Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Actor Factor: The Witches Are Out

Bewitched celebrated its 45th year on television this past September. After its premiere in 1964 it became ABC's biggest comedy hit up to that time, finishing at an impressive number two in the Nielsens that year. It is one of a select few shows that hasn't been off the air since its premiere, and now the entire series is available on DVD.

One of my favorite shows as a kid, I think every child of the seventies has fond memories of staying home sick from school (or just playing hooky) and watching reruns of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. As an adult, though, I discovered the seldom-seen-in-reruns black and white episodes of Bewitched on Nick at Nite, and it has since become one of my favorite shows of all time.

Most people remember Bewitched as a silly supernatural show of the sixties and early seventies, but it is far more than that. It tackled issues of prejudice and intolerance long before it was commonplace or even acceptable on television. I have collected every season on DVD, after arduously saving them to VHS over the years, and after re-watching episodes for the umpteenth time, I have put together a list of the five episodes of Bewitched that every member of the GLBT community MUST see. Yes, I said “MUST” and all in capital letters. The shows are all from the first two seasons, and two of them are, timely enough, Halloween episodes.

“The Witches Are Out” from season one is the first episode where witches are presented as a minority group. They are referred to as such in the episode in which one of Darrin' clients (portrayed by Shelley Berman) wants his Halloween candy represented by a wart-nosed, broom-riding witch. Meanwhile, Samantha and her witch committee are trying to actively combat the negative images associated with witches during Halloween.

When Samantha stumbles upon Darrin's illustrations of a stereotypical witch, she is hurt and incensed. Darrin doesn't quite understand, but immediately supports Samantha, and instead comes up with a campaign portraying a sexy witch. The client shoots down the idea, but he is Dickensian-ally visited in the night by protest-sign-carrying witches who convince him of the error of his ways. This episode also marks the first appearance of Marion Lorne as Aunt Clara.

“A is for Aardvark”, also from the first season, does not have a particularly gay sensibility, but it is arguably the best episode of the entire series and my personal favorite. In it, Darrin sprains his ankle and Samantha, through witchcraft, makes the house obey his every wish. It is Darrin's first real taste of the power at a witch's command, and he quickly falls victim to the overwhelming lure of witchcraft. Through the experience, Darrin and Sam both learn the value of the unconventional love they share. Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York turn in extraordinary performances. Notably, the episode is directed by film star Ida Lupino.

“There's No Witch Like an Old Witch” (again from season one) portrays a depressed and aging Aunt Clara finding value and purpose as a babysitter for mortal children. Although her young charges are delighted with her magical tricks and stories of flying from rooftop to rooftop, some parents are uncomfortable with Aunt Clara's eccentricities.

Aunt Clara ends up before a judge to plead her capability and value as a babysitter. The show tackles ageism and parental fear of that which is different as all the while Clara attempts to pull a rabbit from her pocket book, delightfully bungling the spell each and every time. Lorne would go on to posthumously win an Emmy for her role.

“The Joker is a Card” from season two marks the first appearance of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur. Need I say more? I don't, but I will. This is possibly the funniest episode of Bewitched ever. Endora's practical-joke-playing younger brother, Arthur, is introduced and delightful havoc ensues. Arthur convinces Darrin he can combat Endora's meddling with magic of his own, complete with duck calls and cowbells. "Yaga-zuzzie, yaga-zuzzie, yaga-zuzzie-zem!"

“Trick or Treat” is the second season's Halloween episode in which Endora wants Samantha to go away with her to the “Sacred Volcano” to escape the disturbing (to witches at least) revelries of Halloween. Darrin refuses, and Endora (in the guise of a gypsy girl portrayed by a very young Maureen “Marcia Brady” McCormick) turns Darrin into a werewolf. Dick York's transformation is both hysterical and ridiculous, but the resolution, in which Samantha challenges Endora to confront her own prejudices, is some of the most thought-provoking television ever produced. No — really!

The preceding episodes are but a sample of Bewitched's finest, especially from a GLBT perspective. Honorable mentions also go to “Witches and Warlocks Are My Favorite Things,” (season three) in which a coven of witches questions the suitability of Tabitha being raised in a mixed marriage, and “Samantha's Power Failure” (season five) in which the Witches' Council strips Sam, Serena, Uncle Arthur and Tabitha of their powers (this is also a personal favorite of my partner Chris — that reverend who does movie reviews around here). Oh, and “Samantha and the Loch Ness Monster” (season eight) just makes me laugh ridiculously. Serena as a mermaid! Do I need to say more? I could, but I won't.

All eight seasons of Bewitched are now availableon DVD, and there is talk of releasing the entire series in a boxed set. The earlier seasons, especially the first two, are must-sees for classic TV fans and new viewers alike.

The last three seasons with Dick Sargent (a gay icon in his own right) lack the originality of the earlier episodes and draw on many “remade” scripts from the first few seasons, but they remain entertaining and make the perfect viewing option when you are home sick from work ... or when you're just playing hooky.

"Calling Doctor Bombay! Emergency! Come right away!"

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.

MD Poll: Spiked!

Thanks no doubt in part to his bleached blonde hair, sexy British accent and vampish charms (ouch), Spike has been named the "Ultimate Vamp Champ"!

As played by James Marsters on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, Spike saw plenty of action ... and not just from a certain ex-cheerleader. But nothing compared to his bloodsucking competitors in the latest MD Poll, which he easily vanquished nonetheless with almost a third of the total votes.

Second place saw a tie between the old — Bela Lugosi's Dracula — and the new — Twilight's Robert Pattinson. See the comments section below for the complete results, and check back tomorrow for the newest MD Poll.

MD News Desk: Halloween Edition

Today we present a special edition of the MD News Desk, a goody bag filled with various tricks and treats from Movie Dearest:

And the List Goes On:
- This collection of 20 Movie Villain Pumpkin Carvings gets extra cool points for including ... Large Marge!

Women We Love:
- It's Jamie Lee Curtis’ Follicle Funhouse! How many can you name?

On Location:
- O.T.I.S. pays a special visit to the real Elm Street.
- Zombies invade the Monroeville Mall ... again.

- A retro Halloween treat from Disney. (By the by, note Donald's nephew on the right — in drag as a witch!)
- Anne Ramsey's head explodes while watching The Bad Seed.
- Scream, Brenda Vacarro, scream!
- "Wocka Wocka Wocka": The Bear Wit Project.
- The one, the only: Sorority Girls from Hell!!!
- Forget Paranormal Activity, it's sexy time.
- Hey kids! It's Shaun (the Sheep) of the Dead!
- Trailer Trash: Beware the One-Eyed Monster (NSFW).

Ride the Movies:
- Now playing at Universal Studios Hollywood: Creature from the Black Lagoon: The Musical! Lots of pics and videos here.

Movie Music:
- Scary bunnies: Watership Down to the tune of "Ave Satani".
- "The Love Theme from The Shining".

Poster Post:
- From the frightfully funny comic geniuses at Kindertrauma: Kramer vs. Krueger, Get Out of Africa and On Crystal Lake.

Out in Film:
- Varla Jean Merman hawks the Occult Snuggie and stars in Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte!
- Alan Ball spills his guts on True Blood's third season.
- The Big Gay Sketch Show's Julie Goldman has a mop problem.
- Really scary: Anne Heche gets work.

Hands Off the Merchandise:
- Blasts from All Hallows' Eves past courtesy of The Haunted Closet.
- "So soft and cuddly": Dark Shadows Horror Heads!

"I Am the Night", oil on canvas by Brandon Bird

Film Art:
- Just what every trick or treater wants: a Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia costume. (Hey, at least it's not a Philip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness costume.)

Tune in to Movie Dearest later today for more Halloween fun, including the results of our "Ultimate Vamp Champ" MD Poll and a very "Bewitching" edition of The Actor Factor!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Monthly Wallpaper - November 2009: 1939 - Hollywood's Greatest Year

In honor of its 70th anniversary, November's movie calendar wallpaper celebrates 1939 - Hollywood's Greatest Year!

A lot of classics came out during that fateful twelve months seven decades ago, and Movie Dearest has selected a top ten of faves to represent it: Dark Victory, Gone with the Wind, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, The Women and Wuthering Heights.

Plus: the festivities will continue this weekend with a special 1939-themed pair of MD Polls!

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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Toon Talk: Tink Big

As the ubiquitous ads enthusiastically state, the “world’s most famous fairy” returns to DVD and Blu-raythis week with Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure. Following last year’s debut movie, this is the second installment of a planned multi-part series starring Peter Pan’s beloved right-hand pixie, Tinker Bell.

Tink’s latest adventure finds her setting off on her own to save Pixie Hollow in a story seemingly geared to increase her appeal to the boys in the audience. In addition to spending most of the movie in boyish garb reminiscent of her future friend Peter’s, her four ethnically-diverse girlfriend fairies are relegated to mere cameos, while guy pal (and future boyfriend?) Terence gets a stronger role this go round.

The fall-themed plot is set in motion when Tinker Bell (voiced again by Mae Whitman) is selected to create a scepter for the upcoming autumn festival. And not just any scepter, this one will bare a rare moonstone that will “recharge” the Pixie Dust Tree, insuring that all the pixies in Pixie Hollow will have plenty of the magical substance for seasons to come.

A great honor for the novice “tinker fairy“, Tink gets right to work, enlisting the help of her favorite “duster fairy” Terence (Jesse McCartney). But a misunderstanding between the two friends leads to the destruction of the precious orb, and there’s only a few days left to the big fall event ...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure at

Reverend's Reviews: Beneath the Skin

It's likely that no one was more startled than Abraham and Sannie Laing, both white, when their daughter Sandra was born black. The apparent result of a recessive gene springing to the forefront generations later, the Laings faced great challenges raising their oft-ostracized girl in apartheid-era South Africa.

Skin, which opens tomorrow in LA and NYC, recounts this fascinating, true story. The film's excellent screenplay and extraordinary acting trio of Sophie Okonedo (as the adult Sandra), Sam Neill (as Abraham) and Alice Krige (as Sannie) bring a little-known historical episode to vivid life. Already a winner of several film festival awards, Skin could well end up a contender among this year's Academy Award nominees.

To their credit, Sandra's parents apparently accepted her completely and treated her no differently than they did their other children. They repeatedly fought school administrators and the apartheid government over several years to have Sandra recognized as their child and ultimately designated "white" so she could enjoy the numerous privileges white Afrikaners had over blacks.

As Sandra matured, however, she ran afoul of her father by rejecting the various white suitors he set her up with and falling in love with a black neighbor. When Sandra bore her lover a baby out of wedlock, her father sadly turned from liberator to oppressor — with Sannie caught in the middle — in his treatment of her.

I found Skin riveting in the frequent shifting of its characters' justifications and allegiances. Abraham's changes most dramatically yet most easily, contrary to his heartfelt feelings for Sandra but faithful to the ideal life he envisions for her. This never seems contrived; rather, it is recognizable even in contemporary individuals and institutions.

Director and co-producer Anthony Fabian makes a very impressive feature debut after directing several short films and operas. He wisely keeps the politics in Skin focused on the family rather than the larger social structures that re-enforced apartheid, an approach that makes the vile system of legalized racism's effects all the more tangible.

Okonedo, an Oscar-nominee a few years back for Hotel Rwanda, is mesmerizing as Sandra from ages 17 to approximately 40. Even better, though, are Krige and the always-reliable Neill. It is wonderful to see Krige back on the big screen, her last notable role in the US having been the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact. Krige brings extra credibility to Skin since she was herself raised in South Africa and witnessed apartheid first-hand.

There have already been two movies released this year — District 9 and Disgrace — significant for their reflections on apartheid, which was thankfully dismantled in the 1990's. Skin is even better and harder-hitting than those films because the Laing family's experience as shown is both more personal and has broader implications.

Instead of a girl like Sandra being born black to white parents today, she could be born physically or mentally disabled, lesbian or transgender, or with some other sign of different-ness that even her parents could deem unacceptable. GLBT viewers might feel particularly at home in the territory of discrimination and displacement traversed in Skin.

Click here to watch the trailer for Skin.

UPDATE: Skin 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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

MD News Desk: 3 More Days 'Til Halloween ... Halloween ... Halloween ...

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

- Blast from the Past: the "Silver Shamrock" song from Halloween III: The Season of the Witch.

True Blood:
- Creator Alan Ball hints at what's to come in season 3 ...
- While Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello has the scoop on a whole batch of new characters.
- And just in time for Halloween: make your own True Blood jack o' lanterns!

Coming Soon:
- High School Musical director Kenny Ortega bails on the new Footloose.
- Sequel Watch: More Paranormal Activity and the return of Mad Max.
- Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are in discussions with Joel and Ethan Coen to join Jeff Bridges in their True Grit remake.
- Brolin is also a part of Woody Allen's latest, titled You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger; cast also includes Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas and Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto.

The Latest on TV:
- Lots of classic tricks and treats this Halloween weekend, beginning with a special episode of CBS' Medium that finds Patricia Arquette in the middle of Night of the Living Dead on Friday.
- Also on Friday, Turner Classic Movies will air 11 Boris Karloff thrillers, followed by more thrills and chills during Saturday's Halloween marathon, including a salute to horrormeister Val Lewton.

- Character actor Lou Jacobi, who played Mr. Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank on stage and screen, passed away Friday at the age of 95.

Cinematic Crushes:
- Ewan McGregor on playing Gore Vidal's dad in Amelia and kissing Jim Carrey in I Love You, Phillip Morris.
- While Melrose Place says goodbye to Ashlee Simpson-Wentz (good riddance), it will say hello to Billy Campbell.
- Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig sell the shirts off their backs ... for a good cause.

From Screen to Stage:
- It's Turkey Lurkey Time: Promises, Promises (the musical version of The Apartment) will return to Broadway starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth.
- The Nine soundtrack will hit stores in December.
- Loverly? Keira Knightley officially cast as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady remake; Daniel Craig rumored for Henry Higgins.
- The Full Monty to strut its way back to London.
- Craig Bierko, Dick Latessa and Sherie Rene Scott are in the Little Miss Sunshine family; plus: more on Like Water for Chocolate.
- Tony winner Michele Pawk plays Oscar winner Joan Crawford in …"Flesh and Blood!"
- Potted Potter, a parody of the Harry Potter books, returns to the West End once more for the Christmas season.

Out in Film:
- Photo Call: Cheyenne Jackson in Broadway's Finian's Rainbow.
- Lily Tomlin hits Vegas.
- Author Augusten Burroughs turns to television, including a series adaptation of his best-selling memoir Dry.
- Chaz Bono to tell all to Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight beginning tomorrow night.
- Alan Cumming chats with's Seth Rudetsky about his new solo album, I Bought a Blue Car Today.

GLBT Entertainment:
- Gay Nazis in love film Brotherhood wins big at the Rome Film Festival.
- I Want My Gay TV: out characters popping up on Trauma, White Collar and 90210.
- Watch This: the first trailer for Bruce LaBruce's Night of the Living Dead Porn Stars flick L.A. Zombie (NSFW).

Awards Watch:
- For the first time in 15 years, the Golden Globes will have a host: Ricky Gervais.

And the List Goes On:
- Forgetaboutit: takes a look at gay mobsters.

The Latest on DVD:
- Just in time for the holidays, a whole new take on those fireplace DVDs: Jingle Boys! Click here for a video preview.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: From Business to Broadway

Actor Tim Martin Gleason has gone from being a dashing, rich nobleman to being a hideous, catacomb-dwelling rageaholic with separation issues — and he’s happy about the change. Of course, only in the musical phenomenon The Phantom of the Opera can such progress be called a promotion.

Gleason is renowned for his portrayal of the show’s romantic hero Raoul, a role that he has played more often than any other actor in America. He originated the role for the Las Vegas production and played Raoul on Broadway when the show became the longest-running production in history.

Still, in Phantom, you’re never fully dressed without a half mask and crypt to call your own, so Gleason is thrilled to be playing the title role in the current US tour. From his reviews, it’s clear that the feeling is mutual. Ten years ago, Gleason was pursuing a business career when he made the leap of faith — he put business aside and followed his dream, which culminated in playing the Phantom, one of the most recognizable pop culture icons around.

Gleason is upbeat and jovial about playing the wounded hero. He said it’s “pretty spectacular” to be playing the show’s title character. “I was Raoul for seven years, which is kind of a dubious honor, actually,” Gleason said. “That whole time, I was the Phantom understudy, so I had played the Phantom a bunch of times, so by the time I took over the role, I had about 125 , 150 (performances) under my belt, so it wasn’t exactly brand new when I took over the role. The character of the Phantom’s just so much meatier – Raoul’s a leading man, so you’re kind of limited in what you can do with the role. They’re always very, very supportive and nurturing of you to make the role your own, but you can only do so much with Raoul. The Phantom’s a character, you can basically do whatever you want with him.”

Gleason said the producers never stunt cast or get lazy with the show, which is why the production has maintained its quality over the past 20 years. He loved working with original director Hal Prince when he came in to stage the Vegas production.

Asked what he’s doing to put his own mark on the role, Gleason said, “I’m just doing what feels honest, and I don’t really know how to define it, but a lot of people have told me that he comes off as a wounded child. You see the child in him a lot. I’ve seen 10 or 11 people play the role, and I’ve seen 10 or 11 interpretations. That’s what’s really great about it. It’s almost like there’s nothing you can do that’s wrong, as long as it’s honest.”

The Phantom of the Opera, a Broadway Across America production, will play at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe from October 28 to November 22. For more information on future dates and locations, visit the tour's official website.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

MD News Desk: Girls Just Want to Have Fun

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

Hands Off the Merchandise:
- Meet the Barbie "Ladies of the 80's": Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper and Joan Jett (available this December from

And the List Goes On:
- The 50 Most Powerful People on Broadway includes such out theater vets as Nathan Lane, Cameron Mackintosh, Joe Mantello, Jack O'Brien, Thomas Schumacher and Stephen Sondheim.
- A Different View: A Straight Person's Top 10 Guide to Movies About the Gay People.

GLBT Entertainment:
- Watch the trailer and help pick the poster for Do Começo Ao Fim (a.k.a. From Beginning to End), the controversial Brazilian drama about two brothers in love ... with each other.
- Another trailer for you: Oy Vey! My Son is Gay! The new rom com stars Lainie Kazan (naturally), Jai Rodriguez, Bruce Vilanch and (in his film debut) Tony winning Jersey Boy John Lloyd Young.
- ABC's FlashForward has a lesbian FBI agent.

Awards Watch:
- Pixar's John Lasseter to receive the David O. Selznick Achievement Award from the Producers Guild of America.
- Here are the movies to watch in Oscar's expanded Best Picture race.
- Vote now for the People's Choice Awards.

- Cover Story: Entertainment Weekly goes for the Glee.
- Is Kristin Chenoweth's April Rhodes returning to New Directions?
- Music Makes the People Come Together: Madonna lends her songs to an upcoming all-Madge episode! Glee's status as the new gayest show on television now officially confirmed.
- Interviews: Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester) and Mark Salling (Noah "Puck" Puckerman).

From Screen to Stage:
- It's Not Easy Being Green: Shrek the Musical to close on Broadway in January.
- Watch This: Rehearsal montage for Nine ... love Judi Dench's wig.
- Around the World: The Lion King in Singapore and Grey Gardens in Japan.
- Ragtime, featuring a Tony Award-winning book by Terrence McNally and Tony-winning score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is back on Broadway.
- Meanwhile, Mommie Dearest herself, Faye Dunaway, takes on another real life diva, Maria Callas, in the film adaptation of McNally’s Tony-winning 1995 play Master Class. The movie, which the Academy Award winning actress is also directing, is now filming in Detroit.
- London to see a new adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-winning film Through a Glass Darkly.
- La Cage aux Folles star John Barrowman dishes on being a 'Big Old Queen' ... onstage and off.
- Ladies and gentlemen, the Mr. Broadway 2009 Beauty Pageant.

Women We Love:
- Stocking Stuffer: Kathy Griffin's new comedy CD Suckin' It for the Holidays, available November 3 (click hereto pre-order from
- And now for the bad Madonna news of the week: she'll direct again.
- Laurie Metcalf returns to Broadway in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound.
- Casting About: Angelina Jolie in the thriller The Tourist, Laura Dern in the Meet the Fockers sequel Little Fockers and Vanessa Redgrave in the political drama The Whistleblower.
- Kim Cattrall to take on Noël Coward's Private Lives in the West End.

- Beloved comedian and TV host Soupy Sales passed away Thursday at the age of 83.
- Collin Wilcox Paxton, best known for her pivotal role in the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, died October 14. She was 74.

Coming Soon:
- Sex and the City 2 Watch: Miley Cyrus joins the long list of cameos.
- J.J. Abrams hints about his plans for Star Trek 2.
- Daniel Craig reveals that the next James Bond will start shooting late next year.
- Anne Hathaway and Neil Patrick Harris to lend their voices to the animated Rio, from the folks behind the Ice Age movies.

Ride the Movies:
- Princess Tiana and her Prince Naveen, stars of The Princess and the Frog, will have their own "Showboat Jubilee" at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom starting Monday.

Out in Film:
- Paul Reubens' Pee-wee Herman rides again.
- Jane Lynch returns to Party Down and joins the Off-Broadway hit Love, Loss and What I Wore.
- Wicked author Gregory Maguire examines the enduring magic of Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are.
- Mike White talks about Gentlemen Broncos and the possible School of Rock sequel.
- Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky are developing a Showtime comedy based on Craig Chester's memoir Why the Long Face?: The Adventures of a Truly Independent Actor. Don Roos is on board to direct.
- Power Up names their "10 Amazing Gay Women" and "10 Amazing Gay Men in Show Biz".
- Queer as Folk's Peter Paige has signed on to direct the indie drama Sex Crime Panic.
- Alan Cumming joins Christina Aguilera, Cher and Cam Giganget in Burlesque. OK, OK will go see it!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Apocalypse Now Playing

The Bible and other religious texts identify several elements that will foreshadow the end of the world: earthquakes, wars and fires raging out of control, the dead rising to life, plagues and pestilence, and Woody Harrelson. Ok, I added that last one, but I find it oddly significant that the actor has roles in at least two new movies out of a growing number that deal with the apocalypse and/or its aftermath.

In the current Zombieland, Harrelson plays the leader of a small group of survivors struggling to make it in a world that has been overrun with the living dead. Roland Emmerich's 2012 (in theaters November 13) casts Harrelson as one among billions trying to outrun an impending global cataclysm some allege was predicted long ago by the Mayans. Did the Mayans similarly anticipate Harrelson's 21st century standing as would-be savior of humankind?

Between now and the year 2012, I foresee a raft of apocalypse-themed movies. 9 (the animated, post-human adventure, not the Rob Marshall-directed musical) is already playing (read my review here), and The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's stunning novel, is due by year's end. Gloom-and-doom is increasingly the rage in our cultural zeitgeist, which in turn feeds the Hollywood moviemaking machine.

But will we soon experience the actual end of days? That's a question that, in my experience, quite a few people are asking themselves but are afraid or embarrassed to discuss openly. As tsunamis decimate coastal communities, as world economies decline, as the ice caps melt, as new viruses or new strains of existing viruses infect us, and as Iran and North Korea strive to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, some believe the initial signs of impending Armageddon are already upon us. Who can say with certainty that any of us will still be here a mere three years from now?

As a Christian, I have long tried to take Jesus' admonition in the New Testament to "Be prepared" for the end seriously. Whether "the end" will translate ultimately as the end of my own life or the end of all life as we know it is murky if not completely unknowable. Other world religions have their own messages and practices regarding the seemingly inevitable end of the world.

Keeping the end of life in mind doesn't translate for me into a fearful, depressed mindset. Rather, it helps me to appreciate each day — indeed, each moment — all the more. I regularly try to impress this on the patients I serve daily who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and are under hospice care. No matter what their religious background, virtually all respond positively, even eagerly, to my encouragement to live in the now and make the most of it.

Please don't get the wrong impression; I'm not about to start pacing the streets, carrying a placard reading "Repent! The end is nigh!" However, even country-western singer Tim McGraw has proclaimed the mantra "Live Like You Were Dying" to great success, indicating that many people do understand the wisdom in such an approach. With it comes the invitation to apologize to those we have hurt, forgive those who have offended us, and accomplish to the best of our ability the goals that we consider most important.

I can't tell you whether the world is going to end in 2012 or not. I wish I could. Frankly, I hope it doesn't. There's likely little we can do about it one way or the other, so there's no point in worrying about it. Let's all live like we are dying and make the most of the precious time we do have. Besides, if the end is that close at hand, Woody Harrelson might still be around to save us.

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Hannah-Do

Sharon Gless of Cagney & Lacy and Queer as Folk fame gives a fine performance as a salty old lesbian confined to a nursing home in Hannah Free, an otherwise schmaltzy movie that is hard to swallow. It begins a national roll out today in Los Angeles.

The screenplay, adapted by Claudia Allen from her play, focuses on Gless' fierce title character. Now in her 70's — although it is hard to get a read on the film's timeline and Gless doesn't look that elderly — Hannah is unable to use her legs and is largely confined to bed in a skilled nursing facility.

As fate and the strained plot would have it, Hannah's longtime lover, Rachel (Maureen Gallagher), lies in a coma another wing over. Hannah is understandably anxious to see her, but Rachel's fundamentalist Christian daughter won't allow it. As Hannah schemes ways to sneak into Rachel's room with a young, mysteriously sympathetic visitor, Greta (Jacqui Jackson), she also chats with the spirit of Rachel's younger self and relates stories from their past to Greta.

These flashbacks are the best-directed scenes in Hannah Free. Director Wendy Jo Carlton drenches the actors playing younger Hannah (Kelli Strickland, who doesn't resemble Gless so much as young Gary Busey) and Rachel (Ann Hagemann) in golden sunlight and post-coital sweat. Their exchanges are more natural and realistic than much of the dialogue between the story's more contemporary characters.

As someone who regularly visits patients in skilled nursing facilities, I can attest that the movie also depicts many of the details of nursing home life accurately. While it seems cruel, a person in Hannah's situation currently doesn't have the right in most US states to visit their same-sex partner in the absence of a legal document (power of attorney, civil partnership or marriage license) granting them that right.

The film's various, mostly female performers do the best they can with the so-so material, but only Gless transcends it. She captures the frustration and righteous anger of someone who has been denied too much too long due to their "deviant" sexuality. Her scenes with Gallagher as the older Rachel ring with emotional truth even as their lines are by and large cliché.

While I can't recommend Hannah Free in general, I expect some lesbian women will find much to appreciate in its scenario. If nothing else, they have a new hero in Sharon Gless.

Click here to watch the trailer for Hannah Free.

UPDATE: Hannah Free 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.