Monday, November 29, 2010

Toon Talk: Hair Apparent

It only took 50 films, but Disney finally got around to their version of the classic Grimms’ fairy tale Rapunzel with their latest animated feature Tangled (now in theaters).

You remember Rapunzel; she’s the princess with the really, really long hair who is trapped in a castle and is rescued by “letting down her hair” for a passing prince charming. As you may recall, there’s not a lot of story between the “once upon a time” and the “happily ever after” in this one, so Disney has taken several necessary liberties, such as beefing up the role of the male lead (which I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with the studio wanting the film to appeal to boys as well as girls… ).

Flynn Ryder, Master of the Smolder

In this telling, Rapunzel (voiced, rather blandly, by Mandy Moore) was kidnapped as a baby from her royal parents by the passive aggressively vain Mother Gothel (Tony Award winner Donna Murphy, chewing all the digital scenery in sight), the only person who knows that the blonde babe holds the secret to eternal youth in her golden locks. In order to keep Rapunzel’s powers to herself, she has locked up the poor waif in a remote tower, refusing to allow her to leave… or to cut her hair.

Like many a Disney princess (and Stockholm syndrome victim) before her, Rapunzel yearns to visit the outside world, and the opportunity to do so arises with the unexpected arrival of one Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi, a.k.a. Chuck from Chuck), a hunky thief who fancies himself the greatest in the land. A deal is struck between them and before you can say “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair”, the unlikely duo is off on their clandestine adventure, with Mother Gothel in hot pursuit...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Tangled at

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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reverend’s Reviews: A Movie Christmas to All!

The cavalcade of Yuletide-themed movies and TV shows seems to grow longer and denser with each passing year. When I was a kid, we only really had the Rankin-Bass animated specials such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to look forward to, as well as It’s a Wonderful Life and a few film adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Each December now brings a number of new productions intended to help a cheer-hungry public ring in the holidays… and make a tidy profit for their backers in the process.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (opening December 3 in New York and in Los Angeles on December 10) is a clever horror-comedy suitable for older teens and adults. In Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander’s feature film debut, an archaeological team uncovers biological evidence behind a local Santa Claus-related legend. Whereas Northern European Christians believed St. Nicholas rewarded well-behaved children at Christmas time, they also told stories of a massive horned beast — the Krampus — that would punish naughty boys and girls by beating them, carrying them to Hell and/or eating them.

In Rare Exports, the Krampus is all too real if in a temporary state of suspended animation, and it comes complete with vicious, protective “elves” awakened by the archaeological dig. A little boy, Pietari (endearingly played by Onni Tommila), notices his friends are starting to disappear along with his neighbors’ potato sacks and electrical appliances. As Pietari realizes what’s going on, it falls to him to convince his father and other adults in town before the Krampus regains its strength and goes on a rampage.

Helander has an excellent visual style in addition to his storytelling skills. He is assisted very well here by cinematographer Mika Orasmaa. The film’s low budget is at times apparent and ultimately prohibits an all-out presentation of monster mayhem, but Rare Exports still boasts fine acting (Peeter Jakobi, who plays “Santa” initially, is creepily good) and impressive if minimal special effects. The screenplay features inspiring messages common to the holiday movie genre about faith (in this case, “Always believe… always”) and family, as well as a very funny finale. This is a must-see for anyone interested in a darker take on Christmas myths and traditions.

Happy Holidays is another new, frequently funny if less-than-“merry and bright” Christmas story. It is currently available for viewing on Hulu, iTunes and Amazon On Demand but will be screening theatrically this December in New York, various New England cities, and Los Angeles (visit the film's official website for details).

Set in Connecticut, the plot revolves around a gay man, Patrick (the engaging Paul Hungerford). The pet groomer backs out of their planned trip to see his partner’s family for Christmas when an old high school friend calls with a crisis. Alden (John Crye) has turned down his longtime girlfriend’s marriage proposal, primarily because he has recently converted to Judaism and she isn’t Jewish. Alden’s conversion is news to Patrick, but he feels guilty about Alden spending Christmas alone even if his friend is no longer celebrating the holiday.

The two are soon reunited with another friend from their high school days, Kirby (Thomas Rhoads, who does a great job of making his unpleasant character likable). Kirby is back in town for his father’s funeral, so Patrick and Alden are duly sympathetic at first. Things change, though, once they discover Kirby cheating on his wife and Kirby begins speaking negatively of Patrick and his partner’s relationship.

The talented James C. Ferguson, who wrote and directed Happy Holidays, seems to have taken many cues from the cinematic master of East Coast angst, Woody Allen. While the film’s seriocomic dialogue is perhaps most reminiscent of Hannah and Her Sisters, Ferguson chose to shoot in black and white à la such Allen works as Manhattan, Stardust Memories and Celebrity (as Allen has often drawn from the b&w style of Ingmar Bergman). The photography is great except in a gym-set scene, during which the actors’ faces appear murkier than need be.

Ferguson’s script and the film are best when it keeps things light; the characters’ more serious conversations tend to be too long and intense. Most of Happy Holidays is smart and frequently amusing, especially its score that has fun with Christmas and period music stylings. The opening jazzy title music instantly brings Charlie Brown’s “Christmas Time is Here” to mind and the film’s closing song, “Happy Generic Winter Holiday,” is a hoot.

Finally, the holiday season can’t be called complete by gay men until all have seen Make the Yuletide Gay. This occasionally amateurish but sweet-natured and thoroughly enjoyable comedy by Rob Williams (of the more recent, award-winning Role/Play) was released on DVD earlier this year by TLA Releasing.

Beyond these three movies, one can rightly wonder how to begin sifting through the glut of mediocre movie merriment each year to find the true seasonal gifts? Fortunately, gay film critic Alonso Duralde has ridden to the rescue! The author of 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men has just published Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas (Limelight Editions), a handy guide to virtually every film that has anything remotely to do with the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

What I enjoy most about reading another critic’s take on a particular genre is learning more about movies I’ve never seen and, in a few cases, never heard of. In this regard, I’ve put several films Duralde mentions on my “must see” list this season provided I can hunt them all down. They include the French films La Buche and A Christmas Tale; the 1944 film noir-musical Christmas Holiday, starring Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin; The Silent Partner, a heist movie featuring Christopher Plummer as a villainous mall Santa; and the documentary The Store, which focuses on a Neiman-Marcus store in Texas weathering the all-important holiday season.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale: B+
Happy Holidays: B
Make the Yuletide Gay: C+

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Loves of a Fisherman

The gay romance Undertow (a.k.a. Contracorriente), which won the World Cinema Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival and has recently been selected as Peru's official entry in this year's Academy Awards, opens in limited release this weekend.

Beautifully rendered by writer-director Javier Fuentes-Leon and his excellent cast, Undertow is set in a small, predominantly Catholic fishing village. It is home to Miguel (Cristian Mercado) and his wife, Mariela (Tatiana Astengo), who are expecting their first child. A well-regarded fisherman whose devotion to his marriage is unquestioned, Miguel is described as being "on good terms with God." Mariela and their neighbors consider it a quirk that Miguel is more interested in watching the TV soap opera Right to Love than the national sport of soccer.

The conservative community is also the current home of Santiago (Manolo Cardona), an itinerant, openly gay painter. Unbeknownst to anyone as the film begins, Miguel and Santiago have been having an affair. Miguel doesn't consider himself homosexual and bristles when Santiago brings the term up but he also can't stand the thought of Santiago leaving, which the artist plans to do as the birth of Miguel's son grows near.

Before then, and in the wake of an argument between the two men, Santiago disappears. After missing for several days, Santiago reappears in Miguel's home, much to the latter's shock. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that this is Santiago's spirit and neither Miguel's wife nor anyone else in town can see him. Santiago recalls that his body was pulled to the ocean depths and drowned, and it must be found and laid to rest by Miguel before Santiago's spirit can rest. Until then, they take delight in walking around town and being more openly romantic since Santiago is invisible.

Undertow traffics in traditional conflicts between homosexuality and religious repression, but the film feels fresh thanks to its unique setting and occasional comedic elements. Fuentes-Leon makes a winking reference to the 1978 Brazilian movie Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, in which the ghost of a woman's former husband begins to haunt her once she becomes engaged to a new man.

Once a nude painting of Miguel done by Santiago is discovered as well as Santiago's body, Miguel is challenged to publicly admit his relationship with Santiago. The film's final 30 minutes perfectly encapsulate both the pain and liberation that come with coming out.

UPDATE: Undertow 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, November 24, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Welcome to Burlesque

Are you ready for the gayest film of the year? Burlesque knocks Sex and the City 2 off the pedestal with its campy dialogue, fierce musical bravado and beyond-over-the-top costumes and dance routines. And that’s not even counting Cher as Tess, the owner of a sassy but classy burlesque bar on the Sunset Strip. I’m happy to say that the thoroughly entertaining Burlesque is much more Chicago than Showgirls, although it has plenty of inspiration from both.

Christina Aguilera does a nice job with her first starring role (she’s a lot more likable than Beyoncé, for instance) and she echoes a young Goldie Hawn at times as Ali, an Iowa waitress with Hollywood dreams and pipes of steel. I feel bad for the swanky Roosevelt Hotel, where Ali lands after getting off the bus — they make it look like a flophouse — but it was clearly more cinematic than the Super 8 Motel where she really would have crashed.

After going through a whole Backstage Magazine’s worth of auditions, Ali stumbles onto Burlesque, the club Tess runs with her ex Vince (Peter Gallagher) and gay best friend Sean (Stanley Tucci, naturally). Ali immediately catches the eye of hunky bartender/songwriter Jack, played by Cam Gigandet (now if that isn’t a porn name, what is?), but Ali assumes from his Adam Lambert-worthy guy-liner that he’s gay. It’s worse: he’s engaged, although his fiancée is a self-absorbed actress who is doing a New York show for the foreseeable future.

Ali charms her way into a waitress gig at the club, then practically forces Tess and Sean to watch her audition. Like Nomi Malone, she knows all the steps and manages to piss off the show’s star sex kitten Nikki, played by a brunette Kristin Bell. Dancing with the Stars dancer Julianne Hough goes red-haired as Georgia (apparently Xtina had a rider in her contract... no other blondes allowed!), another stand-out in the troupe who wouldn’t mind Nikki taking a Cristal Conners-like spill down the stairs. Ali doesn’t need such melodramatics; her voluminous voice blows the drunken diva off the stage in seconds flat.

Burlesque is an old-fashioned high-energy showbiz tale that barely has time to let dark clouds rain on its saucy, deliciously retro fun. Ali’s flirtatious relationship with Jack is a little cutesy, and the inevitable point where someone tells Ali fame has changed her is just as clunky as you would expect. You’ll also go “Huh?!” when you hear Jack’s big song. It doesn’t sound at all like the new-agey piano jazz he played for Ali earlier. But when Xtina sings, just like when Cher graces us with her great numbers, Burlesque comes alive with gaytastic fabulousness. Why there's even a number with Alan Cumming sure to give you Cabaret flashbacks!

Written and director by Steve Antin, Burlesque bumps and grinds its way on screen and into your heart with a confident sense of fun that was lacking in most other recent movie musicals (take Rent or Nine… please!). It’s a relief that, while we’d all love a Showgirls for the new Millennium, Burlesque isn’t it. It is a flashy Christmas present to show queens one and all, so let’s all give thanks for a holiday miracle.

UPDATE: Burlesque 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, November 23, 2010

Reverend’s Preview: Cher, Back on the Big Screen

It’s hard to believe Oscar-winning actress/singer Cher hasn’t had a major role in a motion picture since Tea with Mussolini 11 years ago. Apart from an amusing cameo as herself in the 2003 comedy Stuck on You (in which then-teenager Frankie Muniz played her lover), the movies have been depressingly Cher-less.

That will all change this Wednesday, when the seemingly ageless superstar returns in the musical-drama Burlesque. Cher appears opposite contemporary diva Christina Aguilera as Tess, the proprietor of a Los Angeles nightclub dedicated to the traditional theatrical art form of the film’s title. A big-name cast including Eric Dane, Alan Cumming, Peter Gallagher, Kristen Bell and Stanley Tucci lends support.

Gay men I’ve spoken with who have seen the film’s trailer are very excited about Burlesque, but they also voiced suspicions that it could end up being more like the laughably bad Showgirls (1995) than 2002’s Best Picture, Chicago, which the movie seems to be emulating. Cher’s surgically-preserved physical appearance doesn’t seem to be helping matters.

I was able to hear a few songs from the movie soundtrack in advance and, whereas Aguilera’s exuberant R&B vocals caused my cats to flee the room, Cher sounds as good as ever. Interestingly, Burlesque is Cher’s first true movie musical in over 40 years of film appearances. I’m not counting 1967’s Good Times, a bizarre docu-comedy with songs in which Cher and her then-husband Sonny Bono play themselves. The spotlight is clearly on Bono but Cher’s playful personality shines through and won audiences over. (Good Times and five other notable films starring Cher, including Moonstruck and the underrated Mermaids, were just released on DVD in a fabulous boxed set entitled Cher: The Film Collection.)

Cher primarily worked on her music and on television during the 1970’s. In the early 80’s, however, a trio of well-received dramatic turns in Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Silkwood (in which she played a lesbian fighting nuclear plant safety hazards alongside Meryl Streep) and Mask made her a movie star. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1988 for her charming performance in Moonstruck.

Teaming Cher and Aguilera in Burlesque seems like a great idea on paper, and they complement each other well visually in the footage I’ve seen. The movie is written and directed by Steven Antin, whose past credits include Chasing Papi, Inside Monkey Zetterland and producing TV’s The Pussycat Dolls Present. Cher sings two songs on the soundtrack: the production number “Welcome to Burlesque” and the more reflective ballad “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.”

Will Burlesque mark a high point or a low one on Cher’s cinematic resume? Find out at a theatre near you this week.

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Runaway Train

How exciting can a film be about a runaway train with no engineer on board? You’ll be pleasantly surprised by Tony Scott’s new film, Unstoppable, which combines great performances, clever editing and strong storytelling to create a suspenseful thriller.

“Inspired by true events,” Unstoppable plays out like a documentary rooted in the current economy of layoffs and corporate insensitivity, paired with a classic disaster movie. The real 2001 event was nowhere near as dramatic as Scott’s adventure; chalk it up to poetic license, but I’m pretty sure that the real conductor and engineer weren’t as sexy as Chris Pine and Denzel Washington.

When a lazy engineer (Ethan Suplee from My Name is Earl) lets his locomotive get away from him and speed away with a cargo of poisonous chemicals, it’s up to Washington and Pine to fight the railroad company and stop the barreling death missile before it crashes into a heavily populated Pennsylvania town. Pine’s Will Colson and Washington’s Frank Barnes have to learn to work together, despite the fact that Barnes is about to be laid off and Colson is the black sheep of a well-connected family in the business.

The dangers that come up, like a train full of school kids and a horse trailer stalled on the track, are handled with confidence and creativity. Rosario Dawson is good in a supporting role and Kevin Dunn makes a perfect villain, the company head who puts profits ahead of people’s lives.

Even though you can predict the ending, Scott keeps you guessing as to whether or not one or the other brave man will make it off the train alive. If it follows any formula, Unstoppable mirrors disaster movies of the 70’s like Airport ’75. It’s a fun, action-filled adventure that will make you look both ways at your next railroad crossing.

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Actor Factor: The Cilantro of Sitcoms

I have never understood America's love of cilantro. To me, it tastes like stale sprigs of mint mixed with a batch of lye soap that Granny concocted in a steaming black kettle out by the cee-ment pond. I mention this because I find myself scratching my head in the same manner over the popularity, both critical and public, of Modern Family (the first season of which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray). To me, it is simply the cilantro of sitcoms.

The show centers around the trials and tribulations of the Pritchett and Dunphy families. Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill) is the semi-surly granddad married to much younger, Latina wife, Gloria (Sofia Vergara) and the two are raising Gloria's young son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez) Jay's daughter, Claire (Julie Bowen) is married to husband, Phil (Ty Burrell) and the two are raising a generic family of three. Then there is Jay's gay son, Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) who have just adopted a baby girl from somewhere in Asia.

The show is framed in the now almost prerequisite “mockumentary” style which leaves me forever screaming, “Who the hell are you talking to!” at the television. I must confess a particular loathing for this type of framing, especially when it is completely unexplained. I suppose we are just supposed to assume that all television is now “reality” and every one has a camera crew following them around 24/7. The problem is, when there are three to four or even five different camera shots in a hallway or car, one would think a cameraman would get caught in the shot from time to time. Nope... not even a stray foot. Comedy, like science fiction, has to be true to its own reality to make it believable, yet the characters keeping winking and giving the cameraman sideways glances on a regular basis.

“Who the hell are you winking at?!” Sorry... just had to get that out.

The stories play out in typical A-B-C fashion, bouncing back and forth between characters and plot lines. Situations borrow heavily from earlier family sitcoms, i.e.: camping trips and vacations, women drivers, old friends who are more successful... etc. The situations are usually made more “modern” and, presumably, funnier by throwing in some 21st century technology, gay and Latino characters and a healthy dose of cynicism.

The cast is capable and the characters semi-likeable, although Ed O'Neill's somnambulistic performance could be used in science classes to illustrate the eventual triumph of maximum entropy over the universe. Also, despite its Modern moniker, dated stereotypes predominate. Sofia Vergara's characterization is often over the top and comes across as if she were Charo and Rita Moreno's love child. The character of young Manny shows us just how cute early onset childhood diabetes can be. Ty Burrell is the typically semi-stupid dad and Julie Bowen is the blonde-ly innocuous wife who is a bit too good for him.

The worst offender, however, is Eric Stonestreet, whose take on a gay character belongs more in a Saturday Night Live sketch than it does in this show. Not a moment of his screen time is believable, and his portrayal ridicules his own character beyond the point of satire and stretches it to just plain insulting. Any kudos the show could have received for representing the gay community and casting actors who aren't stereotypically gorgeous in the gay roles is completely overshadowed by Stonestreet's performance. Fortunately, Stonestreet is counterbalanced by the brightest light in the cast, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, whose consistently grounded characterization always rings true.

With strong writing vets on board such as Christopher Lloyd, Steve Levitan and Abraham Higginbothem (The Golden Girls, Wings, Frasier and Will & Grace) one would think that Modern Family would contain more laugh out loud material. Indeed, the Lion King scene in the pilot episode is hysterical, but that is the exception not the rule with this show. One has to wonder if these writers even contribute more than a framework to the stories and that the execution is left to poor improv that aims at Christopher Guest's Best in Show but hits its mark with Eat Pray Love. I know, I know, the latter isn't an improved movie. Nor is it funny.

The DVD release contains all 24 season one episodes and special features, which include deleted “family interviews” (oh joy!) deleted, extended and alternate scenes; the obligatory gag reel and a few more extras that should please the show's seeming legions of fans.

I do find it rather ironic, though, that all of the first season episodes are rated only mediocre-to-fair on, despite the show's undeniable popularity. Personally, I think TV viewers are starving for the return of good sitcoms. With few exceptions (The Big Bang Theory, Cougar Town) modern television offers little in the way of truly funny half-hour comedies, and viewers are biding their time with shows such as Two and a Half Men (the mushrooms of sitcoms — don't get me started) and Modern Family.

It's sort of like when you're out to eat and you're so hungry that you eat that salsa in front of you no matter how much nasty cilantro is in it and how bad it tastes. There's just nothing else in which to dip your tortilla chip.

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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reverend's Report: AFI Fest 2010

By the closing night of Los Angeles's AFI Film Festival November 11, oddball filmmaker and Guest Artistic Director David Lynch (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet) had filmgoers reciting "I love AFI!" along with him during his endearingly earnest endorsement statement, shown before each of the fest screenings. While not everyone loved closing film Black Swan (reviewed here in advance on November 5), there were enough celebrity appearances, parties with open bars and (best of all) free tickets to all the movies to keep attendees happy throughout the fest's seven days.

I was only able to take in a handful of the 60+ films shown, but each was a gem. Here are my more detailed reactions to them:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Speaking of oddball filmmakers, Lynch wasn't alone: obsessive auteur Werner Herzog introduced and responded to questions following the screening of his latest documentary. Following his awful Bad Lieutenant sequel/re-imagining last year, it was great to have Herzog on more secure cinematic ground. In this case, he actually goes underground into France's remarkable Chauvet Cave... and he takes the audience with him courtesy of 3D. Watching this film is truly the next best thing to actually being there, as rock overhangs, stalactites and fossils extend out of the screen. The cave, discovered only in 1994, also houses a collection of highly accomplished drawings estimated to be 32,000 years old. They depict now-extinct mammoths, wooly rhinos, cave bears and lions, as well as an occasional human form and at least one artist's well-preserved handprints. Herzog goes a little off course at times when he asks philosophical questions such as "What constitutes humanness?" and during a postscript about irradiated, albino crocodiles. The movie shouldn't be missed, though, especially since the Chauvet Cave has since been restricted to limited scientific explorations. Reverend's Rating: B+

Rabbit Hole: The audience of the packed-to-the-rafters LA premiere of this domestic drama, based on the Tony-nominated play by David Lindsay-Abaire (who also wrote the excellent screen adaptation), struck me for its broad demographics. There were older, more mature "theatre types" likely familiar with the material; more than a few gay men who would claim to be fans of either Nicole Kidman or Aaron Eckhart, who star, or the film's director, John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus); and a number of younger film and/or theatre students. There was also a significant turnout courtesy of festival sponsor Clarisonic. The plot, about a married couple grieving the accidental death of their 4-year old son 8 months prior, is inherently engrossing as well as achingly authentic, powerfully moving and surprisingly funny at times. Kidman will likely be among this year's Best Actress nominees, and Eckhart has a shot in the Best Actor category. Mitchell (who looks positively elfin and all of 12 years old in person) is also an award candidate for his lovely, sensitive direction. Reverend's Rating (despite some critical — yet understandable — remarks about God in the film): A-

Chico & Rita: A stunningly animated love story about a pair of Cuban musicians who forge an enduring, affecting relationship despite personal differences, political unrest and international separation. Seven years in the making, the movie (which I pray receives a theatrical release and future awards consideration) features excellent use of light and shadows; a great depiction of 1940's, Capitalist Cuba; a magnificent, period score that includes both standards and original songs; and "cameos" by musical greats Charlie "Bird" Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Tito Puente, Nat King Cole and Desi Arnaz. The film has a melodramatic vibe that can be excessive despite being proper to the cinematic milieu, historically speaking. I was also reminded stylistically of Ralph Bakshi's films of the 1970-80's, especially his American Pop. Not to be missed by animation, music and history buffs, or anyone who appreciates a good love story between people separated by distance and/or time. Reverend's Rating: A-

Precious Life: It was just announced that this extraordinary documentary is one of 15 currently under Academy Award consideration. The film provides a gripping, intimate perspective on the ages-old conflict between Jews and Palestinians via the plight of little Muhammad Abu Mustaffa. Born without an immune system to Palestinian parents, Muhammad is in need of a delicate bone marrow transplant that can only be performed with the technical expertise found in an Israeli hospital. Journalist Shlomi Eldar (who states at the outset, "I don't like hospitals, and I don't like hospital stories") would find himself inexorably drawn into the situation, ultimately befriending the principals in addition to directing and narrating the movie. The suspicion and skepticism that Muhammad's parent, Ra'ida and Faozi, hold toward the Jews, who are ultimately funding and providing their son's care even as the Israeli military bombards Gaza with missiles, serves as a microcosm of the ongoing strife. Precious Life is powerful stuff. Reverend's Rating: A-

Audience Awards in four categories were presented at AFI Fest's conclusion. Of the films I saw, only Chico & Rita was an award contender, in the World Cinema category, but it was beaten by the New Zealand entry, Boy. The other winners were Hamill (Breakthrough Award), Bedevilled (New Auteurs Award), and LittleRock (Young American Award), about which I heard considerable buzz following its fest screening. Indeed, my only gripe about AFI Fest is that each film is shown only once (although the four Audience Award recipients were screened a second time on the fest's final day, after they were announced as the winners). Since most of the movies are shown concurrently, there is no way for one to catch all of the festival entries. Also, only a handful of them were screened for critics beforehand.

As a festival for the people, though, with many free tickets generously provided through the support of sponsor Audi, AFI Fest is hard to beat. I'm already looking forward to next year!

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Toon Talk: Bah Humbug

Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge is one character from classic English literature who has had more than his fair share of cinematic incarnations. From feature films to television productions to animated cartoons, Scrooge has been portrayed by everyone from Albert Finney to Vanessa Williams to Mr. Magoo.

Following earlier versions starring Mickey Mouse and the Muppets, Disney took another crack at the yuletide chestnut last holiday movie season, and was even so bold as to title it Disney’s A Christmas Carol (now available on Disney DVD and Blu-ray). Yet, despite that family friendly stamp of approval, this Carol is not for the little ones with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads ...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Disney's A Christmas Carol at

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Heresy & Orthodoxy

Have you ever been so frustrated by a movie that you've actually yelled at the screen? Perhaps only we critics are prone to such behavior, but Is It Just Me? provoked just such a response out of me. This alleged romantic-comedy, being released on DVD today by TLA Releasing after playing this year's GLBT festival circuit, is so illogically plotted only the most undiscriminating could find it satisfying (it won the Best Picture award at the Detroit Independent Film Festival, which doesn't speak well of the Motor City's artistic taste).

Something of a gay Cyrano de Bergerac for the Internet Age, Is It Just Me? follows the plight of Blaine (Nicholas Downs), a hopeless romantic who longs to meet Mr. Right but has become gun-shy after several bad dating experiences. Even though he's a young, attractive, talented writer, Blaine begins to think something must be wrong with him. After confessing as much to his promiscuous go-go dancer roommate, Cameron (played by Adam Huss of The Bold & the Beautiful, who gives the most engaging performance in the film), Blaine becomes the initially unknowing victim of an online error.

While accidentally signed in on their computer with Cameron's user name, Blaine connects with Xander (the cute David Loren, who sings too). Xander and Blaine spend several long nights talking on the phone and decide to meet face to face. It's then that Blaine realizes Xander thinks he's the hot dancer pictured on the initial profile. Blaine is horrified, but does he tell Xander the truth right away? No! Instead, he talks Cameron into posing as him but tags along on the initial meeting with Xander.

This is when the movie became unforgivably strained to me. Xander arrives and recognizes Cameron from his online picture. When Xander is introduced to Blaine, however, does Xander recognize the distinctive voice of the guy with whom he's had hours-long phone sessions? No! What's more, Cameron's attitude and behavior are radically different from the impression of himself that Blaine has given Xander. Xander remains oblivious.

Blaine allows the ruse to go on and on and on, too afraid of rejection should he tell Xander the truth. Naturally, Xander figures it out (finally!) and is understandably angrier with Blaine than he would have been if Blaine had been honest. But then, there wouldn't be enough plot for writer-director J.C. Calciano to stretch into a movie, would there?

As Is It Just Me? and its characters became increasingly unbelievable, I started yelling at my TV screen. It represents 93 minutes of my life I'll never get back, and not even the eye candy can justify that.

Fortunately, a far superior film was also released on DVD today. Eyes Wide Open (First Run Features) tells the story of two orthodox Jewish men in Jerusalem who have a love affair, despite the fact that one of them is married with children and is a leader in the community. One critic has dubbed the widely acclaimed drama Brokeback Talmud, a somewhat joking but apt description.

Directed by Haim Tabakman from a screenplay by Merav Doster, it is an insightful, authentic glimpse into Orthodox Judaism and enduring cultural-religious taboos. Zohar Strauss and Ran Danker are excellent as Aaron and Ezri, the men struggling with their attraction to one another. As Aaron, the older and more devout of the two, strives to reconcile his feelings with his faith and commitment to his family, viewers are privy to intelligent moral and theological debates.

A bonus interview with Tabakman included on the DVD is also worth checking out. Eyes Wide Open is one of the best films and DVD releases of the year, appropriate for both Hanukkah viewing and Christmas gift giving.

Reverend's Ratings:
Is It Just Me?: D
Eyes Wide Open: A-

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reverend's Interview: Going "All American" in 2011

It may be every gay man's dream job: photographing hot, nearly naked men for a living. Some of us can only dream it, while freelance photographer Christian Del Rosario lives it. The gay OC resident is the shutterbug behind the new 2011 calendar, All American Guys, from Village Lighthouse and 10% Productions. I recently spoke with Del Rosario about his life and work.

"It's just a small part of what I do but I feel I get to contribute to the gay community this way," Del Rosario said of shooting the calendar. Originally from the Philippines, Del Rosario now lives in Garden Grove with his partner of nine years. "In gay years, that's 72; like dog years," he laughed.

I asked Del Rosario, who is 40 years old, how he got involved with taking pictures for a living. "I had a corporate job for six years, but the recession came and the company I worked for was laying off people," he related. "I got severance pay and used that to start my photography business." Two and a half years later, Del Rosario is working full time as a photographer after it being a mere hobby most of his life.

Del Rosario's and 10% Productions' latest collaboration features a diverse group of stunningly attractive models in provocative stages of undress and poses. Whether you are into hairy guys, shaved guys, White guys, African-American guys or Latino guys (or all of the above) there is something (someone?) for everyone in All American Guys 2011.

"A lot of the models are gay but not all," the photographer says, "and I enjoy interacting with them." In addition to the 10% website, the calendar can be purchased at local GLBT retailers. Del Rosario's photos are beautifully lit, and the calendar's layout is impressive.

According to his personal website, Attreo Studio Photography, Del Rosario specializes in travel and portrait photography. He can also accommodate special events depending on his availability. Del Rosario has traveled around the world in his quest for suitable subjects and models, which include cityscapes and national monuments in addition to men. He also has a gallery devoted to animals.

"One of my biggest causes is animal rights, and I do anything I can for animals," Del Rosario said. "I'm a big proponent of animal adoption." He and his partner have two boxers they have rescued. They attempted to adopt a third but, unfortunately, the latter dog didn't get along well with the others. Del Rosario clearly has a big heart in addition to a great eye.

Village Lighthouse, Inc., based in Los Angeles, bills itself as "one of the most diverse gay and lesbian consumer products companies in the marketplace." In addition to 10% Productions, the company's wholesale divisions include PROVOCATEUR, Alluvial Entertainment and Greenwood/Cooper Home Video.

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