Monday, August 31, 2009

Monthly Wallpaper - September 2009: Teachers

With the school year about to start, the Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper for September offers a salute to cinematic teachers, from Mr. Holland to Miss Jean Brodie.

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.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

MD News Desk: Twisted Sisters & Mad Men

Keep up to date with all the latest from the entertainment world with the MD News Desk:

Film Art:
- The Disney Princesses get a little twisted, courtesy of artist Jeffrey Thomas.

- The 30-Second Bunnies do some trick or treating with Halloween.
- Trailer Park: The Descent Part 2.
- Meet the Ambassadors of Harmony.
- This is one thing we can agree with Hitler on ...

Coming to TV:
- "My teen-angst now has a twenty share": Heathers series planned by Fox.

Out in Film:
- Out Magazine interviews Mad Man Bryan Batt.
- [title of show] creators Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Michael Berresse collaborating with Desperate Housewives' Marc Cherry on a future ABC sitcom.
- Megan Fox will host the 35th (!) season premiere of Saturday Night Live.
- T.R. Knight starts rehearsals for the musical Parade.
- Alonso Duralde, author of 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men, has a new weekly movie-themed column at In his debut, he takes on Taking Woodstock and peruses The September Issue.

Women We Love:
- Natalie Portman interviewed by ... Jake Gyllenhaal, her Brothers co-star.
- Will Barbara Cook return to Broadway in Roundabout's Stephen Sondheim Revue?
- Yup, even screen legend Lauren Bacall tweets.
- Xanadu babe Kerry Butler joins Rock of Ages.
- Laura Linney set to headline Showtimes' The C Word (which has nothing to do with Showtime's The L Word).
- Elaine Paige goes digital: on iTunes and YouTube.
- Four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald honored by the NAACP Theatre Awards.
- Aussie dance floor diva Kylie Minogue chats about her upcoming North American invasion.

Coming Soon:
- Things could get messy: Halloween helmer Rob Zombie to take on another version of The Blob.
- Johnny Depp and Geoffery Rush will hunt for the Fountain of Youth in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, to be directed by Rob Marshall.
- Twilight watch: meet New Moon's Volturi, including Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen. Plus: What if Twilight was made in the 80's?

Ride the Movies:
- The Princess and the Frog showcased at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Cinematic Crushes:
- American Cinematheque to honor Matt Damon.
- Thriller casts: Daniel Craig in Dream House and Hayden Christensen in Vanishing on Seventh Street.
- Campbell Scott joins the third season of Damages.
- Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell will strap on some swords and sandals for The Eagle of the Ninth.
- Our pal QueerTwoCents digs into the past of current One Life to Live hunk David A. Gregory (a.k.a. "barn bath" Ford), including this hilariously ab-alicious ad for Airborne.

Coming to DVD:
- The Humpday DVD(due November 17) gets "de-gayed".

The Latest on TV:
- Greek returns for its third season on ABC Family tomorrow.
- The Daytime Emmys will be presented tonight on The CW. The always-fabulous Vanessa Williams hosts.

From Screen to Stage:
- Minneapolis' Torch Theater will "turn the world on with a smile" with The Mary Tyler Moore Show live.
- Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is auctioning off a special closing night package for Broadway's 9 to 5.
- The upcoming Ragtime revival announces its cast.
- American Idol alum Diana DeGarmo joins the Off-Broadway musical The Toxic Avenger.
- The Bye Bye Birdie revival loses its "gang rape-y" Shriner's ballet.
- The Producers in Germany: "Frühling für Hitler".
- Meet the new Billy Elliot.

Potent Quotables:
- Evan Rachel Wood on her True Blood character, vampire queen Sophie-Anne: "She's not necessarily a lesbian. Her human partner is a girl, but I'm pretty sure she goes both ways ... I think vampires are like that in general."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

MD Poll: The Boys of Summer 2009

The end of the summer movie season is almost upon us, so it is time for our annual look back at the film actors that made it so memorable ... and judge them on their looks alone and anoint one the hottest hunk of the past four months or so!

This year's batch is filled with some of our "old" favorites (Johnny Depp, Josh Duhamel, Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt, Ryan Reynolds and Channing Tatum) alongside some new faces (Bradley Cooper, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Sam Worthington).

Take your pick and place your vote in the MD Poll located in the right hand sidebar. The ultimate summer movie hunk, class of 2009, will be crowned in four weeks.

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

MD Poll: V for Victory

With nearly 50% of the vote, Viking vamp Eric Northman (played by Alexander Skarsgård) easily slayed the competition for the MD Poll title of sexiest True Blood character. The victory celebration will be held at Fangtasia sometime after sundown tonight.

Coming in a distant second was Bill Compton, Eric's chief romantic rival for the fair Sookie, while her brother, the oft-shirtless Jason, placed third. See the comments section below for the complete body count ... er, statistics.

The penultimate episode of True Blood's roller coaster of a second season will air tomorrow night on HBO, with the season finale scheduled for September 13, after a week off for Labor Day.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: In Heaven with the Basterds

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Mathilde by Marie Joseph Eugene Sue (original source)

At initial, casual glance, the current big-screen releases Five Minutes of Heaven and Inglourious Basterds wouldn’t appear to have much in common. The first is a straightforward drama about a man meeting the IRA assassin who killed his older brother 30+ years before. The other is a revisionist historical-fantasy by Quentin Tarantino and containing his usual flourishes of over-the-top ultra-violence, pop-culture references and offbeat casting choices.

Both, however, share the central, driving theme of vengeance. In the excellent Five Minutes of Heaven, which is directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (the acclaimed Downfall and the underrated sci-fi flop The Invasion, the latter of which is conspicuously absent from his press bio) and written by Guy Hibbert, protagonist Joe Griffin becomes increasingly — and understandably — fixated on his to-be-televised reunion with reformed killer Alistair Little as an opportunity to kill the murderer and avenge his brother’s death.

The first half of Five Minutes of Heaven is a re-creation of true events, while the second half is a speculative take on what might have happened if Alistair and Joe had the opportunity to meet. The film’s title refers to what Joe hopes to experience while watching his brother’s killer die. When the TV reunion’s producer tells Joe that his meeting with Alistair is an opportunity for “truth and reconciliation,” Joe thinks to himself, “Truth and reconciliation? I’m going for revenge!”

James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday, Millions) conveys this private hunger for vengeance most admirably through his performance as Joe. As Alistair, Liam Neeson is initially cool as a cucumber but gradually shaken as his character becomes more aware of the consequences of his murderous actions as a teenager. Both Neeson and Nesbitt should be worthy end-of-the-year award contenders for their fine, challenging work here.

Inglourious Basterds may also emerge an award contender, and is already an audience-pleaser. It isn’t the first of Tarantino’s films to deal with the topic of revenge. Indeed, most of his films — from Pulp Fiction through the Kill Bill saga to his half of Grindhouse — feature characters motivated by the desire for retribution from people who have done them wrong.

Tarantino’s latest is unique among his works, though, in that it doesn’t feature just one person against another but a band of Jewish-American operatives (led by a very funny Brad Pitt) versus the entire Nazi party during World War II! The Basterds (the misspelling is inspired by the 1978 Italian film, Inglorious Bastards, which was reportedly hand-written as “Inglourious Basterds” on the VHS case in the video store where Tarantino once worked) are posing both a strategic and psychological threat to Hitler’s forces via their habit of scalping the numerous German soldiers they capture.

The Basterds eventually join forces with British intelligence, a French movie-theatre owner (the beautiful Mélanie Laurent) with a personal score to settle against the Germans, and a German movie star (a glamorous and funny Diane Kruger) who is secretly a spy for the Allies. They all face a formidable threat in the conniving SS Colonel Landa (the fascinating Christoph Waltz, who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for this performance). Mike Myers, Bo Svenson and Rod Taylor (as Winston Churchill!) also make guest appearances.

Like all of Tarantino’s movies, Inglourious Basterds simultaneously takes inspiration from and pays homage to prior cinematic genres and achievements, including 70’s Blaxploitation films, King Kong, Asian and martial-arts movies, film noir and, of course, the Nazis’ own works of propaganda.

Shades of the climactic opening of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark can be seen in this film’s fiery finale, and I especially appreciated Tarantino’s inclusion of David Bowie’s theme song from one of my all-time faves, the 1982 remake of Cat People. The results are generally thrilling, even if some stretches of conversation tend to the long side.

Inglourious Basterds and Five Minutes of Heaven reach very different conclusions regarding the moral dilemmas and personal satisfaction possible in having one’s hunger for vengeance satisfied … or not. I can’t imagine a better double feature on the topic. See them, and let the debate begin.

UPDATE: Inglourious Basterds is available on DVD and Blu-ray and Five Minutes of Heaven is available on DVD and Blu-ray, now from

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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

MD News Desk: Brad, Blood and Beyond

Keep up to date with all the latest from the entertainment world with the MD News Desk:

True Blood:
- Clip and play: True Blood paper dolls! Includes the fab Lafayette and a bare-assed Sam Merlotte.
- Stephen Moyer (a.k.a. Vampire Bill) has been cast in the upcoming movie Priest (no relation to the controversial 1994 gay drama).
- Ryan Kwanten (a.k.a. Jason "You dirty little monkey" Stackhouse) takes it off for GQ.
- Also: time is running out to vote for the sexiest True Blood character in the latest MD Poll. Make your choice in the right hand sidebar.

- One Life to Live's Brett Claywell dishes on “Kish”.

GLBT Entertainment:
- Beatles manager Brian Epstein gets a biopic with A Life in the Day.
- Tom Ford's feature film directorial debut A Single Man (based on the Christopher Isherwood novel) is one of a record 14 films competing for the Queer Lion Award at this year's Venice Film Festival.
- BearCity, billed as a "gay romantic comedy set in New York City’s bear community", is seeking hirsute extras.

Ride the Movies:
- Will the long rumored new Star Tours ride film be announced at Disney's D23 Expo?

The Latest on TV:
- The first season of BBC America's spooky Being Human (starring the sexy Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey and Lenora Crichlow) comes to a close this Saturday.

Coming to TV:
- ABC is planning a pilot based on the novel-turned-recent movie The Time Traveler's Wife.
- Also coming to haunt ABC: Clive Barker's Hotel.
- The sexy camp vamp series The Lair returns for a third season.
- MTV is developing an American version of the BBC teen drama Skins.
- Amanda Woodward returns? Heather Locklear may visit the new Melrose Place after all.
- The Kids in the Hall (including Scott Thompson) will be back on TV with an 8-part comedic murder-mystery series called Death Comes to Town.
- HBO looking to bring Dan Savage's sex advice column Savage Love to TV.
- Will & Grace executive producer Gary Janetti is working on another sitcom about gay-straight friendship for NBC — but this time, the friends are both men.
- Take a look at's Best Fall Gay TV Guide Ever!

Cinematic Crushes:
- Zac Efron struts his stuff on the set of The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud.
- Will Robert Downey Jr. be the next Lestat?
- John Hamm gets a Sucker Punch.
- Josh Lucas goes for a Little Murder.
- James McAvoy says I'm with Cancer.
- Ryan Reynolds is all by himself in Buried.
- The Advocate chats with Into the Pride's lion man Dave Salmoni.

Potent Quotables:
Brad Pitt on gay marriage: "You have a group of people telling other people how to live their lives, and you can't do that. I just say you have to ... you really have to check what country you're living in because the freedom that allows you to practice religion is the same freedom you're stepping on. That's not right. And I want to add that if there was a nation of gay married couples who were telling you you couldn't practice your religion, I'd be speaking up for you too. So let's stop the nonsense."

Introducing: The MD News Desk

In order to keep up with all the latest in entertainment news of interest to our readers, today we are introducing a new regular feature: the MD News Desk. These posts will provide links to news stories from our various departments, ranging from what our Cinematic Crushes and Women We Love are up to lately to the latest in Movie Music to what films will be Coming Soon to a theater near you. Enjoy!

And the List Goes On:
- presents the 40 Most Handsome Hollywood Men (Right Now). Their top five: James Franco, Robert Pattinson, Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman and Josh Duhamel.
- Vote now for's 50 Greatest Gay Movies (polls close this Friday).

- Author and investigative journalist Dominick Dunne (who also produced the films The Boys in the Band and The Panic in Needle Park) passed away yesterday at the age 83.

Awards Watch:
- The nominations for the 2009 Alma Awards (which honor the achievements of Latinos in film, TV and music) have been announced, including multiple nods for Lost, Star Trek, Ugly Betty and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Coming Soon:
- Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) has been pushed to next February. Adjust your Oscar predictions accordingly.
- Remake This: Excalibur, Outland and Yellow Submarine.
- A gay porn studio is making a movie titled Whorrey Potter and the Sorcerer’s Balls (NSFW). That's right, it's a parody of Harry Potter (what took them so long?) and will also feature characters named Himmione, Ron Sleazely and Voldemorecock (played by Matthew Rush, naturally).

From Screen to Stage:
- First look: Daniel Craig (porn 'stache and all) and Hugh Jackman in Broadway's A Steady Rain.
- Last call to see The Little Mermaid on Broadway and The First Wives Club in San Diego.
- Obie Award winning puppeteer Basil Twist has joined the creative team of the Broadway-bound musical The Addams Family, most likely to bring Thing to life.
- The documentary film of the Tony-winning musical Passing Strange is now available On Demand as part of "Sundance Selects."
- Find out about the three new songs that Tony winner Maury Yeston penned for the film version of Nine.
- Rachel York (best known as Broadway's Norma Cassidy) will play Cruella de Vil in the new national touring production of The 101 Dalmatians Musical.
- See the legendary chariot race recreated in front of your eyes in the new arena spectacle Ben Hur Live (where's the exclamation point?).
- Broadway will have a White Christmas once again this year.
- Rent alum Jesse L. Martin steps into Sidney Poitier's shoes for the new play based on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
- Speaking of Rent, the musical's stage and screen stars Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal will continue their "seasons of love" tour through January.
- Beware the Gay Bride of Frankenstein.

Hands Off the Merchandise:
- Smells like Bill Shatner: Star Trek cologne now on sale.

Women We Love:
- Susan Sarandon may play Shia LaBeouf’s mother in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.
- Spend An Evening with Liza Minnelli at the Hollywood Bowl.
- Kate Winslet takes on Joan Crawford's most iconic role in a TV mini-series remake of the classic Mildred Pierce, to be written and directed by Todd Haynes.
- West End diva Elaine Paige's Australian concert tour will be filmed for an upcoming DVD release.
- Bette Midler will be on hand as the Academy celebrates the 30th anniversary of The Rose.
- The Ali Forney Center, NYC's homeless shelter for GLBT youth, is naming one of their residences for the late Golden Girl Beatrice Arthur.

Out in Film:
- Gus Van Sant is feeling a little Restless with his next film.
- Cheyenne Jackson and Michael Feinstein hit the studio to record an album version of The Power of Two, their hit cabaret show from earlier this year.
- Adam Lambert will croon a power ballad for Roland Emmerich's latest disaster flick, 2012.
- In addition to the aforementioned Excalibur redo, Bryan Singer is attached to a(nother) Battlestar Galactica reboot as well.
- Congratulations to The Young and The Restless' Thom Bierdz, who will receive the Human Rights Campaign's Visibility Award.

Stay tuned for a second edition of the MD News Desk later today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reverend's Previews: It’s Gonna Live Forever

Movie musicals were a dying breed by the time MGM’s Fame hit theaters in 1980. However, the contemporary, R & B-flavored drama was a hit, and it subsequently kept the genre on life support for another couple of years.

Now that the big-screen musical is alive and well again, it seems only natural that an update of Fame is on the horizon. It opens nationwide on September 25. Set, like the original, in NYC’s real-life High School of the Performing Arts, the update follows a number of talented teens yearning to become stars of stage and/or screen.

Recently, I was treated to a private, extended preview of scenes from the new Fame. The film was still in post-production, but the footage I saw was promising. I was afraid the songs and dance numbers might be High School Musical-esque. Instead, they are more classically-staged and quite beautiful. A circus-set piece and the climactic graduation ceremony look spectacular, and a number choreographed to Sam Sparro's Grammy nominated “Black and Gold” could be an homage to the sexy “Take Off With Us” from Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, only with more clothing ... these are teenagers after all. (You can catch a glimpse of these scenes in the film's trailer.)

In addition to the new songs, Fame 2009 includes covers of the hit, Oscar-winning title song from the original as well as the popular “Out Here On My Own.” The remake is directed by 25-year old Kevin Tancharoen and choreographed by Marguerite Pomerhn Derricks.

Actress-dancer Debbie Allen, from the original film and the early 80’s TV show it inspired, now plays the principal of the school. Other actors cast as faculty members include a host of theatre luminaries, some of them GLBT faves: Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S. Dutton and Kelsey Grammer.

On the negative side, the film’s PR rep told me there are no gay characters in the new Fame, which is a marked contrast from the original. The 1980 film included a gay character, Montgomery, played by Paul McCrane. Even if the part is pretty stereotypical in hindsight, it was groundbreaking at the time.

Still, I intend to see the new Fame, both in an effort to remember my own, artistically-inclined youth and to seek inspiration for my life today.

UPDATE: Fame 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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Good Eats

I have been excited to see Julie & Julia since I first heard about it. How could any film be more delicious than one starring Amy Adams and better yet, Meryl Streep as Julia Child? As it turns out, precious few films this year can match Nora Ephron’s frothy, delectable confection, with the priceless ingredient being Streep.

Based on two distinct takes on Child’s life and contributions to modern culture, Julie & Julia tells the unconnected stories of Julia Child’s life-changing trip to Paris in the late forties and fifties and blog writer Julie Powell’s life-changing decision to cook through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and to chronicle it. Critics have their knives out for Ephron and the Julie Powell section, and it goes without saying that I could have watched a full-length film of just Streep playing Child, but I thoroughly enjoyed Adam’s quest for self-empowerment through obsessive cookery as well. The film does a great job of tying each story together and allowing them to comment on each other. As the old critique goes, the only thing wrong with Julie & Julia is that it ended.

You might think that Streep would run out of fascinating, brave, ballsy and utterly lovable performances after so many years, but her Julia Child is among her best creations. She is artificially enlarged to play the Amazonian Child and she masters Child’s earthy falsetto flawlessly. What is amazing is how she imbues Child with such a lustiness. Her scenes with her husband Paul, beautifully played by Stanley Tucci, ring with such attractive truth that you never see in most youth-obsessed movies.

Adams’ Julie Powell, on the other hand, works for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation the year after 9/11 and lives in an apartment in Queens that she hates. Her friends are unbelievable shrews and the only thing that she enjoys is cooking. I was enthralled by how she found direction in Child, who truly made everyone feel like they could cook, and became the nation’s dotty aunt. I didn’t care a lot about Powell’s cinematic marital problems because they seemed so contrived, but Adams is incandescent in just about everything.

Special recognition should go to the entire production team, who not only succeed in recreating mid-Twentieth Century Paris and America but also make every single food preparation look so good you can almost taste and smell it! The supporting cast is amazing as well, especially Jane Lynch as Julia Child’s equally huge sister Dorothy. If there is anything Lynch can’t do, I have yet to see it. Chris Messina, as Eric Powell, is nice but bland, which seems to be happening a lot in movies these days. Are charismatic thirty-year-old men that hard to find? Don’t answer!

In a summer that has been full of noisy robots and killer tykes named Esther, Julie & Julia is a wonderful change of pace. While you might not feel like running out and heating up your kitchen, you’ll definitely find yourself as happy and satisfied as if you’d eaten one of Child’s magnificent meals.

UPDATE: Julie & Julia is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Toon Talk: Kid ‘N’ Dragon

1977 was a banner year for American films, what with such cinematic touchstones as Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind among the year’s releases. Oh yeah, and there was a little movie called Star Wars too. Of course, Disney had its contributions as well, beginning with the animated summer hit The Rescuers. The studio closed out the year with its holiday release, Pete’s Dragon, re-released on DVDthis week in a new “High-Flying Edition”.

A musical fantasy combining live action and animation, Pete’s Dragon was then Disney’s latest (and, in retrospect, last) attempt to recreate the phenomenal success of 1964’s Mary Poppins. Following 1971’s similar foray, Bedknobs and Broomsticks (which will also see a new DVDrelease next month), Pete’s Dragon, despite an all-star cast and Academy Award nominated music, didn’t exactly reach Poppins heights, creatively or commercially. Yet it has remained a fan favorite amongst Disney enthusiasts, mostly due to the comical charms of its toon title character.

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of the new Pete's Dragon DVD at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: No Dumb Blonde

Legally Blonde: The Musical had its southern California premiere last week at the fabled Pantages Theatre in LA. Despite the Pantages' equally-fabled acoustical problems — which rendered some lyrics unintelligible — the opening night performance cast a crowd-pleasing spell over the packed house.

Adapted from the 2001 film that made a star of Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde follows the efforts of Malibu-bred, UCLA sorority girl Elle Woods (played here by the winning Becky Gulsvig) to get into Harvard Law School and win back her ex-boyfriend. This cheerful, brightly-colored show had a successful run on Broadway in 2007, and had its popularity among young people sealed by an MTV telecast. The tour recently won several special Tony Awards for touring productions including Best Musical, beating Wicked and critical favorite Spring Awakening.

While its plot may seem feather-light, Legally Blonde: The Musical has intelligent things to say about women, ambition and personal empowerment. It probably helps that a woman, Heather Hach, wrote the show's book and another woman, Nell Benjamin, wrote its score, the latter with Laurence O'Keefe. The score is excellent, packed with tunes both appropriately perky ("Omigod You Guys," "What You Want" and "So Much Better" are but a few) and, on those rare occasions when called for, more meditative ("Chip on My Shoulder," "Find My Way" and the title song).

Jerry Mitchell's high-energy choreography is impressive — especially during the Act II opener, "Whipped Into Shape" — but his direction is even better. The pacing is brisk and there isn't a sluggish moment to be found. Though this is Mitchell's Broadway directorial debut, his sharp eye and sure hand ensure future directing assignments.

The touring cast is uniformly strong. In addition to Gulsvig, standout performances are given by Natalie Joy Johnson as the unfortunate-in-love beautician, Paulette (memorably played by Jennifer Coolidge in the film); D.B. Bonds as Emmett; Ken Land as the smarmy Professor Callahan; and Megan Lewis as Elle's bitchy rival, Vivienne. And one mustn't neglect to mention the cute and talented canines Frankie and Nellie, who play Bruiser and Rufus, respectively.

There are gay and lesbian characters and camp moments galore to please GLBT theatregoers. Aside from Wicked, no other recent musical offers as much sheer joy and entertainment as Legally Blonde: The Musical. It is running at the Pantages through September 6, then transfers to the Orange County Performing Arts Center September 8-20.

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

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Virginia Davis: 1918-2009

Virginia Davis, Walt Disney's first star as the leading lady of his early series of silent Alice Comedies, passed away yesterday at the age of 90.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Fly Me to the Moon!

Seattle is the best place to go to see fantastic shows before they blast off for Broadway, and Catch Me If You Can is the 5th Avenue Theatre’s latest hit. Based on the 2002 Steven Spielberg film that chronicled the amazing-but-true larcenous life of teenager Frank Abagnale Jr., who convinced people he was a Pan-Am pilot, a pediatrics doctor and a Louisiana lawyer, Catch Me If You Can is a retro-smooth musical cocktail that defines “cool.”

Hairspray composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s incredibly witty and lush score mixes perfectly with iconic playwright Terrence McNally’s book to hit all the film’s high points, especially in the first act. Director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell bring their best talents to the production, giving it a glossy, fun-filled 60’s TV variety show feel that is the perfect way to make the film sing and dance. The production design is absolutely breathtaking, like stepping into a Mad Men episode as scored by the Rat Pack.

Aaron Tveit, recently voted Broadway’s hottest man, is amazing as Frank Jr., all but erasing Leonardo DiCaprio’s long shadow in the role. He sings like the best of the crooners and he has charisma enough to power David Rockwell’s fantastic light show. From the moment he takes over the stage with his backup dancers to sing “Live in Living Color!”, you will not be able to take your eyes off him ... unless he’s making one of his many escapes from the FBI.

Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, playing Tom Hanks’ dogged Agent Carl Hanratty, creates a whole new musical hero, the super schlub, a man with no life who nonetheless commands the stage whenever he appears. Carl is determined to bring down the elusive Frank, until he discovers that he’s only a kid. “Here I Am (To Save the Day)” is the perfect anthem for Carl’s dull-but-thrilling way of life, and the mile-a-minute patter never trips up the wily Butz.

Tom Wopat, resisting the urge to Christopher Walkenize his Frank Abagnale Sr., takes the role of a man with big dreams and little success and makes him heartbreaking. He sends Frank Jr. off to a life of crime with the tender “Fifty Checks”, a father-son bonding moment marred by the fact that he’s telling his son to spend until the checks run out, a lesson too many people have followed these days. Frank Sr. and his wife Paula (the gorgeous and glamorous Rachel De Benedet) do the unthinkable and divorce, sending their son’s perfect life crashing down and driving him to run away in search of “Someone Else’s Skin” he can inhabit.

Frank’s first miracle job snatch is also the show’s most fun. He becomes a Pan-Am pilot smothered in swingin’ stewardesses, leading to the fabulous production number “The Jet Set”. Every time Hanratty gets close, Frank escapes, racking up 2.8 million dollars in rubber checks along the way.

As act two opens, Frank has graduated to playing doctor, literally, among (as he puts it) a bunch of horny nurses. There he meets Brenda, a sweet candy striper played by Broadway belle Kerry Butler (taking over for the film's Amy Adams). The show drags at this point, if only because nothing involving Brenda’s N’Awlin’s family (Nick Wyman and Linda Hart) is half as entertaining as Frank’s high-flying Pan-Am adventures were. However, the drama of Carl discovering Frank’s broken childhood and becoming a pseudo father figure, as well as Frank Sr.’s sad downward spiral, have an emotional heft that is truly moving.

If tweaks can be made pre-Broadway, I would rewrite the entire Strong family outing part, including the odd number “Bury Me Beside the One I Love”, and give Butler, Wyman and Hart something more fun to do (and for the audience to watch) . Butler gets the “Eleven O’clock Number”, a soaring ballad called “Fly, Fly Away”, but because her part is under-developed, it packs no punch.

Still, Catch Me If You Can is a “Strange But True” tale that has become pure magic on the Seattle stage. I hope you’ll catch it, either there or during its sure-to-be triumphant Broadway run. The handsome Tveit may not sing “Come Fly With Me”, but you’ll definitely want to fly his friendly skies as he becomes a huge Broadway star.

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

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: A Nazi-Fighting Danish Cocktail

I was immediately intrigued by the title, Flame & Citron, chiefly because its second part is my fave flavor of Absolut vodka. Whatever the setting, Citron always catches my attention!

I was therefore edified to learn that Flame & Citron (opening in LA this Friday and expanding nationally) is a cinematic tribute to two Danish freedom fighters who took on the occupying Nazis for the better part of 1944. It is a very well-made and engrossing film, full of twists and turns and no shortage of double- and triple-crosses.

On April 9, 1944, Nazi forces marched into Copenhagen and immediately imposed martial law on those citizens they didn't imprison or kill for resisting them. Bent Faurschou-Hviid (played by Thure Lindhardt, mostly recently seen as the Vatican Archives' chief protector in Angels & Demons) and Jorgen Haagen Schmith (Mads Mikkelsen, best known in the US for his turn as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) resolved to force the Nazis out of Denmark by any means necessary. They quickly became known publicly as Flame (for Bent's rare, red hair) and Citron (perhaps for Jorgen's more acidic personality).

From the start, the more intense Flame has few moral qualms about their resistance efforts. "We're not killing people," he says, "but Nazis." Initially, he draws the line at killing women. Their ethics threaten to change, though, as he and Citron find themselves receiving increasingly questionable orders and making murkier alliances.

Citron has a wife and little girl he rarely sees but remains protective of; he is the more rational between him and Flame, as well as the sweatier of the two. United in their hatred of oppression in any form, Citron and Flame develop in time a seemingly-psychic connection. The two were awarded the US Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1951.

The talented Ole Christian Madsen directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Flame & Citron with Lars K. Andersen. Jorgen Johansson's cinematography is extraordinary, and the production design by Jette Lehmann captures the time and a war-ravaged Copenhagen perfectly. Hummer Hojmark, special effect coordinator, provides subtle but significant support.

Although the film is a little on the long side, clocking in at 130 minutes, it is worth watching as both history lesson and inspirational — if violent — entertainment. One can be justifiably critical of Citron and Flame's take-no-prisoners approach to securing freedom, but it's hard to quibble with Flame's sense of moral certainty in the face of oppression: "I know I'm doing the right thing; it's the only right thing."

UPDATE: Flame & Citron is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Click here to watch the trailer for Flame & Citron.

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