Friday, December 31, 2010

Bring Out the Old, Bring in the New...

It's New Year's Eve, and hope are high
Dance one year in, kiss one good-bye
Another chance, another start
So many dreams to tease the heart.
We don't need a crowded ballroom,
Everything we want is here
And face to face, we will embrace, the perfect year.

Wishing you and yours a happy and safe New Year's Eve!
-- Movie Dearest

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Monthly Wallpaper - January 2011: 2010 - The Year in Film

As 2010 comes to a close, it is time to look back on the year in film, and what better way then with the Movie Dearest calendar wallpaper for next month!

A dozen of 2010's most popular movies make up the collage, so you can spend all of January gazing at the likes of Aron, Bertie, Cobb, Ken, Lisbeth, Nic & Jules, Nina, Philip & Steven, Ree, Rooster and the rest. What a way to start off a new year!

Just click on the picture above to enlarge it to its 1024 x 768 size, then right click your mouse and select "Set as Background", and you're all set. If you want, you can also save it to your computer and set it up from there, or modify the size in your own photo-editing program if needed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reel Thoughts Interview: Let Your Freak Flag Wave at Shrek The Musical

“What makes you different makes you strong,” the soulful Humpty Dumpty sings in Shrek The Musical, summing up what the show is all about. Who hasn’t been made to feel bad for being different, and who hasn’t been judged for how they look or act? True, most of us aren’t huge flatulent ogres, but then our friends probably aren’t motor-mouth donkeys, lovesick dragons, princesses-with-secrets or talking gingerbread cookies.

Shrek The Musical, currently on tour, is based on DreamWorks’ hugely popular film and the original children’s book. It tells the story of an ogre who finds his swamp overrun with fairy tale creatures who have all been banished from the kingdom for being odd. When Shrek sets off to rescue feisty Princess Fiona, he gets more than he bargained for. With a book by David Lindsay-Abaire (Fuddy Meers) and music by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Mille), Shrek is an original take on a beloved classic that kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy.

Jason W. Shuffler loves being a part of the craziness in Shrek. Of his multiple roles, the out performer enjoys playing the Big Bad Wolf the most. Still dressed in Grandmother’s nightgown, Shuffler likes how the storybook villain enjoys cross-dressing. “He’s got this transgender kind of thing going on, which is always fun to play with,” he said. The South Carolina native plays seven roles in the show, most notably the wolf and the Captain of the Guard in short Lord Farquaad’s regiment.

“They’ve done a really good job of translating from the screen to the stage,” Shuffler explained, adding that what makes the film and show so great is how relatable it is for all ages. “Kids love it, but there’s a lot of adult humor that goes over the kids’ heads.”

“Aside from my horribly crass humor of fart jokes,” Shuffler laughed, when asked what his favorite part of the show is. “I love the number “Freak Flag”. It tends to be an anthem across the board, but for me, it’s a great message to take away from the show. It’s the fairy tale creatures singing it, and I love performing it every night. The whole premise of it is “let your freak flag fly”, basically just be who you are, don’t be afraid of being who you are, and stand tall and proud in the person that you are. The fairy tale creatures have been kicked out of their homes and told that they were freaks by Farquaad, and this is them standing up to him.”

He added, “From a personal standpoint, being a gay man, it’s something that we’ve all had to encounter. At some point in your life, you had to stand up and say, “No, I’m going to be who I am and stand tall in that and have no shame.” It resonates with me every night, professionally and personally. Not to mention, it’s a catchy song.” He added, “I consider it an honor to go across America and sing at the top of my lungs this message that I so whole-heartedly believe in.”

So, if you want to dress like a princess or a dragon and let your freak flag fly when you go see Shrek, just know that the cast is with you all the way.

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reel Thoughts: The 2011 Neelys!

2010 has yielded a bumper crop of amazing performances, such as Natalie Portman’s crazed dancer in Black Swan, Christian Bale’s quivering crackhead in The Fighter, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening’s utterly normal but lovably crazy moms in The Kids Are All Right and breakout turns by youthful Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass and Let Me In and Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. The films themselves, by and large, may not have cracked the top ten in other years. For that reason, any "Best of" lists you’re likely to read are completely valid but totally subjective. Except for the Neelys, which truly do recognize the best and worst Hollywood had to offer, named for the unfortunately boozy, pill-popping starlet played by Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls.

10. I Love You Phillip Morris: This wildly offensive and hilarious love story between a sociopath and his Southern prison squeeze gave Jim Carrey and Ewan MacGregor free reign to have a ball. It would have ranked higher, but the flippant tone robbed the men’s relationship of real chemistry, and MacGregor’s phony accent grates.

9. The Town: Testosterone alert! Maybe Good Will Hunting wasn’t a fluke. Director Ben Affleck crafted a smart, exciting heist movie where his beloved Charlestown, Boston is a starring character itself. Affleck, Jon Hamm and especially Jeremy Renner give powerful, rough-edged and ridiculously sexy performances. Plus, those wrinkly nun masks are super creepy!

8. Winter’s Bone: Jennifer Lawrence bursts onto the scene in a tough, unsentimental performance as a girl who goes on a grueling quest to find her no-good father and save her family before they lose their home. Director Debra Granik creates a world of lawlessness, poverty and violence so real, you need a shower after watching it.

7. Please Give: Nicole Holofcener’s latest tale of upper class social guilt is smart, funny and features a priceless performance by Catherine Keener. She plays a mid-century modern furniture dealer who gets her best stuff by raiding estate sales of unsuspecting next-of-kin. Look for The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Millie Helper, Ann Guilbert, as Keener’s ancient and cranky neighbor.

6. The King’s Speech: A veddy British drama about King George VI (Colin Firth), Queen Elizabeth’s father, and his debilitating struggle with stuttering. Geoffrey Rush plays the speech therapist that saved the King, and Helena Bonham Carter gives a richly funny performance as the Queen Mum. Firth will surely earn the Oscar he was denied last year.

5. Toy Story 3: The third time is a charm indeed, as reality intrudes on the sunny lives of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the gang. Andy is off to college, and he intended to store his toys in the attic, but a mix-up sends them to a hellish prison disguised as a daycare center. The filmmakers explore every human emotion possible in the form of lovable playthings, and Barbie’s Ken nearly pirouettes out of the closet; being Disney, it’s only implied, but come on... he wears an ascot!

4. The Social Network: David Fincher creates an endlessly fascinating film that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg probably doesn’t “Like”. Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as an anti-social narcissist who created Facebook after being dumped by his girlfriend.

3. Black Swan: The wildest mind trip of the year, Darren Aronofsky’s ballet thriller is part Roman Polanski meltdown, part Showgirls-style sex and seduction. Natalie Portman plays the role of her life as a mentally fragile ballerina who cracks under the pressure of playing the two-sided Swan Queen in Swan Lake. Mila Kunis sizzles as Portman’s rival who may or may not want to be her lover.

2. The Kids Are All Right: A backlash has developed against Lisa Cholodenko’s unconventional family dramedy, but I still find it fresh, funny and full of wise and witty performances. Julianne Moore glows as earthy Jules, and Annette Bening sparkles as her brittle doctor wife who has to face the ugly truth of infidelity. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Josh Hutcherson shine as the titular kids who find more than they bargained for when they locate their sperm donor dad (sexy Mark Ruffalo). Is it a slap in audiences’ faces that Moore fools around with Ruffalo? Not if she was just responding to his attention and passion to reawaken her own dormant sexuality. She’s still gay and the two women still love each other, but Cholodenko doesn’t really care if people are offended. It’s the film she wanted to make, based on elements she and co-writer Stuart Blumberg actually lived through.

And the 2011 Neely goes to…

1. True Grit: Did the old John Wayne/Kim Darby western really need a remake? With the Coen Brothers at the helm, the answer is a resounding yes. Jeff Bridges is a marvel as drunken, trigger-happy Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld is amazingly self-assured as Mattie Ross, a stubborn fourteen year old in the wildest of Wild Wests. Matt Damon is a hilarious foil to Bridges, and the Coens create a vivid old-time world through spot-on dialogue, gorgeous production values and inventive performances.

Of course, I always hear that my Worst Ten List is the readers’ favorite part, so here are the misfires, monstrosities and hot messes of the year:

10. The Tourist: A film that makes Johnny Depp boring and Angelina Jolie frivolous is quite a sad accomplishment. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck lavishes attention on Jolie’s gorgeous clothes, but lets Depp flail listlessly as the most improbable math teacher in the history of film.

9. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Why do white people playing Persians all speak with British accents? Jake Gyllenhaal sports a Billy Ray Cyrus wig, but his manly physique is the only saving grace in this noisy, pompous, overblown melodrama. I sure hope the video game this is based on is more entertaining.

8. Clash of the Titans: Hunky but vacant Sam Worthington makes Harry Hamlin look like Olivier, and Liam Neeson seems visibly pained to shout “Release the Kraken!” in this misguided fantasy film only made worse by the addition of cheesy 3-D. Poor Gemma Atherton makes her second appearance on the list after her embarrassing Prince of Persia performance, proving that a Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts education doesn’t give you taste in projects.

7. Dinner for Schmucks: As funny as a plate of dog poop, this unnecessary remake of a French film squandered the talents of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell in the least funny comedy of the year. Carell’s stuffed mice dioramas had more life and energy.

6. The Last Airbender: The Lousy Airblunder is a better name for M. Night Shamalyan’s latest pretentious mess. Dev Patel squanders his Slumdog Millionaire good will glowering through his role of a disgraced prince, while a trio of forgettable child actors pretends to control the four elements. Nothing will control your boredom.

5. The Bounty Hunter: Gerard Butler is the anti-Hugh Jackman, choosing role after role in cinematic stink bombs, and this sour romantic comedy is no exception. Jennifer Aniston tries to charm, but the story is so full of nasty violence and misogynist characters, you won’t get the bad taste out of your mouth for weeks.

4. Splice: A nasty hybrid escaped earlier this year that was cobbled together from the damaged DNA of a dozen better movies. No, I am not talking about “nerd-spelled-backwards” Dren, the monster at the center of the hoot-worthy Splice. The film itself was a sickly retread of many superior films that took the intriguing idea of genetic experimentation and turned it into a cringe-inducing freak show. Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody definitely need new agents.

3. Furry Vengeance: A bloated Brendan Fraser squares off with a bunch of pissed-off woodland creatures in a horrifying comedy that could have been crafted by Sarah Palin and the NRA. The animals are repulsive, the humans are more repulsive and the whole film feels like it was made for pocket change. The whole thing reminds me of a 1973 issue of "House of Mystery" where the forest creatures drowned a little boy to teach man a lesson about respecting the environment. Watching Furry Vengeance made me wish I were that toddler.

2. Eat Pray Love: 2010 was a year filled with natural disasters, but Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s excruciating version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir was a pompous, self-congratulatory, insufferably cutesy disaster to rival them all. Not even Julia Roberts, Richard Jenkins and Javier Bardem could elevate this chick flick fiasco.

1. Standing Ovation: Billed as “Junior High School Musical”, this misshapen maelstrom of horrible acting, miserable musical numbers and idiotic writing could single-handedly end funding for the arts in our schools. With dialogue like “I’m Alanna Wannabe, and I’m gonna be!” and a band of mean girls named “The Wiggies”, it’s like From Justin to Kelly, without the charm. So painful, it’s considered a human rights violation in thirty-seven countries.

And the coveted Elizabeth Berkley Award for unfortunate acting goes for the first time to an unknown, who will, we can pray, remain that way. From the truly wretched Standing Ovation, the hilarious low point was, hands-down, little Alanna Palombo. With a foghorn voice and an Elmer Fudd accent, this pint-sized moppet overacts so horrifically, you will swear she’s in 3-D. Those arguing whether Black Swan or Burlesque is the new Showgirls should aim a little lower. Shrill Palombo and her talent-deprived tweens make Standing Ovation the cult classic of the year.

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Reel Thoughts: The Mourning After

Given playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s pedigree and the awards heaped on Rabbit Hole when Cynthia Nixon played the lead on Broadway, it’s both surprising and disheartening to see how conventional and mundane the film version is. It isn’t director John Cameron Mitchell’s fault, nor is it the actors, all of whom give excellent performances. Even Taz the dog is a charismatic screen presence. The problem lies with Lindsay-Abaire, who has crafted a thoroughly by-the-numbers drama about a husband and wife (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) trying to get over the accidental death of their four year-old son. Rabbit Hole wouldn’t be out of place on the Lifetime Movie Network, although usually Lifetime films have a stronger narrative.

Becca and Howie Corbett had a perfect life eight months ago: a gorgeous Victorian house, an impossibly sweet-looking toddler and a loving marriage. Then, little Danny chased the family dog into the street, where a teen-aged driver (Miles Teller) accidentally ran over and killed him. Their world now destroyed, the couple faces Danny’s death in different ways.

Howie finds comfort looking at everything that reminds him of his son, while Becca shows no emotion and starts getting rid of Danny’s clothes and toys. Howie goes to a parents’ grief support group, while Becca refuses. Becca runs into Jason, the boy who killed her son, and seeks him out to talk. Becca’s mother Nat (Dianne Wiest) and irresponsible sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) try to help her, but Becca just lashes out at them.

There are tears, shouting and unlike on stage, very little laughter. You’re grateful for strong dramatic scenes, like one where Becca delivers a much-deserved smack to a self-satisfied mom in the grocery store, and the scenes where Eckhart and Kidman finally let loose. As a whole, however, Rabbit Hole is just a solid, well-made TV movie with big screen pretensions. Its parts are greater than its Rabbit whole.

UPDATE: Rabbit Hole 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, December 26, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Royal Triumph

Get ready for a grudge match at the Oscars! Last year, Jeff Bridges snuck in and stole the naked gold guy statue from the deserving Colin Firth for Tom Ford’s A Single Man, and this year, Firth is poised to steal the award back for his stammering royal in The King’s Speech over Bridges’ amazing work in True Grit.

With all the talk of Prince William marrying a commoner the Royal Family actually likes, The King’s Speech marvelously takes you back in time to when the Brits thought the world would end when King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) took up with an American divorcée. Yes, he and Wallis Simpson were reportedly Nazi sympathizers, but it was the divorcée part that really angered the Royals. When Eddie gave up the crown for love, it fell upon his brother “Bertie” (Firth) to take command of the Realm, despite having a debilitating stammer. Tom Hooper’s richly entertaining film takes you backstage at Buckingham Palace right as World War II was about to take over.

After a disastrous speech at a packed stadium, Albert, the future King George VI (Queen Elizabeth’s father) fears that his stutter and lack of confidence will never make him worthy of the crown. Taking the initiative for the man she loves, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out a speech therapist on a clearly shabby part of the famed Harley Street. Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, giving a marvelous supporting performance) is brash and unwilling to bow to all of the royal conventions when dealing with “Bertie”, so their relationship is a rocky one at first.

The King’s Speech becomes a rousing tale of friendship between two men of different stations, and the unconditional love of the Queen Mother for her emotionally battered husband. All three leads are fantastic, and LGBT audiences will feel special kinship with Firth’s character. The way his brother bullies him for being weak will strike a chord in anyone who faced similar torture growing up. The King’s Speech makes learning history fun.

UPDATE: The King's Speech is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reverend’s Reviews: Tati Lives!

Although he died in 1982, the world-renowned French filmmaker/clown Jacques Tati lives again in the new animated dramedy, The Illusionist. It is being released Christmas Day in New York and Los Angeles and will expand from there, especially if the film receives an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, as it is widely expected to do.

Tati was the Oscar winning writer-director-actor behind such enduring and endearing classics as Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Playtime and Mon Oncle (My Uncle), the latter of which makes a cameo appearance in The Illusionist. Similarly, Tati wrote the original screenplay for The Illusionist but ultimately deemed it too personal a story to film himself. Acclaimed animator Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville) discovered Tati’s script in 2003 and has ushered it successfully to the screen.

As The Illusionist begins, an aging vaudevillian performer named Tatischeff (Tati’s full birth name) is watching his receipts dwindle in 1950’s France as rock & roll music becomes the rage. Armed with an array of time-honored magic tricks and a testy, carnivorous rabbit, Tatischeff — at the invitation of a drunken fan — sets off for Scotland in the hope of finding more enthusiastic audiences.

He doesn’t, but Tatischeff does make the acquaintance of Alice, a sheltered teenage girl who is anxious to escape her small town life. The illusionist allows Alice to accompany him to Edinburgh, where he finds himself taking an increasingly paternal interest in her. They settle in a hotel for artists inhabited by a number of amusingly drawn wannabe stars and has-beens.

Chomet and Animation Director Paul Dutton employ wonderful character visualizations throughout The Illusionist, none more so than Tatischeff. As drawn by Laurent Kircher, Tatischeff is an animated reincarnation of Jacques Tati, with Tati’s mannerisms, subdued facial reactions and bouncy walking style all intact. For longtime Tati fans such as myself, the character is delightful to watch.

The Illusionist is largely dialogue-free, despite being billed as “in French with English subtitles.” This may take some getting used to by younger filmgoers, many of whom seem to want everything spelled out explicitly. However, they may otherwise enjoy the movie’s animation style which owes much to the 1960’s Disney classics 101 Dalmatians and The Aristocats (both of which Chomet names in the press notes as influences).

Although the plot is slight and the film’s ending may polarize viewers (some will find it poignant while others may think it cynical), The Illusionist makes for enjoyable holiday viewing as well as a loving tribute to a cinematic master.

Reverend’s Rating: B

UPDATE: The Illusionist 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.

Toon Talk: Rebooted

From the worldwide web to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth to Blackberrys, iPods to iPads to iPhones (oh my)… no doubt about it, we have seen a huge amount of technological developments in the past 28 years. So much so that, looking back at it now, 1982’s Tron seems downright quaint. But a lot of difference nearly three decades makes, for Tron’s better-late-than-never sequel Tron: Legacy (in theaters now) is a significant upgrade over the previous model.

With a digitally de-aged face, Jeff Bridges returns as video game whiz Kevin Flynn, who, we learn via flashback to 1989, was the head of ENCOM and the father of a young son named Sam when, mysteriously, he disappeared. Jump ahead to the present, and Sam (played by Garrett Hedlund) is a tech savvy rebel without a cause who is lured to Flynn’s Arcade and, just like daddy in the first film, zapped into a computer wonderland where “users” aren’t welcome and the programs they created are in charge...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Tron: Legacy at

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reel Thoughts: West is Best

Leave it to the Coen Brothers to make a Western even a confirmed Western-hater will love. True Grit, Charles Portis’ novel has already inspired a popular 1969 movie starring John Wayne and Kim Darby, so some might chafe at the need for a remake. What the Coen Brothers have done will erase all doubt; every moment of the film feels like an authentic glimpse at the true “Wild West”, with performances that are, to the smallest cameo, impossible to improve. The dialogue is written and delivered so simply and beautifully, True Grit is a film every History and English student should study. It’s also a funny, suspenseful and ultimately poignant experience that will leave you utterly satisfied.

Jeff Bridges, deserving of another Oscar nomination, plays the impossibly grizzled, drunken and quick-triggered US Marshall Rooster Cogburn, and thirteen year-old Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation as Mattie Ross, a stubborn Arkansas girl who hires Cogburn to hunt down her father’s killer. Also on the trail of the stupid but dangerous Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) is a humorously pompous Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf, well played by Matt Damon in a role originally played onscreen by singer Glenn Campbell. You’ll smile every time Bridges calls him Mr. LeBeef.

Chaney has fallen in with a crowd of outlaws, so Cogburn, LeBouef and tagalong Mattie have to venture into the dangerous Indian Territories to capture him. The Coen Brothers excel at creating surreal and suspenseful encounters before the surprising climax. The violence and lawlessness is sudden and brutal, but not beyond a PG-13 level, which makes True Grit a film almost the whole family can enjoy. It is humorous, exciting and educational at the same time. Marmaduke? Not so much.

Early in the film, Mattie tells Cogburn she’s hiring him because he is said to possess “true grit”, although the fact that he may well slaughter her father’s craven killer without a second thought pleases her as well. The Coen Brothers, Bridges, Steinfeld, Damon, Barry Pepper and the rest of the cast show true grit themselves in bringing a historically accurate yet thoroughly entertaining western to an audience that hasn’t seen a good one since, well, the Coen’s No Country for Old Men three years ago.

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Three's Company

Like The Stranger in Us, The Four-Faced Liar (now available on DVD) is an intimate story with relatable characters played by unknown actors. The difference is that you’ll care about these characters, and therefore be interested in what happens to them. The title refers to a bar where two New York couples and the lesbian who connects them meet and make friends.

Hip Trip (Todd Kubrak) and Chloe (Liz Osborn) have a great relationship, although Trip is kind of an ass. One night, they meet small town newcomers Greg (Daniel Carlisle) and Molly (Emily Peck), while Trip’s roommate Bridget (screenwriter Marja Lewis Ryan) sets her sights on Molly. At first, she’s all about shocking the straight girl, but then the two bond unexpectedly. Romantic troubles ensue, with Greg the odd man out.

Director Jacob Chase keeps the pace realistic and the scenes between the women in love are handled nicely. Ryan’s Bridget isn’t the charismatic centerpiece she should be, but the film succeeds in spite of it. The Four-Faced Liar isn’t original, but it’s smart look at modern Gen Y relationships.

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Stranger Danger

Listening to a close friend tell you about their relationship troubles is interesting because you care about them and it feels good helping them make the right decisions. But what if they make the same mistakes over and over again, and always make the worst choices? If they’re good friends, maybe you’ll stick by them and hope that they change. Watching film characters do the same thing is more infuriating than entertaining, and that is the major bummer about Scott Boswell’s debut feature The Stranger in Us, now available on DVD.

Anthony, played by Raphael Barker from Shortbus, is a small town guy who goes across country and moves in with Stephen, his supposed Mr. Right played by Scott Cox. Stephen is a pompous, abusive jerk, but Anthony spends most of the film suffering emotionally and physically, or complaining about his life with or without Stephen. Even meeting a sympathetic street hustler named Gavin (Adam Perez) doesn’t stop Anthony’s downward spiral as he gets into drugs and drinking.

The Stranger in Us has a confusing structure that copies (500) Days of Summer, jumping back and forth across a visible timeline at the bottom of the screen, but it doesn’t serve much purpose. Except for the handsome cast, there isn’t much reason to meet The Stranger in Us.

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

MD Poll: Global Possibilities 2010

Once again, it's time for our annual MD Poll look at the Golden Globes. And this year, they're even more controversial then ever!

Pick the movies you think will win in the Globes' top two categories, Best Picture - Drama and Best Picture - Musical or Comedy. Place your votes in the two polls located in the right hand sidebar, and be sure to vote in both of them! Results will be revealed on January 15, the day before the Golden Globe telecast.

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

MD Poll: Victor/Victorious

In a bittersweet victory, Victor/Victoria was named your biggest, gayest movie musical of all time per our latest MD Poll.

As we're sure you have already heard, Blake Edwards, the director of Victor/Victoria (as well as such other cinematic classics as Breakfast at Tiffany's, Days of Wine and Roses and The Pink Panther series), passed away earlier this week at the age of 88. In honor of his memory, here's a video tribute to his comic genius.

See the comments section below for the complete results for the poll.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reverend's Year in Review: 2010

Many critics, myself included, tend to moan and groan at the end of each year about the poor quality of films released theatrically during the previous twelve months. In my estimation, though, 2010 was a year of unusually high quality among both GLBT-oriented movies (notably The Kids Are All Right and I Love You Phillip Morris) and mainstream. In reviewing my film log and the academic scale I use, I rated more releases an "A" or "A-" in 2010 than I have in many years.

Here then are, in my opinion, the best of the best of 2010:

1. The Social Network (Sony): Engrossing account of the ethical and relational struggles behind the founding of Facebook, which has become the most popular social networking website of our time with over half a billion users, including more than a few GLBT folks. Such success is ironic given that the film reveals the founders' inability to sustain significant relationships, at least at the time. Masterfully directed by David Fincher, brilliantly written by Aaron Sorkin, and impressively acted by Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and hot newcomer Andrew Garfield (soon to be seen as Spider-Man in the movie re-boot), among others. A rare, essentially perfect film.

2. Winter's Bone (Roadside Attractions): A bleak but ultimately rewarding drama set in the Ozarks. A 17-year old girl must locate her deadbeat father or else she, her younger siblings and disabled mother will lose their home. Jennifer Lawrence makes a stunning debut in the lead role, and director Debra Granik does a great job finding the humanity in whom viewers might deem some pretty brutal, low-life characters. A great saga of female empowerment, both on and behind the screen.

3. Inception (Warner Bros): One of those unique summer event movies that actually lives up to the hype and makes film lovers say "Wow!" Virtuoso Christopher Nolan followed up his mega-successful Batman sequel The Dark Knight with a bracingly original action-adventure about a team of dream thieves led by Leonardo DiCaprio that engages one's intellect as well as the eye. Does it all make sense? It's hard to say, but I expect repeat viewings will prove rewarding. Gay viewers were especially taken by British actor Tom Hardy, who charms in the film and has publicly admitted having sexual experiences with men in the past. He can steal my dreams any time!

4. Mother (Magnolia Pictures): We all have our mother issues but, as this Hitchcockian suspense-comedy proves, even the most dysfunctional moms can come in handy in a pinch. When a simple-minded man is accused of murder, his overly-possessive mother (she insists her grown son sleep with her, albeit chastely) sets out to find the true killer. The latest from the enormously talented South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho, who last made the tongue-in-cheek monster movie The Host. Kim Hye-ja is great in the title role, and is being honored as Best Actress of 2010 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for her work in this.

5. Shutter Island (Paramount): The second-best mind f**k of a movie released in 2010 after Inception, and featuring another great turn by Leonardo DiCaprio. An excellent, appropriately creepy adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel about mysterious goings-on at an isolated mental asylum during the 1950's and the psychologically fragile G-Man sent to investigate. Hottie Mark Ruffalo, who also turned in a memorable performance this year in The Kids Are All Right, plays DiCaprio's devoted partner. Directed by Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese with more twists and turns than the wildest roller coaster.

6. Eyes Wide Open (New American Vision): A remarkable Israeli film about the unexpected, intense love affair that develops between two Orthodox Jewish men. Dubbed "Brokeback Talmud" by one wag, it gains extra credit for being respectful in its unavoidably controversial treatment of the Orthodox characters and community. That the film's excellent lead actors don't boast movie-star good looks adds to its credibility. It received a brief theatrical release in Los Angeles and New York but deserves to be seen widely and is now available on home video.

7. The King's Speech (Weinstein Co.): I predict Colin Firth will win this year's Best Actor Academy Award (after losing last year despite his superior performance in the gay-themed A Single Man) for his remarkable, touching work here as Britain's King George VI, who reigned during World War II and won his people's admiration despite a debilitating stammer. The movie is really an insightful exploration of leadership and what effective leadership requires, both in terms of skills and costs. Geoffrey Rush provides great support as a speech therapist whose unusual methods become the source of George's salvation, and Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful as she who would become the Queen Mother.

8. Micmacs (Sony Classics): A delightfully inventive anti-war satire by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, stylish director of such previously acclaimed films as Amélie and A Very Long Engagement. Visually marvelous and funny, it was truly one of the summer's and year's most truly entertaining movies despite being foreign and subtitled, which likely turned many viewers who would otherwise dig it away. Track it down once it's on DVD and watch it; you'll be glad you did.

9. Rabbit Hole (Lionsgate): Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the screenplay, the story follows a married couple (Nicole Kidman and the always welcome Aaron Eckhart) who are grieving the sudden death of their 4-year old son eight months prior. The film is moving and achingly authentic while also unexpectedly funny, and is helmed with great sensitivity by actor-writer-director John Cameron Mitchell of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus infamy. Kidman is a likely Oscar candidate for her powerful performance, and Eckhart could also find himself nominated.

10. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems): I had several contenders for the final slot in my top ten (see honorable mentions below), but I chose this for its extremely intelligent, unusually literate screenplay by Bert V. Royal... and in a comedy primarily intended for teens! Emma Stone is smashing as a high school student who embraces "The Scarlet Letter" as much more than just assigned reading. Dan Byrd of TV's Cougar Town plays a gay fellow student who develops a Mark Twain-related "fetish" by film's end. The supporting cast also includes gay faves Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson and Lisa Kudrow.

In what was another very good year for the fairly recently re-discovered genre of documentaries, I would like to confer "Honorable Mention" status on a handful of great docs that dealt with GLBT-related subjects: The Other City, about AIDS in Washington DC, which has the highest rate of infection among US cities; Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; and Stonewall Uprising. Other Honorable Mentions go to I Love You Phillip Morris which, though excellent, deserves it for no other reason than finally getting released in the US after a torturous two-year delay; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with its bisexual avenging angel Lisbeth Salander personified by the awesome Noomi Rapace; and, in a great year for animated films, Disney's wonderful Tangled and Toy Story 3.

Of course, in every bed of roses one finds a few thorns. The five worst movies I endured in 2010 were The Expendables, the dreadful, hyper-violent reunion of 1980's action stars; After.Life, a bizarre horror flick that wastes the usually dependable Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson; The Magician, which follows the exploits of an Australian hit man through his possibly gay videographer/admirer; Please Give, a widely acclaimed dramedy that I found insufferably pretentious despite its great cast; and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which is so incredibly dull and formulaic for a summer action-adventure that not even yummy, shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal could give it life.

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