Friday, July 31, 2009

Monthly Wallpaper - August 2009: Drag Stars!

August will be a drag this year with this month's Movie Dearest calendar wallpaper salute to "Drag Stars"!

This collection of celebrity gender-benders includes a trio of Oscar nominees, several box office hits and one very fetching bunny wabbit...

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.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Summer Globe-Trotting

Oh, the places you’ll go this summer at the famous Old Globe Theatre in San Diego! I’ll be reviewing their world premiere musical, The First Wives Club, soon. But that is by no means the only fabulous destination you’ll visit if you plan your trip right!

Your first stop should be the misty, god-forsaken moors of Victorian England, where a madcap, cross-dressing “penny dreadful” is unfolding. What is The Mystery of Irma Vep, and why are its two actors so out-of-breath? If you’ve never seen Charles Ludlam’s wildly hilarious, yet brilliantly designed comedy take-off on old Universal horror films, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (as portrayed entirely by two men), you really haven’t lived a full life. Lady Enid is the new mistress of the manor, but is always in the shadow of her husband’s first wife, as her not-so-faithful maid keeps reminding her. Faithful servant Nicodemus tries to protect the new lady, but he has that little werewolf problem that keeps cropping up. Broadway's The 39 Steps owes a great debt to the late Mr. Ludlam, because the wit and genius of a quick-change show was perfected by him and his Theatre of the Ridiculous.

Next, you might want to plan a ski trip down the enormous nose of Cyrano de Bergerac, part of the Globe's 2009 Shakespeare Festival. There are raves so loud for Patrick Page’s performance in the lead, you can probably hear them here. Page cast a dark spell over Arizona audiences with his charismatic Dracula at Arizona Theatre Company years ago, and has since become one of the most respected lead actors on and off Broadway. Plus, he gets to go home to Paige Davis (Trading Spaces) every night (as much as time permits, I’m sure). Cyrano has been retold many times, including in Steve Martin’s Roxanne and sitcoms too numerous to mention, but the original is still the best. How does a man with, shall we say, inner beauty compete for the heart of the woman he loves with younger, more handsome, but infinitely duller men? Finding out the answer is definitely worth the trip to San Diego.

But what is a Shakespeare festival without Shakespeare? Coriolanus, the Bard’s final tragedy, is also considered one of his greatest. This powerful political drama tells the story of the great Roman general whose arrogance leads to his own downfall. The Old Globe calls it one of Shakespeare’s most provocative plays, and bills Coriolanus as a mesmerizing tale that unfolds as both personal tragedy and political thriller. From exalted war hero, to heavy-handed politician, to finally, exile, Coriolanus is manipulated by his power hungry mother Volumnia and his unwillingness to compromise his principles as his world spirals out of control in his crusade for vengeance.

On the lighter side, laugh and swoon as the Old Globe production of Twelfth Night shipwrecks you in delicious Illyria, a land full of romance, mistaken identities and a little cross-dressing and gender confusion thrown in for good measure. Shipwrecked beauty Viola (think Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love) disguises herself as a man to go in search of her missing twin brother Sebastian. She inspires the love of a woman who is in turn being wooed by Duke Orsino, the very man Viola falls in love with. No wonder the show has been loved and imitated for centuries!

All of this theatrical magic happens in the equally magical Balboa Park, and you won’t want to miss a minute of it! For dates and more information for all of the Old Globe's summer productions, visit their official website.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: Family Fusion with Cirque du Soleil's Saltimbanco

It’s difficult to describe the stories and characters you’ll see in a Cirque du Soleil production, even if you know their background. That’s because for decades, the "Circus of the Sun" has produced jaw-dropping spectacles full of color, light, acrobatic genius and dreamlike costumes that take you to worlds only they can produce.

Saltimbanco, currently on national tour and scheduled to land at Glendale's Arena July 29 through August 2, is the longest-running Cirque du Soleil production, having opened in 1992, and has now been recreated for arenas and other large venues. Cirque du Soleil describes Saltimbanco as “a celebration of life and an antidote to the violence and despair so prevalent in the world today.” Characters with names like “Masked Worms,” “The Baroques,” “The Cavaliers” and “The Songbird” burst onto the stage, while “The Baron,” “The Dreamer” and “Death” also control the action. Expect to be amazed, as the performers fly, dance and juggle, among other dazzling feats.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Michael O’Campo, the head coach of Saltimbanco, and he explained what makes the show so special. “Saltimbanco really brings Cirque du Soleil back to its roots. It’s very colorful, it’s very bright and it’s very upbeat, and includes everything that the other shows have, the high level of acrobatics, the live musicians, the live singers, the great costumes and choreography."

I asked him how he would describe the “story” of Saltimbanco, and he replied, “There’s the idea of family — you’re going to see a family number at the beginning of the show. There’s also the idea or the theme of evolution — the characters in Saltimbanco evolve from the beginning of the show until the end, starting out with what we call the “Multicolored Worms” because they’re the most basic, most animal-like of the characters,” who become the “Masked Worms,” who represent everyday nine-to-five people. “In the second half, they evolve again into “The Baroques,” who are the more Bohemian, do-what-they-like characters, and finally the evolution ends with “The Angels,” who perform the bungee number at the end of the show. They’re the more evolved, spiritually enlightened characters.

O’Campo considers Saltimbanco very special to him because it was the first Cirque du Soleil show he ever saw, and he performed the Chinese poles, Russian swing and bungee work in the show for five years. “The bungee number at the end with the angels is really a number that I love,” he said. “I performed in that number and now to watch it and to coach it … it’s really beautiful. It’s very moving.”

The new arena version of the show allows the company to visit many more venues across the country, as opposed to the big top productions, which typically stay around six weeks at a time in select cities. “Moving every week can be difficult and draining for the acrobats, so what we’ve done is to perform for 10 weeks at a time and then have a two-week break, which seems to allow for the acrobats to have a good recovery. Everything gets put up in eight hours and taken down in two,” he said.

The Windsor, Ontario, native has lived in Montreal for the past eight years, and he feels fortunate that his husband Michael is on the tour as well, serving as the road manager. The couple met in 1998 and married in 2004. They spend most of their breaks back in Montreal, and then rejoin the 90-member cast and crew on the road again.

I asked O’Campo what he wanted readers to know about Saltimbanco, and he replied, “Like any Cirque du Soleil show, what they’re going to see is just absolutely amazing and awe-inspiring, and they will be sitting at the edge of their seats. I think that one of the things to know is that every single Cirque du Soleil show is different, so even if they’ve seen some in Las Vegas, this one is very different from any show they’ve seen in the past.

“This one is very upbeat and very colorful, and really, really a lot of fun. This is a really good one to see if you’ve never seen Cirque du Soleil before — it’s a really great introduction. And even if you have seen them before, it’s a really good one because it brings you back to the Cirque du Soleil roots.”

Click here for a video preview of Saltimbanco.

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

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reverend's Report from Comic-Con 2009

It's amazing how much more crowded Comic-Con, San Diego's annual celebration of pop culture, has gotten in a mere two years. This is likely due to heightened media attention from the likes of Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, the latter of which now runs not only preview pieces but also a daily report from the con. I wasn't able to attend last year's event but had gone four years in a row prior. I never had to wait in lines as long nor be turned away from panels as often as I did this year.

Nonetheless, my partner (a.k.a. Movie Dearest's newest contributor, James Jaeger) — who is a truer connoisseur of comic books than I am — and I had great fun prowling the exhibit hall, checking out the costumes (OK, checking out the men in tights and/or hot pants), and attending those panels we were able to get into. A few other highlights for me:

— There were plentiful celebrity sightings and not just in conjunction with the sneak peeks of upcoming movies, most of which were impossible to get into. I saw babe-of-the-moment Megan Fox (the Transformers movies and next year's Jonah Hex) atop the multi-level Warner Brothers display, waving to the delight of the fanboys gathered below; the original Lt. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, looking lovely if a bit overwhelmed; and the cast of the new Fox TV series Glee, including yummy Matthew Morrison (more on Glee in a bit).

The high point, however, was looking up from my cell phone in the exhibit hall after texting my partner about a rendezvous spot and finding Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness himself, John Barrowman, undressing me with his gorgeous eyes! Like any gay fan of the polysexual BBC hero, I hightailed it over to say "Hi!" He was friendly, flirty and delightful as can be. I commended him on the excellent, just-broadcast-in-the-US Torchwood miniseries Children of Earth, and thanked him for his revealing TV special, The Making of Me, in which Barrowman explored the possible causes of homosexuality using himself as guinea pig. He's a great song and dance man, too, having appeared in numerous West End musicals and is the lead singing Nazi in the film version of The Producers musical.

— To the delight of the initially-dubious Fox TV execs present, the screening of Glee's second episode, "Showmance," and panel discussion with the cast and producers packed the hall and received a rousing reception. This was the episode's second public showing, after its debut last weekend before a much smaller crowd at Outfest. Glee is shaping up to be the hit of the fall season, although I'm not convinced it will be embraced by older — and straighter — viewers. As the panelists accurately stated over and over, "This ain't High School Musical." It's gayer, snarkier and generally smarter.

— Of the major upcoming movies trumpeted at Comic-Con, I'm most looking forward to the soon-to-be-released District 9; this fall's horror-comedy Zombieland; the occult western Jonah Hex (which looks and sounds more interesting than its fellow comics-inspired releases scheduled for next summer, The Green Hornet and Iron Man 2); Disney and Robert Zemeckis's 3-D take on A Christmas Carol; and The Twilight Saga: New Moon. I have yet to see the first Twilight movie, but the posters of shirtless hottie Taylor Lautner have me convinced the sequel is going to be awesome!

I'm scared of 2012, not because of the subject matter but because it appears completely overwrought, as well as the toy-based Stretch Armstrong, which sounds lame. What's next, Weebles?

— The 22nd annual Gays in Comics panel Saturday night brought Comic-Con 2009 to a close for us. This year's participants included stalwarts Andy Mangels, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone and Phil Jimenez, plus newbies Perry Moore and Sina Grace. Moore is author of the very good novel Hero, which features a teenager coming to terms with both his super powers and his homosexuality. He revealed Showtime may be picking up a proposed TV series based on the book.

Grace was the youngest panel member, and held his own impressively. I'm planning to get a hold of his self-published illustrated novels Books with Pictures and the Orange County-set Cedric Hollows in Dial M for Magic. All had typically honest and inspirational things to say about their professional experiences as gay or lesbian artists, writers and/or artists who inspired them, and their hopes for the future of GLBT comics.

All in all, another full and fabulous weekend was had at Comic-Con International!

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

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: Terrence McNally - Love, Talent, Compassion

Talk about a split personality! It’s a wonder that renowned playwright Terrence McNally hasn’t developed one the way he launches from premiering new original plays to adapting popular films for the musical stage.

His latest feat of boomerang virtuosity included opening the original drama Unusual Acts of Devotion at the fabulous La Jolla Playhouse and then jumping on a plane to Seattle to create the book for the new musical Catch Me If You Can, at the equally fabulous 5th Avenue Musical Theatre (where Hairspray and Shrek had their debuts). I don’t get as star-struck by celebrities as I used to, but having the opportunity to speak to the man who brought Love! Valour! Compassion!, Ragtime, The Full Monty, Corpus Christi, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Ritz to life gave me serious jitters. How do you talk to the man who epitomizes brave gay theater? As it turns out, very easily, as Mr. McNally could not have been more gracious and eloquent as he described his latest project, bringing Stephen Spielberg’s hit film to life.

As if you don’t have enough reason to escape the heat for cool, green Seattle, you have three weeks to witness the birth of what is sure to be one of Broadway’s biggest hits of next season. Aaron Tveit (who blew audiences away in Next to Normal), plays Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenage con man who fooled people into believing that he was a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and other difficult professions while kiting checks in the thousands. In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio won hearts over in this role, and Tveit is sure to match the star’s brilliance. Norbert Leo Butz, Tony winner for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, plays Tom Hanks’ role, while the beautiful Kerry Butler (Kira in Xanadu and the original Penny Pingleton in Hairspray) plays Amy Adams’ role as the girl who steals Frank’s heart. Tom Wopat, who is so much more talented than his Dukes of Hazzard days revealed, plays Frank Sr., the incomparable Christopher Walken’s Oscar nominated role. McNally praised everyone he’s collaborating with, including director Jack O’Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and described why he is amazed at the times in which we’re living.

NC: What drew you to Catch Me If You Can?
TM: Well, first of all, Jack O’Brien and Jerry Mitchell and I worked very happily on The Full Monty together, and I was a big fan of Hairspray that Marc and Scott did. And I loved the movie, so when they called me and asked, "What do you think of making a musical of Catch Me?", I really didn't hesitate, considering the talent involved. I thought it was a property that would really take on a lot of new colors with music and dance added. It’s really challenging because it’s a very cinematic film, and obviously, it’s a chase story essentially, and a lot of the chase aspects that the film does so brilliantly, we could not do. You know, like people escaping in 747s through the toilet and coming out of the landing gear — it’s very hard to do that sequence in the theater. I thought it would be a chance to let the audience use their imagination and let the writers and creators use their imagination and try to retell a story that Spielberg did so brilliantly as cinema to reimagine it as a musical.

I always like projects that are challenging, that I don’t know how I’m going to solve the problems. I didn’t think it was going to be easy, but I thought it would be fun to try to solve it. We’re working to bring it to a happy opening night here in Seattle. We’re doing some rewrites right now. We got on the stage this week — we did a beautiful run-through last week in the rehearsal hall, and now we’re upstairs with the sets and the lights and the costumes, trying to make it all come together with the same power and force and charm and humanity and humor it had last Sunday with none of those elements added, just the actors. Then the final surprise will be just about a day or so before the audiences come, we add the orchestra. Every time they add a new element to the show, you learn something new about it. It’s an adventure – there’s never a dull moment. It’s not a piece of cake, it’s a lot of hard work to make it look effortless and fun and light on its feet.

NC: It’s fascinating with YouTube that people can watch your creative process (including a one night preview presented in June).
TM: I think we did three or four songs that night, and it was the first time those songs had been sung in a large space, and there were three leading men filling the space. It’s very exciting for us — the music became public that night. It’s been our little secret for all these years we’ve been working on it.
NC: Your “Coming Out Party …”
TM: Yeah, yeah, that was part of the process. Every day is a new adventure — it’s very exciting.

NC: Do you find it difficult to inject your voice into an established story versus when you write your stage plays?
TM: Well, it’s very different, because my stage plays are original. This is an adaptation of a man’s true story, his life. So I went back to the book (by Abagnale). The film was also an inspiration. We’re trying to make it sound as if one voice were telling the story, because in a play I’m the only author, but in a musical, the lyricist is a co-author, the composer is a co-author and even the choreographer’s a co-author. Once they start moving music, that’s a point of view about the characters, how they move. I’ve got three other collaborators on this show. In a play, the only voice you hear is mine. Also, when you do an adaptation, the ones I’ve done at least, I try to honor the original property. I want this to be a musical that both Steven Spielberg and the real Frank Abagnale Jr. like, or approve of, just as I wanted E.L. Doctorow to approve of Ragtime, and not feel that I’ve violated his work, or the original screenwriter of The Full Monty. That’s very important to me to respect the tone of the piece it’s being based on, and not turn it into “a Terrence McNally show” — that’s not my job here. You have to respect the tone.

Here, the tone is somewhat of a thriller — is he going to get away with it? And also, it’s a preposterous story in many ways. There’s also something very moving about it that a young boy runs away from home when his parents divorce and he’s trying to get them back together, and his father falls on hard times and he also hopes that he’s going to be able to help his father get back on his feet. At the same time, the man assigned to chasing him is a childless, divorced detective who, once he realizes — and it takes him quite a while — that the person he’s chasing all around America is a teenager, starts developing paternal feelings that maybe this kid shouldn’t be put behind bars, that maybe he can be helped. Something very moving happens to the character that Norbert Leo Butz is playing, that Tom Hanks did, and I think that’s a very important element of the story too. It would be wrong to come see this expecting a new play by Terrence McNally.”

McNally hopes that they will finish their work in Seattle, and it was refreshing to hear that even a multi-Tony winner can admit uncertainty. “More can go wrong in a musical than can go wrong in a play, I’ll put it that way,” he laughed. “In a sense, they are harder to get right than a play. Part of the reason is that there is more than one author, but it’s got to seem, at the end of the evening, that just one person wrote it. It should seem one voice, one point of view, is telling the story. That’s our challenge.” McNally called the cast “spectacular” and praised Tveit as “phenomenal,” also showering praise on Butz, Wopat and Butler. “Every one of them is just irreplaceable.”

McNally has earned a place of honor in the GLBT community for his commitment to bringing gay characters to life on stage who are three-dimensional, and for exploring issues related to AIDS for many years in his plays. He is happily married (in a Vermont civil union), and is looking forward to spending time at home when his work is done on opening night. I asked him what advice he has for GLBT writers who would like to follow his lead.

“The same answer I would give to any writer. Tell the stories that you feel passionate about, and tell them honestly. The more specifically we tell our stories, the more universal they become — I’m not the first person to say that, but I’ve found it to be true. If you try to write a play about gay life, you’ll probably run into a lot of trouble. But if you try to write a play about six or seven gay men you know, maybe it’ll reach other people.

“That’s the trick. I don’t think the theater is a good place for preaching — it’s a good place for creating individual characters and getting involved in their stories. We can change hearts and minds with the theater — I think hearts usually change before minds do. I hope my plays have to some degree helped to lessen homophobia in this country, but it’s not conscious.

“I don’t sit down to write a play about that, but when a play like Love! Valour! Compassion! gets to Broadway and runs for quite a while, you hope that some of the people that see it come away with a different perception of who we are. I mean, we’ve made such strides. When I wrote Love! Valour!, and it hasn’t even been 20 years yet, who thought we’d now be talking about gay marriage and that same-sex couples adopting children has become so matter-of-fact, you don’t even look twice when you see two men or two women with a child at the airport or at the park. We’ve made incredible progress so fast.

“Homophobia will always remain, be we can chip away at it by living our lives proudly, but look at the legislation changes! It starts there. With the stroke of a pen, Obama can do a lot for us, just by signing some legislation, which I hope he’ll get around to sooner or later. But in the meantime, the simple fact of his election has to have lessened the degree of racism in this country. It’s wonderful. These are very heady times to be alive in as a member of any minority group. The Sarah Palins of this world are really on the defensive. The America they talk about has vanished and they just seem so crazy when they think they’re speaking for this majority — they’re not a majority anymore, and that was the great lesson of the last couple of months. All these states are realizing that it’s a civil right, marriage.

“I’m 70, but I think it’s going to happen in my lifetime. Same-sex marriage will be legal in every state and I look forward to that.” McNally mused, “Gay rights did not exist when I came to New York. You hoped you weren’t in a bar that got raided that night — that was like the norm, and suddenly, there was Stonewall. History, we can’t control it. It just rears up and roars sometimes, and it’s been going in our direction a lot lately, and that’s very thrilling. Just be a part of it and keep pushing and pushing. I think the best thing that ever happened in this country was when people started being out. So much of homophobia is based on fear and ignorance. We don’t fear what we know.”

He continued, “When we know people, we’re not afraid of them or threatened by them. You don’t have to like them. I mean, I don’t like all gay people by any means,” he laughed. “It’s been a good time. A very good time.”

Book your own good time in Seattle and catch Catch Me If You Can while you can from July 28 to August 16.

Editor's note: Per, the first week of previews of Catch Me If You Can were canceled following the death of Norbert Leo Butz's sister. Teresa Butz was murdered in her Seattle-area home on July 19. Her partner, Jennifer Hopper, was also attacked in the overnight tragedy; the two had planned to marry in September.

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

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Actor Factor: Here’s ... The Lucy Show on DVD!

Thirteen years before One Day at a Time’s Anne Romano and over twenty years before Kate & Allie, there were Lucy and Viv. Sporadically shown in syndication and on Nick at Nite, the first season of The Lucy Show finally receives the complete DVD releaseit has long deserved.

Nearly two years after the demise of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (the hour-long episodes of I Love Lucy that replaced the groundbreaking half-hour series) and a short, though notable stint on Broadway in Cy Coleman’s Wildcat, Lucille Ball returned to network television with The Lucille Ball Show … later shortened to The Lucy Show. With her, she brought the writers from I Love Lucy, executive producer Desi Arnaz, and (perhaps most importantly) Vivian Vance. Bonnie Franklin’s Anne Romano of One Day at a Time has long been credited as network television’s first lead female divorcée, but that credit truly goes to Vance’s portrayal of Vivian Bagley on The Lucy Show.

Premiering in 1962 and based on Irene Kampen’s novel Life without George, The Lucy Show revolves around the misadventures of Lucy Carmichael and Vivian Bagley, a widow and a divorcée who move in together to share expenses and raise their families. Though perhaps not quite as memorable as I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show is still grounded in credible family reality, raised to almost operatically ludicrous heights of hilarity. Stand out episodes include Lucy and Viv installing a TV antenna, the culture clash of two families trying to agree on the proper celebration of Christmas, and of course, the classic scene where Lucy and Viv install a shower. Just sit back and watch two pros go to work.

Though this series may be seen as a continuation of I Love Lucy without the men, the dynamic between Ball and Vance, though so familiar, is colored with a true feeling of equality that was not seen in I Love Lucy. Lucy and Viv are contemporaries in this series, roughly the same age, as opposed to the May/December Lucy/Ethel characters.

Front and center, though, is the importance of family and friendship. Also front and center is the brilliance of Lucille Ball as an actress of sublime truth and physicality. There is simply no one better. Watch Lucy Carmichael as she attempts to take on a part time job to afford a bicycle for her son, hide an illegal candy corn production line from the police or take on the role of Charlie Chaplin to entertain at her daughter’s New Year’s Eve party. For every episode that falls short and appears dated or corny, there are far more which stand the test of time.

Absent from this first season is the brilliant Gale Gordon, who would go on to play Mr. Mooney in subsequent seasons. In his place is the stoic Mr. Barnsdahl, played by Charles Lane, veteran of countless classic TV shows including Bewitched, All in the Family and Soap and who appeared in many I Love Lucy episodes and as an extra and in bit parts in several Lucille Ball movies. Lucy always provided work for old RKO and MGM pals.

The lack of the dynamic Gayle Gordon, however, lets the family situation comedy prevail, as later years of the series would write out the entire supporting cast, leaving only Ball and Gordon and an endless parade of celebrity guest stars (including Joan Crawford) stumbling through more and more surreal situations. Also appearing in the first season is Dick Martin, of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

This first season is The Lucy Show at its best: two years before it would be deserted by Vivian Vance and its best writers, who would go on to write for All in the Family. The Lucy Show, which has long languished in obscurity, is well deserving of a second look, both for its non-traditional family dynamic and the always brilliant teaming of Ball and Vance.

The Lucy Show: The Official First Season DVD collectionincludes new interviews with Lucie Arnaz, series regular Jimmy Garrett, and many other DVD bonuses. Also available next month for the first time on DVDis the first season of Here’s Lucy ... but that is for another article; please stay tuned!

The Actor Factor: A View from Both Sides of the Camera is by James Jaeger, Los Angeles based actor and resident television critic of Movie Dearest.

Introducing: The Actor Factor!

Today is a special day here at Movie Dearest, as we welcome James Jaeger into the fold as our newest contributor!

James is a Los Angeles based actor who has appeared in many theatrical productions across the country and several local LA stage productions. He is the author of The Peter Putnam Mystery Novels: The Ghost at Patriots Rest and The Wildman on Wandering Wolf Trail. He also appears in Leola Productions' upcoming release of the film The Real Deal.

Our latest "Man on Film" is also a self-confessed obsessive about all things TV, and his column — titled The Actor Factor: A View from Both Sides of the Camera — will tap into his vast knowledge of both classic and contemporary television, beginning with a review of the long-awaited DVD debut of The Lucy Show later today. Jim's future contributions will include more Lucy, as well as looks at some more legendary ladies of the small screen ... think of the desperate, designing and bewitching kind!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Harry Potter and the Gayest Movie Yet

While Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (or "Harry Potter 6," as the AMC theatre marquee had it listed) is racking up critical superlatives, I hadn't read or heard anything about how downright gay the latest movie can be perceived.

I have not been a devotee of the books, but had read author J.K. Rowling's post-publication outing of Hogwarts' headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. One can see that the revelation has colored actor Michael Gambon's interpretation of the character ever so slightly. Frankly, I was more suspicious of the late Richard Harris's take on Dumbledore in the first two Potter films. His performance was more fey, but whether this was intentionally so or the result of Harris's weakening health will likely forever be unknown.

Then there's the latest movie's addition of potions professor Horace Slughorn, wonderfully played in older and younger versions by Jim Broadbent. Slughorn is given to inviting his most promising — and mostly male — students to private dinner parties in his salon. These scenes reminded me eerily of such soirees held by certain, former professors of mine while I was in seminary. Do I even need to mention these academics' sexual orientation?

Of course, these adult male figures — in addition to the series' arch villain, Lord Voldemort (who doesn't make an appearance in this installment) — can be said to have the hots for young, talented Harry Potter, once again well-played by Daniel Radcliffe. While their interest is presented as strictly platonic and professional, it isn't hard to read more into it.

The always heterosexually-questionable Professor Snape (the ever-delicious Alan Rickman) takes more of an interest in the icy Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton, growing up nicely) in Half-Blood Prince. And yet, Snape's influence over Harry's destiny continues to make itself felt.

Finally, there is an amusing sequence in the film in which Harry's best buddy, Ron (a buffed-up Rupert Grint), falls victim to a love potion intended for Harry. While under the influence of the potent concoction, Ron gets to moon a bit over Harry and even more so over Professor Slughorn!

GLBT viewers may feel I'm reading WAY too much into an ultimately innocent, though dark, entertainment for young people. Christian fundamentalists, who have long been opposed to Rowling's creation whether in print or on film, may take my observations as confirmation that Harry Potter is indeed inspired by Satan.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a good but not great entry in the seemingly endless movie series. It definitely feels like a pit stop, neither introducing nor concluding much. The film's main purpose seems to be reminding folks of what has come before while apparently setting things up for a climactic showdown between the forces of good and evil that is to come in the final two films. It accomplishes this well.

Editor's note: For more gay goings-on at Hogwarts, take Out Magazine's Which Gay Harry Potter Character Are You? quiz.

UPDATE: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 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.

Reel Thoughts: Brüno-A-Go-Go

If you liked Borat, Punk’d and Scare Tactics, you’re sure to get the most out of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new in-your-face (literally, flopping penis and all) comedy Brüno. I have to give Cohen and director Larry Charles huge credit for pulling off what they did with Brüno, given how omnipresent Borat made its star. It can’t have been easy finding people to hoodwink into interacting with the flamboyant Austrian wannabe superstar.

That’s Brüno’s failing as a film, though. Borat, for all its gross-out hilarity, hit American targets far and wide in fully-realized vignettes of often brilliant construction. Brüno, on the other hand, succeeds mostly because the rednecks and zealots he interviews don’t kill him. It’s hard to watch Brüno and not feel that they just weren’t able to get the shots they wanted, especially when Cohen heads to Israel to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians and is chased through the street for his Orthodox Jewish outfit mated with hot pants.

Brüno is an Austrian fashion and style reporter who is unceremoniously fired for wrecking a fashion show with his all-Velcro suit. He goes on a quest to find fame and fortune in America any way he can. Aided by his AWOL assistant’s assistant, a ginger-haired puppy dog named Lutz, Brüno tries to adopt an African baby, host a celebrity talk show (where half the pilot is Brüno dancing and close-ups on the aforementioned dancing penis, who at one point bellows “Brüno!” at top voice) and finally to go straight for fame.

Brüno feels more heavy-handed and staged, and the comic payoffs are not as gut-busting as that crazy Kazakh, Borat. Still, there are a lot of scenes in Brüno that are so hilariously wrong, it’s worth seeing just for the reactions. Watch the appalled cage fight fans of Arkansas react when the supposedly ex-gay Brüno starts fighting a surprise opponent, only to end up stripping and making out with the guy.

Of course, Brüno is a terrible stereotype, but Cohen isn’t a homophobe by any means. He gets Ron Paul to call him a “queer”, exposes ex-gay pastors as either a deluded closet case or a misogynistic boor, and sometimes even breaks out of the gay humor box to expose fringe stage parents willing to let their toddlers play Nazis, Roman guards and crucified thieves next to a similarly “mounted” baby Jesus.

Part of the fun of Brüno is watching the more homophobic audience members who, expecting another Borat, have to witness things they never want to see and waiting for their heads to explode. The finale brings together a star-studded cast of good-natured celebrities and sends you out singing a really bad charity anthem.

UPDATE: Brüno is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Dare to Support Outfest

The closing night of Outfest 2009 featured the LA premiere of Adam Salky's teen drama Dare, live appearances by the film's stars Alan Cumming (sporting dyed blonde hair) and Emmy Rossum, and a pre-show fundraising solicitation. Outfest, the nation's oldest GLBT film festival and LA's longest-running fest at 27 years, is a non-profit that, like so many worthy organizations, is suffering as a result of the current recession.

Never mind that not all the films shown during this year's Outfest deserve equal support, with the festival's US dramatic centerpiece, Mississippi Damned, being a prime example. Although it won the fest's Grand Jury prize for outstanding US feature film, I found Tina Mabry's autobiographical piece to be an unrelentingly grim, overlong examination of a dysfunctional black family in the American South with little positive to say about its GLBT characters. Despite some excellent performances, Mississippi Damned offers little that hasn't been shown or said before in such films as The Color Purple or Monster's Ball.

Dare is another unfortunate exception to the notion that all GLBT festival films are equally worthy of acclaim. The film has its charms, notably fine performances by Zach Gilford and Ashley Springer as sexually-conflicted high school students involved in a pseudo-threesome with Rossum's character, and Michael Fimognari's excellent cinematography. However, it failed to ring true for me. Perhaps times for teens have changed and I've become out-of-touch, but too many of the sexual scenarios struck me as contrived and Rossum (who was wonderful as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera movie a few years back) struck me as too old for her part.

If not every GLBT film festival entry is an artistic success, is that reason not to support the filmmakers or the festival? Certainly not! Outfest and the other festivals that have happily proliferated across the country since the LA fest's founding in 1982 deserve our community's support more than ever. Please consider financially supporting Outfest (donations may be made online at their official website) or your local GLBT festival before it's too late.

UPDATEDare is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

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

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Awards Watch: Outfest 2009

Outfest, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization dedicated to "nurturing, showcasing and protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) media", announced the award winners of its 27th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival this morning.

And the winners are:

Special Programming Awards:
- The Outfest 2009 Special Programming Award for Freedom: On These Shoulders We Stand, directed by Glenne McElhinney
- The Outfest 2009 Special Programming Award for Artistic Achievement: Greek Pete, directed by Andrew Haigh
- The Outfest 2009 Special Programming Award for Emerging Talent: George O’Donnell, College Boys Live

Audience Awards:
- The Outfest 2009 Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film: Get Happy, directed by Mark Payne
- The Outfest 2009 Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film: Awakening, directed by Christian Tafdrup
- The Outfest 2009 Audience Award for Outstanding Soundtrack: We Are the Mods, directed by E.E. Cassidy
- The Outfest 2009 Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film: Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, directed by Greta Olafsdottir and Susan Muska
- The Outfest 2009 Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Feature Film: Chef's Special, directed by Nacho G. Velilla
- The Outfest 2009 Audience Award for Outstanding First US Dramatic Feature Film: We Are the Mods, directed by E.E. Cassidy

Jury Awards:
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Short Film: First and Loveless, directed by Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullman
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Short Film: The Bath, directed by Lee Mi-rang
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature Film: Off and Running, directed by Nicole Opper
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding International Dramatic Feature Film: The Man Who Loved Yngve, directed by Stian Kristiansen
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film: Derrick L. Middleton in Rivers Wash Over Me
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film: Laura Harring in Drool
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Screenwriting: E.E. Cassidy for We Are the Mods
- The Outfest 2009 Grand Jury Award for Outstanding US Dramatic Feature Film: Mississippi Damned, directed by Tina Mabry

Outfest 2009 concludes tonight with the closing night screening of Adam Salky's Dare (check back tomorrow for Chris' review).

Reverend's Reviews: Vikings in Hi-Def

Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America is noteworthy for being the first — and, hopefully, the last — theatrical release shot in high-definition close-up to show a guy taking a dump in the woods. Despite this scene's inclusion from the "too much information" department, writer-director-star Tony Stone's Viking docudrama is one of the more beautifully shot films of the year ... so long as the camera is standing still.

The year is 1007 AD. Two Norse explorers have been presumed dead and abandoned in Vinland, the name given by the Vikings to the new land that would eventually become known as North America. Orn (Stone) and Volnard (Fiore Tedesco) face a struggle for survival, as well as threats posed by Christian missionaries and the natives termed "Skraeling" by the explorers.

Stone's devotion to historical accuracy (the actors even speak in ancient Norse) on an indie budget is undeniably impressive, even with the aforementioned forest defecation episode (well, where else were Vikings supposed to defecate?). One of the film's locations at the northern tip of Newfoundland was where evidence of a Norse settlement was discovered in the 1960's.

Also impressive is Stone's visual eye, aided by his talented cinematographers Nathan Corbin, Damien Paris and several others. While hand-held camera shots aren't as successful in hi-def, resulting more often than not in confusion and/or nausea, the widescreen location shots are breathtaking.

Curiously, Severed Ways also employs music by such black-metal stalwarts as Judas Priest, Queens of the Stone Age and Brian Eno. While their contributions aren't inappropriate from a musical standpoint, it isn't clear exactly what parallels or connections Stone is drawing by using contemporary rock. Are we to think of the Vikings as the original head-bangers, lengthy golden locks and all?

Severed Ways gets long for a largely dialogue-free feature. Nonetheless, guys and gals with Viking fetishes will likely be in their glory. If not wholly successful, the movie nonetheless establishes Tony Stone as someone to watch in the future.

Click here to watch the trailer for Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America.

UPDATE: Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America is now available on DVD from

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