Sunday, July 31, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - August 2011: Toon Heroes

The wisecracking sidekicks and scene-stealing villains usually get all the attention, but it is the brave and bold Toon Heroes who get the spotlight in this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper.

The animated action heroes and heroines of August include such American faves as Pocahontas, Hiccup and the Iron Giant, as well as such international favorites as Kiki, Akira and Wallace & Gromit, plus Roger Rabbit, the original 'toon' star.

All you have to do is click on the picture above to enlarge it, then simply right click your mouse and select "Set as Background". (You can also save it to your computer and set it up from there if you prefer.) The size is 1024 x 768, but you can modify it if needed in your own photo-editing program.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Absolution Day

If potential and casting were all that mattered, Cowboys & Aliens would be a surefire hit. Unfortunately, perhaps driven by the oh-so-serious Daniel Craig, everyone involved decided to fight every impulse to inject humor, lightness and originality. Don’t get me wrong, Cowboys & Aliens is extremely well made and Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde give good performances. It’s just that they could have called the thing “Absolution Day” and called it a day. It is so by rote, I expected Bill Pullman to show up as President Grant to deliver a rousing battle speech before they kick alien butt. Cowboys & Aliens is perfectly serviceable and gets the job done, but it could have been so much better.

Craig plays a mysterious stranger who isn’t Clint Eastwood, who shows up in the lawless town of Absolution in the New Mexico Territory circa 1875. He has a strange bracelet and no memory, but it appears that he is a train robber named Jake Lonergan, who is wanted for murder. Wilde plays a prairie knockout named Ella, who seems to know where Jake has been and what the bracelet means.

Ford is Colonel Dolarhyde, the iron-fisted boss of the town, whose ne’er-do-well son Percy (Paul Dano) is a drunken blowhard itching for a fight. Soon, the townsfolk have more to worry about than Percy’s random shooting of deputies; alien ships appear and start snatching people and blowing things up. Jake’s arm shackle activates and helps him blast one of the invaders out of the sky, and he realizes that he is the only one who can beat the aliens.

Cowboys & Aliens echoes Super 8 with its underground slimy creatures, but it is totally missing the latter’s sense of wonder and exuberance. Director Jon Favreau knows action and he does a good job with the battle scenes. Craig gives gravitas to his character, and makes you feel for the loss of his love (Abigail Spencer). If the screenwriters had just embraced the premise’s campier aspects, Cowboys & Aliens could have been out of this world fun.

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Double Vision

History has proven that Saddam Hussein, the late long-ruling dictator of Iraq, was no Mr. Nice Guy. If The Devil's Double is to be believed, however, Hussein's son Uday — a.k.a. "The Black Prince" — was even more decadent and vicious. This fact-based, no-holds-barred exposé of political corruption and immorality opens today in New York and Los Angeles.

"We must have discipline," proclaims Uday, just prior to beating the unfortunate soldier coerced into serving as his body double. Former schoolmates and similar-looking enough to have been confused as brothers, Latif Yahia and Uday form an uneasy partnership, with the safety of Latif's parents and siblings serving as necessary collateral.

As Latif and Uday, Dominic Cooper's performance blew me away. Cooper is probably best known for his role as the fiancé of Meryl Streep's daughter in the movie version of Mamma Mia!, but can also be seen currently in Captain America: The First Avenger as Howard Stark. The Devil's Double marks Cooper's first lead in a feature film. It's a terrific double-turn, and he is particularly good as the unhinged Uday. It doesn't hurt that director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) doesn't refrain from showing off Cooper's impressive physical attributes as well.

Actually, the entire cast is excellent. French actress Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool) utilizes an effective mix of bravado and fear as one of Uday's prostitute mistresses who falls for Latif. Raad Rawi memorably portrays the Husseins' head of security as, in the words of Latif, "a good man in a bad job." As Saddam Hussein, Australian actor Philip Quast inspires no small degree of sympathy once the audience has gotten to know his spoiled, sociopath son (Quast also plays Saddam's double). Mimoun Oaissa has fun as Uday's gay assistant/dresser.

The screenplay by Michael Thomas is insightful, although scenes seem to become repetitive and the violence numbing as the film goes on. According to the press notes, Tamahori drew inspiration from Brian DePalma's 1983 version of Scarface, and it shows in the amounts of cocaine snorted and brutal bloodletting depicted. Like Scarface, The Devil's Double is definitely over the top at times, no less so than during a climactic birthday party Uday throws for himself where the guests are forced to disrobe. But then again, that's likely the way it was in Hussein-era, pre-Gulf War Iraq. Sam McCurdy employs gorgeous photography in desert shades of red, brown and gold of the story's setting, opulence and decadence (the movie was actually filmed in Malta).

"One day when God visits, we'll have justice," one character says. While Iraq is at present still taking slow steps toward democracy, at least the Husseins have been removed from power there once and for all. The Devil's Double makes it abundantly clear that this couldn't have happened a day too soon. See the movie if for no other reason than Dominic Cooper's revelatory performance, and watch a star being born.

Reverend's Rating: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Toon Talk: Reel American Hero

Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941, the star-spangled Marvel Comics hero known as Captain America has been fighting for truth, justice and the American way for 70 years now. In his long, illustrious career, the good Captain’s four-color exploits have taken him from the battlefields of World War II to the far reaches of outer space. But Cap’s greatest challenge was making a successful leap to the silver screen.

Now in theaters, Captain America: The First Avenger achieves that feat with flying colors. This period-perfect film boasts superior production values, an embarrassment of acting riches cast-wise and plenty of flag-waving enthusiasm that carries this never campy, always gung-ho summer actioner to blockbuster heights. As directed by Joe Johnston (who also helmed the similarly-set cult favorite The Rocketeer), Captain America smartly sidesteps the typical pitfalls of the superhero genre, playing more like a WWII spy thriller… albeit one that just happens to have a super-powered leading man.

Chris Evans (who has plenty of cinematic super-powered experience thanks to two Fantastic Four flicks, Push and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is said leading man...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Captain America: The First Avenger at

UPDATE: Captain America: The First Avenger is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Sexually-Charged New Releases on DVD

Just when summer couldn't get much hotter, both men and women have provocative movies guaranteed to raise their temperatures out on DVD this month. For the ladies (and for men interested in good international cinema), Argentina's celebrated The Fish Child (El Niño Pez) is now available from Wolfe Video. The film, named after a traditional Guarani folk tale that figures in the plot, was an official selection at 2010's Outfest, Frameline, Berlin and Tribeca film festivals.

The romance between Lala (Inés Efron) and Guayi (Mariela Vitale Emme) has been forbidden by Lala's father, not only because Guayi is the family's maid and thus from a lower class but because both of them are women. Having essentially spent their adolescence together, Lala and Guayi are only feeling their love become more intense. Matters aren't helped when Lala is jailed for a crime in which she played part several years before. Guayi launches a risky plan to rescue Lala and take down a drug kingpin who has his eye set on Lala. Things come to a head in a violent, climactic showdown.

The Fish Child is very well acted and beautifully shot, especially during some dreamy underwater scenes. The film was made by Lucia Puenzo, who previously did the striking XXY about the plight of an intersex teenager. Her style is very observational and some may find it slow-moving, not unlike a Terrence Malick movie (The Thin Red Line, the current The Tree of Life). Also, Guayi comes across as unhealthily obsessive at times but it's all in the name of love and devotion.

Meanwhile, Blackmail Boys spins a cinematic web of young gay love, prostitution, religious hypocrisy and, yes, blackmail. The DVD will be released August 30 by TLA Releasing. It is written and directed by Bernard and Richard Shumanski, talented brothers who also made the similarly edgy, gay-themed 2009 movie Wrecked.

Sam (played by Nathan Adloff) and Aaron (Taylor Reed) have been boyfriends since they met during college four years prior. Sam has more recently moved to Chicago to attend art school but the men's relationship has continued long-distance. Art school, however, is expensive and Sam's parents have cut him off due to his homosexuality. Unable to find a job that will pay him enough for housing and tuition, Sam has turned to prostitution as what turns out to be a lucrative option.

While Sam has told Aaron about his temporary vocation, Aaron doesn't realize how uncomfortable he feels about it until he visits Sam one weekend. The situation is initially made more difficult when Aaron spies on Sam with one of his high-paying clients and recognizes the john as a fundamentalist Christian, rabidly anti-gay author/radio talk show host. When Aaron informs Sam of this, the boys hit upon the idea of blackmailing the homophobe as a means of financing Sam's education. Things don't quite go according to plan.

Blackmail Boys is obviously low-budget and the filmmaking technique is crude in spots. Adloff and Reed aren't the most professional actors but there is a nice, natural look to them and their relationship. They also display abundant nudity and sex in this relatively brief (67 minutes) movie. Most surprising, though is the participation of indie actor-director Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs, the upcoming Autoerotic). He gives a great, fully-committed performance as Sam's hypocritical (not to mention married) Christian client. Not only does Swanberg nail the inner conflict and self-loathing that many such men experience, but he is depicted in graphically sexual scenes with Sam that couldn't have been faked, as well as masturbating on camera.

There are several twists as well as some humor and social commentary in the script, and I appreciated it's unexpected ending. If you're in the mood for a sexy if imperfect morality tale that might make you question your assumptions, buy or rent Blackmail Boys today.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Fish Child: B
Blackmail Boys: B-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Reverend's Report: When Film Festivals Collide

Most people think it's fun and semi-glamorous being a film critic, and it can be. A film critic's job, however, becomes about as challenging as a job can get when covering not just one film festival but two — while also serving as a programmer for a third festival — simultaneously. Such was my lot from late May through July 17, when I provided advance coverage for and attended the Los Angeles Film Festival and Outfest, the 29th Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, while reviewing submissions for this September's Long Beach Q Film Festival. All in all, I've been subjected to over 300 mostly independent, primarily GLBT-interest shorts and features in 60 days, an average of 5 films per day. And this isn't even my full-time job!

Outfest 2011 came to a close with the LA premiere of The Perfect Family, starring Kathleen Turner as the conservative Catholic mother of a lesbian daughter. On the same day she is nominated for the "Catholic Woman of the Year" award, Mom learns that her daughter and daughter's partner are planning to get married. Out actor Richard Chamberlain plays the local monsignor, and Sharon Lawrence has a great turn as Turner's co-nominee/nemesis. While the film is chiefly a drama, it has its comedic moments and I couldn't help but picture Turner at times as her Serial Mom character and wish she'd make an obscene crank call or two to Lawrence, which only made the movie funnier for me. The Perfect Family doesn't get all the Catholic details right but still presents the church's rituals and parish politics more seriously than most movies. Rating: B

Religious themes were big this year, with several significant entries in both the LA Film Fest (including Vera Farmiga's haunting Higher Ground) and Outfest. The Wise Kids, featured at the latter, is a lovely, teen coming-of-age story that avoids most of the clichés we've come to expect of that genre. Writer-director Stephen Cone (who also plays a closeted, married church leader in the film) won the festival's Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Screenwriting, and the movie was awarded the Grand Jury prize for Outstanding US Dramatic Feature. Its no-name cast is excellent and I was also impressed by the ethereal music score by Mikhail Fiksel.  Rating: B+

Mangus!, by Ash Christian of Fat Girls fame, is a John Waters-type farce that even includes a cameo by Waters (as Jesus, no less). The title character is the latest in a line of family members who have performed the starring role in Jesus Christ Spectacular, a local stage tradition begun when the producers couldn't afford the rights to Jesus Christ Superstar. It's inconsequential, frequently trashy stuff but benefits from a great supporting cast that includes Leslie Jordan, Jennifer Coolidge and Heather Matarazzo. Rating: C

While the standout film for me at both the LA Film Festival and Outfest was the joyous urban ball-musical Leave It On the Floor (which has also been selected to screen at our Long Beach festival), there were a number of other movies shown during Outfest that particularly impressed and/or touched me. These include the documentaries Carol Channing: Larger Than Life and We Were Here. Carol Channing arguably ranks second only to Betty White in the category of 90-year old entertainment legends. The original Dolly Levi in the Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly! as well as an Oscar nominee for her loopy performance in the 1967 movie musical Thoroughly Modern Millie ("Raspberries!") continues to make talk show and fundraising appearances. Channing is also the subject and frequent narrator of this wonderfully informative documentary that explores her illustrious stage career, her upbringing in San Francisco, and the history behind her current marriage of 10 years to her Junior High sweetheart. It can be faulted somewhat for only viewing Channing through admiring, rose-colored glasses, but then I suppose anyone who disparages the endearingly cheery star does so at their own peril. Rating: A-

We Were Here, meanwhile, is a riveting reflection on the initial, devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic on San Francisco's gay community. Don't watch it without a box of tissues handy; my partner had to console me when I broke down at least twice while watching the movie, which I very rarely do. The film won the Audience Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature at Outfest and is scheduled to be released theatrically this September. Rating: B+

Weekend, which won the Outfest Grand Jury Award for Outstanding International Dramatic Feature, is getting a great reception among gay men wherever it shows. It will be released in US theatres starting this October. Written, directed and even edited by Andrew Haigh (Greek Pete), it follows two gay men over the course of 48 hours following their initial, Friday night meeting. Well-written and insightful, I don't think we've seen a gay-themed film this purely romantic and ultimately affecting since Brokeback Mountain. Lead actors Tom Cullen and Chris New have undeniable chemistry and give great, vulnerable performances. Unfortunately, I was put off by the characters' considerable drug use in the film. Getting high on marijuana and cocaine during the early stages of courting is hardly a healthy foundation for a long-lasting relationship. This is the only aspect in which Weekend felt false to me. Still, it's highly recommended. Rating: B+

Romeos is a standout among an unusually high number of transgender-interest submissions at all three film festivals I've been a part of this summer. While Tomboy (which had its US premiere at the LA Film Festival) is in my opinion the best among them (although some are arguing Tomboy is a lesbian-themed story rather than a trans-interest one), I also like this German production a lot. A male-appearing but secretly transgender young adult captures the eye and, eventually, the heart of a very hot gay boy. As false appearances and stereotypical expectations are gradually removed, the two forge a genuinely pioneering romance; well worth seeing. Rating: B+

Quite possibly the most ambitious production screening at Outfest was Woman's Picture. This evocation of/tribute to traditional women's genre films merely represents the first three segments of what is intended to be a 10-year film project masterminded by the highly intelligent and talented Brian Pera (The Way I See Things). Pera, looking Kevin Bacon-esque, co-stars alongside trans actress Calpernia Addams in the first part, "Ingrid." Singer Amy Lavere and the wonderful Anne Magnuson head up the other two, initial chapters. Woman's Picture, which Pera calls an homage to his grandmothers in the press notes, is a bit over-long and self-indulgent at times but it is also stylistically fascinating and beautifully shot by Ryan Parker. Given the film's presumably low budget, Pera deserves props for his economic technique, at least. Rating: B

Other award-winning movies screened during Outfest are Circumstance (Audience Award for Outstanding First US Dramatic Feature and Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress, Nikohl Boosheri; it also won the Audience Award at January's Sundance Film Festival and will be released theatrically at the end of August); the ingenious Shakespeare update Private Romeo, which won the Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor for its entire, all-male cast; and Tom Tykwer's bisexual-themed 3, which garnered Outfest's 2011 Audience Award for Outstanding Dramatic Feature Film.

The last two months have provided me a wonderful cinematic workout, but I'm ready for a celluloid-free vacation... right after I see the final chapter in the Harry Potter saga and Captain America, that is...

Report by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Toon Talk: Silly Ol’ Bear

It has been 34 years since Disney’s first feature length visit to the world of A.A. Milne’s “bear of very little brain”, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. During that time the character, along with his fellow inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, have become beloved pop culture icons, spawning everything from television series and DVDs to theme park attractions, not to mention a seemingly never-ending line of merchandise, from stuffed animals and toys to books and video games.

Additionally, three more feature films — The Tigger Movie, Piglet’s Big Movie and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie — have been released theatrically, with (as the titles suggest) our Pooh in supporting roles. But he returns to center stage in his unexpected yet delightful latest big screen adventure, simply titled Winnie the Pooh (in theaters now). And, as this title suggests, it’s back to basics for the lovable Pooh crew...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Winnie the Pooh at

UPDATE: Winnie the Pooh is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

Monday, July 18, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Shrek Isn't Dreck

I notoriously (according to many who read my original review) referred to the 2001 animated movie Shrek oh-so-poetically as "dreck." While it became an enormous hit and spawned three sequels (Shrek 2 being, in my opinion, a vast improvement over the first), I found the original an obnoxious fairy tale farce that relied almost solely on potty humor and Disney-bashing for its raison d'etre.

Subsequently, I was far from enthused when I heard DreamWorks was turning its cash cow into a Broadway musical, hoping to follow in the footsteps of rival Disney's über-successful stage adaptations of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Then I saw the original cast perform Lord Farquaad's showstopper "What's Up, Duloc?" on the 2009 Tony Awards broadcast. I was impressed. Then I bought the original cast recording, which proved to be filled with witty, inventive songs by David Lindsay-Abaire (an unexpected follow-up to his very serious, Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole) and the gifted Jeanine Tesori (Caroline, or Change). I was even more impressed.

This past week, I was able to attend the Los Angeles opening of Shrek The Musical and see the complete work for the first time. Color me totally impressed! I highly recommend it — now playing through July 31 at the famed Pantages Theatre — to theatergoers young and old. There are still a few fart jokes and jabs at Disney, but the more-subtle musical benefits from a decidedly more lyrical, romantic approach. That and having human beings rather than computer-generated images fill the key roles give Shrek The Musical a massive advantage over its celluloid roots (although the film and musical are ostensibly based on stories written by the late William Steig).

Shrek, for the two people on the planet who haven't heard of the character, is a solitary, swamp-dwelling ogre who suddenly finds his muddy home overrun by fairy tale creatures including Pinocchio, the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs and others evicted from the nearby kingdom of Duloc by the diminutive, perfection-obsessed despot, Farquaad (played, predominantly on his knees, by the hilarious David F.M. Vaughn). Shrek (beautifully portrayed and voiced by Eric Petersen) sets out for Duloc, with a talking Donkey (a great-in-small-doses Alan Mingo, Jr.) at his side. Confronting Farquaad, Shrek is promised the deed to his property if he first rescues the long-imprisoned Princess Fiona (the hilarious Haven Burton) and delivers her to Duloc so Farquaad can marry her and make himself a legitimate king.

Splendid stagecraft ensues, with one visual delight after another. In addition to the great costume designs (by Tim Hatley) that enable Farquaad to appear only a few feet tall, the show features a talking Gingerbread Man, a flying dragon, a horde of tap-dancing rats, and a cameo by the Shrek movies' Puss in Boots. The touring production is co-directed by the clever Jason Moore, who previously supervised the puppet-based Avenue Q, and Rob Ashford of the recent Broadway revival of Promises, Promises among other credits. Superb if fairly minimal choreography is provided by Josh Prince.

Tesori's and Lindsay-Abaire's more than serviceable score is comprised of several gems, most noticeably Shrek's delightfully cynical opening number "Big Bright Beautiful World"; Fiona's wistful "I Know It's Today" (performed by the character at three different ages) and energetic Act II opener, "Morning Person"; any of Lord Farquaad's songs; the dragon's R&B tuner "Forever" (which replaces her previous song "Donkey Pot Pie," heard on the Broadway cast recording); the toe-tapping, GLBT instant anthem "Freak Flag"; and the climactic, proscenium-crossing "This Is Our Story." And for fans of the original movie, an encore cover of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer" performed by the show's vocally gifted cast is included.

Shrek The Musical will be touring extensively over the next year. Wherever it plays, I encourage locals to check it out, whether or not you are fans of the movie. You'll have a good time either way. Tour information may be found at the musical's official site.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Natural Tendencies

"You cannot control what is wild." So reads graffiti left by a so-called "eco-terrorist" in the new documentary If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which opens today in Los Angeles and will soon have a national rollout. Their warning, however, applies well to another fine doc, Project Nim, which is already playing in some cities and opens in LA today as well. As both films illustrate, tragedy has resulted historically whenever humanity messes with the environment and other species. Why didn't those of us old enough to remember heed those 1970's TV commercials for Parkay Margarine, in which viewers were cautioned: "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature"?

If A Tree Falls, directed by Marshall Curry (an Oscar nominee for Street Fight) and Sam Cullman (who also serves as cinematographer and previously shot What Would Jesus Buy?, among other documentaries), focuses on several members of a cell of the radical Earth Liberation Front, a.k.a. ELF. Since 1996, ELF members have engaged in acts of arson aimed at crippling such non-Earth friendly sites as timber companies, wild horse slaughterhouses, ski lodges (causing $12 million in damage at one such resort in Vail, Colorado) and SUV dealerships. ELF was subsequently labeled the "number one domestic terrorism threat" by the FBI... prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, anyway.

In 2005, 14 people associated with ELF were arrested. We hear first-hand here the personal stories of how some of these initially-docile individuals became environmentalists willing to sacrifice their own freedom and survival to prevent what one of the accused (and ultimately convicted) terms "the reckless destruction of the planet." Stepping in where protests and letter-writing campaigns against offending businesses had failed, ELF drew media attention to the plight of the environment while causing acts of destruction that — to the perpetrators' credit — never injured or killed anyone.

"It's hideous to be called a terrorist," says ELF member Daniel McGowan. I prefer to think of the subjects of If A Tree Falls as tree huggers with attitude, especially since we've seen what true, life-threatening terrorists can do. Without endorsing their tactics, I admire ELF's tenacity and efforts at educating the public. The movie gets a bit bogged down in legal and procedural details during its final 30 minutes but it will, hopefully, open eyes and hearts.

Project Nim is even more potent as an indictment against those who would try to manipulate "the natural order." Directed by Academy Award-winner James Marsh (Man on Wire) and winner of the Best Directing Award for World Documentary at this year's Sundance Film Festival, it is a probing exploration — at times painfully so — of humankind's arrogance as well as of the moral superiority some other species unwittingly possess.

Created from a combination of vintage footage, recent interviews with some of the surviving players, and re-created moments featuring an actor in a monkey suit, Project Nim recounts an extraordinary experiment during the 1970's in which an infant chimpanzee was removed from its natural mother only days after its birth and given to a human mother with instructions to raise it exactly as she would a human child. The goal: to determine whether humankind's closest relative could learn to communicate as a human being.

Utilizing American Sign Language, Nim (as the chimp was rather impersonally named) was taught a number of English words as well as how to dress himself and use the toilet. However, enduringly primitive and even violent actions by Nim indicated, as one researcher says in the film, "You can't give human nurturing to an animal that can kill you." After five years, the experiment's end was suddenly declared and Nim was relocated first to a chimpanzee research center in Oklahoma, then made a subject of medical research and ultimately abandoned to a solitary cage in an animal refuge in Texas.

Nim's journey is undeniably harrowing at times, and Project Nim may be tough for some animal lovers to get through. Gratefully, and wisely on Marsh's part, the challenging moments are leavened by enough cute and/or comic episodes of Nim interacting with his supporters both as a youth and as an adult that the film leaves one feeling hopeful rather than depressed. The humans involved, while sometimes well-meaning, are also revealed to be irreversibly ignorant with perhaps two exceptions: Dr. James Mahoney, who ultimately facilitated the transfer of numerous chimps, including Nim, from the bio-medical lab he managed to more hospitable surroundings, and Bob Ingersoll, who visited and continued to communicate with Nim for over 10 years before Nim's death at the age of 26 in 2000.

I'm all for trying to talk to the animals (some of my family members and friends even call me "Doctor Dolittle" due to the affinity seemingly shared between me and many non-human creatures), but I believe we ought to meet them on their linguistic level rather than unrealistically expect them to meet us on ours. I think that's the way Mother Nature... not to mention God... intended.

Reverend's Ratings:
Project Nim: A-
If A Tree Falls: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Movie Dearest: Year Four

Yes, it's true: Movie Dearest, your place for cinematic views via a queer eye, is four years old today!

Many thanks to my tireless contributors — Chris Carpenter and Neil Cohen — and to all our readers for helping to make Movie Dearest what it is today and what it will become in the future!

Here's to year #5!

- Kirby

Monday, July 11, 2011

Reverend's Interview: Alan Brown Gives Shakespeare a Gay Twist with Private Romeo

There have been contemporary adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's tragic saga of star-crossed young lovers from feuding families, notably Baz Luhrmann's 1995 movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. There has even been a prior all-male stage version, the off-Broadway hit R & J. But Alan Brown's Private Romeo is the first film to combine a contemporary setting of the play with an all-male cast.  The film will screen this Friday as part of this year's Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

In a recent phone conversation with the New York-based director, I asked Brown what were his sources of inspiration. "I lived in Japan for 8 years and taught my last two years there at a university using Franco Zeffirelli's (1968 film) Romeo and Juliet," Brown replied. "The Japanese love Shakespeare, but I also used the AIDS drama Longtime Companion and would have my students write plays based on those two movies. That's when I first made the connection between Romeo and Juliet and gay issues."

Brown had also seen R & J during its New York run, and was approached by the producers who held the rights to direct a film adaptation of it. That project failed to materialize, and Brown had moved on to studying soldiers' issues during the Iraq War. He met openly gay serviceman Daniel Choi and was inspired by the many stories he heard from GLBT troops. They served as fodder for Brown's 2007 film, Superheroes.

Growing calls for the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as well as increasing incidents of bullying of GLBT young people ultimately led Brown to make Private Romeo. "I will feel good about the repeal of DADT when they implement it," the filmmaker says. "When Bush was re-elected in 2004, I felt like a lot of people I knew were depressed and felt we were powerless."

Brown continued, "I asked myself 'How can I contribute as a filmmaker to this issue?' I felt like what I learned then was 'Tend to your own garden,' so I made Superheroes and now Private Romeo." Most of Brown's new film was shot at the Maritime College of SUNI in the Bronx. Interestingly, some of it was filmed at a Catholic boys' high school on Long Island, which welcomed the production after a nearby public school withdrew their permission to shoot on campus due to a football hazing incident there.

Apart from his childhood years in Scranton, Pennsylvania ("I grew up Jewish in a very Catholic city," he said) and the time he spent in Japan, Brown is a longtime New Yorker. He started out as a journalist before deciding to pursue filmmaking full time. Brown has been partnered for 20 years with a Japanese man who works in the art world.

Brown had been planning to return to Japan to make what was supposed to be his next movie, Audrey Hepburn's Neck, based on his novel. Production has been postponed in the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami that has devastated the country. "The story is set in Japan and is about cross-cultural, heterosexual sexual obsession," according to Brown, "but (the main male character's) best friend is a gay American in Japan who only dates Japanese men."

In the meantime, Brown has developed a music film, The Park. It will feature a large cast of diverse characters, some of them gay, who converge for a music festival in New York's Prospect Park. "It is Altman-esque, with overlapping stories all taking place in one day," Brown says. Shooting is to begin in October.

As one of a growing number of filmmakers dedicated to telling GLBTQ stories, Alan Brown and his Private Romeo represent Outfest at its best.

UPDATE: The US distribution rights for Private Romeo have been acquired by Wolfe Video. The film will be released theatrically this Fall in partnership with The Film Collaborative and debut on DVD/VOD in 2012.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Criss-Cross

Who doesn’t smile when they think of getting revenge on a “horrible boss”? Neither as bad as I feared nor as good as it could have been, the star-studded black comedy Horrible Bosses (which opens today) is a gender-swapped 9 to 5 for the recession era.

Three pals, played by Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman and Charlie Day, each have bosses from hell who make their lives miserable. Nick’s (Bateman) is by far the worst, a megalomaniac named Davis Harken, played to malevolent perfection by Kevin Spacey. David delights in humiliating Nick while dangling a never-to-be promotion in his face. He even made him stay at work late when his “Gam-Gam” was dying.

Kurt (Sudeikis) loves his boss (Donald Sutherland) but hates his sleaze ball son Bobby, played by a gleefully slumming Colin Farrell in a nasty comb-over. Guess who kicks the bucket, leaving the chemical company in the hands of Bobby the tool? Dale (Day) gets no sympathy from his pals about his boss troubles. Slapped with a “Registered Sex Offender” label for urinating in an empty playground at midnight, Dale takes the only job he can get, which is as a dental assistant for a voracious man-eater named Julia Harris, DDS, hilariously played by Jennifer Aniston. Her non-stop sexual come-ons are more than the meek and mousy Dale can take.

A drunken night together inspires the trio to plan taking out their troublesome terrors, leading to a comedy of errors that is an entertaining diversion for the audience. Jamie Foxx has a funny cameo as the guys’ “murder consultant” named Motherfucker Jones.

Horrible Bosses is one of those juvenile adult comedies like Hall Pass, Bad Teacher, The Hangovers 1 and 2 and Bridesmaids. It is big on lowbrow laughs and short on character development, especially for the females in the cast. I can see why Aniston enjoyed her role, getting to look gorgeous and basically emasculate Day the whole movie long, but I’m surprised that she didn’t in turn ask for some miniscule nods at a character other than the Skinamax vixen she’s asked to play. Sudeikis’ lothario routine seems like delusional posturing, yet his character scores with every woman he wants, which is all of them.

If you accept that Horrible Bosses is a bit of white male wish fulfillment and enjoy it as such, you’ll have a lot of laughs. There are enough terrible bosses out there to make that part of the story universal. However, I don’t see the film ever inspiring much praise among women, straight or gay. There are so many gay male sex jokes, as is usual in this kind of film, that gay men may enjoy all the subtext flying around. A case can even be made that Dale’s revulsion at Aniston is due to him being in the closet.

Reel Thoughts Rating: B

UPDATE: Horrible Bosses is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reverend's Preview: Outfest 2011

Dolly Parton hasn't appeared on the big screen in nearly 20 years but she will be a dominant figure at this month's Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The singer-actress-GLBTQ ally appears in not one but two films that will be screened during the event that runs July 7-17 at various locations throughout LA, Santa Monica and Hollywood. Pornographic zombies, lesbian rockers, Kathleen Turner as a seemingly-perfect housewife and mother nominated for the "Catholic Woman of the Year Award," and yet another chapter in the Eating Out series are also among the tasty offerings on this year's menu.

Now in its 29th year, making it one of the longest-running film festivals of any kind in the US, Outfest annually presents the best of new and classic, independent GLBTQ movies. Six gala screenings will be featured in addition to more than 100 features and shorts. "This year's selection of galas represent some of the most acclaimed and thematically diverse films of the year," according to Kirsten Schaffer, Outfest's Executive Director.

Is this the C***sucker residence?

The 2011 Opening Night Gala will kick off with the presentation of the 15th Annual Outfest Achievement Award to Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. Once the acclaimed directors of such eye-opening documentaries as Party Monster, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, 101 Rent Boys and the recent Becoming Chaz have been honored, the feature Gun Hill Road will be shown. It stars Esai Morales (Rapa Nui, Caprica) as a recently released parolee who comes home to discover his teenage son is transgender. The drama's great cast also includes Judy Reyes of TV's Scrubs and impressive newcomer Harmony Santana as Michael/Vanessa (look for an interview with Santana here next week). A spectacular Opening Night after-party will follow Gun Hill Road.

Outfest's Closing Night Gala at the Ford Amphitheatre on July 17 will showcase The Perfect Family, which recently had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Jason Ritter, Emily Deschanel, Sharon Lawrence and out actor Richard Chamberlain (as a Catholic monsignor) co-star with Kathleen Turner in this drama-comedy about the collision of traditional values and modern reality within a Catholic household. It marks the feature film debut of director Anne Renton. The Closing Night after-party will be celebrated at Hollywood's classic Roosevelt Hotel.

Between these "bookends," other gala screenings will be held: Circumstance, a contemporary story set in ultra-conservative Iran about the forbidden love between two teenage girls that won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival; Weekend, a well-written, affecting drama by British filmmaker Andrew Haigh (Greek Pete), in which the relationship between two men grows from a one-night stand to something more complex and significant; the documentary Hit So Hard, about rock musician Patty Schemel; and 3, the latest stylish movie by mainstream German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), who now explores the topic of sexual fluidity.

Dolly Parton will take the cinematic spotlight during Outfest 2011 on two occasions (and is making her live performance debut at the Hollywood Bowl this month as well). The traditional "Sing-Along" movie musical event on July 13 will be 1982's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The fact-based hit stars Parton as a beloved madam, Miss Mona, who with the local sheriff (a crooning Burt Reynolds) squares off against a religious crusader (the late Dom DeLuise) determined to shut her brothel down. It contains such classic songs as "I Will Always Love You," "Hard Candy Christmas" and "A Li'l Ol' Bitty Country Place." Of note, the movie was helmed by gay director Colin Higgins, who sadly died of AIDS complications not long after its original release.

Then, on July 16, Parton will be seen in the wonderful documentary Hollywood to Dollywood. The country-western queen is the lifelong object of affection of two gay twin brothers, Gary and Larry Lane, who rent a mobile home and set out on a road trip to hand-deliver a screenplay they've written to Parton at her Tennessee amusement park. Their resulting film serves as a loving tribute to her as well as an opportunity to see the twins' industry friends, which include gay faves Leslie Jordan, Beth Grant and Chad Allen.

A few other must-see movies at this year's Outfest I was able to preview are:

- Leave It On the Floor, a spectacular musical-on-a-budget by director Sheldon Larry and screenwriter/lyricist Glenn Gaylord. Set in Los Angeles, it focuses on local "dynasties" of GLBT young people who perform in weekly drag balls. It combines elements of the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning as well as Dreamgirls, and features the best dance number set in a bowling alley since Grease 2 (and I am counting the lane-shaking sequences in The Big Lebowski and Across the Universe)! The movie's recent world premiere at the LA Film Festival sold out quickly, so don't wait to buy tickets.

- Private Romeo, an ingenious transplanting of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet to a modern, all-male military academy. Alan Brown (watch for an interview with him later this week) directs an attractive and talented cast, who utilize the original text and gender references but also add an unexpected twist or two.

- I Am, which explores GLBTQ life in India. This insightful, award-winning documentary was inspired by director Sonali Gulati's personal efforts to bring closure to her relationship with her deceased mother. Along the way, we are introduced to numerous out Indians including prince-turned-political-activist Manvendra Singh Gohil, who was famously but tragically disowned by his royal family after he revealed he was gay.

Not as good but still recommended:

- Longhorns, the latest comedy from the producers of BearCity and Fruit Fly. Set in the 1980's, it evokes such gotta-lose-my-virginity titles of the time as Porky's and Risky Business — but with a gay sensibility — to often-hilarious effect. The hot, funny cast includes local boys Dylan Vox and Kevin Held.

- August, a beautifully filmed and scored tale of romantic entanglement. Following his return to LA after several years in Europe, a man reunites with his former partner despite his ex's new relationship with a sexy immigrant. The movie's writer-director, Eldar Rapaport, is designated by Outfest as one of "4 in Focus" filmmakers to pay particular attention to.

- The Green, a timely story about a gay high school teacher in Connecticut who is accused of having a sexual relationship with a male student. It features excellent performances by name actors Jason Butler Harner, Cheyenne Jackson of Glee and Broadway fame, Ileanna Douglas, Karen Young and, as a lesbian attorney, Julia Ormond.

For certain, shall we say unusual tastes, this year's Outfest will include L.A. Zombie, a new porn-horror epic by provocateur Bruce LaBruce. Adult superstar François Sagat plays the possibly schizophrenic, possibly undead title role. Graphic and gory but chock-full of hot men, the movie is likely to give new meaning to the term "raising the dead"!

For the full Outfest 2011 festival schedule and to purchase passes or tickets, visit the fest's official website.

Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - July 2011: Kings and Queens

Movie Dearest is a little bit late jumping on the royal wedding bandwagon... we'll just say that we're fashionably late to the festivities with this month's Calendar Wallpaper, a salute to cinematic Kings and Queens.

You'll be sharing the month of July with two King Georges, two King Henrys and three Queens Elizabeth, as well as Arthur, Christina, Eleanor, Victoria and the King of Siam.

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.