Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reverend’s Reviews: Footprints Through Hollywood

The Hollywood premiere last night of Footprints, a new film by Steven Peros (The Cat’s Meow), was eerily well timed in the wake of the TCM Classic Film Festival. The event took place at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, site of numerous festival screenings, and the movie features several prominent locations where festivalgoers had trod en masse only days before.

Billed as “a Hollywood fable,” Footprints celebrates classic Hollywood and the wannabe starlets who flocked there. When an initially-nameless young woman is found passed out in the handprint- and autograph-strewn courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, a journey into her personal past and the film industry of a by-gone era begins.


The woman (played by Sybil Temtchine, a ringer for Mira Sorvino), who is seemingly suffering from amnesia, is quickly befriended by a unique assortment of boulevard dwellers. They include an elderly gentleman who may be the ghost of someone from the woman’s mysterious past; a friendly Scientologist; a Catwoman impersonator (the Halle Berry version) on the prowl for cash from photo-hungry tourists, with whom the lead character suits up as Wonder Woman; and the faded star of a faux pulp classic entitled Lola, the Tiger Girl, played by a radiant Pippa Scott, who was in John Ford’s The Searchers among other credits.

Engrossing and sweet if not particularly striking in execution, Footprints comments on the delicate nature of memories by frequently paying homage to real-life actresses Gene Tierney and Rita Hayworth, both of whom became memory-impaired in their later years. Writer-director Peros implies, intriguingly, that the cinema may well be our primary collective repository of memories as a species. The players may pass on but — thanks to Hollywood, if not some supernatural entity or process — their presence is eternal.

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reverend’s Report: A Gay Old Time at the TCM Classic Film Fest

The just completed, first-ever TCM Classic Film Festival, which ran April 22-25 in Hollywood, was a class act all the way. From hosted, top-shelf cocktails at the fest’s opening night party — held in a ballroom of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel that had been converted into the lavish “Club TCM” — through three full days of celebrity appearances, filmmaker panels and, of course, screenings of classic movies in historic venues, both attendees (a number of whom were gay) and organizers exhibited an almost-religious reverence not usually found at contemporary, indie film festivals.

This may have been related to what I experienced within myself while watching childhood favorites like Bride of Frankenstein, the 1933 King Kong and The Good Earth on a movie screen for the first time rather than on TV. On one hand, I felt older than I ever have before but, on the other, I realized these classic films are a part of me to a quasi-physical degree. I felt the movies I watched in a way I hadn’t previously. They are in my blood, and clearly in the blood of many other people, who attended the festival from all across the nation and even some foreign countries, as well.

Chris with friends Mark and Kelly at Club TCM

The opening night premiere of a newly restored print of the 1954, George Cukor version of A Star is Born (it will be released June 22 on DVD and, for the first time, Blu-Ray) drew an impressive array of Oscar winners and nominees, including Cher, Alec Baldwin, Anjelica Huston, Martin Landau and a dapper Eli Wallach as well as a younger generation represented by Ben McKenzie, Chris Klein and out actor Wilson Cruz. Director Peter Bogdanovich was there, as well as TCM’s resident film host-critics Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz.

While the sound system in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre didn’t sound well-balanced on opening night, resulting in loud but tinny-sounding musical numbers and sometimes hard-to-hear dialogue, repeat viewings of A Star is Born confirm that it remains one of Judy Garland’s best vehicles as well as contains one of James Mason’s best performances (both were Oscar-nominated for their work here).


The following morning found me back at Grauman’s Chinese and in line for King Kong with a cute, chatty USC film student named David. As critic Leonard Maltin noted during his introductory remarks, we were in the same theatre where Kong had its world premiere nearly 80 years ago for the world premiere of a new, digitally restored print that included the film’s long-lost overture by Max Steiner. While I was surprised to discover the movie more graphically violent (for 1933) than I remembered it, with close-up shots of Kong’s giant foot squashing villagers into the ground, it remains one of the most gripping and mythical of all big-screen adventures.

During the afternoon of day 2, I took in two films I’d never seen: the caustic, Manhattan-set morality tale Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and Douglas Sirk’s tear-jerking account of interior racial conflict, Imitation of Life (1959). Tony Curtis, who gives a memorable performance in Sweet Smell of Success as ambitious press agent Sidney Falco alongside Burt Lancaster as vicious columnist J.J. Hunsecker, made an odd appearance prior to the screening.


Making his entrance and exit in a wheelchair (the actor has apparently suffered a stroke) and wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a cowboy hat, Curtis rambled on about his “hazardous experience” growing up in New York and his opinions on acting. Most disturbingly, he uttered the word “lesbos” at one point while referring to women who appeared less than feminine to his observation, and he recounted his efforts at “making sure some guy wasn’t trying to grope me” while watching movies as a kid in a darkened theater.

Fortunately, my festival experience regained its classy aura once Curtis was out and Sweet Smell of Success began. The script, by Ernest Lehman and blacklisted playwright Clifford Odets, holds up remarkably well in its study of journalistic ethics and power. Lancaster and Curtis give blistering studies in contempt, and a handsome young Martin (billed here as “Marty”) Milner is great as the young musician who dares to challenge them. The film also boasts excellent direction by Alexander Mackendrick and photography by the legendary James Wong Howe, and a fine jazz score by Elmer Bernstein.


The Oscar-nominated co-stars of Imitation of Life, Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner, appeared following the screening of what they both admitted was their finest achievement as actors. Moore, who will turn 100 this year, doesn’t have the best memory but looks great. Kohner spoke more fondly of her role as mother to contemporary directors Chris and Paul Weitz than she did of her brief career in Hollywood. Still, both actresses and most audience members were pleased with Sirk’s then-controversial final film that ultimately focuses on a light-skinned black girl desperately trying to pass herself off as white. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during the finale.

Sunday afternoon’s screening of the excellent 1937 film The Good Earth, adapted from Pearl S. Buck’s China-set novel, was remarkable for a rare appearance by its Oscar-winning star, Luise Rainer. Now 100 and living in England, Rainer braved ash from the volcanic eruption in Iceland as well as the loss of her hearing aid to be at the TCM festival. The still-lovely Rainer walked down the aisle of Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre to the stage with only the help of a cane and quickly revealed a still-razor sharp mind and memory.


The audience and interviewer Robert Osborne, who had to write his questions for Rainer down so she could read them, listened with rapt delight as she spoke about the making of The Good Earth (good-naturedly dissing co-star Paul Muni and MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer in the process) as well as about her two marriages (her first, which ended in divorce, was to the aforementioned Clifford Odets) and her admiration for fellow actresses Greta Garbo and Julia Roberts. As TCM Channel’s production chief accurately announced after Rainer’s appearance, “This was the biggest event of the year in Hollywood.”

The North American premiere of a recently discovered, nearly complete cut of Fritz Lang’s science fiction masterpiece Metropolis (1927) served as the TCM fest’s grand finale. I had never seen Metropolis all the way through in any of its previously incomplete incarnations, and it was a thrill to do so with a very enthusiastic crowd of devotees in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The silent film was provided with extraordinary musical and sound-effects accompaniment by a live ensemble, the three-man Alloy Orchestra, performing the original score.


Prior to the Metropolis screening, Osborne announced to a roar of approval from attendees that the first TCM Classic Film Festival was such a success that another will be held next spring. While dates are yet to be announced, fans of Hollywood classics — GLBT and otherwise — should start planning now to attend. After all, these movies are in our blood.

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

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reverend’s Preview: Forecast: A Hot Summer at the Movies

The month of May might be best known in local GLBT circles as the celebratory start to a summer full of Pride celebrations, but it is also the annual beginning of Hollywood’s biggest season. While many of the studios’ offerings will be loud, overblown spectacles geared to kids and teens out of school, there are more than a few more adult-oriented offerings with appeal to GLBT moviegoers.

Based on advance word and my personal survey of several studio and independent films’ public relations reps, the following are films we should consider lining up for between now and the end of August. They are listed in order of their scheduled release dates, but please note these dates are subject to change.

Iron Man 2 (May 7): Robert Downey Jr.’s tongue-in-cheek performance powered the Marvel superhero’s first big-screen adventure to record grosses two years ago. Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow return and face off against Russian baddies played by the lovely Scarlett Johansson and a resurgent Mickey Rourke. While Rourke doesn’t fulfill every gay man’s ideal of physical beauty, the film’s trailer reveals The Wrestler Oscar-nominee sporting nothing more than tighty-whities in one scene.


OSS 117: Lost in Rio (May 7): I’m just going to quote from the press release to describe this one: “France’s top secret agent, a cross between James Bond and Austin Powers, teams up with a beautiful Mosad colonel whose mini skirt and kinky boots disguise dangerously forward-thinking views on women’s lib and world politics.” Mexican wrestlers, a man-eating alligator and risqué sexual humor also figure into the plot. What’s not to like?

Robin Hood (May 14): Although star Russell Crowe is on the record saying neither himself nor his male co-stars wear tights in this new take on the classic hero, Crowe is always worth watching and Cate Blanchett co-stars as Maid Marion. Maybe Crowe will at least have a skinny-dipping scene like Kevin Costner (or, rather, Costner’s butt double) did in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!

Sex and the City 2 (May 27): In what may be the summer’s campiest movie, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her BFFs Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (out actress Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) return for a globetrotting adventure but don’t lack for high fashion or cocktails! Mario Cantone and Willie Garson are also back as the quartet’s gay pals, with no less than Penélope Cruz, Liza Minnelli and Miley Cyrus (?) making cameos.


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (May 28): Jake Gyllenhaal of Brokeback Mountain fame sports long hair, a leather codpiece and buffed-up biceps in this video game-inspired fantasy from mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean). Again, I ask: What’s not to like?

Stonewall Uprising (June 18): A documentary that uses archival film footage to trace events and cultural attitudes that culminated in the infamous police raid on New York’s Stonewall Inn in June 1969. The patrons’ counter-attack marked the birth of the GLBT movement; billed as “the first non-fiction film to tell the story of the Stonewall riots by the participants.”

Toy Story 3 (June 18): Action figures Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear (again voiced by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, respectively) resume their CG “bromance,” this time in 3-D. The series’ regulars are joined by Barbie’s boy toy Ken (Michael Keaton), as well as a new character with the unfortunate name “Mr. Pricklepants” (former James Bond, Timothy Dalton).


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (June 30): While teenaged girls are this successful book and film chronicle’s main fans, I know a few gay men smitten by its lovelorn vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and/or heroine Bella’s werewolf friend, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Dakota Fanning also returns as the mind-controlling Jane, and Bryce Dallas Howard (director Ron Howard’s daughter) assumes the role of Edward’s jilted former lover, the vicious Victoria.

Love Ranch (June 30): A fictional account of Nevada’s brothel industry, starring Oscar-winners Helen Mirren (The Queen) and Joe Pesci (GoodFellas) as the purveyors of one of the state’s first such legal establishments. Problems arise when a South American boxer played by hottie Sergio Peris-Mencheta comes between them. Expect plenty of skin, both female and male.

The Kids Are All Right (July 7): This dramedy focusing on two adult children raised by a lesbian couple (Oscar nominees Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) who decide to seek out their sperm-donor father (Mark Ruffalo) was well received at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by lesbian filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon).


Inception (July 16): From Christopher Nolan, the writer-director of Memento and the last two, super-successful Batman movies, comes a mind-bending science fiction saga about a corporate raider who steals the dreams of business tycoons, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film’s great supporting cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (of the gay-themed Latter Days and Mysterious Skin) and Juno star/emerging lesbian favorite Ellen Page.

Dinner for Schmucks (July 23): Cuties Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, so funny together in The 40 Year Old Virgin, co-star as an unsuspecting dork (Carell) recruited by a callous executive (Rudd) as a pawn in a mean-spirited contest. Things don’t quite go as planned, and the two end up as friends rather than adversaries. From director Jay Roach of the Meet the Parents and Austin Powers film series.

Beastly (July 30): A contemporary spin on the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast, starring Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame as Beauty to Alex Pettyfer’s disfigured teenager looking for true love. Out actor and awards show host Neil Patrick Harris is also featured in the cast.


Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (July 30): Bette Midler gives voice to the villainous feline of the subtitle, who is bent on world domination. This sequel to 2001’s Cats & Dogs (which featured the voice of the recently out Sean Hayes) is likely kids’ stuff, but GLBT pet owners may find it somewhat true-to-life.

The Girl Who Played With Fire (July): The second of Stieg Larsson’s international bestsellers involving bisexual computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander (strong and sexy Noomi Rapace) comes to the big screen quickly on the heels of the hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This time around, Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist go after the highly-placed leaders of a sex-trafficking ring.

The Extra Man (July): Described as “charming” and “howlingly funny,” this film centers on a young, aspiring writer (Paul Dano of Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood) who moves to New York City, where he befriends a failed playwright-turned-escort played by Kevin Kline. Think of it as The Great Gatsby crossed with Midnight Cowboy.

Also watch for several GLBT-themed movies that don’t have definite release dates yet: Spring Fever, Hideaway/Le Refuge and Out Late. And if these offerings aren’t enough for you, there will be GLBT movies galore screened as part of both the 9th Annual Dance Camera West and Los Angeles Film Festivals in June and, of course, the 28th annual Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, a.k.a. Outfest.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reverend’s Interview: Mighty Matthew Montgomery

During his first year studying theatre at USC, Texas-born Matthew Montgomery was nicknamed “The Wonder Freshman” for his acting talent and ability to snag major roles in virtually every production. Today, a little more than ten years later, Montgomery is one of a handful of openly gay, consistently working film and theatre actors along with the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Nathan Lane and Neil Patrick Harris.

Montgomery has caught many a queer eye via leading roles in such popular gay-themed vehicles as Gone But Not Forgotten, Long-Term Relationship, Back Soon, Socket and last year’s bittersweet romance Redwoods (all are available on DVD). He is currently starring in Pornography: A Thriller, a creepy murder-mystery that debuted at last year’s Outfest and will be released on DVD in July.

I recently enjoyed a leisurely, wide-ranging chat with the 32-year old Montgomery over coffee in West Hollywood. The actor, who often appears nude in his films, is even better looking in person … despite keeping his clothes on! He laughed and quickly turned red when I reminded him of his “Wonder Freshman” moniker.


“The funny thing,” Montgomery told me, “is that I’m back at USC now, finishing my Bachelor’s degree in theatre.” He dropped out of college after two years, and eight years later decided to return and complete his studies even though he is a successful, working actor.

One wonders what Montgomery’s professors would think of Pornography: A Thriller. The actor states: “It’s kind of a mind f**k of a movie, which is what I said to myself when I read the script and what really attracted me to the movie.”

Montgomery plays Michael Castigan, one-half of a contemporary gay couple that gets caught up in the mysterious, decade-old disappearance of a legendary gay porn star. The film is disturbing for its suggestions of sexual violence, and is potentially confusing to viewers who don’t pay close attention. It is similar in tone and style to such David Lynch productions as Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive.


“There aren’t a lot of films out there like (Pornography) — particularly in the gay genre — that push the boundaries and try to think outside of the box,” Montgomery explained. “I was really attracted to the challenge of telling a story in a non-linear way, both from an acting standpoint and from a visual and cinematic standpoint.”

Pornography marks the debut of writer-director David Kittredge, for whom Montgomery has nothing but praise. “For David’s first feature film, he could have easily gone the romantic-comedy direction or tried to tell any kind of easier story, but he chose to take a chance on something that could potentially be polarizing for an audience. I really appreciated that.”

While I believe Pornography: A Thriller can be interpreted as a negative critique of the gay porn industry, Montgomery disagreed. “Some of the criticism that we’ve received is from people who said it’s very admonishing of the porn industry or of people who watch porn in general. Actually, I think the industry of pornography is just the backdrop of the film, and it’s really about how the lines can easily get blurred between fantasy and reality. I think the porn industry here serves as a very universal metaphor.”


I inquired as to Montgomery’s thoughts on another of his movies, Socket, in which he plays a gay man who becomes sexually aroused by electricity. He replied: “The thing that I really loved about Socket is that it was such a blatant metaphor for drug addiction in our community, and I felt that (director) Sean Abley really did such a great job of transcending that into a sci-fi metaphor, something which hadn’t been done before.”

Montgomery gives his two best performances to date, in my opinion, in the soulful romances Back Soon and Redwoods. In the former, he plays a man who becomes an unwitting host for the spirit of a dead woman reaching out to her bereaved husband. As the men grapple to understand their metaphysical situation, they become involved with each other sexually.

“It’s a really bizarre premise,” Montgomery reflected. “That was the second film I did (after Long-Term Relationship) with director Rob Williams. He came to me with the script and I read it and said ‘What is this?’ It was really kind of the opposite of our prior film together, which was a very light, funny, romantic comedy that didn’t take itself too seriously. Back Soon was very much on the opposite end of things, more supernatural and much more serious.”


Montgomery has become involved as a producer of several of Williams’ movies, including Back Soon, 3-Day Weekend and last year’s hit Make the Yuletide Gay. Largely in response to popular demand, they are now in development on Make the Yuletide Gay 2, which will reunite many of the original cast members.

The actor-producer is also prepping three other upcoming films, Role/Play, Finding Mr. Wright and Sticke Figures, the latter of which Montgomery has also written. In Role/Play, Montgomery and his real-life partner, Steve Callahan (who also appears in Pornography: A Thriller), will star as an out gay activist going through one of California's first gay divorces, and a closeted soap-opera star recently outed, respectively. Hiding out from negative media coverage, the two men meet at a secluded Palm Springs resort, where they soon find common ground as they explore the fickle nature of fame in the gay community and the issues facing gay celebrities in the media.

Montgomery and Callahan have also been acting together on the stage in recent months as part of the international tour of Terrence McNally’s controversial play, Corpus Christi. Callahan plays Judas to a gay Jesus, and Montgomery is the apostle Bartholomew. Tour information, including upcoming performance cities and dates, may be found at the official website of 108 Productions.


“It’s a really incredible play,” Montgomery says, perhaps primarily to those who haven’t seen it. “They are also filming a documentary on it.” He is particularly excited that Corpus Christi will be making its West End premiere in London in July, featuring this cast. Montgomery and I joked about whether his West End debut would qualify him to finally complete his college studies. “Can I get some school credit?” Montgomery laughed. “How about a degree? Doesn’t that get me a degree?”

With or without his Bachelor’s, Matthew Montgomery’s star is clearly on the rise in the GLBT independent film industry, the theatre world, and beyond.

For more information about Matthew Montgomery, visit his official website.

UPDATE: Pornography: A Thriller is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

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

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Sacred Cows

Joining the growing canon of movies that challenge traditional Judeo-Christian attitudes toward homosexuality (For the Bible Tells Me So, Call Me Troy, the upcoming Faith of the Abomination) is Ky Dickens' Fish Out of Water, out today on DVD from First Run Features.

Dickens kicks things off by relating her story of coming out as a lesbian while attending Vanderbilt University, a Christian college smack in the Bible belt state of Tennessee. While her conservative sorority sisters first reacted with horror and rejection, the experience led some of them as well as Dickens to explore their long-held but rarely questioned beliefs about GLBT people.


In her effort to get to the root of what the Old and New Testaments really say about homosexuality, Dickens consults various scholars and ministers. Representing the anti-GLBT side is, among others, the increasingly sanity-deficient Fred Phelps. Fortunately, GLBT champions including retired but revered Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong and the fabulous Rev. Amy-Jill Levine more than balance him out.

The film primarily utilizes tongue-in-cheek animation to illuminate the whopping seven passages in the entire Bible that ostensibly address sexual relations between members of the same gender. The acclaimed For the Bible Tells Me So also does so, but Fish Out of Water does it more concisely (the film runs a lean, mean 60 minutes) and, if with perhaps less emotional impact, more entertainingly.


Religion and lesbians also play key roles in Searching 4 Sandeep, one of the movies being shown during the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) that opens tonight. Between IFFLA — which will showcase Bollywood and independent films from Mahatma Gandhi's homeland — and the TCM Classic Film Fest opening Thursday, this is a very busy week for serious Hollywood moviegoers!

Engagingly directed, written and shot by Poppy Stockell, Searching 4 Sandeep recounts the early stages of the filmmaker's relationship with Sandeep Virdi, an Indian woman residing in Great Britain. The two meet through an Internet dating site and quickly forge an intense, long-distance attraction to each other.

The women seem like polar opposites. Poppy is a gregarious, out, Australian recovering from a nasty break-up. Sandeep is closeted, still in college and living with her conservative Sikh parents. Most significantly, Sandeep has yet to have sex or a relationship with another woman.


After an initial, successful face-to-face rendezvous in Bangkok, Poppy flies to England to visit Poppy and meet her family. Things don't quite go according to plan, as ingrained cultural expectations and family values threaten Sandeep and Poppy's delicate situation.

Between Stockell's confessional video style and sometimes-raw emotions on the part of all concerned laid bare, Searching 4 Sandeep is an in-your-face expose of the challenges that arise when differing worldviews collide. It is well worth seeing by GLBT viewers, as are many of the films that will screen during IFFLA's six nights. For more information, visit the festival's official website.

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

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reverend’s Preview: The First-Ever TCM Film Fest

Several of the best-regarded movies, filmmakers and stars of all time will be reunited during the first-ever TCM Classic Film Festival. It will run April 22-25 at historic venues throughout Hollywood, including Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is best known as a cable channel showcasing both prominent and more obscure achievements from the film industry’s earlier decades. Mogul Ted Turner launched the network in 1994, and it has grown incredibly popular among both cinephiles and casual viewers alike.


There will be plenty of films and events of GLBT-interest during the festival’s four days. In fact, the TCM Fest will kick off with one of the greatest gay icons of them all: Judy Garland. A newly restored version of the 1954 musical version of A Star is Born, starring Garland and James Mason and directed by the gay-but-closeted George Cukor, will have its world premiere the night of April 22 at the Chinese Theatre. This marks the first major restoration of the film since 1983, and it will feature better picture quality and richer color than ever before.

Two other significant, restored movies that will be included in the festival are Jean-Luc Godard’s sexy, French-New Wave classic Breathless (1960), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo (who is scheduled to appear) and Jean Seberg, and Fritz Lang's German sci-fi epic Metropolis (1927). The latter will include 30 minutes of recently discovered footage that hasn’t been seen since the film’s 1927 premiere. This North American premiere of the nearly complete Metropolis will be accompanied by a live musical ensemble performing the original score.


Prior to 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, perhaps the grittiest, best-regarded cinematic saga of two men in a mutually caring, tragically doomed relationship was Midnight Cowboy (1969). The first X-rated film to be nominated for, yet alone win, the Academy Award for Best Picture, it stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight as two hustlers in New York City who dream of a better life…together. Gay director John Schlesinger — who won an Oscar for his fine work here — later helmed such GLBT-themed productions as Sunday, Bloody Sunday and The Next Best Thing. Voight will be on hand to discuss the TCM Festival’s screening of Midnight Cowboy.

The excellent 1937 film The Good Earth will receive a rare big-screen presentation during the fest. Star Luise Rainer, who plays a Chinese woman struggling to preserve her home despite numerous obstacles, won the second of two consecutive Best Actress Academy Awards for her memorable work here. Rainer recently turned 100 years old, and she is scheduled to appear in conjunction with the screening.


Director Douglas Sirk — whose lush, melodramatic style was imitated to perfection by gay filmmaker Todd Haynes in 2002’s Far from Heaven — will be represented at the TCM Fest by his classic, racially charged Imitation of Life (1959). The late Lana Turner headlines the movie, but her Oscar-nominated co-stars Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner will be in attendance.

No classic film festival (or gay-themed film festival, for that matter) would be complete without an appearance by “Mommie Dearest” herself, Joan Crawford. The actress’s rarely screened 1941 film A Woman’s Face, directed by the previously mentioned George Cukor, will be shown and will be introduced by Casey LaLonde, Crawford’s grandson.


And, of course, a Hollywood-based celebration of unforgettable movies couldn’t neglect Sunset Boulevard (1950), Billy Wilder’s dark comedy that introduced the world to faded, questionably-sane silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). William Holden co-stars as her assistant/boy toy, and the movie was later musicalized by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’ll be very surprised if the screening audience is able to suppress the inclination to recite Desmond’s final, classic line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up!”

Funny man Mel Brooks will also be honored during the TCM Festival. He will screen his hilarious 1968 Oscar-winner The Producers (which was itself adapted into a successful stage musical), as well as receive a long-overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. No word yet on whether The Producers’ over-the-top gay duo, Roger DeBris and Carmen Ghia, will be present as well.

This is but a small sampling of the unique delights in store for festival attendees, GLBT and otherwise. For complete information about the TCM Classic Film Festival and to purchase tickets or passes, please visit its official website.

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

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reel Thoughts Interview: Hitchcock Hijinks

Take one classic Alfred Hitchcock film, four actors and over a hundred and fifty characters and mix in a large dose of Monty Python and you’ll end up with The 39 Steps, the hit Broadway comedy now on tour. Actor Scott Parkinson plays dozens of characters, both male and female, sometimes during the same scene in the fast-paced farce. Parkinson has played characters as different as the Stage Manager in Off-Broadway’s critically acclaimed Our Town and the scene-stealing Zygote, a misshapen comic clone, in Charles Busch’s hit The Third Story. Other GLBT-friendly roles include Prior Walter in Angels in America, Kenneth Tynan in Orson’s Shadow and his award-winning gender-bending performance as Queen Margaret in Rose Rage.

The 39 Steps was one of Hitchcock’s earliest hits, about Richard Hannay, a man who is roused from his apathetic midlife crisis when a beautiful spy literally falls into his arms. Unfortunately, she has a large knife in her back, and gasps an ominous warning about an evil entity known as "the 39 Steps". Hannay goes on the run to clear his name. It’s pre-WW II England, so the threats are very dire. Dire and hilarious, that is, since the actors use the simplest of set pieces, props and hats to recreate the film’s cross-country locales.


“There’s a back story to the show which is that there’s this provincial English theater company in the 30’s that is sort of low on funds and that is trying to resurrect the careers of some of its actors,” Parkinson explained. “So they decide to put on this production of The 39 Steps, but they only have four actors. The leading man plays just one role, and the leading lady plays all the female love interests, and then there are these two Vaudeville clowns who play every other part. I’m the villain, I’m an old lady Scottish innkeeper, and we take on inanimate objects as well. Whatever they need us to be, they throw us a costume and we’re it. We’re changing costumes right onstage in the blink of an eye, and that’s part of the fun of the evening.”

Parkinson enjoys the challenge of mastering The 39 Steps’ precise comedy every night in a run that’s longer than he’s used to. “It helps when the audiences are having a good time, because obviously we feed off of that energy.” He’s looking forward to returning to Tempe, the tour's next stop, after a run of shows in various southern locations, all of which had cold and rainy weather. “I love Arizona. My parents used to live in Mesa, so I’ve been out there a lot.”


He also loved working with Kathleen Turner and Busch in The Third Story. “I don’t get to do brand new plays very often that are world premieres,” he explained. “It was interesting to do something from the ground up and to watch Charles and Carl Andress (the director) really work and shape that script and to see what we learned from the production in La Jolla, the kind of changes that they made prior to doing the show in New York. To have a front row seat was endlessly fascinating to me. It was great to create this character that was just so bizarre,” he added, revealing that he envisioned the character “as sort of the love child of Vincent Price and Truman Capote” which he then layered with Sal Mineo’s vulnerable performance in Rebel Without a Cause. He loved working with Turner, who replaced Mary Beth Piel for the New York run. “She’s such a legend and she was such a trouper for us. She had some problems with her leg and had to miss a couple of performances, but she came right back and really brought a whole new and different energy to piece.”

Parkinson knows that GLBT audiences will love The 39 Steps. “It’s a very smart, a very literate piece ... it’s very humorous. I think the gay audience appreciates shows that are smart and funny and have a certain style to them. It’s a story about a man feeling “on the outside” in many ways and how he comes to a sense of belonging by the end of the play through his experiences. And there are some great dresses in it.”

The 39 Steps will be performed at ASU Gammage from April 20 to 25.  For more information on the tour, including future dates and locations, visit the play's official website.

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

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Dances with Denial & Destiny

Straight-acting, small town electrician "Handsome" Harry Sweeney (played by Jamey Sheridan, who is probably best known for his 1990's TV appearances on such series as Shannon's Deal, Chicago Hope and Stephen King's The Stand) is surprised to receive a call out of the blue one day from his former Navy shipmate, Tom Kelly (Steve Buscemi). After thirty years of non-communication, Kelly is calling Harry from his deathbed. It seems that both men were involved in a violent attack against a fellow sailor during their time together in the military, something that Kelly is afraid he will be condemned to Hell for if amends aren't made.

Handsome Harry — which is being released this Friday in Los Angeles, NYC and a city or two in Florida — is a unique story of love and regret that illuminates the lengths some will go to in order to deny or cover up the sins of their past, especially if those "sins" are of a homosexual nature. You see, the shipmate that Harry, Kelly and several other sailors beat up, David Kagan (Campbell Scott, no stranger to gay roles after Longtime Companion and The Dying Gaul), was gay ... and it turns out that Harry had more than just a passing friendship with him.


The film, directed by Bette Gordon from a sensitive script by Nicholas T. Proferes, is exquisitely acted by an exceptional cast that also includes Aidan Quinn (most recently seen in The Eclipse), John Savage (The Deer Hunter, Hair), Karen Young (who played Laurel in the 1988 film of Torch Song Trilogy) and Mariann Mayberry. Sheridan's performance, though, provides the movie's strongly-beating heart.

Interestingly, it is revealed that Harry had a goal while in the Navy to become a Catholic priest once his tour was ended. This provides the film with another avenue through which to explore regret and denial, and it turns out to be a timely one with everything that's been going on recently in the Roman Catholic Church related to sex and abuse.

As Tom Kelly says to Harry of their past prior to his death, "We became men together." Handsome Harry serves as a pertinent and powerful indictment of machismo, homophobia and repression.


Also opening this Friday in LA and expanding to other major US cities over the next month is the noteworthy documentary Dancing Across Borders, from First Run Features. It follows the decade-long, international journey of dancer Sokvannara (or Sy, pronounced "See", for short) Sar, who is today a member of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.

Sy was discovered in 2000 by an American tourist, Anne Bass, whose film directorial debut this is. Bass noticed Sy, who was then 16-years old, performing traditional Cambodian dances in a temple in his native city of Angkor Wat. After Bass returned to the US, she remained haunted by Sy's apparent talent. A longtime patron of dance, Bass gradually became motivated to contact Sy's parents and offer to bring their son to New York to study ballet. Fortunately, they agreed.

Dancing Across Borders is compiled from Bass's video footage of Sy's lessons, rehearsals and performances between 2000-2009. It's a rare film that gives viewers the opportunity to watch an artist-in-training pretty much from square one, and Dancing Across Borders does just that. It is amazing to watch Sy's development into the acclaimed dancer he is today.


Bass also includes interviews with Sy's parents, teachers and friends in Cambodia, as well as with his American teachers who include the legendary Olga Kostritzky, Peter Boal and Jock Soto (Soto is the openly gay, Native American subject of last year's similarly fine dance documentary, Water Flowing Together). Philip Glass also appears, performing live as Sy dances to one of his compositions. Of Sy's success, his proud mother notes that "It is his destiny."

In Los Angeles, Dancing Across Borders is being shown as part of the Spring build-up to the 9th annual Dance Camera West film festival in June. The fest will feature other GLBT-interest films, including the LA premiere of Dzi Croquettes.


UPDATE: Handsome Harry is now available on DVD from Amazon.com and Dancing Across Borders is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

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