of the Lost references get shortchanged. The film feels like 20 minutes of material filling almost two hours of screen time. The Sleestaks look great but don't get much to do, and Chaka is more annoying than anything else (kind of like he was in the real show).

I guess Land of the Lost fulfills the old computer adage "GIGO": garbage in, garbage out. In the summer movie contest, you can bet that this land will be Lost.

UPDATE: Land of the Lost 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.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Dame Edna's Last Stand?

Self-proclaimed Australian "gigastar" Dame Edna Everage (a.k.a. actor Barry Humphries) has been entertaining audiences in her homeland and elsewhere since the 1970's via stage shows and television appearances. Her latest production, Dame Edna: My First Last Tour, is playing now through June 21 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. I attended the opening night alongside celebrities that included Angelica Huston and Judge Judy.

Subtitled "A meditation on gender and post-election trauma," it showcases Dame Edna's penchants for flamboyant fashion, purple hair, gladiolas, and embarrassing audience members. In fact, there is much more of the latter than in past performances I've seen, so much so that after 20 minutes it becomes the show.

My First Last Tour doesn't feature as many of the often-hysterical personal revelations that have characterized Dame Edna's prior productions. Those that are included are mostly carry-overs from the past. There is a funny opening video "exposé" of the star's "dark side," which notes her discomfort feeding the poor with Mother Teresa and a secret dalliance with Osama bin Laden. However, once Edna appeared on stage and following an opening song — accompanied by faithful musical companion Andrew Ross — her focus turned to the audience and stayed there for the remainder of the evening. I couldn't help but get the impression that, after 30+ years, Edna/Humphries had run out of material.

It might have been more entertaining if the five or six audience members Edna chose to pick on opening night (who didn't seem to have been chosen in advance) had themselves been more interesting. They were chiefly older, upper-class housewives who didn't have a lot to say about themselves. The most knowing and audience-pleasing line of questioning Edna employed on one of them, who stated she lived in Beverly Hills, was whether she lived "on the north side or the south side of Wilshire Boulevard"!

Erin-Kate Whitcomb has a supporting role as Edna's daughter, Valmai. Recently released from prison and potentially lesbian, Valmai doesn't have much to do apart from singing a funny rendition of "The Girl from Impanema" and moving furniture on- and off-stage.

While Dame Edna: My First Last Tour is certainly amusing and isn't a waste of time for her legion of fans, the show has an air of tiredness and even finality about it. This was confirmed when Barry Humphries came out sans Edna drag for the curtain call which, to my knowledge, he has never done before.

If it turns out that Dame Edna's run is over, it has been an immensely enjoyable one. For sure, her gay fans (a.k.a. "Friends of Kenny") especially will never forget her.

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

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Gypsies, Scares and Screams

Poor Christine Brown (Allison Lohman)! As the heroine of Drag Me to Hell, she’s a loan officer with a cold-hearted boss (David Paymer) and a backstabbing co-worker, and she is desperate for a promotion to prove she’s worthy to her boyfriend’s snooty parents. Things go from bad to worse when she is pressed to show some backbone and turn down an old gypsy woman’s request for a home loan extension. The wheezy old crone (Lorna Raver, who may find it hard to get a date for a long time!) doesn’t take rejection well, and puts the ol’ gypsy death curse on the poor girl. This is after she has nearly killed Christine in a thrillingly gross parking garage bitch fight, which led me to wonder, “This woman has a handicapped license plate?” She’s stronger than Randy the Ram in The Wrestler!

Sam Raimi made a name for himself with the Evil Dead Trilogy, which set new records for grossly hilarious scares. He has since helmed the Spider-Man films, but Drag Me to Hell is a glorious return to his purposely-schlocky horror movie roots. From its over-the-top title to its gotcha scares to its stomach-turning gross-outs, Drag Me to Hell is a classic scary movie like you used to see in the ’70s. It’s a relief that it’s rated PG-13, since I’d be terrified to know what else would befall the unlucky Christine in an R-rated version. I’m no fan of torture porn like Hostel and the Saw movies, and unlike the anemic and incompetent PG-13 Prom Night remake, Drag Me to Hell earns its scares the right way (except for the irritating “silent close-up before a loud shock” jolts that Raimi uses way too much).

Lohman is an inspired choice to play Christine. She is sweet and likeable, but her career choices have revealed an actress not afraid to take chances. In Drag Me to Hell, she may well have snatched the crown from Tippi Hedren in The Birds as the most tortured cinematic blonde of all time. She’s bashed, buried and barfed on, but her cherubic countenance tells you, “I’m OK!”, kind of like when Mary Richards had that one bad hair day on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Justin Long, while not the most convincing psychology professor, is the perfect choice for Lohman’s rational yuppie boyfriend. The dinner scene with his fusty society parents involving a cake with “secret ingredients” is sublimely ridiculous. I wish that the ending weren’t so obvious; because I really tried to imagine how great the film would have been had it caught me by surprise.

As it is, Drag Me to Hell still has a richly satisfying black comedy ending, and being dragged through it by Raimi is good schlocky fun.

UPDATE: Drag Me to Hell 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.

Out in Film: Scott Rudin

Idol worship: Scott Rudin, producer.

- An Academy Award-winning movie producer and Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, he began his career as the casting director for such stage projects as Pippin and Annie and the films King of the Gypsies and Resurrection.

- He got his feet wet as a producer with the TV movies Revenge of the Stepford Wives and Little Gloria ... Happy at Last, the Oscar winning documentary He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' and the feature film Mrs. Soffel.

- Among the many films that he has served as producer or executive producer are such contemporary classics and modern favorites as The Addams Family and Sister Act movies, The Firm, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Clueless, The First Wives Club, Marvin's Room, In & Out, The Truman Show, South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, Sleepy Hollow, Wonder Boys, The Royal Tenenbaums, Iris, The School of Rock, The Stepford Wives and The Manchurian Candidate remakes, The Queen, Notes on a Scandal, There Will Be Blood, Doubt, Revolutionary Road and the upcoming Julie & Julia. He won a Golden Globe for The Hours and Oscar and Producers Guild of America awards for No Country for Old Men.

- As a theatrical producer, he has won the Tony Award six times, for the Best Musical winner Passion and the Best Play winners Copenhagen, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Doubt, The History Boys and, just this past week, God of Carnage. His other Broadway offerings have included Indiscretions, Closer, The Wild Party, Caroline, or Change and successful revivals of Hamlet, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Medea, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Gypsy and Exit the King.

- Following stints at 20th Century Fox and Tri-Star Pictures, he settled at Paramount Pictures for a 15-year run; he currently has a five year "first look" deal with Disney.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Strange Love

Who knew Ben Gazzara was such a gorgeous stud? Or George Peppard? Or even Pat Hingle? The three actors play cadets at a Southern Military Academy in 1957’s controversial drama, The Strange One, which makes its DVD debutnext week in its original, uncensored version.

Gazzara plays Jocko de Paris (a porn name if there ever was one — not to mention the Tom of Finland-esque portrait of him that graces the credits), a sociopath with a talent for manipulation. When the film opens, Jocko and his roommate (Hingle) barge into the room of two freshman cadets (Peppard and dumb hayseed James Olson) and haze them in a sadistic game that ends with a homoerotic spanking with a broom. The other cadets are actually Jocko’s pawns in a plot to get a hated rival (the commanding officer on campus) kicked out of the school. Jocko gets off on the fact that he uses his charisma to get others to do his dirty work, incorrectly imagining that no one knows about his scheming.

Unfortunately for Jocko, his amoral charm catches the attentions of a young cadet (Paul E. Richards), nicknamed “Cockroach”, who is considered “creative” (50’s code for queer, apparently). Jocko seems enamored of the young man’s attentions, stroking his sword while the young man recites a poetic novel based on Jocko, whose lead the smitten author named “Nightboy”. Their scenes crackle with such homoerotic electricity (for 1957 at least) the scenes were cut and only recently restored. Like Eve Harrington underestimated Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, so, too, does Jocko misjudge his Cockroach’s power over him. Thus begins the sadistic bully’s comeuppance, and it is fun to watch. That is due in no small part to the pleasure of gazing at the beautiful Peppard, as the lone student brave enough to stand up to the charming Jocko de Paris.

Originally a workshop at the Actors Studio, The Strange One was based on the novel and play End as a Man by Calder Willingham, author of The Graduate. Gazzara gives a superb performance (in his first film) as the kind of self-centered sadist who never imagines he can fail. Peppard was years from making Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and he shows a charisma similar to Paul Newman in his early prime. The story has a bit of the jerky plotting of an exploitation flick, but overall, the actors’ training comes through with flying colors.

The Strange One
is a fascinating look at a mid-50’s military school, as well as fulfilling a little wish fulfillment for classic 50’s beefcake.

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