Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Pirates Ship Comes In on DVD

I fell in love with the delightful big-screen adaptation of Gilbert & Sullivan's classic operetta The Pirates of Penzance upon watching it on opening day in 1983. Unfortunately, the movie was not widely seen as the result of a dispute between its releasing studio, Universal Pictures, and major theater chains.

Universal had decided to debut what it thought would be a major, G-rated crowd pleaser with cultural caché as a pay-per-view event on cable TV (at a time when such events were in their infancy) the same day it opened theatrically. Most theater chains didn't like the idea, fearing the simultaneous TV premiere would cut into their profits, and refused to show the film. Subsequently, only a handful of independent movie houses ran it and the film became an undeserved flop.

Available on VHS since shortly after its minimal release, The Pirates of Penzance finally made an unheralded arrival on DVD September 14. While the only extra on the disc is an oddly grainy, black and white theatrical trailer, the film itself has been beautifully transferred.

The Pirates of Penzance (subtitled The Slave of Duty) made its successful stage debut in London in 1879. A century later, theatrical impresario Joseph Papp produced a New York revival in Central Park with a cast headlined by Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith, Estelle Parsons and George Rose. The satiric and somewhat sexed-up interpretation was a smash hit with critics and audiences. Papp joined forces with the late Edward R. Pressman to transfer it to film with nearly all the same players (Parsons was replaced by the great Angela Lansbury).

Director Wilford Leach, who also helmed the Central Park production, utilizes fabulous, highly-stylized soundstage sets, a bold color palette (which absolutely pops on the new DVD) and a decidedly campy approach. Graciela Danielle choreographed the high-energy, frequently acrobatic dances, as she also did for the stage version. The other key members of the film's production team are top-notch: production designer Elliot Scott and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (who would re-team spectacularly the following year on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) and editor Anne V. Coates (an Oscar winner for Lawrence of Arabia).

And then there are the notable performances. Kline, who was making his initial big-screen mark in 1982-83 between this film and striking dramatic turns in Sophie's Choice and The Big Chill, is hilariously over-the-top in his athletic portrayal of the Pirate King. Smith, who has had a bigger career on stage and TV than on film, has never been better vocally or hotter physically than he is here as Frederick, the reluctant pirate apprentice struggling to break free and lead a virtuous life. Ronstadt, in her one and only film role to date, is in great voice and appropriately winsome as Mabel, the virginal object of Frederick's affection. Lansbury, as Frederick's nursemaid-turned-pirate, Ruth; Rose, as the show's famous "Modern Major General"; and the double-jointed Tony Azito as the cowardly Constable are all superb.

Of course, the most critical component of any film based on a Gilbert & Sullivan work is its adaptation of their score. The Pirates of Penzance has likely never sounded so good as it does here, either before the movie or since; kudos to adapter William Elliott and music producer Peter Asher.

I'm so grateful to finally have a widescreen version of the film available for home viewing. Whether you've never seen it or have only viewed faded, pan-and-scan versions on VHS or TV, you owe it to yourself to watch The Pirates of Penzance on DVD ASAP.

Reverend's Rating: A+

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reverend’s Preview: Gay Days 2010

As a regular visitor to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim since I was a toddler growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, the self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth” has long held a special place in my heart. It certainly helped to inspire my childhood creativity, no less so than when I attempted to re-create the park’s fabled Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion attractions in my unassuming neighbor’s house while I was in the 3rd grade.

My more frequent visits as an adult — now that I reside in Southern California and have an annual pass — continue to provide me, my friends and visiting family members with good times and fond memories. One doesn’t have to be gay or lesbian to enjoy Disneyland, of course, but it can heighten our experience as park visitors in some ways. The music, colors, fantasy and theatricality of the Disneyland Resort hold special appeal for many GLBT people.

In recognition of this, Gay Days at the Disneyland Resort was established in 1997 by a small group of gay fans of all things Disney. The event has since grown to attract more than 30,000 GLBT people annually from throughout California and the US. Gay Days 2010 will be held October 1-3. Attendees traditionally wear red shirts to identify themselves as GLBT, since Disneyland and its neighboring theme park, Disney’s California Adventure, remain open to the general public during the weekend.

Disneyland marked its 55th anniversary this summer, having opened in June 1955. Countless GLBT designers, performers, managers and other “cast members” have helped Walt Disney’s original dream of a park where families could spend quality time together and forget their everyday cares continue to grow. Gay Days can be seen as an annual tribute to them as well as a celebration of our community’s growth.

This year’s Gay Days will feature a spectacular new event: PLUNGE! The first-ever Gay Days pool party, PLUNGE will take place on Sunday, October 3 at the Anabella Hotel in Anaheim. Gay Days event tickets, discounted park passes and hotel rooms, and official red T-shirts can all be purchased through Gay Days Anaheim's official website, where you can also find the complete schedule of Gay Days events.

Gay Day at Disney’s California Adventure (Sunday, October 3) will also include the new, rainbow-rific spectacle World of Color. I saw this amazing combination of special water and light effects, footage from classic Disney films and soaring music during the summer. It is absolutely dazzling and not to be missed. “World of Color” will be performed at least once after dark; check the park schedule for exact show times.

As fun as Gay Days is each year, it isn’t necessary to attend to have a gay old time at Disneyland. One of the best times I ever had there was in the summer of 1995, when six of my best gay friends from various points across the country joined me on my “honeymoon” at Disneyland following my ordination as a priest. We shrieked together on Space Mountain, laughed at Fantasmic’s camp value (thoroughly confusing a young, scared child seated next to us) and posed for a group picture in which we are each wearing a different Disney Princess headpiece.

Yes, a gay man can crack jokes at the expense of Woody, Buzz or “It’s a Small World” (and let’s not even mention Winnie the Pooh) any time of year. However, Gay Days at the Disneyland Resort does offer a unique opportunity to join with thousands of other members of our tribe once a year and find acceptance as a princess, a pirate, a bear or simply a kid at heart.

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Feeling Blue

Blue is the color of love for a shy wannabe poet on a remote Italian island in Daniel Catan's new opera, Il Postino, which is currently having a rapturous world premiere production through October 16 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Locals, whether opera aficianados or not, shouldn't miss it.

I didn't remember much about Michael Radford's 1994 movie Il Postino (The Postman), despite its having been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director, and winning one for Best Score. Watching the opening night performance of this opera inspired by it, however, brought much of the film back to me while improving upon it.

The plot and libretto weave multiple love stories, enlivened by equal doses of humor and sorrow. Real-life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (a nicely modulated, down-to-earth performance by opera superstar Placido Domingo) and his adoring wife, Matilde (beautiful soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domas), have been exiled to the tiny, fictional island of Cala di Sotto due to Pablo's Communist leanings. There, they meet lonely postman Mario Ruoppolo (an awesome, moving turn by lyric tenor Charles Castronovo), who dreams of becoming a poet like Neruda and longs for the heart of the tempestuous Beatrice (the very impressive Amanda Squitieri).

Mario and Pablo become unexpectedly close friends through their mutual love of language, especially metaphors. Love blossoms between the newly-empowered Mario and Beatrice, much to the chagrin of Beatrice's domineering, gun-toting aunt, Donna Rosa (a very funny Nancy Fabiola Herrera). Too soon, though, the Nerudas' exile is ended and they are called home to Chile, leaving Mario and the other locals they have befriended to feel abandoned just as a sleazy politician rises to power on Cala de Sotto.

Il Postino offers glimpses into the love of fathers for their sons, of husbands and wives for each other, and of artists for their art. The strongest love story in the opera, however, is between Pablo and Mario. While it isn't romantically or sexually motivated, the men's affection for one another and the chemistry between Domingo and Castronovo in the roles will prove especially touching to gay viewers/listeners.

Catan's lyrics aren't as strong as his music (and several of us critics were questioning the English translation used for the supertitles during intermission), but the score is memorable and frequently gorgeous. "Desnuda" ("Naked") is a breathtakingly intimate duet between Pablo and Matilde at the opera's start, and its refrain and concept are invoked later by Mario and Beatrice. I do wish the chorus had a larger singing role; the members serve more as scenery movers, only providing vocal support a few times. Grant Gershon conducts with his trademark sensitive assurance.

The evocative, relatively simple sets by Riccardo Hernandez are impressive, as are his costumes. Appropriate in light of the color with which Mario defines his love for Beatrice, most of the sets involving the two characters are blue. Occasional use of a blue neon border, possibly left over from LA Opera's techno production of The Ring Cycle last season, around the proscenium is too much but this is one of very few design excesses.

Il Postino is movingly directed by Ron Daniels, especially during the opera's powerful final moments. Indeed, I was tearful as the curtain fell, more so than I've been at any recent stage performance. Numerous audience members around me were sniffling and dabbing at their eyes as well. The opening night performance received a 10-minute standing ovation from an astute crowd, clearly signaling the arrival of a promising new work.

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

MD Poll: Trick or Treat, 2010 Style

Halloween is just around the corner, which brings up the annual question, "What am I going to wear?" Well, we here at Movie Dearest have you covered with ten of the hottest pop culture inspired costume ideas for 2010 ... and not one of them is Lady Gaga.

Take your pick for your favorite 2010 Halloween costume idea in the MD Poll located in the right hand sidebar, and tune back Saturday October 30 (Halloween Eve) for the final results.

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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

MD Poll: The Man of Your Dreams

With close to half of the total votes, Inception's dreamy Tom Hardy was easily your "Boy of Summer", Class of 2010.

Wolfboy Taylor Lautner was a distant second, followed by Tom's fellow dream teamer Leonardo DiCaprio. See the comments section below for the complete results.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: AIDS in DC

Like most of the interviewees in the eye-opening new documentary The Other City (now playing in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC), I was surprised to learn that our nation's capitol now has the highest number of HIV infections in the US. 3% of the citizens in the repository of American ideals and values have HIV/AIDS, compared with the previous national high of 4% in San Francisco during the height of the pandemic in 1992. The Centers for Disease Control considers 1% of any given population with an infectious disease "a generalized and severe epidemic."

In The Other City, director Susan Koch and Huffington Post senior contributing editor Jose Antonio Vargas introduce us to various Washingtonians haunted by the specter of AIDS. They include J'Mia, an HIV-positive single mother of three young children who is suddenly faced with homelessness; Jose, who was infected when he was 17 and now educates teens about HIV/AIDS (young people ages 13-29 now account for more than a third of new infections each year); the staff and residents of Joseph's House, a filled-to-capacity AIDS hospice; and Ron, a recovering drug addict who today distributes clean needles to other users.

DC's city leaders are shown throughout to be woefully ineffective at either halting the spread of HIV or addressing the needs of those already infected. The film reveals that any progress made in this regard has more often than not been achieved by those living with the virus. The Other City serves as a severe indictment of those chiefly charged with providing political and moral leadership in the US.

The film also serves as a needed reminder that HIV/AIDS is still killing people and isn't going away. It is most moving when following the plight of Jimmy, a 35-year old resident of Joseph's House for whom the AIDS "cocktail" medications have simply stopped working. We watch as he and his family slowly lose their joint struggle of 17 years against the virus.

How many more deaths — and documentaries — will it take before US leaders and citizens learn that AIDS doesn't discriminate and continues to decimate our nation and world?

Reverend's Rating: A-

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reverend's Interview: The Phantom Says Farewell

Tina Turner has done it. So has Cher... sort of. Now, Andrew Lloyd Webber's mega-musical The Phantom of the Opera is ending its touring career, and the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles will host the 17-year old company's final stop beginning tonight. After the frighteningly appropriate date of October 31, Halloween, theatergoers will only be able to see the original production on Broadway, in London or in its truncated incarnation at The Venetian Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.

Having first premiered in London in 1986, The Phantom of the Opera (based on the classic novel by Gaston Leroux) has proven to be an unprecedented global phenomenon. It has outlived Cats, Les Misérables and every other long-running stage musical over the past 24 years. One gay member of the farewell tour's cast, Luke Grooms, recently shared his thoughts about the secret of the show's success with Reverend.

"First and foremost is the music," Grooms said. "There are melodies in Phantom that everybody knows. A lot of us, including myself, listened to the music as children." Webber's score includes such memorable songs as "The Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You," "Masquerade," "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" and the anachronistic but danceable, techno (for the 80's) title tune.

Grooms, who is 31 and openly gay, continued to reflect on what has fueled the Phantom phenomenon: "The costumes and sets are lavish; some people say (the touring company has) been around for so long that the sets must be falling apart and the costumes fraying, but that's just not true. Everyone involved puts so much care into the upkeep of this tour and it shows."

The final key ingredient in the show's popularity is, according to Grooms, its moving story of the disfigured Phantom's love for his musically gifted ingénue, Christine. "The Phantom, even though he is an anti-hero, is a great character," Grooms said. Tim Martin Gleason, who has played the secondary romantic role of Raoul longer than anyone else has, plays the Phantom in the touring production. Sean MacLaughlin plays Raoul, while Trista Moldovan and Kelly Jeanne Grant alternate as Christine.

The operatically trained Grooms plays the role of Ubaldo Piangi, the Paris Opera's male star who falls prey to the Phantom's violent tendencies. Born and raised in rural Tennessee, Grooms has earned a name for himself in the opera world singing with such prestigious companies as New York's Metropolitan and City Operas, the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall, and Glimmerglass Opera. I asked him how his participation in Phantom came about.

"The Phantom folks saw me in the New York premiere of Jerry Springer: The Opera (for which Grooms was nominated for the 2010 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Musical Performance) two years ago," he recalls. "After that, there were numerous auditions and here I am." Grooms has been with the Phantom tour for six months. He voiced his hope that he will eventually get to play Piangi in the Broadway production. First, though, he is scheduled to play the classic role of the Duke in a Florida mounting of Rigoletto after Phantom comes to an end.

The Phantom of the Opera marks Grooms' first tour and first time performing in Southern California. He spoke fondly of his experience to date. "They are great people to work with," Grooms says of his cast mates, adding, "(Phantom) is truly one of the best musicals ever written." If that weren't enough, he met his current boyfriend during the tour's stop in Baltimore.

Grooms intends to make the most of his time in Los Angeles. He will be doing a special cabaret performance called Put Your Junk in Your Trunk at the Gardenia Restaurant & Lounge in West Hollywood on Monday, October 4. The show will feature all-new works by up-and-coming musical theatre composers. For reservations or more information, please call (323) 467-7444.

I asked Grooms if this is truly the farewell tour of Phantom or if there will be a Cher-esque, "Never Can Say Goodbye" encore. He laughed, then said, "As far as the company members know, this is the final tour of this particular production, which is just like the Broadway production." If one wants to save themselves the expense of a trip to New York or London, one had best order tickets now for the Phantom's final appearance in Southern California.

Tickets for the Pantages Theatre can be purchased at or by calling 1-800-982-2787.

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Woody Gets Spirichal

I like to think of myself as "green" and am all for recycling, but even the most devoted fan of writer-director Woody Allen has to draw the line when it comes to his current, late-career tendency to resurrect characters and plotlines from his prior movies.

In Allen's latest dramedy opening today, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, viewers will re-meet the older man who leaves his wife for a younger woman (à la Hannah and Her Sisters, Another Woman and Husbands and Wives); the struggling author/artist/surgeon/athlete crossing moral/ethical lines to achieve long-denied success (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point); and the prostitute/muse/needy woman who serves as a much-needed voice of conscience (Crimes and Misdemeanors again, Mighty Aphrodite, Match Point again, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; get my point?). It also marks a return stop on Allen's recent international tour, Great Britain.

But if one who has seen more than a few previous Allen productions can suspend their inherent sense of familiarity about the current proceedings, they will discover a typically well-written, wryly humorous and decidedly spiritual (though not religious) take on such timeless themes as love, fidelity, maturity, art and morality. Fantastic performances from a cast that includes Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins and Oscar nominees Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts as well as the startlingly good Gemma Jones and Antonio Banderas don't hurt either.

The pivotal figure in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is Helena (Jones, best known in the US as Bridget's mother in the Bridget Jones movies). After being unceremoniously dumped by her husband of 40 years, Alfie (Hopkins), Helena consults a psychic reader to whom she has been referred by her daughter, Sally (Watts), who works in an art gallery owned by Banderas's character, Greg. Sally's husband, Roy (Brolin) is a gifted doctor who gave up medicine for a writing career before he had even practiced.

After Roy's latest manuscript is rejected by his publisher, he undergoes a vocational-midlife crisis and falls for his younger neighbor, Dia (Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto). He also becomes misguidedly inspired to pass a presumably-deceased friend's first, brilliant novel off as his own. Meanwhile, Alfie becomes engaged to Charmaine (Lucy Punch), a woman he has paid for sex for the past two months.

The all-American Brolin, while good, seems miscast in this Euro-centric exercise, and much of the soap opera-esque plot is related through an irritating narrator, Zak Orth. Fortunately, though, Academy Award-winner Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Heaven's Gate) provides typically diffuse lighting and lovely cinematography. Banderas is the most natural and moving he has been in years, and Helena's budding romance with an occult bookshop owner (the charming Roger Ashton-Griffiths) is genuinely touching.

If remixing some of his own material wasn't enough, Allen also borrows from Shakespeare's Macbeth, Ibsen's Ghosts, Lucia di Lammermoor and The Wizard of Oz. "Matrimonial agonies" is the name of the game here... as it has been in virtually every other Allen film. What is a bit unique to the plot of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is its spiritual bent, even if said spirituality is the domain of psychics, occultists and fortunetellers rather than rabbis or "mainstream" clerics. Given Allen's senior status, it seems fitting that he would be questioning spiritual matters (as his colleague, Clint Eastwood, is said to be similarly doing in his new movie, Hereafter, opening in late October).

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not one of Allen's best. That being said, adults looking for thought-provoking fare could do a lot worse right now at the local Cineplex. Piranha 3-D or The Expendables, anyone?

Reverend's Rating: B-

UPDATE: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 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.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Toon Talk: That Touch of Tink

Returning for her third direct-to-video movie with Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (available this week on Disney DVD and Blu-ray), everyone’s favorite pixie comes face to face with her first human being … and it’s not Peter Pan.

Continuing with the various season-themed plots of its predecessors, Great Fairy Rescue finds our heroine (once again voiced by Mae Whitman) attending “Summer Fairy Camp” on the “mainland” (England, circa 1920s). Alas, the close proximity of humans and all their various gadgets and gizmos proves too much for a certain tinker fairy. With the haughty speed fairy Vidia (Pamela Adlon) in protesting pursuit, Tink risks breaking the cardinal fairy rule (“don’t be seen by humans”) and sets out to check out a neighboring home.

The residents of said home are Dr. Griffiths (Michael Sheen, of The Queen and Frost/Nixon fame), a preoccupied entomologist, and his young daughter Lizzy (Lauren Mote), a curious, imaginative child crazy about (naturally) fairies. Soon after arriving at their summer home, Lizzy puts out a homemade “fairy house” to lure them to her and, before you can say “Faith, trust and pixie dust”, she’s captured Tinker Bell.

Despite being locked in a birdcage and menaced by a pudgy cat, Tink quickly discovers that Lizzy just wants to learn more about fairy folk like her. And, since she can’t fly home due to a nasty storm outside, Tink decides to stick around and teach her a thing or two about fairies (including a flying lesson), even if they do have to overcome a certain language barrier ...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Howl Reveals Poetry of GLBT Liberation

I wasn’t very familiar with Allen Ginsberg's writings or with the 1957 obscenity trial over his best-known work, “Howl,” prior to seeing the fascinating new film inspired by them. Howl, the movie, is scheduled to open in Los Angeles and premiere on video-on-demand this Friday and expand to local theaters in October.

Howl is the first narrative film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the duo behind such award-winning, gay-themed documentaries as The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175 and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt. Their latest production has already had the honor of being the Opening Night selection at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and Outfest, L.A.’s Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

The movie actually entails three distinct but overlapping storylines: the legal case against the publisher of Ginsberg’s poem, which contained then-graphic language and references to homosexual activity; a biography of Ginsberg himself that depicts his inseparable awakenings as a writer and a gay man; and a strikingly animated rendering of the infamous poem, which has come to be regarded as a literary classic.

The People vs. Ferlinghetti, as the obscenity trial over Ginsberg’s work was formally known, took place in the midst of the conformity-driven Eisenhower era. The case has been described as “one that involved as many literature professors as lawyers and put the power of words itself on trial.” The presiding judge ultimately decided in favor of Ferlinghetti, but not before reports from the trial had exposed many mainstream Americans to the “F” word and the mechanics of gay sex. Even today, some radio stations refuse to air readings of “Howl” due to their fear of violating FCC obscenity rules.

The all-star supporting cast of Howl primarily appears during the trial segments. Oscar nominee David Straithairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) plays the frequently flummoxed prosecuting attorney, Ralph McIntosh. Jon Hamm of TV’s Mad Men is Ferlinghetti’s lawyer, Jake Ehrlich, who is said to have inspired Raymond Burr’s iconic performance as Perry Mason. Bob Balaban is great as the conservative yet clear-eyed and thoughtful Judge Clayton Horn (who could well have been a role model for current Federal Judge Vaughn Walker, who recently overturned Proposition 8) and Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker, Treat Williams and Alessandro Nivola briefly portray various witnesses.

While Epstein and Friedman’s recreation of the trial is illuminating and riveting, it is Ginsberg’s personal story that gives the movie its heart. James Franco of the Spider-Man series and Milk gives an excellent performance as Ginsberg. The revolutionary writer became renowned as one of the fathers of the Beat Generation along with Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and others, most of whom were gay or bisexual. Ginsberg, who passed away in 1997 (his longtime partner, Peter Orlovsky, just died earlier this year), wasn’t exactly known for his looks. As a result, the photogenic Franco has been criticized in the role by some. This is unfair, especially since the film depicts Ginsberg’s younger years, and Franco otherwise nails the poet’s distinct worldview, vocal cadence and passion.

Ginsberg is also regarded as a champion of sexual and political liberation for his honesty and willingness to convey the homosexual experience in “Howl” and many of his other poems. Eric Drooker, who had collaborated with Ginsberg on an illustrated version of his poems, drew the animated adaptation of “Howl” that serves as the third aspect of the current movie. The style is similar to the acclaimed 2008 feature Waltz with Bashir, a stylized animated account of dark historical events.

As guitarist Lenny Kaye said of Ginsberg, “He made us see that poets were pop stars.” He also helped to usher in the modern era of GLBT liberation and equality through his writing. Howl serves as a fitting tribute in addition to being inspiring cinema.

Reverend's Rating: B

UPDATE: Howl 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.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reverend's Previews: Il Postino Delivers an Opera

When a shy young postman meets a famous poet-in-exile in a small Italian fishing village, a beautiful, inspirational friendship begins. So goes the plot of Il Postino (The Postman). It was first a 1985 novel, then an Academy Award-winning 1994 movie. Now, Il Postino is an opera that will be having its world premiere in Los Angeles September 23-October 16 courtesy of LA Opera.

The film was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Adapted Screenplay, and won the Oscar for Best Music Score. Funny, dramatic and romantic, it was an unexpected foreign-language hit in the US and around the world. Acclaimed opera composer and librettist Daniel Catan saw Il Postino as the perfect subject for his next work.

“I realized, from the very first time I saw the film, that it was a suitable theme for an opera,” Catan says. “It deals with art and love: the foundations upon which we build our lives. Love is what makes us human, and art is our most sophisticated tool for achieving that humanity.”

World-renowned tenor and LA Opera General Director Placido Domingo will portray exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in Il Postino. Domingo stated, “I am very excited to participate in the world premiere of an opera by one of today’s most important composers.” Catan and Domingo had spoken for several years about one day collaborating on a new work.

According to Catan, “Opera is one of the most complete art forms ever imagined, for it includes music and poetry.” It is little wonder, then, that so many gay men have been attracted to opera over the centuries, both as performers and as patrons.

Il Postino is the first production of LA Opera’s 25th anniversary season. Other, classic operas scheduled through Spring 2011 include Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Verdi’s Rigoletto and the ghost story The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten.

All LA Opera productions are performed at the world-famous Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Individual tickets and subscriptions for the entire 2010/2011 season are available by phone at (213) 972-8001. Information is also available at their website.

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

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Toon Talk: Leaky Cauldron

Has it really been only 25 years since the lackluster debut of The Black Cauldron? Watching the recently released 25th Anniversary DVD of Disney’s failed animated adventure, it’s hard to believe that it was merely four years later that we saw The Little Mermaid. A lot changed between the time the former film flopped and the latter hit, and even more in the intervening years, leaving The Black Cauldron floundering at the bottom of the Disney canon. It also didn’t help that it was the film that nearly ended Disney animation for good.

Based on the book series “The Chronicles of Prydain” by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron was Disney’s attempt to toughen up its image. And, with scary scenes of a walking dead army and glimpses of blood and gore, they succeeded to an extent, at least as far as the MPAA was concerned. The rating service branded the film with a PG rating, the first ever for a Disney animated feature.

However, even with such attempts at prestige as employing 70 mm widescreen (much like its obvious inspiration, Sleeping Beauty) and enlisting legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird) for the score, not to mention a budget that was the highest for an animated feature at the time, The Black Cauldron was dead on arrival back in 1985. Audiences just weren’t interested in a dark Disney cartoon fantasy with no songs and, more importantly, no heart ...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of The Black Cauldron at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: A Bold Menagerie

"Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."

These words of the narrator, Tom Wingfield, open Tennessee Williams' classic play The Glass Menagerie, first produced in 1944. While the words may be the same, the revival now playing at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through October 17 is a bolder, longer and — most surprisingly — funnier staging than has likely ever been mounted. It also brings the play's autobiographical and homosexual subtexts roaring to the fore.

Director Gordon Edelstein and an exceptional cast headed by Judith Ivey take what purists may perceive as excessive liberties with the work. However, Williams actually encourages this in his original forward: "Being a 'memory play,' The Glass Menagerie can be presented with unusual freedom of convention." Taking full advantage of such license, the current production is set in a New Orleans hotel room that Tom has taken refuge in after fleeing his stifling family home in St. Louis (wherein the action ordinarily takes place). Furniture is occasionally moved while the play's three other characters enter and exit or are viewed through a translucent wall to evoke the original setting, but the hotel room remains dominant.

Tom (played superbly by Patch Darragh) sits at his typewriter, situated alongside the collection of tiny glass animals from which the play draws its title, and begins to write. He reads aloud as he types Williams' dialogue. Immediately, Tom's function as a stand-in for the author becomes apparent. Tom's overbearing mother, Amanda (Ivey), and sensitive sister, Laura (Keira Keeley), enter when evoked. The pivotal "Gentleman Caller," Jim O'Connor (a very impressive turn by Ben McKenzie of TV's Southland and The O.C.), also appears as written although Tom is clearly more romantically/sexually interested in him here than is usually presented.

Laura is treated as tragically as ever, although her after-dinner conversation with Jim is, while faithful to Williams' text, significantly lighter and funnier. This actually has the effect of making Jim's eventual rejection of her that much more painful to watch. Keeley is excellent as Laura, and makes the physically- and emotionally-stunted character touching without being pathetic.

For many, the main draw of the Taper's production will be the chance to see Ivey as Amanda Wingfield, who is probably Williams' most memorable female creation after/alongside Blanche DuBois. Ivey is great if at times overripe, the result perhaps of overindulging Amanda's "giddy and gay" side. She also seems to be channeling Beth Grant in Sordid Lives when she displays excessive sympathy ("Awwwwww, you're a Christian martyr, yes, that's what you are!") during her telephone calls to potential magazine subscribers. But when Amanda gets serious, so does Ivey, and she gives the woman a rage that eclipses any prior incarnation of Amanda I've seen.

I largely appreciated the production's more overt depiction of Tom's homosexual tendencies even if at times it felt excessive. Tom comes across as more flamboyant than usual and even speaks with a slight lisp; there are moments when he sounds like Truman Capote. An uncomfortable moment arises while he drunkenly relates his late-night encounter with "Malvolio the Magician" to his sister. With his pants down around his ankles and clad only in boxer shorts, Tom mounts his bed on all fours and makes it very clear that he served as one of the illusionist's "tricks"!

Edelstein & Company's Glass Menagerie certainly isn't our parents' version, but it makes for a revelatory and often enthralling night of theatre.

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

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reel Thoughts Interview: That Touch of Mink

When you meet Mink Stole, please suppress the urge to shout “Is this the C***sucker residence?!” or any other raunchy line from one of her classic John Waters films.

Right now, Stole (born Nancy Stoll in Waters’ beloved Baltimore) is having a ball touring the country as part of the Peaches Christ Experience in 4D, a wild throwback to the days of fright-master William Castle, who dressed up his often less-than-stellar films with totally immersive events and gimmicks at every screening. While you won’t have to worry about electrified seats (as in The Tingler) at All About Evil, almost anything else goes. “First of all, Peaches is fabulous. He’s such a dear and he’s really fun. We work really well together. Also, it gives me a chance to connect with people in a way that I can’t unless I’m there in person. I love meeting ... can I say it? I love meeting my fans.”

She’s excited to visit Phoenix for the first time (outside the airport), but she was concerned. “Are you illegal,” she asked. “Am I allowed to be talking to you? Cohen doesn’t sound Mexican, so I’m probably safe.”

Stole became a cult film icon through her frequent collaborations with her good friend Waters, including unforgettable work as Connie Marble, Divine’s nemesis in Pink Flamingos, Divine’s daughter Taffy Davenport in Female Trouble and poor put-upon divorcee Dottie Hinkle in Serial Mom. Since then, she has become the go-to woman with gay filmmakers like Q. Allan Brocka, who use Stole’s fame and popularity to enliven movies like Eating Out 2 and 3.

“It’s been almost twenty years since we made Serial Mom, but I’d say (I get recognized) far more for Serial Mom than from (John’s) earlier films. I love Dottie Hinkle. The older people remember me from Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, but the younger people remember Serial Mom,” she explained. “John creates these characters that do things we would all love to be able to do, but you can’t live like his film characters. You’d have no friends, you’d have no life,” she laughed.

“The great thing is that All About Evil brings me full circle. I made a film with Natasha Lyonne called But I’m a Cheerleader, where Bud Cort and I played her parents. We thought she was gay, so we sent her to a camp to make her straight. We kind of tortured her. So in All About Evil, Natasha gets to get me back.”

Stole is also an accomplished musician when not acting. “I’m in the recording studio with my band working on our first album, and I have to tell you, that’s making me happier than anything else. We’re having so much fun.” She describes her music as an eclectic mix of rock and swingy jazz. “Some of it’s moody and atmospheric and some of it’s more rock-y. You know, I should be on my third or fourth album, but I’m just starting on my first,” she admitted. “I’m feeling a sense of urgency.”

She’s excited for people to come out and enjoy the pre-show, in which she promises a duet with Peaches Christ. “But it’s all about All About Evil, it’s not about me. I love the film. I think it’s very funny, and I don’t like horror movies. I sort of watched it looking through my fingers.”

All About Evil: The Peaches Christ Experience in 4-D will screen at MADCAP Theaters in Tempe this Friday September 17.

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

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Divinely Inspired

“What is it you can’t face?”
— Mother Superior in The Sound of Music ... and The Divine Sister

Was there ever a line more hilariously misheard? I think not, and so, every night, did audiences lucky enough to see the latest Charles Busch masterpiece, The Divine Sister, which ended its sold-out run last February at the Theater for the New City and re-opens tonight at the Soho Playhouse. The line originated in The Sound of Music, but is used to much better effect in The Divine Sister. Holy crap, it’s hilarious, as a wacky Mother Superior (and former girl reporter) works her wiles on the people of Pittsburgh to get a new convent school built. Mother is of course played by Busch himself, and it’s a fabulous multifaceted role (with a hilariously dubbed musical number) that shows off Busch’s command of all cinematic religious heroines from The Singing Nun to The Trouble with Angels to Agnes of God to The Da Vinci Code.

The dream cast includes the sublime Julie Halston as Sister Acacius the wisecracking right hand nun and Alison Fraser as Sister Walburga, a Teutonic terror from “Der Mother Haus” in Berlin. And what about that nuisance of a Postulate, Agnes (Amy Rutberg), who keeps hearing the Lord’s voice(s) in her head? Is she suffering from Stigmata or ... something stickier? Jennifer Van Dyck, so lovely and funny in Busch's The Third Story, plays Pittsburgh’s richest woman and – gasp! – Atheist! , as well as (in an inspired performance) a young male student who is questioning his sexuality, much to Mother Superior’s dismay.

Agnes’ hysterics have brought media attention, not to mention a man from Mother’s pre-nun past. Will Mother Superior fall back into the arms of her former lover? Will Sister Acacius face what she can’t? Will the evil albino monk and his incognito confidante succeed in their nefarious plot to unseat Jesus as the true Messiah (who knew he had a sibling?)?

Busch channels Rosalind Russell, while Halston makes her Brooklyn sister a tough-talking treat. Watching Busch and Halston spar and joke together is like watching a classic comedy team in their prime, albeit in wimples. Rutberg is sweetly kooky as the addled Agnes and Fraser is a hoot as the fearsome frau.

The Divine Sister is Busch’s robust and raucous return to the downtown shows that made him famous, like Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party. The production design is ingeniously low tech, almost as if it were created by and for a Catholic grade school. The pillars and walls of St. Veronica’s are covered in bricks that bear the unmistakable look of kitchen sponges, while the grand chandelier that lowers to indicate the dowager’s mansion is made of gold-painted paper plates, plastic knives, forks and spoons. There’s plenty of Busch’s trademark one-liners and intelligent parody, and just enough gleeful vulgarity to salute its East Village roots.

These days, with the rabidly anti-gay agenda being pushed by the Catholic Church and the current Pope, it is refreshing to enjoy a show that celebrates a more innocent time in Catholicism where all you need for happiness is a saucy sister with a guitar.

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

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reverend’s Interview: Taking a Leap of Faith with Brad Anderson

The new Broadway-bound musical Leap of Faith, according to an openly gay principal cast member, “Isn’t about religion; it’s about one’s faith that something’s coming your way that you’ve been hoping for.”

I spoke with Brad Anderson about the show just a few days before same-sex marriages were scheduled to resume in California after Proposition 8 was struck down as unconstitutional (the resumption of marriages was subsequently stayed by a higher appeals court until at least the end of this year). The veteran actor and dancer plays Tom in Leap of Faith, which is having its world premiere tonight at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

“Tom is a local in the poor, drought-stricken town of Sweetwater, Kansas,” Anderson said. “He grew up there and is a good old guy. He’s also living in the closet and a little bit afraid.” Anderson compared his character’s plight to the long-hoped-for establishment of equal marriage rights for GLBT people.

Leap of Faith is adapted from the underrated 1992 movie, which starred Steve Martin as a minister and con artist named Jonas Nightengale. Nightengale brings his touring tent revival to Sweetwater hoping to score big. Complications arise, however, in the form of a young disabled boy who desperately needs a real miracle and the boy’s suspicious mother. When real miracles begin occurring, no one is more surprised than Nightengale.

“It’s a nice, feel-good musical that lifts your spirit and your soul,” Anderson told me. The songs were written by 8-time Academy Award-winner Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. Menken composed the score for the contemporary Disney classics The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Pocahontas. He and Slater last collaborated on the stage adaptation of The Little Mermaid and received a Tony Award nomination for it.

The production is being directed and choreographed by Tony-winner Rob Ashford. Anderson was in Ashford’s acclaimed revival of the musical Parade last year at the Mark Taper Forum. “I’ve known Rob for many years but we hadn’t worked together before Parade,” Anderson said. “Rob is great because he has a way — better than anyone I’ve worked with — of seeing the big picture in his head of what he wants.”

Leap of Faith is being headlined during its LA world premiere by two well-known and highly-regarded performers: Raúl Esparza and Brooke Shields. Esparza, who stars as Nightengale, has played gay or sexually-ambiguous characters on Broadway in The Rocky Horror Show, Cabaret and Boy George’s Taboo. The actor acknowledged in 2006 that he is bisexual and has had relationships with women and men.

“He’s amazing,” Anderson notes of the Tony-nominated Esparza. “He is such a talent. He trusts himself and just jumps in and goes for it. He is, in a word, committed.”

Anderson is equally effusive of Leap of Faith co-star Shields. “First thing: she’s gorgeous. She’s also a lovely woman. This is her first time originating a role in a brand new musical and she’s very excited about it.” Shields drew raves from critics and audiences alike when she took roles originated by other actresses in Cabaret and Wonderful Town.

Leap of Faith is scheduled to play the Ahmanson through October 24 before moving to New York. A number of recent stage musicals adapted from motion pictures have been big hits (The Lion King, Hairspray) while others have fizzled (9 to 5, Cry-Baby). Anderson is hopeful. “You’ve got all these people working together to make the best show possible,” he said. “It’s going great.”

Anderson summed up the musical’s meaning for him: “No matter what type of religion you hold, or don’t, we all need faith. That’s what this show is about.”

For further information or to purchase tickets, please visit the Center Theatre Group's official website. For a sneak preview of the title song, click here.

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