Saturday, October 30, 2010

MD Poll: Let's Sing a Gay Little Show Tune

In the mood for a little "Le Jazz Hot"? Or perhaps some "La Vie Boheme"? Do you have a "Wig in a Box" just waiting to do the "Time Warp" again? Is life, for you, a "Cabaret", ol' chum?

Then get out your tap shoes, Francis, this is the MD Poll for you! We've compiled a list of the biggest, gayest movie musicals of all time, and now it is your turn to pick, well, the biggest and gayest!

Choose your favorite and place your vote in the poll located in the right hand sidebar. Results will be revealed on Saturday December 18!

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

MD Poll: Bloody Good Costumes

When it comes to Halloween costumes for 2010, MD Poll-takers prefer theirs' with a little teeth... and a lot of blood... True Blood, that is. Of course, well all know that the vampires, werewolves, et al from that hit show spend most of their time in their birthday suits... which should make for some fun trick or treating this year.

Johnny Depp's take on the Mad Hatter came in a close second, while Glee's Sue Sylvester rounded on the top three Halloween costume ideas. See the comments section below for the complete stats.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Monsters & Magicians

With Halloween this Sunday, it would seem a most appropriate weekend for movies entitled Monsters and The Magician to be opening in Los Angeles and New York. However, neither is a traditional horror movie like Saw 3-D or Paranormal Activity 2, both of which are sure to be more popular at the box office.

Despite its gigantic, squid-like aliens from outer space that have crash-landed in northern Mexico, Monsters (from Magnet Releasing) conjured memories for me of Frank Capra's 1934 comedy classic, It Happened One Night. In that earlier film, Clark Cable plays a reporter who is employed by the wealthy father of an engaged heiress (Claudette Colbert) to hunt his runaway daughter down and escort her home. The sci-fi and serious Monsters similarly has a publishing tycoon hiring one of his lower-level, Mexico-based photographers to safely accompany his soon-to-be-married daughter (well played by real-life partners Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able) across the "infected zone" that bumps up against the US border. In both films, the two protagonists end up falling in love before the end.

Monsters, written and directed by Gareth Edwards, is a marvel of low budget (reportedly less than $500,000), economic storytelling that boasts impressive visual effects. In addition to the title creatures, there are effective shots of destroyed cities and buildings as well as spectacular, all-natural views of Central American landscapes and sunsets. The actors aren't as accomplished but they don't hamper Edwards' efforts to tell a thoroughly compelling story.

One can ascribe various parallels and analogies to Monsters, with the plight of human immigrants from the southern hemisphere being the most obvious but the difficulty we have accepting anyone/anything different from ourselves also apparent. Although the movie is set in the present day, we are told at the outset that a NASA probe carrying samples of an alien life form broke up over Mexico six years prior. A massive concrete wall was subsequently built by the US along the border with Mexico, which the powerful yet sympathetic aliens end up breaching (not surprisingly) by the film's end.

The Magician (Regent Releasing), meanwhile, has little in common with either classic comedy or sci-fi movies. Rather, it is an Australian-based faux documentary about a vicious hit man, identified simply as "Ray." The film's title refers to Ray's ability to make his victims disappear without a trace.

A cameraman/interviewer (referred to as "Max") follows Ray as he kidnaps, beats and/or kills numerous subjects, most of whom are drug dealers or addicts who have fallen behind in their payments. Both Max and Ray emulate The Dirty Dozen for its "good actors, like Jim Brown and (erroneously) Clint Eastwood."

Midway through, The Magician inexplicably takes a gay-interest turn, as Max begins to question Ray about the Sydney Mardi Gras and gay actors in Hollywood. Max also calls Ray "beautiful" and "charming" and lovingly records the killer as he works out in their hotel room. Ray goes along with most of this but protests vehemently once Max expresses his intention to share a bed with Ray while naked.

The Magician is a fairly pointless and not particularly well accomplished exercise, although Scott Ryan (who also wrote and directed) gives an impressive, charismatic performance as Ray. Shot in 2005, the film is only now making its US debut in a triple feature with Eichmann and Shake Hands with the Devil, which similarly focus on morally questionable deeds and those who commit them. Together, they could make for a frighteningly true-to-life movie going experience. Happy Halloween!

Reverend's Ratings:
Monsters: B
The Magician: C-

UPDATE: Monsters 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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tune in to TCM: Moguls & Movie Stars

With their brand new documentary series Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, Turner Classic Movies lives up to its sterling reputation as the finest purveyor of all things grandly cinematic. Whether you’re a seasoned cinephile or a film novice who doesn’t know a Griffith from a Goldwyn, this epic, seven-part series (premiering this Monday, November 1, on TCM) will offer plenty of insight on how the movies were born and evolved over the past century.

Divided into one-hour episodes covering roughly each decade, from the 1900s to the 1960s, Moguls & Movie Stars presents a rich history of the art — and business — of moviemaking. Along the way, one discovers that this is also the story of America, as such historical touchstones as the Great Depression, World War II and the age of television drastically affected the players involved… and the movies they made.

And what a cast of characters, from the immigrants who rose from poverty to create and control their own Hollywood “Dream Factories” to the actors and actresses who, defying the odds, ascended the ranks to become “American royalty”, a.k.a. “movie stars”. A veritable “Who’s Who” of the Hollywood elite can be seen (both in clips from their screen classics and in rare behind-the-scenes footage), including Pickford, Gish, Chaplin, Valentino, Keaton, Garbo, Cagney, Davis, Gable, Hepburn, Grant, Stewart, Crawford, Bogart, Astaire, Garland, Rooney, Wayne, Brando, Dean, Monroe… and the list goes on.

Narrated by Christopher Plummer, the series features commentary by a host of film experts, historians and critics, including Peter Bogdonovich, Sidney Lumet, Leonard Maltin, Molly Haskell, David Thomson, Gore Vidal and (naturally) TCM host Robert Osborne. Also on hand to provide personal reminiscences are several descendants of the great movie moguls of the past, such as Richard Zanuck and Samuel Goldwyn, Jr.

Each new episode of Moguls & Movie Stars will air Mondays through December 13, with encore presentations the following Wednesday.  A brief panel discussion, hosted by Osborne, will be presented after each of the Wednesday repeats as well.

In conjunction with Moguls & Movie Stars, TCM will also screen several hard to see classic films each Monday night throughout the run of the series. Rare titles scheduled to air include Traffic in Souls, Within Our Gates, The Poor Little Rich Girl, The Squaw Man, Sunrise, Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and Show People, as well as collections of short film from the likes of Thomas Edison, D.W. Griffith and Georges Méliès.

UPDATE: Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood is now available on DVD from

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: B Movie

From the land of Eva Peron, Argentina, comes the satisfyingly unpredictable Plan B (available on DVD today courtesy of Wolfe Video and Oh My Gomez! Films). When Bruno (Manuel Vignau) finds himself unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend, Laura (Mercedes Quinteros), he begins to plot his revenge. He befriends her new boyfriend, Pablo (Lucas Ferraro, who looks like a buffer version of Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal from Y Tu Mamá También), with the intention of hooking him up with another woman. However, when Bruno is informed by a mutual friend (erroneously, it turns out) that the oblivious Pablo has had sex with a man, Bruno decides to break him and his ex up by seducing Pablo himself.

Since they work out together at the same gym, Bruno is able to approach Pablo easily. They bond over the Lost-esque, fictional TV series Blind and quickly discover other mutual interests. Soon, they are sleeping over at each other's apartments. "You are like my 12-year old friend," Pablo tells Bruno, "and I don't want to share you."

Things only get more complicated from there. Marco Berger, the director of Plan B, and his cast have a great sense of timing and pacing. Berger also allows the camera to linger frequently and lovingly over Bruno's and Pablo's sleeping bodies, clad only in briefs. Despite both men's professed heterosexuality, they become more attracted to and emotionally involved with each other. The two start out rather off-puttingly grungy, needing shaves and haircuts. By the film's end, however, each has undergone a metrosexual transformation.

Plan B is the latest entry in a growing number of films from Latin America (From Beginning to End and Undertow (Contracorriente) being other recent examples) that challenge assumptions regarding male relationships. I, for one, appreciate these filmmakers' willingness to explore the shades of grey that can color friendships and even sibling relations. As one of the central characters in Plan B tells the other, "Whatever you do won't change what should be"; if only all men were so enlightened.

Reverend's Rating: A-

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Who's the Pimp?

Few topics remain as potentially incendiary as the historical, second-class role of African-Americans in US society... except, of course, discussion of the continuing secondary (though rapidly evolving) place that GLBT Americans hold. However, the smart if sometimes overbearing GhettoPhysics, which opened in Los Angeles this past weekend and will expand nationally, posits that the citizens of the world are overwhelmingly, often unconsciously at the beck and call of powerful corporations and other institutions that use our dependence and productivity to cement their status and success.

GhettoPhysics — which is subtitled Will the Real Pimps and Hos Please Stand Up? — is the brainchild of professor and author E. Raymond Brown and William Arntz, who was a co-director of the similarly provocative but well-received 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? Like that earlier exploration of metaphysics, the new movie uses a combination of on-screen lecture, dramatized and animated sequences, and interviews with professionals in such fields as race, sociology, entertainment and religion to expose "the truth" and motivate viewers toward change.

"Everyone is making someone else's pocket fatter," according to one interviewee in the film. While it may be easy for us to picture an immediate employer or business for whom we work on a day-to-day basis and think of this statement as accurate, the filmmakers argue that each of us is more often than not a "ho" in the time-honored tradition of servitude to a protective but demanding "pimp" on a much grander scale. As another speaker says, "Pimps and hos are the simplest, rawest dynamic that is reflected everywhere" in modern life.

These archetypes ultimately exist beyond the black and prostitute communities to encompass every human being. Examples of "pimps" cited in the film include truth-spinning/-denying US presidents from Nixon on; Queen Elizabeth II; various popes including Benedict XVI; and credit card, oil, insurance and drug companies. To illustrate the latter, GhettoPhysics contains a hilarious faux commercial for "Clarodolotex," an all-purpose medication with such frightening potential side effects as foul back odor and gremlins! Also amusing and effective is a "World Pimp Awards" device that nails former Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Praised educator-writer Cornel West and legendary TV producer Norman Lear offer great insights into "The Game," the power struggle between life's pimps and hos in which we all participate as one or the other. While acknowledging that "we all start out as hos," one can become a pimp the more one understands and plays The Game." You get pimped if you're naïve," West states, while another commentator concludes "We all have a pimp and a ho within us."

GhettoPhysics is frequently fascinating in content and execution, but some of the techniques employed by Arntz and Brown are grating. The classroom over which Brown presides is filled with obvious non-students, and a secondary story about one student having her scholarship taken away unjustly is excessive and amateurishly acted. There is also an embarrassingly incongruous, borderline-racist scene in which Brown appears on a fictional TV talk show and essentially humiliates the host, an Asian woman who speaks broken English.

The movie provides considerable food for thought and while it doesn't address GLBT concerns specifically, it is important for GLBT viewers to think of the implications for ourselves and our community. How are we perhaps hos to the pimps that alcohol companies and lube and condom manufacturers can be, especially at Gay Pride time, or to films and TV series that continue to make GLBT characters peripheral or comedy relief?

See GhettoPhysics and emerge a ho no mo'!

Reverend's Rating: B

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: DVD Tricks & Treats

Halloween is here, and it isn't just the domain of confectionaries and costume designers any more. Rather, GLBT filmmakers and production companies have gotten into the act with movies and home video releases. Some of their current or upcoming DVDs are thematically-appropriate to the season, while others are just trying to beat the end-of-the-year holiday rush. Predictably, not all of them are of equal quality, with a few the cinematic equivalent of finding a razor blade in one's caramel apple.

I had high hopes for Stuck!, out on DVD November 9 from Ariztical Entertainment. With a cast that includes Karen Black, Mink Stole and The Go-Gos' Jane Wiedlin, this send up of 1950's women-in-prison movies just screams potential camp classic, at least on paper. In execution, it is a rarely humorous affair. Young, naïve Daisy (Starina Johnson) is wrongfully accused of murdering her mother thanks to her histrionic, nearly blind neighbor (Black, the best and funniest thing in the film). Sentenced to hang, Daisy meets a variety of unusual women on death row, some all too eager to make her nubile, virginal acquaintance.

The movie, directed by Steve Balderson, gets a lot of the physical period details right in the costumes, hairstyles and sets. Unfortunately, Stuck! is more serious than funny and goes on too long, by and large wasting the talented cast in the process.

Also out on DVD November 9 and even more worthy of criticism is David's Birthday (Wolfe Video). This Italian melodrama by the director of 2003's superior Adored: Diary of a Porn Star has pretensions of operatic tragedy with its story of a conflicted married man attracted to his best friends' college-age son. The film ends up being conflicted itself and the result is a far-from-gay-affirming tale.

With its opening scenes from a performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde that the principal characters are watching, we know that one or more of the love stories in David's Birthday is going to end badly. As one of the operagoers remarks, "It's about a love so absolute, so devastating; who wouldn't want that?" It turns out that Matteo (played by Massimo Poggio) does, and he wants it with David, the gorgeous young man of the film's title (played by the appropriately gorgeous Thyago Alves). Matteo is seemingly happily married to Francesca (the great Maria de Medeiros, who played the bisexual writer Anaïs Nin in 1990's Henry & June). But when Matteo and Francesca visit David's parents at their summer rental on the Italian seashore, the stage is set for romance, infidelity and disaster.

David's Birthday is a beautifully shot and well-acted movie (although Poggio doesn't pull off a drunk scene convincingly), but to call the character of Matteo and the screenplay in general overwrought would be an understatement. By the time Matteo finally acts on his excessively-suppressed infatuation with David, with predictably devastating consequences, you'll likely be ready to throw yourself into the Mediterranean.

But don't despair! Now that I've gone through your trick-or-treat bag and pointed out the bad stuff, there are a few home video goodies left over. The best is Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives from Breaking Glass Pictures, which is playing at Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theatre in Los Angeles starting today prior to its November 9 DVD release.

Although GLAAD denounced the film as "transphobic" and protested its premiere this summer at the Tribeca Film Festival, I can attest that Ticked-Off Trannies is hardly offensive to anyone in the Trans, Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual community who has a sense of humor. GLAAD's reaction to the movie also confirms for me why I've been reluctant to donate lately to this historically commendable but, more recently, somewhat schizophrenic organization. Why is GLAAD attacking a well-intentioned and talented member of our community — in this case, openly gay writer-director Israel Luna — rather than non-GLBT filmmakers who so often make us look bad?

Ticked-Off Trannies is a lovingly crafted homage to/critique of the women's exploitation movies of the 1970's, in which abused women would eventually exact revenge on the men who raped or beat them or killed their female friend(s). Luna wittily revives the grainy film stock, over-exposed shots, jumpy editing and fast zoom shoots of the era, not unlike Quentin Tarantino did a few years back with his tribute, Grindhouse. Here, though, the women are transgender and the film's pop cultural sensibility is decidedly modern. To wit, one character exclaims "Jesus Christ Meryl Streep, girl!" while another tells the film's rapist-murderer (named "Boner"), "If I saw you on Facebook, I'd ignore you and report you!"

The girls are understandably upset when Boner and his henchmen kill one member of their gang and leave another for dead. Suitably, the survivors plot and execute nasty, excessively violent vengeance against the men who did them wrong. A Kung Fu-esque martial arts training sequence (!) in the film's mid-section provides the women with the extra advantage they'll need to take out their misogynist, homophobic adversaries.

With names like Emma Grashun, Rachel Slurr and Tipper Sommore, neither the "trannies" nor the film's plot are to be taken too seriously. It's unfortunate that GLAAD apparently did so. Don't let their misguided condemnation of this movie keep you from having a hilarious, trans-glorifyingly good time.

BearCity, out on DVD November 16 from TLA, isn't quite as good but is still enjoyable, especially if you are a member of the bear/cub/wolf subculture (sub-species?) within the gay community. Not being a part of the scene, this film served as an interesting exploration for me.

Young, thin actor Tyler (Joe Conti) has a secret he hasn't even shared with his twink best friend, Simon (cute Alex DiDio): he's attracted to bigger, hairier men. Tyler rents a room from a bear-cub couple, unaware that they are looking to spice up their relationship with a potential threesome. He also makes the acquaintance of another couple, Michael and Carlos. Michael (played by Gregory Gunter) is a larger, older man who wants to undergo the "lap band" procedure to lose weight. His younger, in-shape partner, Carlos (James Martinez), likes him just the way he is (Carlos lovingly refers to Michael as "Gordito") and is horrified by Michael's decision.

Michael and Carlos's situation adds a deeper, unexpectedly touching dimension to the mostly comedic or sexual shenanigans in BearCity. The script, by Doug Langway and Lawrence Ferber, features nice, authentic repartee among the guys but can't quite decide whether to show the bear lifestyle as wholesome or debauched. That discrepancy and some truly awful original songs keep me from rating BearCity too highly, but one can do a lot worse at Halloween or any other time of year.

While I wasn't as high on it as many GLBT viewers have been since its theatrical release in July, The Kids Are All Right will make its Blu-Ray and DVD debut on November 16, just in time for Thanksgiving. The film, which boasts excellent performances by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple raising two teenagers, may serve as ideal, post-meal viewing for you and yours.

Reverend's Ratings:
Stuck!: C-
David's Birthday: D
Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives: B+
BearCity: C+
The Kids Are All Right: B-

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Toon Talk: The Big Blue

Continuing in the grand tradition of such superlative nature documentaries as the True-Life Adventures and last year’s Earth, DisneyNature’s Oceans (available on Disney DVD and Blu-ray this week) takes viewers on a breathtaking, eye-opening adventure to the bottom of the sea and back.

As directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud (makers of the Oscar nominated Winged Migration), Oceans introduces you to a wide variety of creatures both in and out of the water. The cast of thousands include ghost-like jellyfish, darting and spinning dolphins, piggybacking sea turtles, sunbathing walruses and the endlessly fascinating denizens of a coral reef, among many, many others.

Actor Pierce Brosnan narrates soothingly, frequently stepping back to let the stunning visuals have their say. And what stunning visuals you’ll see, from a feeding frenzy punctuated by torpedoing gulls, to a cyclone of fish morphing before your eyes into a living, pulsating globe, to a pair of humpback whales peacefully sleeping, nose down. You’ll even witness the unlikely sight of a spider crab “gang war”.

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of the Oceans Blu-ray at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: The Girl's Road Comes to an End

Lisbeth Salander — the bisexual avenging angel at the center of Stieg Larsson's Millennium bestselling book trilogy and the successful Swedish films based on them (an Americanized version, starring Daniel Craig and relative newcomer Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, is currently in production) — is largely neutered, disappointingly, in the movie adaptation of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. It is scheduled to open in US theaters starting October 29.

Admittedly, Lisbeth was left barely alive at the end of the second film, The Girl Who Played With Fire. The new, final film in the trilogy picks up right where its predecessor left off, with the battered Lisbeth in surgery to remove a bullet from her head. Lisbeth recovers nicely and undergoes physical therapy with the help of her kindly, attractive attending physician even as the surviving architects of a 1970's-era conspiracy are plotting against her and Lisbeth's journalist-protector, Mikael Blomkvist (played in the Swedish version by Michael Nyqvist).

Blomkvist works at uncovering the members of "The Section," a rogue group of former secret agents responsible for having helped Lisbeth's evil father, Zalachenko, defect from the USSR in 1976. Since Lisbeth is under arrest for attempting (justly) to kill her dear old murderous dad, Blomkvist and his staff at Millennium magazine are set to publish an article in her defense. They all subsequently begin to receive ominous threats from Zalachenko's old pals, and the ground is laid for an explosive showdown between the forces of truth and those of darkness.

As one character states of Lisbeth's patriarchal plight, "It's like a classic Greek tragedy." Alas, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is mostly talk and little action. Lisbeth is given little to do this time around aside from lay in a hospital bed, do push-ups in her post-recovery jail cell, and hurl a few insults at Dr. Teleborian, the psychiatrist who abused her as a child, during her climactic trial. She does have a physical confrontation with her vicious, pain-immune brother, Ronald Niedermann, by film's end but even it seems perfunctory.

Since Lisbeth is under sedation and/or observation throughout the film, there is no opportunity for her to engage in the sexual hijinks with both women and Blomkvist that she did in the first two movies. Actress Noomi Rapace remains a strong presence as Lisbeth and is worthy of end-of-the-year awards consideration for her memorable work in the trilogy (beginning with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). However, the character comes across as much more of a victim in this edition, even though we've seen more explicit footage of Lisbeth actually being abused in the prior two, superior movies. I haven't read Larsson's source novels and therefore can't compare the films to them, but I have to ask whether the late author and/or the filmmakers are indulging the old stereotype that women abused by men when they are young grow up to be lesbians or bisexuals?

Hopefully, the upcoming English-language versions of Larsson's books won't take such a conflicted stance on Lisbeth's sexuality. The Swedes, though, have traditionally been more permissive/explicit in their films than we often-puritanical Americans. I pray the filmmakers learn that Lisbeth Salander is not a woman to be taken lightly.

Reverend's Rating: B-

UPDATE: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: A Hag By Any Other Name

Writer-director H.P. Mendoza establishes himself as a promising filmmaker with Fruit Fly, out on DVD October 19. It serves as Mendoza's directorial debut following the well-received 2006 movie Colma: The Musical, for which he wrote the script and songs.

Like Colma, Fruit Fly is also a San Francisco-based musical that pokes gentle if occasionally raunchy fun at GLBT life. Talented actress L.A. Renigen plays Bethesda, a Filipina performance artist recently arrived in the US against the advice of her over-protective aunt, who tells Bethesda bluntly "I had a dream Osama Bin-Laden bombed San Francisco." She moves into an apartment with various former and hopeful theatre types that include the jaded building owner (the dry but very funny Don Wood), a contentious lesbian couple, and a gay lighting designer, Windham (the charming Mike Curtis).

Bethesda is hoping to secure a space at a local black box theater but finds herself in competition with the self-absorbed Gaz (Christian Cagigal), to whom she naturally becomes attracted. As she simultaneously grows close to Windham and his circle of gay friends, Bethesda must confront the distinct possibility that she is a "Fruit Fly" or, worse, a "Fag Hag". Viewers get to know her and the film's other, colorful yet believable characters through such clever Mendoza-penned songs as "Public Transit," the bus-set opening number; "Enough About Me," Gaz's narcissistic anthem; the fun and well-staged production number "Fag Hag"; and "We Have So Much in Common," in which Windham and Mark, a fellow "versatile bottom" (played by Mendoza), sing of their questionable sexual compatibility.

Unlike many a low-budget independent film, the acting in Fruit Fly is consistently good. Since Mendoza goes the extra mile making it a musical, I wish the cast members' singing was as up-to-snuff. Also, the generally very funny movie gets serious and borderline morose at the mid-point, but it recovers well by the finale. Fruit Fly and Mendoza are definitely worth watching.

Reverend's Rating: B

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

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Actor Factor: Acts of Desperation

Desperate Housewives launched its sixth season (now available on DVD) doing what it does best: taking everyday suburban situations, mixing them with a dose of malevolent mystery and raising them to a sort of absurdist operetta. The opening episode's breeze along adhering to the show's standard but effective formula. Even after five seasons, the now extremely familiar residents of Wisteria Lane can still entertain, surprise, engage and reveal something new about themselves. Unfortunately, about halfway through the season, the show takes a dark and heavy-handed turn, which stretches the bounds of believability even for Desperate Housewives.

The season opens with a strong episode, “Nice is Different Than Good,” picking up with last year's cliffhanger and quickly revealing the identity of Mike's bride (okay, it's Susan) and catching us up with the other characters in Fairview. Lynette and Tom (Felicity Huffman and Doug Savant) are dealing with the reality of becoming parents again in their forties, Bree and Orson (Marcia Cross and Kyle MacLachlan) are still at marital odds, and the situation is not being helped by Bree's affair with Susan's ex-husband, Karl (Richard Burgi.) Gabby and Carlos (Eva Longoria Parker and Ricardo Antonio Chavira) find themselves playing host to the latter's troubled and dangerously gorgeous teenage niece. Katherine (Dana Delany) is not handling Mike and Susan's remarriage well (in fact, she's down right crazy.) To top it all off, the obligatory mysterious-newcomers-with-a-dark-secret, Angie and Nick Bolen (Drea de Matteo and Jeffrey Nordling) have taken up residence in dead narrator Mary Alice's former house.

The season certainly has its high points. Gabby starts home schooling Juanita (Madison De la Garza) when the latter is withdrawn from school after both she and Gabby use some colorful language. Lynette's struggles with her feelings about her mid-life pregnancy give Felicity Huffman a chance to use her always-impressive range. Dana Delany finally gets a good storyline when a new and unconventional romance presents itself to Katherine. Marcia Cross and Kyle MacLachlan do some of their best work ever, with the help of some very fine writing, as Bree and Orson, in the season's final episodes, struggle to save their marriage. However, the most consistent storylines this year are Susan's, and Terri Hatcher continues to impress and surprise with both her comedic and dramatic range. She proves herself an agile pole dancer as well.

Drea de Matteo is a welcome addition to the cast, and her chemistry with the other actors works surprisingly well. Kathryn Joosten's role as Karen McCluskey is gratefully expanded this season, as are the characters of supporting gay couple Bob and Lee (Tuc Watkins and Kevin Rahm). Andrea Bowen returns as Susan's daughter, Julie, and Shawn Pyfrom makes several guest appearances as Bree's gay son, Andrew. A talent to watch is Julie Benz, who portrays a former stripper named Robin who has a profound effect on the women of Wisteria Lane — one in particular.

Unfortunately, the season also has far many lower points than usual. Lynette's plot to hide her pregnancy from boss Carlos starts out amusingly enough but spirals into a bitterness that goes on too long (even when watching back-to-back episodes on DVD), and the storyline is cheaply resolved in the prerequisite mid-season catastrophe episode “Boom Crunch.” This episode is followed by the even weaker and ultimately pointless “If”, which is saved only in part by Teri Hatcher in a fat suit and some strong work (in a forced scene) by Felicity Huffman. There are far too many psychopaths lining up in the final few episodes as well, including a stranger (Sam Page, channeling a preppy Eddie Haskal) trying to take over Bree's company, a be-sweatered and murderous Eco-terrorist played by the charmingly miscast John Barrowman of Torchwood fame, and last-but-not-least the Mayfair Strangler!

The revelation of the Strangler's identity is probably the most unbelievable revelation in DH history (considering the character could probably be taken down by Juanita and Celia Solis in a fair fight.) Furthermore, when normally intelligent Lynette begins to piece together the truth about the killer, she is such a bad detective, even Nancy Drew second bananas Bess and George would mock Lynette's sleuthing abilities.

Despite the season's shortcomings, the show remains entertaining and maintains an overall quality and freshness that is rarely found in a television show in its sixth season (or first season for that matter.) This year's guess-who's-back! cliffhanger also bodes well for better things to come next year.

The DVD's extras feature some excellent deleted scenes, a Mike Delfino (James Denton) man-on-man kiss in the blooper reel, and a not-to-be-missed interview with the cast by Muppet stars Miss Piggy and Pepe the Prawn. Also included in the extras are favorite scenes from the season “Cherry-Picked” by show creator Marc Cherry. Ironically, one of the favorite scenes he chooses is one I found rather forced and clumsy. However, hearing his commentary regarding the scene certainly gives one a sense of the time, craft, love and attention that goes into this show.

Desperate Housewives has set the bar pretty high for itself, and though it may miss its own mark at times this season, it remains one of the best written, acted and produced shows on television. When a sixth season of a show can still keep its audience hoping for a seventh season, it must be doing something right.

The Actor Factor: A View from Both Sides of the Camera is by James Jaeger, Los Angeles based actor and resident television critic of Movie Dearest.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: From Boy to Man

Today, October 9th, would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday if he hadn't been brutally murdered in 1980. The singer-songwriter and former Beatle left behind a significant musical and political legacy, of which today's younger generation may not be fully aware. Nowhere Boy, a docudrama about Lennon's childhood and teen years now playing in Los Angeles and New York and expanding nationally soon, doesn't delve into this but it does provide an informative, unexpectedly emotional glimpse into the formative experiences of an eventual icon.

In mid-1950's, post-WWII Liverpool, American rock & roll was making a significant impression on British teens as well as their Yank counterparts. Teenager John Lennon (Aaron Johnson, a star on the rise between this and playing the title role of Kick-Ass earlier this year) was already a disciplinary challenge at his private high school. Taken in as a young boy by his Aunt Mimi (the always reliable Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George (a brief but enjoyable turn by David Threlfall), John becomes even more difficult after George's unexpected death.

Things don't get any less complicated for young John or Mimi when his birth mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff of The Magdalene Sisters and The Last Station), re-enters the picture. Long haunted by sketchy memories of Julia, John finally gets the opportunity to put the puzzle pieces of his childhood together. The answers don't come without a price, including an intense, pseudo-incestuous relationship with Julia. In the process, though, John discovers an interest in sex and, most critically, in music.

Nowhere Boy was nominated for numerous 2010 BAFTA awards, including Outstanding British Film and Best Supporting Actress nods for both Thomas and Duff. The women are excellent both separately and together as long-estranged sisters who ultimately find some degree of reconciliation through their mutual love for John. Johnson is fine as the future rock star if more cut from photogenic, leading man stock than Lennon was. 17-year old Thomas Brodie Sangster (Nanny McPhee) is probably the best casting, short of going back in a time machine and fetching young Paul McCartney to play himself.

Questions have been raised over the decades about John Lennon's possible bisexuality. A prior film, Christopher Munch's acclaimed The Hours and Times (1991), speculated about the depth of John's relationship with Brian Epstein, the Beatles' gay manager. The pair took a private trip to Spain in the early 1960's and rumors have persisted ever since that theirs was more than a professional relationship, although Lennon denied that he and Epstein ever "consummated" their admittedly "intense" feelings for each other.

Similarly, if not as salaciously, Nowhere Boy hints that John's lifelong friendship with boyhood pal Pete Shotton (played by newcomer Josh Bolt) contained some degree of sexual attraction. Lennon reportedly often referred to himself and Pete as "The Terrible Twins." At one point in the movie, Pete mentions nonchalantly to John that he wished he had breasts like a girl so the two of them could mess around.

The film's script was written by Matt Greenhalgh, who is apparently becoming the go-to screenwriter for films about musicians after penning 2007's Control, the award-winning expose of the band Joy Division. His screenplay for Nowhere Boy is a bit by-the-numbers and sketchy at times, especially when dealing with Julia's mental and relational instability. Sam Taylor-Wood, a protégé of the late writer-director Anthony Minghella, does an admirable job with her feature film debut and draws great, emotionally expressive performances from the cast.

Of course, John Lennon is most remembered for his music and often philosophical lyrics, including such songs as "Imagine," "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Give Peace a Chance." Nowhere Boy certainly doesn't do or depict anything that diminishes their enduring power or Lennon's ongoing influence.

Reverend's Rating: B

UPDATE: Nowhere Boy 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.