Friday, September 30, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Myths & Nightmares

During my time in a Roman Catholic seminary twenty years ago, the late philosopher-professor Joseph Campbell was revered for having situated Christianity within what he termed the "monomyth," a millennia-spanning heroic adventure found in every human culture. Today, Campbell -- who was raised Catholic -- would likely be condemned as an apostate given the Church's current, conservative climate.

For the uninitiated, the new documentary Finding Joe (opening today in Los Angeles and soon to rollout nationally) serves as a crash course in Campbell's life work involving myths, slaying and/or befriending figurative dragons, and the ultimate encouragement, drawn from Hindu tradition, to "follow one's bliss." Utilizing interviews with such diverse personalities as Deepak Chopra, Mick Fleetwood and Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) as well as a number of clips from movie classics including the Star Wars saga, The Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz, Finding Joe provides considerable insight into Campbell's writings if not necessarily the man. (To learn more about Campbell himself, check out Bill Moyers' late 1980's PBS series, The Power of Myth.)

The film -- written, produced and directed by Patrick Takaya Solomon -- is nicely shot and edited but generally employs a standard "talking heads" approach and lectures more than it engages. It is strongest whenever it quotes Campbell directly, with such reflections as "Many of us are metaphorically-impaired" (referring to the equation of mythology with metaphor) and "I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive" among the stand outs. There are also some charming vignettes sprinkled throughout in which children dramatize chapters from Campbell's seminal work, A Hero with a Thousand Faces.

There is also wisdom to be found in Campbell's conclusion that true power results when each of us learns to "love and accept yourself as you are." Finding Joe may not be the most accomplished piece of cinema, especially when compared to some of the Campbell-inspired films it spotlights, but its subject remains undeniably inspiring.

What might ultimately emerge as one of the best movies of 2011 also opens today in LA and New York City: Jeff Nichols' excellent suspense-drama Take Shelter. Frightening, moving and thought-provoking by turns, it stars Michael Shannon (an Academy Award nominee for 2008's Revolution Road and soon to be seen as the villainous General Zod in the Superman epic, Man of Steel) as Curtis LaForche, an unassuming Ohio sand miner with a loving wife (Jessica Chastain, current belle of the cineplex ball in the wake her eye-opening turns in The Tree of Life, The Help and The Debt) and deaf daughter.

Curtis is well respected at work and in their community. However, just when the LaForches are prepping their daughter for a cochlear implant that will, if successful, enable her to hear, Curtis begins to have apocalyptic visions and nightmares involving a devastating storm, flocks of angry crows and a pack of seemingly-escaped mental patients out to get his little girl. He subsequently becomes obsessed with expanding and fortifying the family's storm cellar, much to his friends' and neighbors' consternation. Are Curtis's dreams prophetic, or is he succumbing to the same paranoid schizophrenia that struck his mother (a cameo by the always welcome Kathy Baker, of Picket Fences and Edward Scissorhands fame) when she was the same age as Curtis is now?

I think master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock would have approved of Take Shelter, especially with its visual allusions to The Birds and its beautifully ironic finale (which will likely polarize audiences). Shannon deftly balances the stoic and the terrified, and Chastain gives another, now seemingly expected great performance. Also fine are the movie's eerie storm effects and other effective scares dished up by Nichols along with visual effects supervisor Chris Wells (Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and editor Parke Gregg.

In the end, Take Shelter powerfully illustrates that the only real safety to be found when disaster looms -- whether real or imagined -- is with the one(s) we love.

Reverend's Ratings:
Finding Joe: B
Take Shelter: A-

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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reverend's Preview: Seeing Red at Gay Days Anaheim 2011

It’s once again time for GLBT fun-seekers to get out those red T-shirts and head to the Disneyland Resort. Gay Days Anaheim will be held this weekend, September 30-October 2.

Gay Days was established in 1997 by a small group of gay fans of all things Disney. A similar "unofficial" event is held each spring at Walt Disney World in Florida. The California event has grown to attract more than 30,000 GLBT people annually from throughout the state and the US. Attendees traditionally wear red shirts to identify themselves as GLBT, since Disneyland and its neighboring theme park — Disney’s California Adventure — will remain open to the general public during the weekend.

Besides all the fun the parks have to offer, two major dance parties are held during the weekend. "Wonderland" will be held the night of September 30 at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney, with all proceeds from the event benefitting the Trevor Project. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk and the upcoming J.Edgar) will preside over the VIP room. On Saturday night, DJ Kimberly S and The Voice's Frenchie Davis will headline "Kingdom", Gay Days’ signature dance party at Downtown Disney’s House of Blues.

Recognizing the growing participation by lesbian women in Gay Days events, a Saturday ladies' night starring comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer will be held for the very first time. The weekend will also feature a first-ever lesbian lounge at the Anabella Hotel across the street from Disneyland.

Other special events planned include "An Intimate Conversation with Carol Channing", in which the 90-year-old Broadway legend will talk about her life and career at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel on Sunday. Glee star and 2011 Emmy-nominee Dot Marie Jones (Coach Beiste) will also be on hand, hosting the VIP cocktail party on Saturday with Gay Days regular Bruce Vilanch. Plus, both days in the parks will feature gatherings only available over Gay Days weekend, including a group photo, a PFLAG luncheon, group meet ups at varying attractions, and many more events targeted to youth, bears, couples and Mouseketeers of every ilk.

Gays Days Anaheim are fun for all ages, and many GLBT couples with children attend. The weekend is filled with ice cream socials, scavenger hunts and other family-friendly events, not to mention the rides, parades and shows for which the Disney parks are famous. A new Little Mermaid ride at California Adventure will no doubt be a popular draw, as will the recently-revamped Star Tours attraction in Disneyland. Other highlights of the weekend include free gift bags at the Gay Days Welcome Center (located inside the Trillium Room of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel), and a Gay Days Pin Trading event on Sunday.

A complete schedule of Gay Days events as well as tickets, discounted park passes and hotel rooms and, yes, official red T-shirts can all be accessed through Gay Days Anaheim website.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Folk Icons

Like every American gay man in 2000, I was glued to the TV for the premiere of Queer as Folk, the US version of the critically-acclaimed yet controversial British series of the same name.  I had heard about the "no-holds-barred" show from across the pond, with its frank depictions of gay life in Manchester and all its notorious scenes of sex, drugs and house music, but was still floored by what I saw onscreen.  Was this really on TV? (To paraphrase their competitor's slogan, no "it's Showtime".)

I became an instant fan of the US QAF, even if the writing tended to be over-the-top and the acting was questionable at times.  Naturally, as with most "Americanized" adaptations of British television (from The Office to Being Human), there were plenty of cries of "the original is better", yet I was never able to actually watch the UK QAF to see if all the nay sayers were right... until now.

Available today on DVDfrom Acorn Media is Queer as Folk: The Complete UK Collection, a three-disc set that includes all ten episodes of the original QAF (series one, originally aired as eight half-hours, is presented here as four one-hour episodes).  Even though it has been 12 years since the series' faithful debut on England's Channel 4, QAF UK still feels fresh and vibrant and equally daring, and far from just a curiosity piece for those who have only seen QAF US.

For those viewers there will be plenty of deja vu moments while watching the original, as the US version borrowed heavily from it during its first year.  And the basics are the same:  Stuart (Brian in the US/played by Aiden Gillen) is the king stud of Canal Street (Liberty Avenue), always accompanied by his put-upon best friend Vince (Michael/Craig Kelly) and followed by the "one-night stand that wouldn't go away", 15-year-old newbie Nathan (Justin/Charlie Hunnam).  Other familiar characters, such as Vince's overly-supportive mom Hazel (Debbie/Denise Black) and flamboyant fashionista Alexander (Emmett/Antony Cotton), are also on hand, but here the stories focus mainly on the three points of the dysfunctional love triangle at its center.

Minus the glitzy sheen that permeated America's, this QAF is grittier and more down-to-earth. This realism is no more so apparent than with episode three's tragic end to sad sack Phil (Jason Merrells), known as Ted in the US. Even so, the original still feels less cynical than its American counterpart, at least until its infamous final episode, where series creator Russell T. Davies seemingly gives up on any semblance of reality and logical character motivations half-way through and starts blowing stuff up.

Davies supplies a lengthy essay on QAF's origins for the set, which also features a healthy selection of bonus materials, including cast and creator interviews, photo galleries, deleted and extended scenes, trailers and the "making of" feature What the Folk?

Click hereto purchase Queer as Folk: The Complete UK Collection from

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: West Side Stephen

“You are speaking indeed to the legend himself!”

With an introduction like that, you know that you are in for a great interview. Stephen DeRosa, a talented Broadway veteran and television actor, did not disappoint. The New York City native will be coming to a town near you in the West Side Story tour in the role of Gladhand, the male authority figure who tries to pacify the warring student gangs at the high school dance. “If you blink, you’ll miss me,” DeRosa joked. “I’m on for three minutes but I try to chew as much scenery as I possibly can.”

DeRosa, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama, was born and raised in Queens. “Don’t say it,” he exclaimed. “The joke’s already built in!” He went to school at Georgetown for politics, “but it involved too much acting.” Recently, DeRosa became an indelible part of the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire, playing the role of comedian Eddie Cantor for director Martin Scorcese and Sopranos writer Terry Winter. He feels very fortunate to have parlayed a one-time role into three appearances, since the real Eddie Cantor was a friend of lead character Nucky Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi.

West Side Story is celebrating more than fifty years of exciting audiences with the battle between the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks in New York’s Upper East Side. Most of the songs have become standards that everyone knows, such as “Tonight”, “I Feel Pretty” and the satirical immigrant anthem “America”. This latest revival directed by David Saint, based on Tony Winner Arthur Laurents’ original work, is innovative in that the Spanish-speaking characters do speak in Spanish much of the time. DeRosa loves the production, and says that you will not have any trouble understanding the scenes where this happens. “That’s part of the fun of my character, he tries to speak Spanish.”

(Stephen) Sondheim and Laurents always hoped that the show could be a little more authentic. You need to read the book Original Story by Arthur Laurents, because it’s delicious. It’s his autobiography. It is such a good read for anyone who’s gay and anyone who loves the theater. You will devour it. It’s about being gay in the 40s and 50s, it’s about the creative process, it’s about trying to have integrity in Hollywood and all of the crazy backstage drama that happened on Broadway.” DeRosa explained that Laurents and Sondheim got the chance to tinker with the show’s book and lyrics, and that audiences will enjoy it. “It’s a very timely piece, and Arthur wanted it to be even more timeless. He wanted it to be about “Us vs. Them”. There’s always an “Us vs. Them” mentality and usually one of the main things that gets in the way is language, communication. “

“David (Saint) has given the show a real pace, he’s really infused the show with younger actors who have more passion and more energy. And there’s a playfulness, too. The “Officer Krupke” number’s just going to blow your mind, it’s so much fun. And it’s surprisingly homoerotic, which came from the text and from giving the actors the freedom to be as stupid as they wanted to be. It’s amazing how when you get a bunch of (mostly straight) boys together to fool around, inevitably, weird gayish, fratty kind of shit comes up. It’s very interesting.”

Based on the immortal story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim and Laurents moved the action to the disaffected youth in the Big Apple, where rival gangs of immigrants and those who used to be immigrants battle each other for turf, and a boy and a girl from opposite sides have little chance of finding love. Tony and Maria give it their best shot, even as all of their friends and relatives try to tear them apart.

DeRosa made his first big Off-Broadway splash in a historic revival of Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, playing opposite Everett Quinton (Devil Boys from Beyond) in the multiple roles that Quinton had originated. DeRosa also played opposite Vanessa Williams as the Baker in the revival of Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

“It’s a great job, this job,” DeRosa exclaimed. “I got to work with the late, great Arthur Laurents who was so loving and generous and who rewrote some of my role, to try and bring a little more humor. It’s a great show and audiences love it. Plus, you get to go to work and be surrounded by gorgeous men in various states of undress. It’s a good job, I’m lucky. I’ll take it,” he said laughing.

“The bottom line is, it’s West Side Story. The score just blows your mind how beautiful it is, and the dancing... these kids are doing the original choreography and they’re all in their early twenties and strong enough and agile enough to (do it). It’s really exciting.”

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Toon Talk: Blu Elephants on Parade

Ten years ago, I began writing my Toon Talk film and DVD reviews for, and one of the first year’s reviews was for the 60th anniversary DVD edition of Dumbo. Now, a decade later, Dumbo is back in a new high definition Blu-ray make-over in honor of its 70th anniversary. My, how time flies like an elephant when you’re having fun, especially when it comes to watching this beloved Disney classic!

Whether you and your family are seeing it for the first time or (like me) rewatching it for the umpteenth time, one will marvel at the simplicity and joy of this tale of a pint-sized pachyderm with super-sized ears who overcomes hardships to become a star. A pure delight for every minute of its brief 64-minute running time, Dumbo is sure to delight audiences for at least another 70 years...

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

MD Poll: Trick or Treat, 2011 Style

Halloween is just around the corner, which brings up the annual question, "What am I going to wear?" Well, we here at Movie Dearest have you covered with ten of the hottest pop culture inspired costume ideas for 2011 ... and not one of them is Lady Gaga.

Take your pick for your favorite 2011 Halloween costume idea in the MD Poll located in the right hand sidebar, and tune back Saturday October 29 for the final results.

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

MD Poll: God Bless America

In a summer showdown between superhero vs. supervillain, good triumphed over evil in the end when Chris Evans (a.k.a. Captain American of First Avenger fame) overcame Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class's Magneto) to win the title of Movie Dearest's Hottest Summer Movie Hunk of 2011.

Cap's fellow future Avenger Thor (Chris Hemsworth) had his back in third, followed by mortals Dominic Cooper (The Devil's Double) and Ryan Gosling (Crazy, Stupid, Love) rounding out the top five.  See the complete results in the comments section below and stay tuned for the next MD Poll later today.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reverend's Interview: A Weekend to Remember

Weekend, which won the 2011 Outfest Grand Jury Award for Outstanding International Dramatic Feature, is getting a great reception among gay men wherever it shows. Interestingly, this unapologetic queer romance is also being embraced by straight viewers, who bestowed Audience Awards upon it at the hetero-dominated South by Southwest and Nashville film festivals. Weekend will be gradually released in theaters in NYC and throughout the U.S. beginning September 23.

Written, directed and even edited by British filmmaker Andrew Haigh (Greek Pete), Weekend follows two gay men over the course of 48 hours following their initial, Friday night meeting. Insightful and sexy, 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.

Haigh called recently from "across the pond" to speak about Weekend. "More than anything," Haigh said, "I just wanted to tell a story about two people falling in love with each other. I wanted to make it as realistic and honest as possible. I've seen a lot of gay films but none of them really reflected my life."

The filmmaker started out as an editor on such popular mainstream movies as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Mona Lisa Smile. In 2008, he was named as one of Screen International's "Stars of Tomorrow." Haigh shared: "I've always wanted to direct; I didn't necessarily set out to be a writer-director but it just kind of happened." He counts Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator) as a mentor and independent American directors including Joe Swannberg (Autoerotic, Blackmail Boys) as inspirations.

Haigh is thrilled by the awards and positive reactions Weekend has been receiving in the US since his film has yet to open in the UK "It's been fascinating to me, especially now that with the Internet and Twitter you can get people's immediate reaction. Not just gay people but lots of straight people have said (my movie) really resonates with them."

He has a theory as to why Weekend is finding more universal acceptance than most gay-themed films. "I've always felt that if you're honest with your story, people will go along with it." Haigh also believes his movie's take on the challenge of finding and keeping Mister or Miss Right is striking a chord. "It's hard!" he laughed. "Finding someone you connect with is very difficult; It's a bit of a battle."

Haigh has nothing but praise for his lead actors, especially when it comes to the film's graphic sex scenes. "Tom and Chris made the whole process surprisingly easy, although it is always daunting filming such scenes. We just tried to make things as comfortable as possible by shooting with minimal crew and doing only a couple of takes. Alcohol helps too."

I have to admit I was put off by the characters' considerable drug use in the film. While getting high on marijuana and cocaine during the early stages of courting seems to me a far from healthy foundation for a long-lasting relationship, I can respect Haigh's choice in this regard to the degree it reflects his observations. This is the only aspect in which Weekend felt false to me in light of my life experience.

So what can we expect next from this talented gay filmmaker? "I'm trying to write," Haigh said, "which is very difficult while you're going to festivals and traveling around. Writing takes a long, long time." I expect his next project will be worth the wait.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Bradley’s Hollywood Screen Diss

Christopher Bradley, the Hollywood star who has appeared in movies as varied as Waxwork, Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss and Leather Jacket Love Story, remembers that it was a lot different being an out gay actor in the 90s than it is today. His manager at the time warned him that he’d ruin his career if he came out, and looking back, Bradley admits that “he was right.” That’s why he is so glad to see actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres and T.R. Knight enjoying strong support after they announced that they are gay. Bradley decided to pursue screenwriting and got accepted to the prestigious Film School at UCLA. For the past three years, Bradley has taught screenwriting at ASU, where he challenges his students to confront and put aside their prejudices and find common ground with each other.

Bradley also had the satisfaction of returning to Hollywood on his own terms to premiere his short film The Violation at this year’s Outfest, the prestigious LGBT film festival that has launched many successful gay favorites. It’s quite a journey for a man who was born one of eight children in a devout Irish Roman Catholic household. Bradley’s route to self-acceptance took him to Texas Christian University, in part to resist his growing realization that he was gay. Fortunately, the college was an enlightened place of learning that allowed him to deeply research the Bible and determine what it actually says, versus what are just people’s judgmental interpretations. Bradley took time to talk to me and to curse his nemesis, Neil Patrick Harris.

“I’ve always felt like Neil Patrick Harris stole my life,” Bradley laughed. “Or the life I wanted. He’s growing up in Albuquerque (like Bradley) and his family takes a trip to Los Angeles. He goes along on an audition with a friend. He gets the job instead of the friend and the family moves to Hollywood and he’s a star. With me, it was a series of small events. I was desperate to get out of Albuquerque. I was smoking and drinking and smoking pot in eighth grade and saw where my older brothers were going and I knew I’d get stuck in Albuquerque unless I totally cleaned up. I was always religious, but I became very, very religious as part of getting out of Albuquerque and then I realized I was gay. That made it even worse... I was told that being gay, you were possessed by a demon and God allowed you to be possessed by this demon because you had not been following his will closely enough. So I became extremely religious and was going to do everything right and God was going to make me straight. One of the benefits was that I worked very hard in school and got a scholarship to college. I was going to be a doctor, but I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor,” he said, laughing. Bradley did a play in Dallas and got an agent, which led to commercials and a bloody part in the cult slasher film The Initiation, starring Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs, Melrose Place) and Vera Miles (Psycho).

After a short stint in New York, Bradley moved to Los Angeles, waited tables and got a small part in a film that means the world to him, 1985’s An Early Frost, the groundbreaking AIDS drama starring Aidan Quinn. He had just returned from Dallas, where a close friend had suddenly succumbed to AIDS and found the script at his front door when he returned. At the audition, it was clear he was too young to play Quinn’s boyfriend, but Bradley basically told the casting director “I’m not going to leave your office until you tell me I can be an extra. I’ve got be a part of this movie.” He continued, “I told her what had happened with my friend, but what (the casting director) didn’t tell me was that she had terminal lung cancer and had turned down this big budget Rob Lowe movie for this low budget TV movie. She told me about a group therapy scene, and I ended up getting the role (of Todd).”

At the time, Bradley also got cast in Larry Kramer’s fierce AIDS drama The Normal Heart with Richard Dreyfuss and Kathy Bates. Then, his first boyfriend called him to reveal that he’d tested positive for AIDS. “I got tested and I tested negative. By that point, he had died, a few of my close friends had died and others had tested positive, and I went, “You know what, I’m not going to be one of those actors who lies. I’m going to tell the truth.” At a Q&A after The Normal Heart, an audience member asked a question about “destroying your career” if you’re a gay actor. “I just raised my hand and said, “I don’t give a shit! I’m a gay actor and I’ll take what I get.” And it did cost me. There was a soap opera role for a John F. Kennedy Jr. type,” Bradley recalled. They would not read him for the role despite the fact that he was an Irish Catholic JFK Jr. lookalike at the time. After much prodding by his agent, someone admitted that it was because he was gay. They were spending a lot of money on promoting the role and didn’t want to risk it “blowing up in their face if it comes out that he’s gay.”

Then he met with Aaron Spelling for a role in Nightingales, a nursing school drama, at the same time as he was playing a straight role on another Spelling production. “As soon as I left the room -- I won’t name names -- this big TV producer who’s gay turned to Aaron Spelling and told him I was gay. He freaked out, because they’d just gone through all this hell with the gay character on Dynasty and he didn’t want to deal with it again. After the meeting, the producer came up to the casting director and asked her, “Well, is he?” She knew I was, but said “I don’t know.” This producer told her, “Well, tell him if he is that he can come hang out by my swimming pool anytime.” So there were consequences to being out, but looking back on it, I just don’t think I could have lived with myself any other way.”


1. The Violation: Bradley based this black comedy on a childhood crush he had on his neighbor. In the film, fifteen-year-old Mickey has a crush on Oscar, the rich boy next door, who has been obsessing over Mickey’s sister. The chance to house-sit for Oscar’s family permits Mickey to obsess a little over Oscar himself, in a way that blows up hilariously. Co-starring Sordid Lives’ Beth Grant, the film turns the tables on the way straight men objectify women and throws it back in their face. Bradley hopes to take the film to Sundance.

2. Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are: Bradley worked with a pre-Will and Grace Sean Hayes on Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss and the two discussed being out in Hollywood. “He knew I was out and he asked me, “Are you going to think I’m a horrible person if I’m not out?” and I said “No.” I reserve my ‘rage’ for people who are in the closet who are actually damaging gay people, like politicians who are passing anti-gay legislation even though they’re gay.” He admires Hayes and Ellen DeGeneres for doing a lot for the LGBT community before and after they felt secure enough to come out.

3. Bradley Loves Mesa, Really!: Bradley loves the cute mid-century house he bought in Mesa that he couldn’t have afforded in LA. He has nothing but praise for all of the funky, wonderful businesses opening up on Main Street in Mesa like the Royale Theater. He really sees the area becoming a thriving Arts district.

4. Bradley Pays Attention: A quick perusal of Bradley’s Facebook posts reveals him to be an eloquent critic of anti-gay politicians and someone who is paying attention to the increasingly divisive political climate. “I don’t think that Michelle Bachmann could win, but I do think that Mitt Romney could. He scares me more than she does, because he has this way of sounding sensible while saying horrible things.”

5. Bradley Did Tennessee… Williams, That Is: A stage veteran, including a role in Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in Central Park, Bradley was seen last season as famous gay playwright Tennessee Williams in Teatro Bravo’s Arizona Premiere of Rancho Pancho, about Williams’ volatile relationship with his male lover Pancho Rodriguez. Bradley would love to do more theater in town, so don’t be surprised if you see him on stage again soon.

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

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Dying Happy

With summer's more frivolous films behind us, it's time for "serious" movies to dominate the box office and try to garner awards attention. Two of the fall's first major releases deal with the most serious subject of all: death and dying.

In the current #1 movie, Contagion, a big-name international cast including Oscar winners Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard confront death on a catastrophic scale when a previously unknown virus begins to decimate the world's population. As doctors around the globe work to identify the pathogen and discover its origin and -- hopefully -- a vaccine, banks fold, riots break out and cities burn. Meanwhile, Jude Law (a memorable standout) fuels the panic with his blog's conspiracy theories that may well be more than mere theories. Despite Elliot Gould's medical researcher denouncing Law's character with the declaration "Blogging is graffiti with punctuation"(!), the online journalist hits the nail on the head more than once as he identifies mutually-beneficial links between the government and pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, nearly a billion people die within a few months time.

Contagion is a well-made, effective chiller directed by an authenticity-obsessed Steven Soderbergh (Traffic). I would have admired and respected it better, though, if (SPOILER ALERT) it wasn't so subtly judgmental toward Paltrow's "patient zero" character. It isn't enough that she's cheating on her husband (Damon), but she has to work for the corporation responsible for the deforestation that leads to the viral outbreak too??? Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns could use a reminder that viruses don't have moral standards.

Meanwhile, gay director Gus Van Sant's Restless (opening today) takes a smaller-scale, more romantic approach to the Grim Reaper. The opening night "Un Certain Regard" selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the film focuses on the plight of a recently orphaned teenage boy, Enoch (a debut performance by Henry Hopper, son of the late actor Dennis Hopper). He attends strangers' funerals in his ongoing grief over his parents' accidental death, and leans on the ethereal shoulder of his best friend, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), who happens to be the ghost of a WWII Kamikaze fighter pilot.

While at one memorial service, Enoch meets the charming Annabel (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska). They embark on a friendship that soon turns to love, only to have Enoch learn that Annabel is herself dying of cancer. Accepting of her prognosis, Annabel makes it her mission to help Enoch learn to live before she passes on.

Restless turns out to be very good and it could have easily been very bad; memories of 1991's Dying Young, in which Julia Roberts fell cloyingly in love with a terminally-ill Campbell Scott, spring immediately to mind. But Jason Lew's script, workshopped for several years with actress/producer Bryce Dallas Howard, succeeds at depicting the tension between young love and premature death with warmth and humor. Van Sant also handles the risky material expertly, cutting away or throwing in a tension-reducing image whenever things threaten to get too morose. Wasikowska's Annabel is a bit one-note in her optimistic attitude and Hopper's lack of acting experience is apparent at some points, but they form an affecting duo.

Happy, Happy doesn't take on end-of-life issues but instead explores the life cycle of relationships. Norway's entry in this year's Academy Awards competition for Best Foreign Language Film, it opens today in southern California and New York. Anne Sewitsky's feature directorial debut also took home the World Cinema Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival.

Kaia (a very good Agnes Kittelsen) is a young wife and mother who puts on a positive demeanor despite the fact that she and her husband haven't had sex in over a year. When an attractive, seemingly liberal couple move in next door with their adopted, African son, Kaia reaches out as a good neighbor. It isn't long before she and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), the new man on the block, are frolicking nude in the snow and getting it on behind their spouses' backs. Kaia's husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen), in the meantime, is secretly struggling with his sexuality and trying to decide who he's more attracted to: Sigve or Sigve's previously-adulterous wife, Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens).

While essentially a comedy of manners, Happy, Happy isn't of the laugh-out-loud variety, and a subplot involving Kaia and Eirik's son trying to make Sigve and Elisabeth's son his slave is extremely discomforting. Still, the film is touched with truthful, graceful moments, none less so than when the increasingly liberated Kaia overcomes her longtime fear of singing in public to lead the church choir in "Amazing Grace" during Christmas Eve service. If movies about death and dying don't sound particularly appealing this weekend (or ever), Happy, Happy will serve as a good alternative.

Reverend's Ratings:
Contagion: B
Restless: B+
Happy, Happy: B-

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reverend's Preview: Q Film Fest 2011 Has Something for Everyone

Some of the biggest hits on this year’s GLBT festival circuit as well as a number of area and even world premieres will highlight the Long Beach Q Film Fest, running September 16-18 at the Art Theatre and The Center Long Beach. An overview of the event schedule runs below:

5:00pm - FIT at the Art Theatre
7:15pm - TOMBOY at the Art, preceded by the short film LUST LIFE
8:00-10:30pm - OPENING NIGHT PARTY at The Center
9:15pm - JUDAS KISS at the Art, followed by Q&A with the filmmakers and cast members
11:30pm - After party at Paradise

12:30pm - INSPIRED: VOICES AGAINST PROP 8 at the Art, followed by Q&A with the filmmaker and participants.
1:00pm - I AM at The Center
2:45pm - WOMEN IN SHORTS Short Film Program at the Art
3:00pm - BE A WOMAN at The Center
5:15pm - MEN IN BRIEFS Short Film Program at the Art
7:30pm - CHO DEPENDENT at the Art
8:00-10:30pm - SATURDAY NIGHT PARTY at The Center
9:15pm - LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR at the Art
11:30pm - After party at Paradise

12:00pm - PHOTOS OF ANGIE at the Art, preceded by the short film CHARLOTTE and followed by Q&A with the filmmaker.
12:45pm - BISEXUAL REVOLUTION at The Center, followed by discussion.
1:45pm - WE WERE HERE at the Art, preceded by world premiere of the short film UB2
4:00pm - LONGHORNS at the Art, preceded by the short film COUPLE’S THERAPY
6:00pm - WISH ME AWAY at the Art
7:00-9:30pm - CLOSING NIGHT PARTY at The Center
8:00pm - HOLLYWOOD TO DOLLYWOOD at the Art, followed by Q&A with filmmakers.

Please visit the fest's official website for complete details and to purchase tickets.

UPDATE: Congratulations to this year's winners of the Long Beach Q Film Fest:

Best Picture – Feature Film: LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR
Best Director – Feature Film: CELINE SCIAMMA for TOMBOY
Best Screenplay – Feature Film: JUDAS KISS
Best Documentary: PHOTOS OF ANGIE
Best Short Film – Drama: TSUYAKO
Best Short Film – Comedy: YOU MOVE ME
Best Director – Short Film: MELISSA OSBORNE for CHANGE

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Picture Perfect

Every now and then, a documentary comes along that -- to its credit -- raises as many questions as it answers about the subject. While this may be frustrating for those viewers weaned on reality shows and tabloid exposes that leave nothing to the imagination, it can also make for intellectually satisfying filmmaking.

So it is with Bill Cunningham New York, being released today on DVD and digital download by Zeitgeist Films following a successful theatrical release (and, it should be said, coinciding with New York Fashion Week). The 82-year-old Cunningham is a famed street photographer for the New York Times and other publications. For over 50 years, he has obsessively catalogued fashion and high society, and in the process has often been the first to identify trends and future celebrities. Cunningham's regular photo collages in the Times and habit of riding his bicycle all over NYC have made him a beloved if undeniably eccentric figure.

As Cunningham says in the documentary while giving an award acceptance speech in Paris, "He who seeks beauty finds it." He has persistently found beauty through the decades -- although some will no doubt question his taste -- in women's shoes, hats, handbags, dandified menswear, excessive jewelry, miniskirts, silk screened art on T-shirts, young adult males exposing their underwear waistbands (Cunningham cheekily titles his resultant montage, "How low will they go?") and the occasional dog wearing a raincoat. Cunningham is consistently cheerful, whether he is hanging out on street corners waiting for something to catch his ever-vigilant eye, waiting to be granted access to an invitation-only fashion show, or fighting eviction from the Carnegie Hall studio he has lived in since the 1960's. The powerful likes of Anna Wintour, Annette de la Renta and Brooke Astor all sing Cunningham's praises in the film. Wintour matter-of-factly states, "We all get dressed for Bill."

Director Richard Press, making an impressive debut, is naturally concerned about what makes his subject tick but is respectful and ethical (not unlike Cunningham himself) when it comes to digging into Cunningham's personal life. Cunningham only reveals himself in bits and pieces, and he becomes disarmingly emotional when questioned directly about his relationship history and habit of regular Mass attendance. Based on this response, one could read a potential history of tension or outright denial between Cunningham's sexuality and lifelong Catholic faith. If this is the case, at least the sublimation of his desires has been to the benefit and not the detriment of our culture. And while some may prefer Press "go for the kill" and be more aggressive in his tactics, I deeply appreciate the fact that he leaves Cunningham his dignity.

As the film's title -- lacking a comma or colon -- fittingly reflects, Cunningham and the city that has long served as his home and primary source of inspiration are inseparable. Out of a year full of great documentaries, Bill Cunningham New York is one of the very best both for what it reveals and, ironically but admiringly, what it doesn't.

Reverend's Rating: A

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reverend's Interview: Charlie David's Kiss

Actor-writer Charlie David is well known to gay audiences thanks to his steamy turn as Toby on Dante's Cove as well as the movies A Four Letter Word and Mulligans (based on his novel). His latest feature, Judas Kiss, will be having its Southern California premiere on September 16 as the opening night selection of the Long Beach Q Film Festival. It will also be released on DVD October 25. David plays Zachary Wells, a successful, egotistical filmmaker who unexpectedly undergoes an intriguing journey both backward and forward in time during a visit to his film school alma mater. The 31-year-old star, who lives in Canada when he isn't traveling the world, recently chatted with me via e-mail in advance of his new project's Los Angeles-area debut.

REV: Judas Kiss is quite different from and more intellectual than most gay themed movies out there. What did you think when you first heard about the project or read the screenplay?

CD: I was intrigued with the idea of getting a second chance at life. I was going through a period of reflection living in South Africa for six months last year and asking myself questions about where I wanted to go next in my life, career and relationships. The characters in Judas Kiss go through similar reflections and so the screenplay certainly resonated with me.

REV: How did you approach your character in Judas Kiss and his rather unique dilemma? How is this character different from others you have played?

CD: I most often play the good guy and although the role of Zachary Wells is not necessarily the antagonist he’s certainly a manipulative guy. I think an actor can get lost in trying to create a character and so I always try to keep story as king. When everyone on the cast and crew is focused on telling the story in the best possible way, all the pieces come together naturally. I’ve never had a substance abuse problem, never had the misfortune of sexual abuse but was able to find other elements of desperation within my own psyche that allowed me to understand the role and hopefully do it justice.

REV: What has been the response of audiences at screenings so far?

CD: The audiences have overall been surprised by the film, I think. It’s definitely a different genre, a different kind of story than what we often see in LGBT film. I think that’s the best part of the film; it’s likely not what you would expect and our team is proud to be offering something unique.

REV: You've already had a pretty lengthy career in film, TV and music for a young performer. What originally led you into the performing arts?

CD: I’ve just always loved being a storyteller and when asked what I ‘do’ in life that’s the answer I give. I love sharing stories – in my writing, acting, hosting, producing, directing – it’s all the same passion with different mediums and means. I started young and spent a lot of my youth on tour buses doing musicals, then got into a band in Vegas and spent my late teens and early 20's opening for artists like Pink, Destiny’s Child, Sisqo, Rick Springfield and Snoop Dogg. I always wanted to work in film and television, though, and when those opportunities came calling I jumped at the chance. I definitely work hard; I have a lot of fun but I’m always looking forward to create opportunity. When my calendar isn’t booked at least six months in advance I have minor meltdowns until it fills up a year in advance. Then I can breathe again.

REV: You are also a published author. How do you keep all your projects and interests in balance? Are you currently partnered or in a relationship?

CD: I love writing, it’s so cathartic for me. I work out in fiction fantasies and fixations from my real life. This year I released my third book, Shadowlands in paperback, eBook and audio book. I loved the audio book experience so much I’ve started recording other authors’ work for a few publishing houses. I’m an avid reader already, so doing the recording seemed like a natural fit. Sometimes my life does seem to get a little out of control, and then I simply take a break, go do some yoga or go to the gym and come back. Even though at any given time there may be a dozen projects in various stages of creation, production or distribution, there are always both hectic and slow periods of each process. That natural ebb and flow helps keep my life in balance. I actively date and treasure the guys in my life. It may not be traditional but then again neither am I. I love the one I’m with, as the song goes, and am open and honest about that.

REV: What are you working on now, or what projects would you like to develop in the future?

CD: We are going into production on season six of (the LGBT travel series) Bump at the end of summer, which will have me globe trotting until the end of March 2012. We’ve got some great destinations this year: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Taiwan, Portugal, Germany and Tahiti, to name a few! On the weeks of hiatus from the show I’m shooting a pilot for a new fashion TV show I’ll host in Toronto. I’m also excited to direct for the first time this fall. It’s a one-hour documentary for Logo on youth who are HIV positive, with subjects in different North American cities. Last year, we produced three films and they are all coming out on DVD this fall: Judas Kiss, 2 Frogs in the West and Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride. Outside of work, I’m becoming addicted to yoga, learning French, looking at the stars on a blanket in my backyard and marveling at this miraculous journey on planet Earth.

To learn more, visit Charlie's official website.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Sick Days

Why is Steven Soderbergh planning to retire from movie-making? Did he find out something so terrifying while making Contagion that he is giving everything up and going to live in hiding in a sterile bunker? If so, the film he’ll be leaving behind is a startling if somewhat cold and sterile thriller itself about a deadly virus that threatens to decimate the world’s population. It is a well-made film about the birth of a pandemic caused by Gwyneth Paltrow that spreads like wildfire, and the internet–fueled panic that spreads even faster. As well made as Contagion is, its insistence on being unsentimental and clinical leaves you unmoved by the characters and oddly distanced from caring about them.

Starting in blackness as we hear Minneapolis executive Beth Emhoff (Paltrow) cough before we see her sweaty face and casual touching of bar nuts, her credit card and drink that will soon become carriers of the disease. It is set in an airport, so we know that Beth will soon prove every germaphobe right. Beth has just cheated on her schlubby husband Mitch (Matt Damon) with an old flame, and the wages of sin truly are death in this case. As Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet at the CDC try to assess the threat level, a cocky blogger (Jude Law) blasts raw data out onto the internet with no regard to how it might be received (Wikileaks, anyone?). Jennifer Ehle and Demetri Martin (Taking Woodstock) play CDC doctors desperately trying to isolate the virus and kill it, and Ehle gives the film’s most memorable performance. The one failed character is Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes, a World Health Organization doctor who gets abducted while trying to uncover the virus’ origin. Clearly, we are supposed to be invested in who has kidnapped her and why, but it falls totally flat given the rest of the film’s refusal to indulge in emotion.

The ending of Contagion also feels a little like the anticlimactic end of War of the Worlds without the cheesy Morgan Freeman voice over. Prior to that, Soderbergh does a great job showing how quickly the US collapses into anarchy once the public realizes that not everyone is going to get the cure, if and when it is discovered. One can easily imagine Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann telling their Tea Party faithful to storm drug stores and health clinics (especially Women’s Clinics) to “take back America” and save their own sorry skins. Contagion succeeds as a frigid examination of our fragile position on Earth, and the brave people who give their lives trying to save others. The performers are all good, even if they can’t really bust through the wall of ice Soderbergh puts between them and the audience. It is like the freeze-dried version of Outbreak.

Don’t be surprised if you leave Contagion with sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and a healthy case of paranoia.

Reel Thoughts Rating: B-

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Black & Blue Brotherly Love

I'm not an automatic fan of sports-themed movies and even less one of fight films. I couldn't resist Warrior though (opening nationwide today) based on its poster art of hot, shirtless stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. It becomes clear while watching the movie that the men's abs aren't as defined as they are in the digitally-enhanced ad copy, but what also becomes apparent is how good a movie -- sports-themed or otherwise -- Warrior is.

Hardy (who made a big splash in Inception and will soon be seen as super-villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) and Edgerton (of last year's Animal Kingdom and next month's prequel to/remake of The Thing) play estranged brothers who also happen to have been star wrestlers and fighters as teenagers. Coached to greatness by their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte), the boys went their separate ways when their mother left her husband.

Warrior picks up 14 years later. Tommy (Hardy), having cared for their mother as she died of cancer, has returned home to Pittsburgh as an AWOL Marine with a chip on his shoulder. His now in-recovery dad takes Tommy in despite junior's resentment toward him. Meanwhile, other brother Brendan (Edgerton) is a well-admired high school physics teacher with a beautiful wife and daughters. Sadly, Brendan's family is living on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to his low teacher's salary and an exorbitant, refinanced mortgage.

In an effort to make ends meet and save the house, Brendan has secretly been spending his nights fighting in local competitions. He also has his eye on an upcoming international tournament called Sparta, dubbed "the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history." If Brendan wins the multimillion dollar prize, his house will be saved and his family set. But unbeknownst to him, Tommy is being trained by their father to compete in Sparta as well.

The very well written script by Gavin O'Connor (who also directs), Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman successfully squeezes new life out of many fight-movie, sibling-rivalry and Irish-Catholic cliches. While O'Connor overworks some metaphors (no less so than when it comes to Nolte's obsession with Captain Ahab and Moby Dick), Warrior emerges a pleasingly literate, compassionate depiction of flawed yet noble characters.

Edgerton's and Hardy's performances are excellent, as is Nolte's. Hardy is quickly becoming one of our more chameleon-esque actors, capable of changing his body shape, vocal quality and accent with ease. Nolte is more restrained and affecting here than he has been in some time. I would love to see Nolte receive supporting actor awards nods for his work here, and Hardy and Edgerton also have legitimate shots at the Best Actor category if they don't "cancel each other out."

The film's numerous fight scenes are intense and superbly choreographed. While brutal, Warrior doesn't wallow in violence for violence's sake. The fighting has an unexpected, contrary effect of bringing family and communities together and healing wounds during the movie's long-anticipated grand finale, when brother finally meets brother in the ring.

Warrior is exciting, visceral filmmaking at its best.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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