Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Monthly Wallpaper - July 2010: That's Dancing!

Get out your tap shoes and leg warmers! This month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper is all about the dance ... in film, that is.

Join Billy Elliot, Tony Manero, Ren McCormack, Peggy Sawyer and a host of timeless terpsichorean talent for a high-kickin', jazz-handin' July.  Now That's Dancing!

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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Los Angeles Film Festival 2010

After a rocky opening night, during which jubilant post-screening lesbians and rioting Lakers fans threatened to collide on the downtown streets, the 2010 edition of the Los Angeles Film Festival rebounded (no basketball pun intended) and made ten days in a controversial new location an exciting celebration of independent movies.

The fest began on June 17 (which was also the night the LA Lakers won their second straight championship at the neighboring Staples Center) with the Los Angeles premiere of Lisa Cholodenko's lesbian dramedy The Kids Are All Right. Stars Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo attended, as well as Jane Lynch (Glee) and other celebs. Conspicuously absent was co-star Annette Bening, who also cancelled a press conference I was scheduled to attend the following day without explanation. Several online sources reported on June 18 that Bening's and Warren Beatty's oldest daughter had announced she was planning to have gender reassignment surgery, and that Bening and Beatty were "devastated." May they get over it soon.

Apart from The Kids Are All Right, only a few movies screened during the fest were specified as being of GLBT interest: Eyes Wide Open, the extraordinary Israeli story of two orthodox Jewish men who fall in love with each other (previously reviewed here); Dog Sweat, an illegally-shot Iranian film detailing the romantic/sexual travails of six young people, including a gay man; and Family Tree, which explores a dysfunctional French clan gathered at a sprawling country estate for a funeral.

However, other GLBT-friendly screenings included the LA premiere of All About Evil, a campy horror spoof starring Joshua Grannell (a.k.a. drag diva Peaches Christ), Mink Stole and Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson, and Pee-Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens, presenting a 25th anniversary edition of his now-classic Pee-Wee's Big Adventure as well as a film he defined as most inspirational to him, 1938's You Can't Take It With You.

The standout film of the festival for me, though, was the eye-opening, heart-wrenching documentary, Lost Angels. Director Thomas Napper follows a number of inhabitants of downtown LA's Skid Row, composed of approximately fifty city blocks (ironically, the festival took place just a stone's throw away). As narrator Catherine Keener informs viewers, "About 11,000 people live on Skid Row, and two-thirds of them have mental illness." Another speaker pointedly states, "We don't institutionalize the mentally ill (in the United States); we criminalize them." Late ex-President Ronald Reagan receives special condemnation for cutting funding to hospitals and other mental illness treatment facilities.

One of the subjects of Lost Angels is Albert "Bam Bam" Olson, an honest and outspoken inhabitant of Skid Row who also happens to be transgender, bipolar and living with HIV. Bam Bam was in attendance at the film's June 25 world premiere (as was Keener, who is gracious and lovely in person) and told the sold-out crowd, "Making the movie gave me a purpose." Napper treats all those he caught on film with respect and dignity, and the result is most affecting.

As I'm a sucker for movies about animals, I also found the festival doc One Lucky Elephant fascinating. Ten years in the making, it recounts the saga of circus producer and ringmaster David Balding to find a suitable home for his aging pachyderm star, Flora. Balding adopted the orphaned baby elephant and cared for her for 16 years. But as she matured, Flora lost interest in performing and Balding was compelled to search for a place where she could live more freely with other elephants.

This proved to be no easy task. After numerous safari programs and zoos fell through, Balding found what seemed to be the perfect sanctuary for Flora in Tennessee. No sooner did Balding leave Flora then she became increasingly anti-social and violent. A self-professed elephant psychologist declared Flora suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder related to the violent separation from her mother and her subsequent circus training. The baffled Balding was barred from ever visiting Flora again, and the film raises interesting questions and concerns not only about the ethical treatment of animals but of the people who devote themselves to their care.

Another standout movie about animals at the fest was Cane Toads: The Conquest. Presented in 3-D, no less, it is director-producer Mark Lewis' follow up to his acclaimed 1988 short film about Australia's non-native amphibians. Introduced from South America in the 1930's in an effort to control sugar cane-destroying beetles, the poisonous toads have multiplied from an initial 100 to nearly 2 billion today. They continue to march their way west across Australia, and no attempt to halt their progress has been successful.

The film takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to what is apparently a serious problem, and one can't help but fall in love with the doggedly persistent creatures of the title. The 3-D effects are unnecessary but fun. Lewis proudly announced during the Q & A after the screening that his film had been dubbed "Avatoad" after its US premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

One other movie at this year's LA Film Fest made a significant impression on me: Hello Lonesome. A semi-autobiographical story by writer-director Adam Reid, it conveys six unique individuals' struggles to make a connection with someone else. The relationships forged are surprising, amusing and ultimately moving. One of the characters is based on Reid's sister, who died of breast cancer in 2003.

The cast of Hello Lonesome (which includes James Urbaniak, who voices Dr. Venture on the campy cartoon The Venture Brothers) is excellent, and they were deservedly honored with the festival's Jury Award for Best Ensemble Performance. Other award-winning films were Denmark's A Family (Best Narrative Film), Make Believe (Best Documentary) and Wonder Hospital (Best Animated Short).

This was the first year that the LA Film Festival was moved from its traditional, trendy Westwood location to the new LA Live complex downtown. Despite a few logistical bumps and a bit of initial culture shock (especially for opening night attendees), I thought the new venue worked very well. Also, the film selection, largely overseen by former Newsweek film critic David Ansen, was diverse and of almost-uniformly high quality. I'm already looking forward to what next year will bring!

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

Monday, June 28, 2010

MD Contest: I Want A Single Man

Movie Dearest is launching our very first contest today! Thanks to the generosity of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, one of our lucky readers will receive a free DVD of Tom Ford's critically acclaimed, award-winning A Single Man starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

To enter, all you have to do is send an email with the subject line "I Want A Single Man" to the email address below. Please include the address you want the DVD shipped to along with your full name.

All information received will be kept confidential.  Contest restricted to US residents only please.  The winner will be chosen randomly on Tuesday July 6, the day A Single Man is released on DVD and Blu-ray.

That's next week, so enter now, and good luck!

UPDATE: This contest is now closed; click here for the results.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

MD Poll: Toys 'R Us

With the phenomenal success of Toy Story 3, it's very clear that everyone loves Woody, Buzz and the gang. But which of Andy's toys is your favorite?

Make your choice and place your vote in the MD Poll located in the right hand sidebar. Results will be revealed on July 24.

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

MD Poll: The Best of Times

The classic gay musical La Cage aux Folles recently made history by becoming the first show to win Tony Awards for every single one of its Broadway productions. And now, it has been named your favorite From Screen to Stage show of the 2009-2010 season!

See the comments section below for the complete results.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Lofty Heights

The Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights (which is making its California debut this week at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles) provides such a genial, romanticized picture of inner-city life in a Manhattan barrio that it makes grittier NYC-based shows like West Side Story and Rent look like the gloomy Long Day's Journey Into Night by comparison.

I actually spent a long weekend a decade ago in the Washington Heights neighborhood celebrated here. While the atmosphere and people were pleasant enough, it was hardly the effervescent, drug- and violence-free setting In the Heights would have viewers believe. I also encountered a number of gay and lesbian Latino residents who, somewhat curiously, aren't represented among the musical's characters.

The most authentic aspect of the production is Anna Louizos' set design. From the moment I entered the Pantages and saw the storefronts and towering apartments above them (which aren't obscured before the show by the curtain), I felt like I was in New York City. Louizos is one of the best designers in theatre today; she also did the impressive sets for Curtains, Avenue Q and Minsky's.

In the Heights has numerous other things to recommend it. The characters are vivid, the songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who is recreating his original Broadway performance for the LA production as well as the upcoming movie version) are excellent, and Andy Blankenbuehler's energetic, hip hop-derived choreographic style works much better here than in the recent 9 to 5. Howell Binkley's lighting design also deserves special mention, especially for its impressive evocation of a fireworks display at the end of Act I.

The touring production's cast is attractive as well as talented. In addition to Miranda's engaging presence as rapping convenience store owner Usnavi, standouts include Sabrina Sloan as the object of his affections, Vanessa (Lexi Lawson will play Vanessa starting July 6), Shaun Taylor-Corbett as Sonny, Usnavi's cocky cousin, and Elise Santora as the loving Abuela (Aunt) Claudia. Fine support is given by Jose-Luis Lopez as the neighborhood tagger, David Baida as a seller of frozen confections, and the entire ensemble.

Unfortunately, complex conflicts are largely absent from Quiara Alegria Hudes' book. The most significant are between Nina (played by Arielle Jacobs), who returns home to the barrio after secretly dropping out of Stanford University, and her parents, Kevin and Camila (Danny Bolero and Natalie Toro). To further exacerbate things, Nina falls in love with Benny, an African-American employee of her newly-prejudiced father (a fine turn by Rogelio Douglas, Jr., who was recently seen on Broadway as a flamboyant Sebastian the Crab in The Little Mermaid).

The racial issue, however, is dealt with briefly and is fairly easily overcome, and a winning lottery ticket provides a too-convenient solution to Nina's tuition woes. Otherwise, barrio life is hunky-dory in In the Heights. Sure, everyone needs more money but that's true in every neighborhood nowadays. Usnavi's store window gets broken during a blackout but little of value is stolen.

A more telling indicator of the musical's sunny avoidance of darker, audience-challenging characters and situations may be reflected in the popularity of its LA opening. The virtually full house on preview night consisted mostly of white, affluent theatergoers over the age of 60. There were few young adults and, surprisingly, even fewer Latino/Hispanic people. I suspect In the Heights is too glossy and unrealistic — not to mention unaffordable — for the majority of those it claims to represent.

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

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Toon Talk: 3’s a Charm

Coppola couldn’t do it. Lucas couldn’t do it … twice. Peter Jackson did it, but he had a little help from Tolkien. Now, Pixar has done it, “it” being creating a film trilogy that is completely satisfying from beginning to end.

Coming eleven years after its immediate successor, expectations for Toy Story 3 couldn’t have been higher. Impressively, the Pixar team avoids the dreaded “threequel” curse, giving us a film that is rich with humor, excitement and emotion. Building off of and expanding upon the Toy Story universe, director Lee Unkrich and his crew bring the story to a bittersweet end, earning each and every laugh and tear along the way.

Following a gleeful wild west prologue in the tradition of Toy Story 2’s “Adventures of Buzz Lightyear” opening, we learn that a now-17 year old Andy (voiced, as with all three movies, by John Morris) is on his way to college. This particular right of passage strikes fear in the plastic hearts of Andy’s remaining toys, their fates unknown. Woody (Tom Hanks) tries to reassure Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and the others that they will stay together, even if it is as just the proverbial toys in the attic. But when an unexpected chain of events finds them all dumped off at the local daycare center, their futures look bleak.

Or are they? At first glance, it looks like Sunnyside Daycare is a great place for a toy, with a never-ending stream of kids to play with, all under the seemingly benevolent leadership of a strawberry-scented stuffed animal named Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (Ned Beatty). But all is not as it seems, and Andy’s toys must make a great escape to get back to the home they belong in, even if that may end up being someplace entirely new ...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Toy Story 3 on

UPDATE: Toy Story 3 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Friday, June 18, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Uprise and Shine

It's been nearly 41 years since a gallant band of lesbian women, gay men, bisexual and transgender individuals and drag queens famously fought back against the New York City police department during one of the PD's frequent raids on the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall was a Mafia-owned but very popular watering hole in Greenwich Village (it is still in existence today, sans Mafia). No one could have guessed that the event begun on June 28, 1969 would launch the modern fight for GLBT equality.

Stonewall Uprising (from First Run Features) is an excellent and insightful documentary opening today at the Landmark NuArt Theatre in LA. It is the first movie to draw extensively from vintage film footage and photographs in recounting this historic event. While a fictionalized drama, Stonewall (1995), and the acclaimed doc Before Stonewall (just reissued on DVD) have previously told some of the story, viewers now have a unique opportunity to see and hear from those who were actually there.

While the unexpected death of entertainer Judy Garland a week before and her subsequent funeral in NYC have often been cited as emotional sparks that lit the figurative fire under what would become the Stonewall explosion, there is no mention in Stonewall Uprising of Dorothy as a catalyst. Instead, the 1960's race riots, Vietnam protests, class differences and increased police raids of gay bars during an election campaign are cited as the primary provocations. As one legal commentator in the film reports: "At its peak, 500 people per year were arrested for 'the crime against nature' and 3,000-5,000 people were arrested each year for solicitation and loitering crimes in New York City." Most were gay men or lesbians.

Former police chief and eventual mayor of New York, Ed Koch, confesses to frequent police entrapment of homosexuals during the 1960's. The doc also features a segment in which Detective John Sorenson, then of the Dade County, Florida sheriff's department, lectures an assembly of wide-eyed high school students about the "danger" of "turning queer." As he bluntly informs them, "The rest of your life will be a living hell."

Based on a book about those fateful nights in June 1969 by David Carter and produced by award-winning documentarians Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (Scopes: The Battle Over America's Soul), Stonewall Uprising is an inspiring chronicle of the birth of "gay power." As one participant reflects, "We became a people — brothers and sisters — that night." Other commentators and participants featured in the film are Village Voice reporter Howard Smith, activist John O'Brien and, via excerpts from his reviled CBS report on homosexuality, Mike Wallace.

Perhaps most telling of the progress that's been made since 1969, though, is among the NYC police. A now long-retired officer who barricaded himself in the Stonewall when it became clear the police were outnumbered declares, "It was terrifying; everybody knew (the riots) weren't normal stuff." Today, however, members of the NYPD — GLBT and straight — traditionally march together each June in New York's GLBT Pride parade.

UPDATE: Stonewall Uprising 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, June 16, 2010

Reverend’s Interview: Reaching the Heights of In the Heights

The Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights is making its Southern California premiere this summer, running June 22-July 25 at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood before moving to the Orange County Performing Arts Center August 3-15.

In the Heights is a celebration of life in a multi-ethnic neighborhood, Washington Heights, in New York City. According to the show’s press notes, “It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind.” The original Broadway production won four 2008 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Score and Choreography. In addition, its original cast recording won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. In the Heights will soon be a movie musical directed by High School Musical mastermind Kenny Ortega.

The musical’s creator/composer and Broadway star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is set to headline the LA production (but not the OC run). Sharing the stage with him will be 29 of the most talented actors, singers and dancers in musical theatre today. Among them is Wilkie Ferguson, an openly gay, African-American resident of Southern California. Ferguson recently called shortly before a Friday night performance of In the Heights in Denver, Colorado to talk.

“I really love tour life,” Ferguson told me. “I think if someone is going to pay you to travel the country, you should take advantage of every opportunity.”

Prior to In the Heights, Ferguson was a member of the ensembles of such popular musicals as Hairspray, Sister Act, Stormy Weather (starring Leslie Uggams as the late Lena Horne) and Ray Charles Live! He also served as assistant director/piano accompanist for the acclaimed Boys’ Choir of Harlem.

“I grew up as a pianist, but got bitten by the theatre bug in high school,” Ferguson explained. “I got tired of sitting behind the piano unseen!” As one of 11 ensemble members of In the Heights, the actor is “pretty much in everything, since we play members of the Washington Heights community.”

The very handsome Ferguson grew demur when I asked him about his age. “You know actors can’t reveal our true age; Just say I’m of voting age,” he replied, slyly. He has been with the In the Heights tour since its launch last December in Miami, Florida, which happens to be the city of Ferguson’s birth.

“The tour has been fantastically well-received,” Ferguson said, “but a little better received in cities with a large Hispanic population” such as Miami. It has gradually been making its way west to California.

I asked Ferguson whether there is any GLBT content or message in the show. “Absolutely,” he replied. “The main storyline is a universal message about family and finding where you belong. There is a subplot involving an African-American man in love with a Hispanic woman and the challenges they encounter that GLBT people can definitely identify with.”

In addition to talking about In the Heights, Ferguson spoke fondly of his time touring in Hairspray — saying “That was fantastic!” — as well as being a part of the Pasadena Playhouse’s world premiere of Sister Act. He described the latter, adapted from the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie, as “Amazing, and a different experience since I was in on the development of the show. But it was tiring, since there were 15 different shows (between changes and additions to it) during the course of development.” The Sister Act musical has since become a huge success in London, and may eventually play on Broadway.

Ferguson confessed that it can be challenging to maintain a relationship while on the road, especially when his significant other is a fellow actor. “We’ve been happily together for about four years now,” he shared. “It was difficult at first (to be apart because of the In the Heights tour) but we’ve adjusted well. Our rule is we don’t go more than three weeks without seeing each other, so we’re racking up the frequent flyer miles!”

Not so long ago, to be black and openly gay in the performing arts was often seen as a double liability, not a benefit. Fortunately, things have changed, enabling Wilkie Ferguson and other talented black GLBT artists to excel. Don’t miss out on the chance to see some of them in action this summer while In the Heights is in your vicinity. For additional information or to purchase tickets, the official In the Heights website.

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

Monday, June 14, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Proposition 8, Revisited

It's hard to believe that it has been two years since the first legal same-sex marriages took place in the state of California. Sadly, euphoria turned to disappointment a mere five months later, when voters approved the insidious Proposition 8 by a narrow margin and took away the right of GLBT couples to marry.

The new documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition is being released this Friday to commemorate the anniversary of California's short-lived time of marriage equality. The film will debut in 13 major US cities and will be available that same date for On Demand purchase via cable and satellite providers as well as digital download channels.  Also, the DVD is already scheduled for release on July 13.

It is no secret that the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (whose members are often referred to as LDS or Mormons, for short) was a major supporter of Proposition 8, both financially and in terms of its leaders encouraging members to vote for the legislation. 8: The Mormon Proposition reveals that Mormon donations accounted for 71% of campaign contributions toward the success of Proposition 8, even though Mormons make up less than 2% of California's population.

GLBT and other protesters stormed the church's Los Angeles temple immediately following the proposition's passage and continued to do so for several weeks. This and allegations against the LDS of overstepping Church-State bounds are revisited in the film. Veteran political consultant Ron Karger appears and terms the overall effort to see Proposition 8 succeed "dirty politics."

What I found new and interesting in the documentary is an unveiling of a Mormon "conspiracy" against same-sex marriage that predates Proposition 8 by over ten years. In 1996, LDS leaders became concerned about efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Hawaii. They secretly began laying the foundation then for a well-organized opposition from the church that would culminate in California in 2008.

8: The Mormon Proposition — which is narrated by the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk, Dustin Lance Black, who was raised LDS — is similarly interesting and helpful when it explains the Mormon theology of marriage and the afterlife, which are intimately related. As Black bluntly states, "Gays interrupt the Mormon plan for Heaven," thereby posing a somewhat understandable threat to LDS families hoping for the ultimate, celestial reunion of their members.

As the movie unspools, however, the filmmakers' biases become more evident, to its detriment. According to the film's press notes, director Reed Cowan and many of those behind the camera grew up gay in the Mormon faith. They often experienced bigotry and a lack of acceptance from their own family members, which has resulted in a number of suicides among young, gay LDS men. A couple of these cases of suicide are detailed in the film, along with torturous psychological techniques some Mormons have been subjected to in an attempt to "cure" them of their homosexuality.

While GLBT viewers will naturally be sympathetic to the filmmakers and these sad experiences, the detailed recounting of them distracts from the film's main subject. What's more, the unrelenting attack on the LDS church in 8: The Mormon Proposition lets other churches and religious groups that were also heavily involved in promoting and passing Proposition 8 off the hook. There is only one fleeting mention of the Roman Catholic Church's historic partnering with the LDS in opposition to same-sex marriage, and no mention of the various fundamentalist congregations in California that also helped Proposition 8 to succeed. The Mormons did not and could not secure its passage all by themselves, but the film sure makes it look like they did.

8: The Mormon Proposition resurrects a painful period in California's GLBT history. While it is always important to remember the past in our effort to not repeat its disappointments, it is also time to move on and to work together harder than ever for the equal right to marriage in California — and everywhere.

UPDATE: 8: The Mormon Proposition 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.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Cuckoo for Coco & Igor

Igor Stravinsky's symphony "The Rite of Spring" is best known to moviegoers of my generation as the soundtrack to the dinosaur section of Walt Disney's Fantasia. I was unaware of how groundbreaking the work's premiere staging was in 1913 Paris. At the time, it was dubbed "scandalous" by many who were unprepared for Stravinsky's melding of non-melodic, frequently dissonant orchestrations and pagan-inspired dance rhythms.

The intelligent, sensual new biopic Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (out today from Sony Pictures Classics) opens with a reconstruction of this fabled event, which Coco Chanel attended, and continues to recount the similarly scandalous relationship that developed between the famed fashion designer and the composer. Interestingly but unintentionally, since they were made by different filmmakers, the new movie picks up right where last year's Coco Before Chanel left off.

By 1920, "The Rite of Spring" was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece but Stravinsky was having difficulty writing anything new. He was introduced to the wealthy Chanel at a party and she offered her financial support. Soon, Chanel and the married Stravinsky were engaged in a brief but passionate affair right under the nose of his family in one of Chanel's chateaus.

A bulked-up Mads Mikkelsen (who was the sadistic LeChiffre in the Bond flick Casino Royale) plays Stravinsky, while French actress Anna Mouglalis incarnates Chanel. While the chilly Mouglalis doesn't make as much of an impression as Audrey Tautou did in Coco Before Chanel, Mikkelsen's performance is mesmerizing. His is a largely silent performance, but when he speaks it reveals much about Stravinsky's egocentric struggles with faith ("God tests those He loves the most") and his increasingly superior attitude toward his lover ("You're not an artist, Coco, you're a shopkeeper").

The enthusiastic sex scenes in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky are some of the more graphic in recent memory. Also featured in the film are the gay dancer-choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky — who staged the initial, controversial performance of "The Rite of Spring" — and his patron/lover, Sergei Diaghilev (an amusing turn by Grigori Manoukov). In one scene, Diaghilev is shown interviewing a potential new male secretary, who is required to be in the nude.

Directed by Jan Kounen from a screenplay by Chris Greenhalgh (who also wrote the source novel), the filmmakers' attention to even the most minute period detail is impressive. From its hallucinogenic opening titles to Chanel's obsessive quest to create the perfect perfume (which would become Chanel No. 5), Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is an engrossing portrait of two gifted but flawed legends in love.

Reverend's Rating: B+

UPDATE: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky 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, June 10, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Fathers and Sons

La Mission bursts with passion on screen and from its filmmakers Peter and Benjamin Bratt, and it’s a terrific portrait of the vibrant, gritty neighborhood in San Francisco. Peter Bratt’s script examines Latino neighborhood pride and the machismo instilled in men that both helps them survive yet hurts their relationships with women, and in this case, a closeted gay son (Tempe native Jeremy Ray Valdez).

Che Rivera, played by Benjamin Bratt in a fierce, take-no-prisoners performance, is a flawed man trying to live a good life with his son, Jes. He’s a recovering alcoholic who was in prison, but in his neighborhood, he’s a strong symbol of honor and compassion. He gets off on the wrong foot with his neighbor Lena (played too cool and stiffly by Erika Alexander) — he thinks she’s another hipster trying to take over the neighborhood and she’s annoyed that he parks his gorgeous vintage low-rider in her way. Their tentative relationship is blown apart when Che discovers that Jes is gay and sleeping with an upper class white boy. Jes is defiant and Che is outraged, his machismo called into question by his son’s “perversion”, and the two have an ugly brawl right out in the street. Che kicks his beloved son out and he goes to live with his uncle. An attempted truce is a disaster, and the scandal puts Jes in the sights of a homophobic schoolmate and wannabe gangster, leading to a terrible hate crime.

La Mission is totally immersive, bringing to life the rich low-rider culture and the harsh realities of living in a world that’s changing faster than people know how to handle. Bratt gives his best performance I’ve ever seen, making Che charismatic, powerful, and warm at times, but dark, conflicted and unmerciful at others. Bratt’s utterly real, drawing from real characters he knew growing up in La Mission. Valdez also fully lives in his role of a proud boy scared of his father but determined to be himself whatever the cost.

Some people have criticized Peter Bratt’s script for lines like “You’re dead to me”, oblivious to the fact that a man like Che would utter such clich├ęs he’s grown up hearing. He isn’t a poet, he’s a bus driver, and Bratt makes you feel every ounce of fury, love, frustration and regret that Che is going through.

La Mission isn’t a perfect film, but it is a perfect character study, and I hope that it opens up dialogues in families where culture, religion and machismo cause GLBT kids to be ostracized. Valdez’s Jes doesn’t say the right things either, baiting his dad instead of asking for his love, and I know that young audiences will see themselves in him.

La Mission couldn’t open in Arizona at a better time. Drunk with the power of their Republican majority and Governorship, the lawmakers have enacted some of the most offensive Anti-Hispanic legislation in memory. Peter and Benjamin Bratt and Jeremy Ray Valdez are in town tonight and tomorrow to support efforts to fix the terrible laws. Their film gives a full-blooded life to a culture that is under attack, while at the same time forcing men in that culture to examine their attitudes and perhaps make much needed changes for the good of their families.

UPDATE: La Mission is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

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

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Latest on DVD: Cinema Pride Collection

The very first gay-themed film DVD collection from a major studio, the Cinema Pride Collection debuts today, exclusively at The ten movie set from Twentieth Century Fox and MGM Home Entertainment spans over forty years of the best of GLBT cinema and includes:
  • The "celluloid closet" classic The Children’s Hour.
  • La Cage aux Folles and its American remake The Birdcage.
  • The acclaimed dramas My Beautiful Laundrette and Bent.
  • Oscar winners The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Boys Don’t Cry.
  • Lesbian favorites Kissing Jessica Stein and Imagine Me & You.
  • And gay rom com The Object of My Affection.
The Cinema Pride Collection is a perfect way to jump start your GLBT DVD collection; click here to order from