Monday, November 30, 2009

Monthly Wallpaper - December 2009: Princesses

In recognition of The Princess and the Frog, the latest Disney fairy tale to hit the big screen, December's calendar wallpaper is a celebration of our most beloved movie Princesses!

Joining Tiana are her fellow toon royals Snow White, Aurora, Jasmine and Ariel, as well as in the flesh favorites from The Princess Diaries, Roman Holiday and The Princess Bride. And speaking of flesh, we have a certain Crown Princess of Alderaan in her most infamous ensemble.

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.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: Marlo's New Role

Marlo Thomas, the first single girl to front her own sitcom in the ’60s, has come full circle playing one of those women who can’t do anything for themselves in the new play George Is Dead. The play, being staged at the Arizona Theatre Company, was written by Thomas' friend, comedy legend Elaine May (The Birdcage and Heaven Can Wait).

“It’s about marriage, and it’s about rich people and poor people, and Republicans and Democrats, and it’s also about a woman facing reality,” Thomas said. “It’s also hysterically funny — and I come from a family of comedians, so (it's a pleasure) for me to find something that’s that good a part and that good a story and where the comedy is really that strong.”

Thomas, daughter of legendary television pioneer Danny Thomas, began her career as kooky wannabe actress Ann Marie on That Girl, then created the pivotal children’s show, Free to Be, You and Me in the early ’70s. In George Is Dead, Thomas plays Doreen, a rich society wife whose entire existence is “being George’s wife.” It seems a strange role since in That Girl it was so important to Thomas that her character not get married.

“When I graduated from USC as an English teacher, all of my girlfriends were getting married – I was a bridesmaid like 17 times, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to get married!’” Thomas said in a phone interview during a break from rehearsal. “I had so many dreams that I wanted to fulfill. I couldn’t get enough of life, so to me, if I got married, I’d end up like my mother, who gave up her singing career and had three children and pretty much became ‘Mrs. Somebody.’”

Although Ann got engaged to Donald in the last season, That Girl didn’t end with a wedding. “I really felt that that would be a cop-out to all the girls who’d grown up on it and loved it and trusted Ann Marie – that if she got married in the last show, that would say that that was the only ‘happy ending.’ There are lots of happy endings … I think it was really important to keep the dream open.”

Written as a way to teach her niece Dionne about life, Thomas’ Free to Be, You and Me taught a whole generation about tolerance, acceptance and not putting up with gender stereotypes, including a forward-thinking scene about a boy who likes to play with dolls. Thirty-five years later, Thomas said, “I think socially we’re doing way better. We’re not there yet for gays and for women, or anybody, but we’re better off than we were when my niece was born in the ’70s.”

In addition to her career as an actress, Thomas is a tireless advocate for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, founded by her father, for seriously ill children who can’t afford medical treatment. George Is Dead took a week off for Thanksgiving, so that Thomas can raise money for St. Jude’s. “It’s a really tough economy, and my father made a promise in 1962 when he opened the doors to St. Jude’s that no child would ever be turned away if their family couldn’t pay. That’s a very big promise to keep, and we have kept it since 1962,” Thomas said.

Arizona Theatre Company's production of George Is Dead continues through December 6 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. For more information, see their official website.

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

MD Poll: A Toonful Christmas

In celebration of the holidays, the latest MD Poll journeys back in time to what could be called the "Golden Age" of animated television specials to ask, "What is your all-time favorite classic cartoon Christmas special?"

From seasonal icons like Rudolph, Frosty and (of course) Santa to such toon stars as the Peanuts, Mr. Magoo and the Disney gang (not to mention a certain Grinch), these vintage classics still offer plenty of holiday cheer and nostalgia for audiences young and old alike, year in and year out.

Make your choice and place your vote in the MD Poll located in the right hand sidebar, and be sure to "toon" back in on December 19 for the results!

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

MD Poll: Frankly, My Dear ...

... you did give a damn, at least as far as the stars of Gone With the Wind are concerned. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh's performances as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara were named your favorites in our latest MD Poll, with the former edging out early contender James Stewart while the latter garnering nearly half of the total votes.

Following Mr. Smith in the male race was Leigh's husband Laurence Olivier, while fellow gay faves Judy Garland and Bette Davis rounded out the top 3 on the ladies' side. Also of note is Best Actor Oscar winner Robert Donat's ninth place finish and Rosalind Russell placing highest among The Women.

See the comments section below for the complete stats for both polls, and stay "tooned" for the next MD Poll.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Le Comedie Francais Extraordinaire!

My high school French teacher, Madame Haradon, would occasionally show her students classics of French cinema in her effort to bolster our grasp of her primary language. We saw some great films, including the creepy original version of Diabolique. The best, though, were the nearly wordless comedies of director Jacques Tati that focused on the hapless Monsieur Hulot. Play Time remains my favorite, but Tati's 1953 M. Hulot's Holiday is a close second. A newly restored cut of the latter opens today at the Landmark Nuart Theatre in LA for a special one-week engagement.

Tati was a notorious perfectionist and would often tinker with his films even after their initial release (George Lucas wasn't the first director to do so, contrary to what fans of the original Star Wars series might think). Tati played M. Hulot himself — to hilarious effect — in addition to writing and directing. The downside of such extensive involvement apparently meant that there was little of his work Tati was truly satisfied with initially. Tati re-edited and even re-shot parts of M. Hulot's Holiday at least twice, first in the early 1960's and again in 1978 (Tati passed away in 1982). The current version, which premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, is considered the filmmaker's definitive vision.

The M. Hulot films follow the title character, who was something of a predecessor to Peter Sellar's Inspector Clouseau, through various French locations and the chaos he leaves in his wake. Well-described in the restoration's press notes as a "bull in a China shop," Hulot inadvertently turns funerals, tennis matches, beaches and fireworks displays into opportunities for riotous laughter.

Almost entirely reliant on sight gags, M. Hulot's Holiday and Tati's other productions benefit from a visual and comedic-timing precision rarely utilized today. Then again, trying to imitate the masterful Tati would likely prove a foolhardy exercise.

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

Reel Thoughts: Homefront

If there is one film genre that gets no love from the public, it’s anything to do with the Iraq War. The Hurt Locker earlier this year might change that if it gets some Oscar love, but another film may break the cycle as well.

Woody Harrelson and the handsome Ben Foster (Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand) costar in Oren Moverman’s The Messenger, a touching look at the war from the eyes of the people left behind at home.

It’s hard to think of a storyline more fraught with scenes of human drama: Officer Will Montgomery (Foster) is paired with the hardened Lt. Stone (Harrelson) to finish out his tour of duty notifying the next-of-kin that their loved ones have died in Iraq.

I was a basket case after the first encounter, a heart-rending meeting with Portia and Yaya DaCosta (All My Children) as the mother and pregnant girlfriend, respectively, of a soldier killed in action. Steve Buscemi and Samantha Morton play two of the next next-of-kin in equally emotionally gripping scenes. While Stone has hardened himself against the job, Montgomery knows that their duty lies in giving the family some brief flash of human compassion.

Moverman’s film is paced in a leisurely way that allows us to really meet and know the two men, and understand the scars they carry from their war experiences. Each man is changed by the other, and their relationship is real and involving. I hope Oscar voters consider the great performances by Foster and Harrelson.

The Messenger is a good tool for supporters of “Don’t ask-don’t tell” — after watching the film, anyone would think twice before joining up.

UPDATE: The Messenger is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

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

Barbies Galore

What took them so long? The Bond Girls go Barbie in this latest batch of dolls from Mattel.

The set includes Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in Dr. No and Halle Berry as Jinx in Die Another Day. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to Famke Janssen as GoldenEye's Xenia Onatopp, complete with Kung-Fu Grip© thighs.

Available next month, click the following to order the
James Bond Girls Barbie Doll Assortment Case
from Entertainment Earth.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: The Road Less Traveled

I had the great privilege of attending the US premiere of The Road, opening today in limited release, as part of the AFI Festival earlier this month. I also had the pleasure of sitting across the aisle from one of the film's stars, gorgeous Oscar- winner Charlize Theron, but that's another story/entry.

A powerful film adapted from Cormac McCarthy's powerful apocalyptic novel, The Road is a stylistic polar opposite from the current blockbuster 2012. While I enjoyed 2012 for its mother-of-all-disaster-movie pretensions and amazing special effects, The Road is a far more realistic and, subsequently, more disturbing picture. As a result, The Road is unlikely to gross $400 million+ internationally à la 2012, but it is well worth seeing.

An unspecified disaster has decimated the world and humanity. Food, drinkable water, heat, shelter and medication are all in short supply. The film follows two survivors, a father (Viggo Mortensen, who was also on hand and honored with a retrospective video at the premiere) and young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who — true to the book — are never specified by name, as they struggle to make it through a desolate wilderness populated by bands of other, violent survivors who have resorted to cannibalism. The Road is a far cry from what Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour had in mind back in the 1940's!

Theron appears in occasional flashbacks as the pair's also-nameless wife and mother, who is unable/unwilling to share in her family members' effort to reach the coast. While her role is small and not exactly sympathetic, Theron is haunting in it and makes her presence felt throughout the majority of the film.

Mortensen, a talented man who became an actor via earlier, enduring interests in painting and horse training and made a big splash as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is excellent as a man who would do anything to assure the protection of his child. A scene where he teaches his son to commit suicide with the one remaining bullet in their gun should he fall into the cannibals' hands is disturbing to be sure, but what else would a concerned father do stripped of all other options? I won't be surprised if Mortensen is nominated for the Academy Award for best actor this year in light of his brave, whole-hearted commitment (which includes a pair of nude scenes) to his character's moral and physical desperation.

As the son, Smit-McPhee's inexperience shows at times but he nonetheless gives an effective, affecting performance. Having read the novel, I had pictured the boy a bit younger and sicklier. Director John Hillcoat may have been uncomfortable exposing a younger child to such a dark scenario, although he and screenwriter Joe Penhall wisely eschew a couple of the book's most graphic incidents of inhumanity.

The Road is one of the most faithful translations of a novel to cinema that I've ever seen. Watching it was one of the very rare instances when I felt the film captured the book almost exactly as I had envisioned things while reading it. I wasn't a big fan of the acclaimed No Country for Old Men, also based on a McCarthy novel, largely due to the tortured, fluctuating morality of its characters. While its characters face some ethical conundrums, The Road provides at once a more clear-cut and a more thorough exploration of the darkness — as well as the light — that inhabits the souls of men, women and children alike.

Initially, I felt the movie's hopeful climax was a bit too optimistic, especially in comparison with the book. But then I re-read the novel's finale and confirmed that the film is more faithful than I recalled, despite the addition of a friendly canine.

Go see The Road. See 2012 too, then come back and tell me which you think is the more literate as well as the more realistic of these two, effective doomsday epics.

UPDATE: The Road 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.

Cover Story: Great Scott

The handsome and talented Scott Evans, a.k.a. Officer Oliver Fish on One Life to Live, graces the cover of Instinct Magazine's latest issue.

Read the interview, wherein he says his mom's reaction to his coming out was “Oh, yeah. I knew when I gave birth to you”, here.

See more pictures of Scott Evans in The Back Room (NSFW).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Tamerlano, Male Soprano

I knew next to nothing about George Handel's opera Tamerlano prior to attending LA Opera's company premiere of the composer's 1724 work on November 21. While I have a mixed reaction to the production, the opera's themes — musical and political — are timely and perhaps more pertinent now than ever.

Inspired by the historical saga of Mongol warlord Timur the Lame (a.k.a., in Italian, Tamerlano) and his showdown with conquered Turkish sultan Bajazet, Handel reportedly wrote the score in only three weeks. The libretto, by Nicola Francesco Haym, is fairly minimal, allowing Handel's lovely melodies to carry the lengthy plot (at nearly four hours, including two intermissions).

The unprepared may be startled by this as well as the opera's small cast: there are six principals and no chorus. What's more, some who took in LA Opera's production on opening night were surprised by some of Handel's specifications and/or director Chas Rader-Shieber's choices in casting and staging.

Countertenor and former boy soprano Bejun Mehta assays the title role of the villainous Tamerlano, and does so fabulously. He is lithe of voice and body, and effectively conveys a despot's pride and power. However, Mehta's performance presents an immediate challenge to anyone who believes male roles in opera are limited to tenors, baritones and basses. Mehta addresses this in a fascinating podcast interview, in which he likens the struggle to embrace his unique singing voice to the coming out process for GLBT people.

Also, the role of Andronico, the young prince who has been carrying on a secret love affair with Bajazet's daughter, Asteria (a vocally-assured if somewhat bland Sarah Coburn), has been played by men in some previous stagings of Tamerlano but can also be cast as a "pants role" with a female in the part. Rader-Shieber and LA Opera go the latter route, with Patricia Bardon an excellent, convincing Andronico.

Having two females play the central love story, though, in an opera that is essentially about the subjugation of an exotic people by a militant force intent on stripping them of their rights makes a biting impression in post-Proposition 8 California. It is possible that only GLBT viewers will pick up on this, but I believe it reveals a particular sensitivity on the director's part.

Rader-Shieber reinforces this, intentionally or not, through his updating of the opera's 15th-century setting to the 20th century. Tamerlano, his security forces and Andronico wear more modern attire reminiscent of past fascist regimes in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Bajazet and Asteria, on the other hand, wear more traditional, colorful garb inspired by their Byzantine source.

The great Placido Domingo plays Bajazet in this limited-run production, which closes December 1. He was in fine voice during the opening night performance, although he seemed to grow tired and jumped his musical cue at the opening of Act 3. Still, he splendidly portrayed the proud but defeated sultan trying to protect his daughter from a forced marriage to their captor.

Tamerlano's orchestra, under the assured, passionate direction of William Lacey, was superb on opening night. The musicians' mastery of the material permitted Handel's gorgeous music to shine through; at the performance's conclusion, the entire orchestra was rightfully invited on stage to take repeated bows along with the singers.

The opera's length and limited, oft-repeated lyrics can be daunting, especially to the uninitiated like myself. That being said, I encourage readers to sample Tamerlano, if not in LA then elsewhere or on CD or DVD where available. This unique, history-based tale can accurately be called timeless.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reel Thoughts: Whores for the Taking

On November 22, I had the pleasure of joining the cast of Phoenix Rising Artists Collaborative as they presented their last night of Charles Busch's hilarious play, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. All proceeds went to the Desert Mountain States Chapter of the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, which has been helping people fight the diseases since 1949.

As part of the fundraising effort, Charles Busch graciously agreed to personally sign a copy of his novel, Whores of Lost Atlantis, and send it to the person who made the highest bid. At the show, the highest bid offered was $100.00, but we at Movie Dearest are happy to open the bidding up to you, our readers, for the next two days.

If you would like to pledge a donation, please let me know at by midnight Thanksgiving night. If your pledge is the highest, we will inform you how to make your donation, and will send your name and address to Mr. Busch, so that he can personally sign and send you your book.

Whores of Lost Atlantis is Busch's fictionalized story of how a wild group of actors came together to create a show not unlike Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, in a bar not unlike the East Village's notorious Limbo Lounge. Busch is as delightful a novelist as he is a playwright, so you'll love trying to discern what events in the book really happened.

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poster Post: Next Stop, Wonderland

Tim Burton's latest flight of fancy Alice in Wonderland, starring his muse Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Alan Rickman as The Caterpillar ...

Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Michael Sheen as The White Rabbit ...

Anne Hathaway as The White Queen, Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen, Stephen Fry as The Cheshire Cat and Matt Lucas as both Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

The very important (opening) date for this 3-D Disney fantasia is March 5, 2010.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reel Thoughts Interview: The Marshall Plan

Arizona’s Joe Marshall is taking New York by snowstorm this Christmas. Marshall was a fixture on Valley stages, but now he’s finding success Off Broadway after moving to New York City earlier this year. In June, he staged his play Dirty Secrets, and now, he is opening his newest show, The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! It’s a title Kathy Griffin loves, and recently, Margaret Cho stopped by to show her support.

The show concerns a strapped West Hollywood gay theater that is thrown into a tizzy when their eccentric playwright storms off before their big holiday show. Can the group of drama queens don their gay apparel fast enough to open on time? Does Liza wear false lashes?

A Tucson native, Marshall founded the Alternative Theatre Company in 1991 in Phoenix to fill the void for GLBT theater after the closing of the landmark Janus Theatre. He focused on producing modern gay plays by John Glines, such as Chicken Delight and Men of Manhattan, and later, Marshall’s own gay-themed plays. Dirty Secrets, about a twisted trio of gay men, and the gay Neil Simon-esque antics of A Night in Vegas were hits about a decade ago.

For a few seasons, the Alternative Theatre Company had a home in the gayest strip mall in Phoenix near the queer boutique Unique on Central, and Marshall grew a loyal fan base that he treasured. But disputes with the landlord shuttered the theater and the company went into hibernation. Marshall moved to Tucson in 2006.

NC: What has been happening since you left Arizona?
JM: Ohmigod! I left Arizona? Oh wait, it’s becoming clear to me now. I did leave Arizona. Well, needless to say, I moved to New York. Shortly after arriving, I approached Lawrence Page, the new owner of The Actors Playhouse, about producing my play The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! We work shopped it last December in Tucson, resulting in a rewritten/reworked production. After holding a staged reading, with 37 actors, and a big enthusiastic audience, we got the green light to move forward.

The Actors Playhouse, steeped in gay history, was always secretly my first choice. Productions at the venue have included Howard Crabtree's Whoop-Dee-Doo, Harvey Fierstein’s Safe Sex and Torch Song Trilogy, Ten Percent Revue, An Evening with Quentin Crisp, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, Boy Meets Boy, Fortune and Men's Eyes, among many others.

The theater is located in New York's Greenwich Village. The typical 'black box' decor is no longer. The walls were stripped down to its original brick and imported tri-colored slate stone. New flooring was installed, the stage was reinforced and mahogany wood trimming was installed with a new landmark-approved marquee. Needless to say, this is the perfect location for a gay Christmas play, conveniently located right near Christopher Street and the original Stonewall Inn.

Similar to Phoenix, the talent pool here is amazing, but a thousand times larger. I no longer have to ask strangers walking down the street "Hey, want to be in a play?" We just listed our auditions and received over 300 submissions within a couple of days.

NC: I hear that Dirty Secrets had a well-received production Off Broadway. Tell me all about it?
JM: Yeah! Can you believe it? It was the first of my works to open Off Broadway. I remember opening in Phoenix to scathing reviews. At last I’m feeling justified. Dirty Secrets is always fun to revisit – hard to believe I wrote it over 10 years ago. Some rewrites, but all in all, the play is pretty solid. However, the ending changed again, and two weeks prior to opening, the actor playing Tom had to drop out due to family issues in LA. The producer told me I would have to step into the role. This time around, I found it emotionally draining to perform five times a week.

NC: Do you miss Arizona?
JM: In many ways, yes. I miss the guerrilla theater process we had in Phoenix, throwing a full-scale production up with little or no financial support. The loyal audiences who respectfully attended many of my productions, good, bad or indifferent. Friendships I’ve held for over 20 years. Phoenix will always be the city that allowed me to achieve many of my goals, something I’ll never forget.

NC: What kind of star encounters have you had since hitting the Big Apple?
JM: Good Lord, unlimited encounters; unlike California, actors actually use mass transit here. I’ve seen many a celebrity on the subway, walking down a busy street, eating in crowded restaurants. And the strange thing is, for the most part, they’re left alone.

I have to say the most impressive encounter was John Glines, who attended a performance of Dirty Secrets and after the performance sharing dinner with my partner, his partner and our director. Shortly after the show, my partner Adrian Maynard, and I were invited for cocktails at John’s home where he shared many stories about famous people he either worked with or had the opportunity to meet.

John Glines has always been a mentor for me. The Alternative Theatre was founded by actually producing a season of John’s plays. One claim to fame of his was winning a Tony for producing Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway. And you can’t overlook his groundbreaking acceptance speech, where he was the first person to ever thank their same-sex partner on national TV. I got to actually hold his Tony Award at the end of the evening. Of course, it took six cocktails for me to actually get the nerve to ask. “Hey, John, can I hold your Tony?”

NC: Other than your play and celebrities, any amazing things happen to you in New York?
JM: I live in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn with Adrian. Every Thursday we take a 20-minute subway to Coney Island for the free summer concert series. We’ve seen Frankie Valli, Connie Francis, Hall and Oates, Blondie, Pat Benatar and Donna Summer. Talk about amazing. Each week the crowd gets more and more gay. We’re expecting next week to just be a big gay disco party with 25,000 of our closest friends.

The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! is now playing in previews and officially opens November 29 at The Actors’ Playhouse in New York. Performances continue through January 3. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their official website.

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: Men Behaving Badly

I love every film by director Werner Herzog I've seen, starting with 1982's Fitzcarraldo and culminating most recently in his wonderful if sad Grizzly Man. I like Nicolas Cage a lot, especially when the actor is at his most histrionic in such offbeat movies as Peggy Sue Got Married, Raising Arizona and Face/Off.

I do not like the new Herzog-Cage collaboration, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (which is actually titled THE Bad Lieutenant ... on screen). While it shares some of its moniker and basic plot elements with Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (1992), the remake/sequel/reboot opening today lacks most of what made its NYC-set forebear a very effective morality tale.

Cage plays Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans police officer suffering from debilitating back pain related to an injury he sustained while saving a man's life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. When McDonagh's prescription medication becomes ineffective, he turns to illegal — and illegally-gained — drugs, sex with a beautiful prostitute (Eva Mendes, in an underwritten, thankless role), gambling and setting up criminals without authorization in a misguided effort to soothe his pain and find the culprits behind the massacre of an immigrant family.

Whereas Ferrara's film was an intelligent if graphic exploration of a wounded man's quest for redemption, BL: Port of Call New Orleans has a hard time settling on such simple things as characters' motivations, needs and accents (Cage's changes inexplicably midway through). Ferrara's version was steeped in Catholic imagery and symbolism. Here, the only sign of religion is a kinky excess of saintly statuary in sexy fellow cop Fairuza Balk's bedroom.

I lay most of the blame for this misfire at the feet of first-time screenwriter William Finkelstein and longtime producer Edward Pressman (who also produced the original), but Herzog can't be let completely off the hook. The director desperately tries to indulge his favorite theme — man vs. nature — here, but the most he can incorporate aside from the devastated post-Katrina environment are occasional shots of displaced alligators and drug-induced iguana hallucinations.

Some fine actors including Val Kilmer, Shawn Hatosy and GLBT fave Jennifer Coolidge are mostly wasted in supporting roles. However, the long-MIA Brad Dourif makes a great impression as McDonagh's impatient bookie.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is being touted as Oscar bait and is being warmly received by some critics. Don't believe the hype. Instead, go and see That Evening Sun, which is already playing in New York and opens today in LA. It is a far better exploration of the lengths to which some men will go to right perceived wrongs.

Winner of the Audience Choice award for best feature film and a Special Jury Award for best ensemble cast at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival, That Evening Sun stars old pro Hal Holbrook as Abner Meecham. A Tennessee farmer consigned by his son (Walton Goggins, who played the sexy gay drifter in Red Dirt a few years back) to a nursing home, Meecham makes a break from the facility one day and returns to the home he shared with his late wife (who is glimpsed in flashbacks and is played by Dixie Carter, Holbrook's real-life wife).

Meecham is startled to find a new family renting his property and living in his former home. The new head of the household is Lonzo Choat (Ray McKinnon, who also produced), an alcoholic prone to abusive rages. His wife (Movie Dearest fave Carrie Preston) and teenage daughter are the usual recipients of the unemployed Choat's anger, but Meecham becomes his new target when the elder man decides to take up residence in an adjoining cabin.

Hostilities mount between Choat and Meecham and culminate in mutual acts of destruction. Holbrook is great as usual, and could rack up some nominations and/or awards for his soulful performance. While grim at times, That Evening Sun (well-adapted from a William Gay short story by writer-director Scott Teems) ends on a hopeful note once Meecham and Choat have learned the hard way that violence is never a successful route to conflict resolution.

UPDATE: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is now available on DVD and Blu-ray and That Evening Sun 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.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Toon Talk: No Country for Old Men … or Monsters

Up and Monsters, Inc., the two Pixar favorites that made their Disney Blu-ray debutslast week, share more than just a production company and a director (Peter Docter). Taking a look at their main characters, one can see several similarities:

The Unlikely Hero: Is there anything more unlikely for a film’s protagonist than a big blue monster by the name of Sulley who jumps out of closets to scare children for a living? Well, Up one-ups Monsters with its geriatric leading man, Carl Fredricksen, who through the course of his adventures becomes an octogenarian action hero to rival John McClane.

The Precocious Child: Both Boo (the little moppet who “invades” Monstropolis) and Russell (the chirpy Wilderness Explorer who stows away on Carl’s floating house) prove to be more than just obstacles in the main character’s lives … they help them discover new ones.

The Scene-Stealing Sidekick: What could be funnier than a walking eyeball? How about a talking dog? “Squirrel!”

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of the new Up and Monsters, Inc. Blu-rays at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reverend’s Reviews: The Grinch vs. Mary Poppins in LA

In one corner, at the Pantages Theatre, is a nasty-wasty, green-furred creature intent on stealing holiday joy. In the other corner, better known as the Ahmanson Theatre, is a practically perfect if wind-dependent British nanny with magical powers. Their battle for theatre-goers’ dollars erupted this past weekend as Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical and Mary Poppins opened, both making their Los Angeles debuts.

Saturday’s premiere of The Grinch was a suitably festive affair, the Pantages’ exterior beautifully festooned with Christmas trees and white lights. The show, originally conceived and directed by Broadway’s Jack O’Brien for the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, is an utter delight. Its briskly-paced, intermission-less 90 minutes are a perfect start to any family’s holiday season.

John Larroquette kicks the musical off as Old Max, the senior version of the Grinch’s put-upon pet. While Larroquette — saddled with a bulky dog costume and Seussian rhyming exposition — didn’t always seem to have his heart in the role, he displayed good humor and a fine singing voice. Fortunately, James Royce Edwards balanced Larroquette nicely as Max’s rowdy younger incarnation. The entire supporting cast, consisting of both stage veterans and a gaggle of locally recruited kids as the various citizens of Whoville, was great.

Of course, the star of the show is the Grinch. Christopher Lloyd was initially cast but, rumor has it, wasn’t up to the part’s vocal demands, so in rode Stefan Karl to the rescue! Karl is a younger, attractive man but you wouldn’t know it, swaddled head to toe as he is in green hair and make-up. While his interpretation of the character owes more than a bit to Jim Carrey’s over-the-top performance as the Grinch in the garish 2000 movie adaptation, Karl succeeds by the final curtain in making the role hilariously and touchingly his own. His solo number “One of a Kind,” performed in front of a shimmering green curtain, is a showstopper in the best sense.

The score, by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin, is entirely serviceable if not particularly memorable apart from the two songs — “Welcome, Christmas” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” — carried over from the original TV telling of Seuss’ story. John Lee Beatty’s snow-covered but colorful scenic design is excellent, and some wonderful special effects are utilized that make it appear Max and the Grinch’s sleigh are really flying. One would have to be a Grinch him- or herself to not enjoy How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It runs at the Pantages through January 3 and shouldn’t be missed.

When it comes to flying, though, Disney’s and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins (playing at the Ahmanson through February 7) actually goes Grinch one better. Faithful in this regard to author P.L. Travers’ source material as well as to Julie Andrews’ immortal, Oscar-winning portrayal in the 1964 film, Mary flies. She flies across the stage not once but twice during the course of the stage version. However, the best effect is saved for last, as Mary flies not only across the stage but out from the proscenium and over the audience up to the balcony! I gasped. My partner gasped. Dick Van Dyke, who was sitting three rows ahead of us, gasped. And then the audience burst, appropriately, into raucous applause.

The show’s special effects are consistently dazzling and, combined with the marvelous Tony Award-winning sets by Bob Crowley and Howard Harrison’s lighting, create an aura of true and sustained magic. Ashley Brown’s lovely, funny performance as Mary, which she re-creates from the original New York cast, is also a vital contribution in this regard.

But the stage version isn’t as easy to love as the movie for several reasons. First, in re-structuring the script from the well-known film and adding new songs (by the Honk! team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe) to the now-classics composed by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, Mary Poppins has become a more meandering, overly long (at nearly three hours) production. I left the opening night performance more appreciative than ever of the Sherman brothers’ simple lyrics and wordplay. None of the new songs are as instantly memorable or hummable as “A Spoonful of Sugar” or “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” although “Anything Can Happen” comes closest and Mary’s self-intro, “Practically Perfect,” is nice and enjoyably staged.

Second, Matthew Bourne’s choreography is often overly frenetic. I love Bourne’s adult-oriented dance pieces that include his all-male Swan Lake, the homoerotic The Car Man, and Edward Scissorhands. When Bourne stages isolated dances rather than dance-through pieces, as in Mary Poppins, his high-energy moves can seem odd and disjointed. This is especially evident in his letter-by-letter take on “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Obviously demanding on the cast, it is impressive the first time around but becomes excessive by the second, curtain-call reprise. Bourne’s choreography for “Step in Time” is, to the contrary, masterful.

Finally, this Mary Poppins is a darker work than the Disney film and some scenes (notably those involving Mary’s brimstone and treacle-bearing “holy terror” replacement) may be too intense for children ages 7 and under. The potential unemployment of George Banks (a well-modulated turn by Karl Kenzler) and subsequent pending homelessness of his family is a lengthier threat on the stage than it is in the movie as well.

It takes more than spectacle and impressive special effects to make a modern musical work. Still, I recommend Mary Poppins despite its artistic shortcomings for the one thing it has in spades: magic.

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reel Thoughts: The Incredibly Not True Adventure of Two Straight Guys in Bed

If Old Joy mated with I Love You, Man, the spawn would be Humpday, the Sundance Festival Special Jury prize-winning film written and directed by Lynn Shelton making its debut on DVDtomorrow. The salacious, but slightly misleading, set-up is that two straight male friends decide to make an amateur porno film featuring themselves as stars. Will they or won’t they? And what effect will it have on the men if they go through with it?

Shelton stages the film in an almost documentary-style intimacy, and she gives one of the best performances in the film. Does Humpday live up to the hype? Maybe not, but it is an intriguing character piece that delves into the straight male psyche in a way few films do.

Ben (Mark Duplass) and his wife Anna (Alycia Delmore) are a happily married Seattle couple ready to have a baby, when Ben’s old pal Andrew (The Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard) shows up on their doorstep after wandering the globe. He wants to reconnect with his old friend, but the next night he hooks up with the free-spirited (and bisexual) Monica (Shelton), and he invites Ben over to her artist’s commune. The uptight Ben is at first taken aback by all the overt sexuality, but soon he and Andrew are drunk and high and discussing the Seattle Film contest called Humpfest (a real festival started by Dan Savage where people submit their amateur porn films).

Almost as a dare, the two guys decide that the ultimate taboo would be to have two straight men have sex together, and each man wants to see it through to prove that they are not as inhibited as they fear they are. As filming night approaches, Ben neglects to tell Anna his plan and Andrew can’t quite handle a sexual encounter with Monica and her lover Lily.

Shelton captures the dynamic between friends who are subconsciously envious of each other and the utter terror straight men feel when out of their sexual comfort zone. Duplass’ Ben is let off the hook too easily in his scenes with Anna, but Leonard manages to embody the kind of aimless guy who passes off lack of direction as “Kerouac” coolness. Duplass also has a nice moment when he describes an encounter he had with a video store clerk. The ending isn’t satisfying, but Shelton nails her Seattle milieu perfectly.

More an anatomy of a bromance than a sexual adventure, Humpday is still worth a tumble.

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