Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monthly Wallpaper - March 2010: Best Actors

With one week to go until Oscar night, this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper takes a look back at the Best Actors, the legendary leading men who took home the Academy's gold man in years past.

These iconic performances of unforgettable characters include Brando as Malloy, Cooper as Kane, Douglas as Gekko, Hackman as Doyle, Hanks as Gump, Nicholson as McMurpy, Peck as Finch and more.  Behold, the men of March!

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.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Reel Thoughts Interview: Secrets and Lies

A secret is at the center of Handsome Harry, one of the high-profile films coming to the Sedona International Film Festival.

Jamey Sheridan plays the lead in the story about Harry and his fellow sailors who perpetrated a shocking act on another man that has haunted them for three decades. But secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Sheridan said he was attracted to the role because of Harry’s selective amnesia about events from the past. “The guy has a kind of black hole in his memory that he sticks in front of something he doesn’t want to remember, for 20 years, 25 years,” Sheridan said during a telephone interview. “I thought that was a fascinating kind of thing to authenticate. It’s shockingly common, we’re starting to find out.”

The drama, directed by Bette Gordon, also stars Steve Buscemi, Campbell Scott, John Savage, Titus Welliver and Aidan Quinn.

Harry Sweeney appears to have a pretty carefree life in upstate New York, but he seems to be hiding a lot from people. On his 52nd birthday, Harry gets a call from an old Navy buddy who is dying and wants forgiveness. This sends Harry on a cross-country trip that changes his life.

Harry’s not the only one with something to hide as he visits his former Navy friends en route to Miami to find David Kagan (Scott). One friend has found the Lord, while Quinn’s Porter has become a peacenik professor whose students have no idea of his violent past.

“There was something terrible that they did to Kagen, the group of them, and the most serious part of it, the crippling part is that no one can remember who did it,” Sheridan said. “It functions as a mystery, but as a friend of mine said, ‘Wow, a script with three engines.’ There are two or three mysteries that will be revealed as the movie goes along.

“There’s a whole world of denial by characters all over the place in every direction. Harry’s keeping secrets and the person he’s kept the secrets from most perfectly is himself,” Sheridan said. “Aidan Quinn’s character is masquerading as a true ’60’s liberal, when in fact, he was the most aggressive of the group of us.

“The other thing is, we never made it to Vietnam. The issue of Vietnam comes up because we all feel like cowards that we didn’t get there,” Sheridan said. “They all feel like they didn’t live the great war of their time. Aidan’s character still talks like we were there. His mind is really twisted up.”

Sheridan, who’s known for his work on Chicago Hope, The Ice Storm and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, began his career hoping to be a professional dancer. An old football injury resurfaced and ended that dream, but Sheridan came back to acting with a greater love of it than he had before.

He’s a Tony-nominated actor (1987’s All My Sons), who acted alongside Handsome Harry costar Campbell Scott in the celebrated production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night (starring Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst).

He’s pleased that audiences at the Boston Film Festival gave Handsome Harry Best Ensemble honors. The film was a nominee for Best Picture at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

Sheridan said he became co-producer of the movie “by default” to get the film made. He said the opportunity to work with director Gordon again after 1998’s Luminous Motion was another incentive.

The actor admitted that the success of Law & Order has pigeonholed him. “That’s another reason for Harry, the impulse to create something on my own. It’s been a really wonderful ride.”

Handsome Harry will be screened this weekend at the Sedona International Film Festival, where it joins several other films with GlBT storylines:

Patrik Age 1.5: Göran and Sven are a gay couple who are cleared to adopt a child, but they get more than they bargained for when a 15-year-old shows up.

Bob & Jack’s 52-Year Adventure: This documentary tells how an Army sergeant and his commanding officer forged a relationship that has lasted 52 years.

Misconceptions: Two couples — one gay, one straight — collide in a comedy about a surrogate pregnancy.

Hide: Two married men hide their relationship from their wives, and seek a way for their love to survive.

16 to Life: As she’s about to turn 16 years old, Kate discovers what she has in common with a Chinese girl half a world away.

You Can’t Curry Love: Vikas is sent to New Delhi on business, where he falls head over heels for Sunil, the gorgeous desk clerk at his hotel.

The Sedona International Film Festival continues through this Sunday. For more information, visit their website.

UPDATE: Handsome Harry is now available on DVD from

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

Reel Thoughts Interview: Diva Alert

Actress Drew Barrymore has received a lot of acclaim for her performance as Little Edie Beale in HBO’s Grey Gardens, but Christine Ebersole was there first. When the show was on the stage, she played a dual role — Little Edie and her mother, Edith Bouvier Beale. Ebersole’s performance arguably made Barrymore’s role possible.

The blond funny woman is also a sublime singer, and will demonstrate both talents at shows in Scottsdale and Tucson this weekend.

“It’s songs from the American Songbook,” she said during a telephone interview from New York, where she did the show at the Carlisle Hotel. “Although there are two songs by Noël Coward, because I just finished a Noël Coward album,” inspired by her performance in his Blithe Spirit on Broadway last year, she said.

“The show is mostly personal stories about my family and my children and my mother, and songs that relate to the stories,” Ebersole said.

She said that she’s passionate about her music and that playing the dual role in Grey Gardens was “like climbing Mount Everest and putting the flag in the summit. It can’t get much better than that. I felt blessed to be part of such a great work of art.” She won the Tony Award for Grey Gardens in 2007 and another in 2001 for her work in 42nd Street.

Ebersole said she isn’t eager to return to Broadway, however, since the eight-shows-a-week grind takes her away from her three teenage children.

Her 1981-82 stint at Saturday Night Live was another kind of challenge. “That was a pretty intense experience. I’d just come off the road playing Guinevere in Camelot opposite Richard Burton and Richard Harris. I mean, it was like going from Earth to Mars. Here it was a 90-minute show that you were putting on live and you had six days to do it. I can’t say I had a lot of confidence, because I didn’t come from the stand-up world. It was definitely a life-changing experience.”

Ebersole has links to the Human Rights Campaign from her website, and she’s opposed to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and supports GLBT marriage rights.

She also supported Ron Paul in the last election, which brought negative feedback from some of her gay fans. She said that Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were the only candidates on record as opposing DADT.

She recommended the film Coming Out Under Fire. “I don’t know that we can trust the government (to overturn DADT). I think it comes down to complicity. Once people stop complying with rules and laws that are unjust, (the laws) won’t be able to stand,” Ebersole said.

“Now the leaders are saying that they need another year to review it. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry about that. God created us in his image, which is meant to be free. He didn’t create some people better than others. We were all created from the same clump of dirt, so for this racism and sexism and classism to occur, it has to be complied with; these people only have power when you give it to them.”

An Evening with Christine Ebersole will be presented this evening at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts.  Ebersole will also appear tomorrow night at Tucson's Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona in The Music of Broadway with Cheyenne Jackson and Marin Mazzie.

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Men on Film: If We Picked the Oscars 2009

Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert back in the good ol' days, Movie Dearest's very own Men on FilmChris Carpenter, Neil Cohen and yours truly — are presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars"! These aren't predictions (we'll get to those next week), but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy.

So without further ado, the envelope please ...

The nominees for Best Picture are: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up and Up in the Air.
And our winners would be:
CC: While A Serious Man ranked slightly higher on my top 10 list, I would vote for the more moving Precious.
NC: I loved Up in the Air. It's witty and surprisingly moving, and boasts a perfect ensemble.
KH: Can the most entertaining movie of the year be the "best"? If it's Up it can.

The nominees for Best Actor are: Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, George Clooney in Up in the Air, Colin Firth in A Single Man, Morgan Freeman in Invictus and Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker.
And our winners would be:
CC: Firth, who manages to be devastated and affecting without debasing himself or losing his character's sense of humor.
KH: I agree. No performance this year was as raw, as real as Firth's tortured, transcendent one.
NC: A perfect trifecta! Firth makes his suicidal pent-up perfect gentleman a hero of restraint and agony. He's period perfect.

The nominees for Best Actress are: Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, Helen Mirren in The Last Station, Carey Mulligan in An Education, Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia.
And our winners would be:
CC: It's tough because I loved all of them, but I would vote for Bullock's very impressive turn.
NC: Sandy was great, but Meryl was sublime, giving a pitch perfect performance that showed us the real woman behind the icon.
KH: Never lapsing into caricature, Streep served up a saucy (and sexy?!) Julia Child.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Matt Damon in Invictus, Woody Harrelson in The Messenger, Christopher Plummer in The Last Station, Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones and Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds.
And our winners would be:
CC: Plummer (who I can't believe hasn't been nominated before) would get my vote for his great Leo Tolstoy.
NC: Waltz dances away with this award, creating an indelible villain with a twinkle in his eye as he mowed people down.
KH: Harrelson avoided all the "drill sergeant" clichés, creating a uniquely humorous — and humane — individual.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Penélope Cruz in Nine, Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart, Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air and Mo’Nique in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.
And our winners would be:
CC: No contest: Mo'Nique.
NC: Yes, she is in a whole other league than the other women. She was like an open wound on screen.
KH: Mo’Nique's final scene turned her "mother from hell" into a mother in hell.

The nominees for Best Director are: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, James Cameron for Avatar, Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, Jason Reitman for Up in the Air and Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds.
And our winners would be:
CC: Bigelow did a great job, and its way past time to break up the boys' club.
KH: Who else could create the gleefully twisted alternate universe that was Inglourious Basterds but Tarantino?
NC: I'm with you. Tarantino did a brilliant rewrite of history, and staged some of the best suspense scenes of the year.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: District 9, An Education, In the Loop, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire and Up in the Air.
And our winners would be:
CC: I liked the funny and foul-mouthed In the Loop a lot, but I would have to vote for Geoffrey Fletcher's Precious.
NC: Up in the Air is like classic golden age comedy, and much adaptation (by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner) was necessary to create it.
KH: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell's District 9 was inventive, intelligent science fiction.

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The Messenger, A Serious Man and Up.
And our winners would be:
CC: A tough call for me at present between Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man, both of which are very smart, sophisticated, and unapologetically pro-Jewish!
NC: Basterds is a remake (wasn't it?), but Tarantino's script is hilarious and horrifying.
KH: Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman's The Messenger ... now this is how you make a contemporary war film.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Avatar, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds and The White Ribbon.
And our winners would be:
CC: Robert Richardson, probably the best cinematographer working, would get my vote for his stunning work on Inglourious Basterds.
NC: I vote for Richardson too, but The Hurt Locker was amazing as well.
KH: Agree, his work on Basterds was old-fashioned moviemaking at its best.

The nominees for Best Art Direction are: Avatar, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine, Sherlock Holmes and The Young Victoria.
And our winners would be:
CC: Avatar is undeniably stunning.
KH: Granted, but parts of Pandora looked like the E.T. ride at Universal Studios; still, there was still plenty to gawk in amazement at.
NC: If I picked it, A Single Man wouldn't have been ignored. Of what's here, Sherlock Holmes was fun and creative.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Bright Star, Coco Before Chanel, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Nine and The Young Victoria.
And our winners would be:
CC: I would vote for Catherine Leterrier's work in the fashion-centric Coco Before Chanel.
NC: Again, my vote is for A Single Man's gorgeous 60's duds, but The Young Victoria is the best of the nominees.
KH: Sandy Powell's exquisite color choices and opulent designs served Young Victoria well.

The nominees for Best Original Score are: Avatar, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Hurt Locker, Sherlock Holmes and Up.
And our winners would be:
CC: While I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes' jaunty score, Up is great and composer Michael Giacchino is the man of the hour.
NC: Up with Up!
KH: For Up, Giacchino created a musical theme that was an instant classic.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog, "Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog, “Loin de Paname” from Paris 36, “Take It All” from Nine and “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from Crazy Heart.
And our winners would be:
CC: "Almost There" (although the un-nominated "Dig a Little Deeper" and "When We're Human" from the same film are better, more memorable songs).
NC: The Paris 36 song is terrible and inexplicable, but "Almost There" is classic Oscar song magic.
KH: It's unanimous ... too bad we won't get to see Anika Noni Rose belt it out at the Kodak.

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: Avatar, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds and Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.
And our winners would be:
CC, NC, KH: We all agree that the high anxiety level of The Hurt Locker is thanks to the taut cutting of Bob Murawski and Chris Innis.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Avatar, District 9 and Star Trek.
And our winners would be:
CC: Avatar cannot be denied in this category.
KH: Yes, Avatar is a game changer; but I prefer the scrappy results (at a fraction of the budget) of District 9's team.
NC: I second District 9's effects that merged with the documentary style.

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
And our winners would be:
CC: I'll say Avatar.
NC: Inglourious Basterds for its firepower.
KH: The Hurt Locker proved that silences can be as equally terrifying as explosions.

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Star Trek and Up.
And our winners would be:
CC: It's always hard for me to tell the difference between this category and the previous one, but I would probably vote for Avatar.
NC: Again, Inglourious Basterds rules the roost.
KH: Avatar's team created a whole new world of sound effects.

The nominees for Best Makeup are: Il Divo, Star Trek and The Young Victoria.
And our winners would be:
CC: Star Trek, if only for making the normally attractive Eric Bana appear nasty and virtually unrecognizable.
NC: Trek was style and substance, rather than just age makeup.
KH: Two words: Spock ears.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells and Up.
And our winners would be:
CC: I have a soft spot in my heart for the crafty Coraline, and would have to vote for it.
NC: Mr. Fox was fantastic, but Up is heavenly.
KH: In a banner year for the medium, Pixar still reigns.

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: Ajami from Israel, El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) from Argentina, The Milk of Sorrow from Peru, Un Prophète (A Prophet) from France and The White Ribbon from Germany.
And our winners would be:
NC: Broken Embraces. Oh wait, it wasn't nominated?  Then I'll go with the haunting and hypnotic The White Ribbon.
CC, KH: Can we vote on this next year when all the movies are out on DVD?

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, The Cove, Food, Inc., The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and Which Way Home.
And our winners would be:
CC: The Cove and Food, Inc. are both very well made and highly disturbing, but the latter gets my vote for its slightly more immediate impact.
NC: Capitalism: A Love Story is the film that the Republicans need to watch. Too bad it was overlooked.
KH: Like the best of its genre, The Cove offers filmmaking as compelling as its subject matter.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short are: China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, Music by Prudence and Rabbit à la Berlin.
And our winners would be:
CC, NC, KH: This is always the Oscar Pool "Lucky Guess" category, so here goes: The Last Truck, which taps into the country's woes best (we hear).

The nominees for Best Animated Short are: French Roast, Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty, The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte), Logorama and A Matter of Loaf and Death.
And our winners would be:
CC: The audacious (or should that be adacious) Logorama.
NC: Logorama is brand-named brilliance.
KH: The Lady and the Reaper is ... (wait for it) ... to die for.

The nominees for Best Live Action Short are: The Door, Instead of Abracadabra, Kavi, Miracle Fish and The New Tenants.
And our winners would be:
NC, KH:  We bow down to the reverend on this one:
CC: The hauntingly sublime The Door.

Now it's your turn: tell us who and what you would vote for in the comments section below!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reverend’s Reviews: 3 Nights with Brian Geraghty

Imagine spending three nights in the presence of an attractive, up-and-coming star of stage and screen. I was fortunate this past week to do so … albeit only one of them literally and none of them privately. The rising star in question is Brian Geraghty. The 34-year old plays Specialist Owen Eldridge in the acclaimed Best Picture-hopeful The Hurt Locker, which I finally had the chance to watch.

Perhaps inevitably when it comes to catching such a critically hyped film late in the game, I was a bit under-whelmed by The Hurt Locker. While Kathryn Bigelow’s taut direction is Academy Award-worthy, Mark Boal’s script didn’t get far enough beneath the characters’ skin for me to fully sympathize with their “war is a drug and we are addicted” plight. However, the principal actors — Geraghty, Anthony Mackie and Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner — give uniformly excellent performances.

Geraghty can also currently be found on stage at Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum through March 21, starring alongside Martin Sheen and Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy in a revival of Frank Gilroy’s acclaimed 1964 play The Subject Was Roses. I was privileged to attend the February 21st opening night in the company of Sheen’s sons, Emilio Estevez and the rehab-bound Charlie, as well as Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, among other luminaries. (Steenburgen, btw, looks fabulous!)

The Subject Was Roses lifts the veil on the dysfunctional Cleary family. Son Timmy (Geraghty) has just come home following three years of military service during World War II. His father, John (Sheen, who played Timmy in the original Broadway production), is thrilled that his previously shy and physically underdeveloped son has returned a strong and seemingly secure young man.

Timmy quickly finds himself a pawn in the ongoing power struggle between his mother, Nettie (Conroy), and John. Long steeped in Irish-Catholicism and alcoholic-codependency, the Cleary family begins unraveling. Timmy is faced with a stark choice: should he stay in a doomed desire to save his parents’ marriage, or shall he move out into the world and on with his own life?

Sheen is wonderful throughout the Mark Taper production. He knows the material backwards and forwards between the original stage production and the Oscar-winning 1968 movie, in which Sheen reprised his career-making role of Timmy. Geraghty and Conroy have more mixed results with the material. Their performances are uneven, which is likely due to Neil Pepe’s so-so direction.

Pepe’s resume is heavily populated with productions of various David Mamet plays, and he is likely more comfortable with Mamet’s unapologetic, hard-hitting style. While patriarch John boasts plenty of Mamet-like macho swagger, the characters of Nettie and Timmy require a softer touch than Pepe is apparently capable of encouraging. Geraghty’s performance is a bit too broad during the first act, and Timmy comes across as too insensitive and selfish during Act II.

Still, The Subject Was Roses is a little-performed play that still holds power, and the current LA production is well worth catching. Geraghty’s best work to date, though, is in the independent feature Easier with Practice. An advance DVD screener of the film provided my third virtual date with the actor this past week. The movie opens theatrically this Friday in LA and New York.

Geraghty plays the lead role of Davy in Easier with Practice, which is written and directed by the openly gay — and super cute — Kyle Patrick Alvarez, a first-time filmmaker to watch (in fact, he is nominated for just such an honor at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, where the film itself is up for Best First Feature). Davy is a writer traveling the country with his brother (another up-and-coming actor, Kel O’Neill) to promote his self-published book of short stories.

Alone in their hotel room one night, Davy receives a random phone call from the mysterious Nicole. They embark on an ongoing phone-sex relationship that gradually develops into a deeper, mutual emotional connection. When they eventually decide to meet face-to-face, the encounter provides a surprising revelation for Davy and viewers alike. I dare not reveal more.

As Davy, Geraghty renders a gutsy, extraordinary portrayal that fully reveals his potential as a sensitive, risk-taking actor with leading-man confidence. Be sure to schedule your own night with Brian Geraghty and see Easier with Practice, The Hurt Locker and/or The Subject Was Roses, and prepare for this very talented actor to become a household name in the near future.

UPDATE: Easier with Practice is now available on DVD from

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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Short & Dark Oscar Nominees

No, I'm not referring to Precious star Gabourey Sidibe or the title characters in Disney's The Princess and the Frog. I'm talking about the ten films nominated this year for Best Live Action and Animated Short Film Academy Awards. I was surprised to discover that the majority of them traffic in borderline-horrific subject matter including child slavery, the deadly effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a gunman on a rampage, and murder and mayhem in general. Even the beloved, G-rated Wallace and Gromit face off against a serial killer!

Still, all of them are worth seeing despite — and some because of — their dark topics. One even features a gay couple as its main characters. The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 are currently enjoying a theatrical release in select cities courtesy of Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures, and they can be downloaded for viewing at iTunes for a limited time.

Here's the rundown on all ten nominees, as well as my predictions regarding the Oscar winners to-be:

Animated Short Film:

French Roast (France, 8 minutes): Former DreamWorks Animation artist Fabrice O. Joubert crafted this amusing, computer-generated study of a man in a coffee shop whose wallet goes missing, leaving him unable to pay his bill. Helps comes from an unlikely source in the film's poignant finale. Great character design.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty (Ireland, 6 minutes): A very funny, Tim Burton-esque take on bedtime stories. A little girl is terrorized by her grandmother's decidedly unorthodox version of the classic fairy tale. Designed and directed by the talented Nicky Phelan.

Logorama (France, 16 minutes): I'm not sure permission was secured from the many corporations featured in this audacious spoof, so lawsuits may follow its likely Academy Award win. Michelin Men police are hot on the trail of the maniacal, red-haired namesake of a famous fast-food chain. Featuring the voices of director David Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, best known for their successful, behind-the-scenes pairing on 1995's Seven.

The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte) (Spain, 8 minutes): Antonio Banderas produced this treat, written and directed by Javier Recio Gracia. The Grim Reaper and an excessively aggressive doctor battle over a little old lady who just wants to die already. A hilarious critique of end-of-life ethics and a potential Oscar-winner.

A Matter of Loaf and Death (United Kingdom, 30 minutes): Four-time Oscar winner Nick Park returns with his popular Claymation creations, Wallace and Gromit. While there is a more-of-the-same quality to this still-enjoyable outing, Park's history as an Academy favorite could result in this film beating Logorama to the gold.

Live Action Short Film:

The Door (Ireland, 17 minutes): Lovely but very sad glimpse into a family reeling from the after-effects of the 1986 nuclear meltdown of their previous home, Chernobyl. Based on a true story from the tragedy, the short benefits from Juanita Wilson's sensitive writing and direction as well as the beautiful photography in Ukraine locations by Tim Fleming. While the next nominee will give it a good fight leading up to the Oscars, I expect The Door to win.

The New Tenants (Denmark/USA, 20 minutes): Several familiar faces are featured in this black comedy, including Vincent D'Onofrio, David Rakoff (Capote) and Jamie Harrold (To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar). The latter two play gay partners who have just moved into a new apartment, which they discover has a very violent history that isn't over yet. The bigger names in this entry may end up giving it an edge over The Door.

Instead of Abracadabra (Sweden, 22 minutes): Offbeat story of a jobless, accident-prone young man who yearns to make it as a magician. He gets the chance to prove himself at his father's birthday party, but can he avoid injuring the guests in the process? I was reminded at times of the goofy Napoleon Dynamite while watching this short by Patrik Eklund.

Kavi (USA/India, 19 minutes): Writer-director Gregg Helvey won the 2009 Student Academy Award for this, and he hopes to duplicate his success next month among the professionals. Similar in plot and tone to last year's big Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire, Helvey focuses on a young boy who yearns for his family to escape their harsh, slave-labor existence.

Miracle Fish (Australia, 17 minutes): This creepy film by Luke Doolan starts out innocently enough, as a boy celebrates his 8th birthday. By the climax, however, his teachers and fellow students have disappeared and he has a disturbing encounter. The ending is haunting, and this short is neck-and-neck with The Door in the running for my personal favorite in the Live Action division.

For more information on where and how to see the nominees, visit the official website of Shorts International.

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trivial Pursuits: Oscars 2009

It's Oscar trivia time, 2009 edition!:

- If either Best Picture front-runners Avatar or The Hurt Locker win, they would either be the highest or lowest grossing winners, respectively, in Academy Award history.

- The last time that there were 10 nominees for Best Picture was 1944, when the winner was a little film called Casablanca.

- Two Best Picture nominees — An Education and The Hurt Locker — were directed by women (Lone Scherfig and Kathryn Bigelow, respectively).

- Bigelow is only the fourth woman to be nominated for Best Director, joining Lina Wertmüller (Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (The Piano) and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation). No female director has won ... so far.

- Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire's Lee Daniels is only the second African American to be nominated not only for Best Director, but also as a co-producer of a Best Picture nominee. Previous nominees were John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood) and Quincy Jones (The Color Purple), respectively.

- Precious is also the first Best Picture nominee to be directed by an African American.

- Avatar and District 9 join A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as the only science fiction Best Picture nominees.

- Up is only the second animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast was the first) and the first to do so since the Best Animated Feature category was created in 2001.

- All in the family: Father and son Ivan and Jason Reitman are nominated for producing Up in the Air, as are brothers Joel and Ethan Coen for producing and writing A Serious Man.

- Best Picture nominees The Blind Side and A Serious Man received only one other nomination. The last time a Best Picture nominee received only two nominations was in 1994 with Four Weddings and a Funeral.

- Best Actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe was recognized for her film debut in Precious.

- With her nod for Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep not only broke her own record of overall acting nominations (16 total), but she also bested Katharine Hepburn's reign as the most nominated Best Actress contender (13 total).

- Along with Streep's Julia Child, six of the acting nominees portray real people: Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as François Pienaar in Invictus, and Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren as Leo and Sofya Tolstoy in The Last Station.

- Double duty: Plummer can also be heard in Up, while lead acting contenders Streep and George Clooney (Up in the Air) led the voice cast of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

- Nine's Penélope Cruz and Streep are the only repeat acting nominees from last year, when Cruz won Best Supporting Actress for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Streep was a Best Actress contender for Doubt.

- And finally: the last time Streep won an Oscar (for Sophie's Choice in 1983), her competitors Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Sidibe weren't even born yet!

Illustration by Tom Bachtell for The New Yorker.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: That Other Capote Movie

Four years ago, the biopic Capote was belle of the awards-season ball. This no doubt pleased the film's subject, the late writer and sometime-actor Truman Capote, to no end. While Truman loved his fame, he loved other people's scandals and infamy even more.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman racked up a number of statuettes, including the 2005 Academy Award for Best Actor, for his spot-on impersonation of Capote. Even if Hoffman was notably taller than the diminutive author was, he got Truman's unique voice, cadence and mannerisms down pat. Capote also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Keener as Truman's friend and fellow writer Harper Lee, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame).

However, there was a second film about Capote in production at the same time called Infamous. Beaten to theaters and potential awards glory by Capote, it was barely released in 2006 and went quickly to home video semi-obscurity. I only recently saw Infamous on DVD, and was surprised to find it in many ways better than that other Truman show. It's also gayer, as Capote barely delved into the subject's sexuality.

Infamous, based on George Plimpton's authoritative Capote biography, covers the same time period as the other film — the 1959-1963 writing of Truman's seminal In Cold Blood — but reveals much more of the author's social and romantic life in New York City. As a result, it is a more rounded and just plain entertaining film than Capote.

Much of this version's entertainment value comes from its all-star cast, which includes current awards darling Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee, Jeff Daniels, John Benjamin Hickey (as Truman's lover, the out-of-his-element Jack Dunphy), gay faves Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies) and Bond hunk Daniel Craig as the killers at the center of In Cold Blood, and even a musical cameo by Gwyneth Paltrow (who starred in writer-director Douglas McGrath's Emma). Most enjoyable is the quartet of Sigourney Weaver, Juliet Stevenson, Hope Davis and Isabella Rossellini as Truman's gossipy, high-society intimates.

But it is Toby Jones' portrayal of Capote that commands — and demands — attention. As fine as Hoffman was in the role, Jones is marvelous and certainly more physically accurate. He makes Truman more colorful, especially during a scene where he regales small-town Kansas dinner party guests with name-dropping accounts of his Hollywood exploits, as well as slightly more sympathetic during the tense build-up to Perry Smith's execution.

Speaking of Smith, the homosexual tension between the convicted killer and his literary confessor is more substantial here than in Capote. Craig is both alluring and dangerous, which becomes fully evident during a scene where he attempts to rape Truman. The pair also share a passionate kiss. I don't know how historically accurate these are, but they certainly fit the psychosexual dynamic explored here.

So, go rent or download Infamous ASAP. It could also be fun to watch it and Capote in conjunction with each other. Be sure to weigh in here with your reactions. Truman would likely welcome as much controversy as possible!

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

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Who's Afraid of Del Toro's Wolf?

There is absolutely no reason The Wolfman should be any good – it’s been delayed since 2008, had massive reshoots, a new score, and had more bad word of mouth in development than, well, Titanic (well, that didn’t turn out so badly). Amazingly enough, though, The Wolfman is kooky, bloody, gothic fun that looks gorgeous.

Benecio Del Toro is an unusual choice to step into Lon Chaney Jr.’s wolf suit as Lawrence Talbot, but he gives the role surprising gravity. Anthony Hopkins plays Sir John Talbot, Lawrence’s withholding father, with his patented highbrow hamminess, and Emily Blunt plays Gwen Conliffe, the fiancée of Talbot’s brother. As the film opens in 1891, Del Toro’s Talbot, a famous American actor à la Edwin Booth, learns that a beast has murdered his brother on the moors – shades of The Hound of the Baskervilles! – so he returns to his family manor to unravel the mystery.

The locals of Blackmoor are certain that the gypsies who recently appeared outside the village are responsible – perhaps the half-blind dancing bear did it! Talbot goes to confront the “immigrant menace” and falls victim to a voracious werewolf. Faster than you can say, “Full moon me!” he turns into a cool, terrifying beast himself. The story is a guilty pleasure hoot, especially the gypsy camp blood bath death frenzy. Heads roll, guts spill, limbs fly and director Joe Johnston (Jumanji) stages the actions scenes for maximum Grand Guignol fun. And let's not forget the Danny Elfman score that won't quit. I mean it. It. Won't. Quit!

Unlike the 1941 version, the source werewolf plays a major part in the film’s twists and turns. There are still plenty of WTF moments, like why there seem to be about seventeen full moons over Blackmoor, but through it all, Del Toro, Blunt, Hopkins and Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard detective keep straight faces and act the hell out of the proudly schlocky material.

“Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night, can become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright,” but it’s hard to buy Del Toro as pure of heart, which is why his wolfman is so good. He doesn’t seem to need that much transformation to become a beast. Blunt plays her damsel in distress with enough strength to hold her own, while Weaving’s drollness with the locals makes him a good foil for Talbot.

As Titanic and Tootsie proved, not all troubled films turn out terrible. The Wolfman, though hardly in those films’ league, managed to transform itself into a not-so-dreadful penny dreadful that will make you howl with glee.

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

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