Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

MD Poll: Naked Treat

When it came to Halloween costume ideas, MD Poll takers opted for the simple this year. After all, to "dress up" like Ryan Gosling a la Crazy, Stupid, Love, all one has to do is wrap a towel around their neck, put on a womanizing smirk and show off their little gosling.

Other top vote-getters were a little more innocent, such as a Harry Potter Hogwarts grad (second place) and a Glee Dalton Academy Warbler (tied for third with a Black Swan ballerina). For the complete results, see the comments section below.

Trick or treat!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reel Thoughts: They Called Him the Streak

Talk about a streak of fame! Robert Opel made Academy Award history when he famously ran naked past presenter David Niven at the 1974 Oscars, which led Niven to quip, “Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?" To show how far we haven’t come, this streaking stunt was decades before Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “Nipplegate,” which seems almost quaint in comparison, yet Jackson’s areola ignited much more rabid Right Wing mouth-foaming than Opel’s penis. Opel even got invited to The Mike Douglas Show where the host serenaded him alongside Bea Arthur.

Uncle Bob (available on DVDthis week), as you might guess from the title, is a tribute to the man who gained national fame in an instant, made by his namesake and nephew Robert Oppel. The film is a fascinating look at a man who was a pioneer in gay rights political action, as well as an erotic photographer who created images as controversial as Robert Mapplethorpe’s. Sadly, Uncle Bob was murdered in 1979 in his San Francisco gallery called the Fey-Way Studios by thugs demanding drugs and money. The younger Oppel spends the film trying to make sense of how and why his uncle was gunned down in front of witnesses.

Oppel mixes archival footage with recreations of events where he plays his uncle, including his murder, and the effect is sometimes effective and sometimes too over-the-top and badly acted. Opel’s death occurred shortly after he staged an “execution” of Harvey Milk’s Twinkie-loving killer Dan White while dressed as “Gay Justice.” Director Oppel (seen, like his namesake in archival photos, frequently full frontal during the course of Uncle Bob) uses a heavy hand to explore the possibility that this act of performance art enraged the San Francisco Police Department, and that they somehow orchestrated his uncle’s murder.

This tangent, with scenes of cops yelling “Kill! Kill!” into the killer’s ear in a jail cell, isn’t necessary, though, because Uncle Bob was a fascinating man who interviewed and worked with the likes of Divine and the infamous Cockettes. The interviews with those close to Opel provide an engrossing look at life in the 1970’s Castro District of San Francisco, and more specifically a moving portrait of a man who led a radical and trail blazing life who was cut down in his prime.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Partying at the DGA & Eating Out

Gay Hollywood and its supporters were out in force the night of October 20th at the Director's Guild of America. With free cocktails provided by Absolut (who also generously donated $30,000 to the night's beneficiary, the Outfest Legacy Project), director-choreographer Adam Shankman (Hairspray, the upcoming Rock of Ages) and cable TV network Lifetime being honored, and such celebs as Tony Shalhoub (Monk), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) and full-throated diva/hostess Jenifer Lewis in the house, there was no way not to have a good time.

In accepting his award and reflecting on his successful career, Shankman proudly declared that he was able to coax Tom Cruise into wearing both butt-revealing chaps and a codpiece for his role as a "hair metal" rocker in next summer's Rock of Ages. The openly gay, Jewish Shankman also brought down the house by sharing a letter he received from Crystal Cathedral pastor Robert Schuller when Shankman's adaptation of the pro-Christian novel A Walk to Remember was released. Schuller commended Shankman as the new leading face of Christianity in the US. Shankman was tempted to invite Schuller to meet him at the West Hollywood club Rage to discuss it... "and on Passover."

The Outfest Legacy Project is dedicated to LGBT film preservation and restoration in partnership with the UCLA Film & Television Archive. During her presentation, Outfest's Executive Director Kirsten Schaffer revealed three recently-restored films and announced that the project was a third of the way through its most ambitious undertaking to date: restoration of the 1919 German film Different from the Others. Believed to be the first cinematic depiction of a gay man's life, most prints had been destroyed by the Nazis. To make a contribution toward this and the Legacy Project's other worthy efforts, visit their official website.

Outfest is primarily known for premiering more contemporary LGBT movies during its annual summer festival in Los Angeles. Among these has been the ongoing Eating Out film series created by Q. Allan Brocka (who also serves as an Outfest board member). The latest installment, Eating Out: Drama Camp, is being released on DVD today by Ariztical Entertainment. Brocka returns as writer-director after sitting out the last two films, and Drama Camp is all the better as a result.

An enduring, funny-sexy plot involving confused relationships and secret motives among gay and straight people has here been moved to a summer camp for aspiring actors. Additionally, Drama Camp throws the series' first trans character (played by trans actress Harmony Santana, who recently made an impressive film debut in Gun Hill Road) into the mix. Chris Salvatore and Daniel Skelton return as Zack and Casey from the last Eating Out entry, but their relationship has grown stagnant. Once at Dick Dickey's Drama Camp, whose namesake is played by the hilarious Drew Droege of YouTube's Chloe fame, the partners find themselves tempted by several classmates. Unfortunately for them all, Dickey has forbidden sex at his camp under threat of expulsion.

The Eating Out series isn't known for comedic or sexual subtlety, but what Drama Camp lacks in restraint it makes up for with good humor and hot guys. Brocka gets game performances from his cast, which also includes Mink Stole as Casey's liberated Aunt Helen (who at one point says -- hilariously -- to her much younger lover, "You make me feel like Demi Moore!") and a cameo by fan fave Rebekah Kochan. Brocka also fills the screenplay with witty jabs at pop culture behemoths including Facebook, Betty White, Glee, Neil Patrick Harris, Black Swan and, of course, Lindsay Lohan.

It likely won't be of such lasting, historical value that the Legacy Project will feel compelled to preserve it, but gay viewers today can do a lot worse than Eating Out.

Reverend's Rating:
Eating Out: Drama Camp: B

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

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Elmo and the Electric Car

Sesame Street, which debuted on PBS in 1969, has introduced many memorable Muppets to pop culture: Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Kermit the Frog, Cookie Monster, Bert & Ernie, and my personal favorite, the Count. However, the little red monster Elmo has made a bigger impact over the last 15 years or so than any of the others. With his high-pitched voice and unconditionally loving attitude, Elmo became a media sensation, sparked a "Tickle Me" toy craze and, most importantly, continues to touch the lives of children around the world.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, which opens this weekend in New York and November 4 in Los Angeles before expanding nationally, is a totally enjoyable documentary as sweet-natured as Elmo himself. It primarily explores the life of Elmo's operator and spokesman, Kevin Clash, but also features the Muppets' late creator Jim Henson as well as commentators Frank Oz and Rosie O'Donnell, plus Whoopi Goldberg as narrator.

Inspired by Henson, Clash began making his own puppets while still a boy growing up in Baltimore. He was teased by his siblings and schoolmates for his eccentric hobby, but Clash had the last laugh when he was hired right out of high school to perform on a local TV series. This led to gigs on Captain Kangaroo and The Great Space Coaster. Clash worked with Muppets designer Kermit Love on Coaster, and Love eventually introduced Clash to Henson.

Clash recounts how thrilled he was when Henson subsequently offered him a job on his and Oz's revolutionary big-screen epic The Dark Crystal, as well as how conflicted he felt when Clash couldn't take the cut in pay he would have if he left his two popular TV shows to work on the film. By 1985, though, Clash's series had both been cancelled and he was all too happy to accept Henson's invitation to work on Labyrinth.

Destiny united Clash with Elmo once another Muppet performer, Richard L. Hunt, couldn't figure out what to do with their workshop's latest creation. Following Oz's advice to "find one special hook" for each character, Clash decided Elmo should personify love. Elmo's voice and propensity to hug and kiss whomever he meets quickly emerged. The rest is history.

Clash and Being Elmo are absolutely inspiring. The film becomes unexpectedly moving when Clash fulfills a terminally-ill child's wish to meet Elmo, and also when Clash speaks about his struggle to be a good father to his daughter given the demands of Elmo's success. Previously unseen footage included from Jim Henson's private memorial service likewise doesn't fail to touch viewers.

I was riveted by Chris Paine's expose Who Killed the Electric Car? while watching it at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Using a murder-investigation approach, Paine revealed that the nearly 5,000 initial models of an environmentally-safe, exceptionally fuel-efficient electric car were recalled by their manufacturers. Most of them were destroyed, while others were left to rust in a remote area outside a Phoenix suburb. A perceived loss of profits, not safety concerns, was the motivation behind the publicly well received cars' demise.

Five years later, sales of more recent models of electric cars are surging and Paine is back with a new documentary: Revenge of the Electric Car, opening today in LA and NYC. Though not as engrossing as the first film, Revenge pulls back the cover on the major car manufacturers' more recent efforts to create and sell electric cars without hurting their financial bottom line. These include Tesla Motors, Nissan and GM, and their CEOs (Elon Musk, Carlos Ghosn and Bob Lutz, respectively) are observed and interviewed in depth about both their past missteps and current strategies.

As Paine states in his latest film's press notes, "Sometimes change, like a train in the old West, gets stopped dead in its tracks... so it's a rare privilege to be able to tell the story of how sometimes change has too much momentum to be stopped." His documentaries have certainly made me a believer in the electric car. Now if they'll just get a little more affordable for us middle-class folks, that will be real progress.

Reverend's Ratings:
Being Elmo: B+
Revenge of the Electric Car: B

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Family Affair

While it is being advertised as a real-life version of The Kids Are All Right, last year's Oscar-nominated movie about a lesbian couple raising two teenagers conceived with the help of an initially anonymous sperm donor, it may disappoint some prospective viewers to learn that Donor Unknown only briefly acknowledges the two pairs of same-sex parents included. The documentary will premiere tonight on the PBS series Independent Lens (check local listings for time and channel).

Rather, the focus is on young JoEllen Marsh and her search for the man she knows only as "Donor 150" via the California Cryobank. Once she learns his true identity is Jeffrey Harrison (a former Playgirl model and dancer in a male revue who now lives in an RV with his dogs and a pet pigeon), his biography and JoEllen's effort to meet him fuel the film's narrative drive. Along the way, JoEllen and viewers meet 14 known people fathered by Harrison, who made contributions to the Cryobank as many as four times a week during the 1980's. Theoretically, thousands of young people living today may owe their conception to Harrison and he may still be fathering children through the donations he made 30 years ago. (An amusing mention is made that the California Cryobank is today the 6th largest user of Fed Ex in the Golden State.)

Donor Unknown offers insight into a fascinating, ongoing saga, even if Harrison strikes one as a less-than-desirable father in many respects. The documentary raises the enduringly pertinent question, "What is the importance/meaning of a father?" As some of JoEllen's half-siblings conclude once they connected with Harrison, he represented "the death of a dream" as a result of both their idealized notions and the sad state of his life.

Harrison, however, doesn't seem to regret his free-spirited past or present. He refers to himself as "a fringe monkey" who, like some wild primates, is alienated from the rest of the tribe but ultimately serves as its protector and warns the others when danger is approaching. While I don't see Harrison fulfilling that responsibility as well as he thinks he does, his analogy nonetheless provides an interesting consideration of the roles outsiders like him play in our society.

Directed with a truly objective eye by Jerry Rothwell, Donor Unknown is a glimpse into another dimension of the ever-evolving institution we call "family."

Reverend's Rating: B

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reverend's Report: A Harry Situation

After nine months of coordinating schedules, five hours of coast-to-coast flying time, and several hundred dollars in ticket, hotel and rental car fees, my mother, cousin and I finally found ourselves last week on the steps of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But the year-old attraction inspired by the Harry Potter book and movie series -- built to awe-inspiring scale as part of Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida -- initially disappointed more than it delighted.

Upon our early morning arrival at the park's centerpiece ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, we were informed that it was shut down after having been operating only intermittently the two days prior and might not be functioning at all that day. The best we could do, we were told, was to continue checking back. To be greeted with such news following our lengthy personal journey to get there was discouraging. As a slight consolation, everyone was invited to tour the imposing Hogwarts Castle. The 30-minute walkthrough included glimpses of the edifice's famed living portraits as well as very realistic virtual appearances by headmaster Albus Dumbledore (played as in the more recent films by Michael Gambon) and the movies' starring trifecta of Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron). Alas, the tour ended just short of the still-closed Forbidden Journey boarding area.

We entertained ourselves while waiting hopefully for the ride to open by exploring the rest of Hogsmeade, the magical town ordinarily inaccessible to us "Muggles." The entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter (as the attraction is officially called) was meticulously re-created by a team led by the film series' Oscar-winning production designer, Stuart Craig. It is visually amazing, and the various shops and eateries within Hogsmeade contain as many fine details within as they do on the outside. These include audio-animatronic owls in the Owl Post Office, moving shadow figures that play on the tavern's walls, and a disturbingly vocal plant/baby being pulled from its pot.

To slake our thirst in the humid Florida heat, we drank signature drinks Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice. The former tastes like cream soda with a dollop of butterscotch, and is a bit tastier as well as creamier in its frozen incarnation. We also rode the tame, family-friendly roller coaster Flight of the Hippogriff, which features a very cool robotic rendition of the title creature. Every 20-30 minutes, I checked back to see if any progress had been made on reopening the Forbidden Journey ride. By the time I discovered it was indeed running, the line was 75 minutes long. Not to be dissuaded after already having waited approximately two hours, we joined the crowd.

My cousin and I are happy to report that the thrilling adventure was indeed worth the wait. My mother found the ride quite intense, as younger children are also likely to do, and barely opened her eyes once our enchanted bench began to fly. Those who do keep their eyes open will experience a mix of film footage; oversized, actual figures of a fire-breathing dragon, giant spiders and the evil Dementors; and an assortment of other dazzling special effects. The four-seat benches soar, swoop, and threaten at times to turn over backwards (a truly unsettling feeling) in synch with the visuals.

While Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has been acclaimed by many since its debut as the most advanced and thrilling theme park ride in the world, I'm still partial to another pioneering attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, which features the added benefit of being in 3D. It is absolutely not to be missed when visiting the park and we were able to walk right onto it, which was a massive relief after our morning ordeal in Hogwarts. Three other attractions were either suffering momentary disruptions in their operation (Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges) or were closed for refurbishment (Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat), leading me to question the overall efficiency of Islands of Adventure's tech and maintenance departments. By the end of the day, however, a good time was had by all.

My cousin, visiting Florida for the first time, was anxious to compare Walt Disney World to the more familiar Disneyland, so day two of our trip found us in the Magic Kingdom. It provided us a great opportunity to compare and contrast not only Disney's most famed attractions but the operational differences between the Universal and Disney parks. Unlike Islands of Adventure, no attractions were closed nor seemed to suffer the slightest delay. In addition, the longest line we had to brave for a ride was less than 30 minutes, although Disney's Fastpass system further simplified the wait for a few major attractions.

If in the end the Magic Kingdom proved to be a bit more magical than the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, both parks and their assortment of impressive attractions (even more impressive when they are all working) deserve to be visited often.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: My Weekend Visit

Andrew Haigh is enjoying the kind of buzz over his film Weekend that most Hollywood directors would kill to receive. The low-key romance about two guys who hook up and then turn it into something more has captured the imaginations of gay and straight filmgoers alike. No one is more pleased than out British writer/director Haigh. “I’ve been completely surprised. I mean, you make something and you have no idea if anyone is going to see it, apart from my mum. The fact that it’s got a good reception and people are talking about it and the press seems interested is amazing... it’s incredible,” Haigh explained via phone.

Weekend tells the subtle love story of Russell (swarthy Tom Cullen), a fairly closeted man, and Glen (sexy Chris New), and an out-and-proud provocateur. They meet in a bar, spend the night together and then decide to spend the better part of the weekend together before Glen takes off for school in Portland, Oregon. Neither man is who they seem to each other at first, and the beauty of Weekend is the often wordless ways Haigh shows the guys dropping their guards and falling in love. Cullen is marvelous, sweet yet masculine, while the out New has more of a gym-toned appeal.

Haigh, who worked from 2000 to 2008 as an assistant editor on films like Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Mona Lisa Smile for directors like Ridley Scott and Mike Newell, strived to be honest in his portrayal of the two men and to be honest in their depictions, flaws and all. The men do a bit of drugs together, and at first, Glen, who goads the sweet Russell into telling about himself into a recorder, is rather condescending about the seemingly closeted man he assumes Russell is. It takes a while for the men to realize how much they mean to each other, framed by the sadness that Glen is leaving soon.

“To me, that was my most important goal,” Haigh explained. “To make it feel really authentic, and you believed that these two people were into each other and were falling in love with each other, basically. And that they were seen as well-rounded, flawed characters. The characters that interest me are the ones who are flawed and have those sorts of struggles.”

“When I was writing the story, I didn’t want to ever shy away from the fact that they were gay,” he explained, but he feels that straight audiences are embracing the film because of the honest way he depicts the characters. “There’s more to these boys’ lives than just their sexuality. I’m more than just a gay person. There are lots of things in my life that define who I am, and that’s what I tried to get across.”

Haigh decided from the beginning that he would shoot the film in sequence, to capture the men’s relationship realistically, and he had nothing but praise for his two leads. “They were so committed to that way we were going to make the film, and I always tried to keep it like it was a relationship between the three of us.” The three men became close, and it helped the actors develop their characters and develop their chemistry together. “They sort of fell in love with their own characters, which I think is so important.”

Regarding the film’s frank sex scenes, Haigh explained, “I knew that I wanted it to feel real, as if you’re there watching these two guys, almost like you’re spying on them. But I knew that I didn’t want it to be really explicit. We need to feel that these two people are into each other. It’s bizarre, it was actually some of the easiest stuff we shot.”

“I don’t think Russell fits in to the gay world or the straight world, and I think that Glen’s kind of the same. They’re both just trying to find their place. That’s like a lot of us. We’re just trying to work out where we fit in and how we fit in. Russell’s problem isn’t that he’s facing discrimination every day. It’s that he’s fearful of a world that he thinks still doesn’t accept him. That’s what’s interesting to me, that you carry around homophobia with you, even if it’s perceived rather than real. I think that’s quite a pressure on a gay person’s shoulders.”

Haigh’s first film was the documentary-styled film Greek Pete, about the year in the life of a handsome London escort. The subject fascinated Haigh because it was a world he didn’t even knew existed. “What was interesting was that working in that documentary format sort of inspired a lot of things that are in Weekend. It taught me that you’ve got to have faith in the ability just to watch and listen to people.”

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Erasure and Tori Amos Are Back

How could I forget my first exposure to Erasure back in 1986? They were opening for Duran Duran, and Andy Bell pranced out onto stage wearing a tank top and tutu. I was smitten. Their music wasn't bad either, as millions of listeners gay and straight have discovered.

Hard to believe it's been 25 years between then and the techno duo's new album, Tomorrow's World, now available this week. Erasure is also currently wrapping up a world tour. While I can't say Tomorrow's World offers much new stylistically, it does reflect how Bell and co-writer/performer Vince Clarke have grown lyrically and musically. The first single from the album, "When I Start To (Break It All Down)," has been available for a while and is a more subdued song than one would think would be helpful in stoking public interest. Most of the tunes on the new effort share this air of melancholy.

That being said, there are several that will no doubt inspire Erasure's fans to hit the dance floor. "Fill Us With Fire," "A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot" and "Then I Go Twisting" are fun, and "You've Got to Save Me Right Now" has an interesting revival-meeting sound to it. While perhaps more low-key than we are used to from Bell & Clarke, Tomorrow's World suits a social and musical scene that is decidedly less frivolous than those happy-go-lucky mid-80's.

Meanwhile, pop chanteuse Tori Amos has definitely taken a more experimental turn on her new release, Night of Hunters. Now available on the classical label Deutsche Grammophon, it is a bold work that deserves to be applauded even though it may alienate her longtime supporters.

Drawing from post-renaissance texts and music styles, Amos has created a 21st century song cycle rooted in a 400-year classical tradition. She explores a primary theme of the hunter and the hunted, and explores it romantically, psychologically and existentially. The CD demands close listening more than once to even begin to appreciate its tracks. The compositions are frequently gorgeous, with the title song and "Your Ghost" particularly haunting (no pun intended) pieces.

Night of Hunters is a welcome, intriguing break from the norm for Amos. It will be interesting to see how it goes over critically and commercially.

Reverend's Ratings:
Tomorrow's World: B-
Night of Hunters: A-

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Bebe, It’s You!

Bebe Neuwirth won television audiences hearts as the stiff and repressed but always lovable Lilith Sternin on Cheers, but she had been dancing ballet and acting on Broadway for years before that. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts has enlisted the versatile singer/actress/dancer to open their terrific 2011/2012 Season. I had the pleasure of speaking to Ms. Neuwirth the day after 9/11; we talked about her career, and where she wants to take it in the future.

Neuwirth was honored to be one of a huge group of Broadway stars who gathered on Times Square to sing “New York, New York” as part of “Broadway Remembers 9/11”, which was a recreation of a performance done right after the attacks to help Broadway and New Yorkers gain some comfort and be able to return to normalcy. At the time, Neuwirth remembered, “I had just started rehearsing a play for Lincoln Center and when it happened, I thought, “I can’t go back to the play, I mean, what’s the point? I should be down there on the piles helping the guys and feeding people. Then, I realized through the wisdom of the people at Lincoln Center who were saying, “No this is exactly what you should be doing.” It was really (a) pretty awful (time).”

Stories With Piano is the name of the show that Neuwirth is bringing to Scottsdale with pianist Scott Cady, which she hesitates to call a cabaret performance. “It’s sort of hard to describe, because some of the songs are from Broadway shows, but some of them are from Tom Waits and there’s a Beatles song in there and there’s an Edith Piaf song in there. It’s such a broad range that I don’t really know what category it falls into. They are a group of songs that either tell a story in a narrative way or they are a moment in a person’s life that is so compelling or so emotional or so deep that you know there’s a big story behind it,” she explained.

“It’s an interesting thing to stand on stage as yourself and not be a character like Jenny in Threepenny Opera or (Chicago’s) Velma or Morticia (from The Addams Family), I’m just me. I don’t want to stand onstage and tell you all about myself because I just think that’s far too narcissistic and boring an exercise for me. There are some people I want to go and hear exactly who they are. I want to hear Elaine Stritch’s show, I want to hear those stories, but it’s not for me to do. I do think that there’s a reason that I choose the songs that I choose. There’s something about them that I can relate to, so there is something that you might know about me (after the show)… maybe,” she said, laughing.

Born in the country outside Princeton, New Jersey, Neuwirth developed a love of ballet at an early age. “I’ve been in ballet classes since I was five and been on stage since I was seven (in ballet), so it’s really when I’m dancing that I feel most comfortable and most at home. I enjoy television and film a lot and I enjoy being in a play or singing in these concerts that I do immensely, but there’s something a little bit different when I am dancing onstage. It’s been the one constant in my life.  It’s the one thing that I’ve always done, and I mean always!”

Her first Broadway role was quite a coup, playing Sheila in A Chorus Line at age nineteen in 1978. The show was a phenomenon in the pre-Phantom of the Opera days. “The show was only three years old at the time.  Picture a Broadway without helicopters landing onstage or chandeliers rising up or people dressed up as cats so much that you don’t even see the person anymore. It was a different time, maybe a more human time on Broadway. It was just thrilling beyond words. I got to work with (creator) Michael Bennett a lot.” Neuwirth started in the tour, then graduated to the Broadway production, where she got to work with more experienced dancers who had done shows with legendary choreographers like Gower Champion and Bob Fosse. “They had amazing stories and if I paid attention to what they were doing and how they worked, I could learn a lot. It was a gift. It was a real blessing in my life.”

Neuwirth went on to work with Fosse, winning Tony Awards for revivals of Sweet Charity and Chicago. With two Emmys for Cheers and a new album called Porcelain coming out in October, can a Grammy be far behind?  The title refers not to Neuwirth’s ivory complexion, but rather to porcelain’s strength and fragility. “It has an interesting duality,” she concluded, referring to both the ceramic and her CD.

Her biggest Broadway triumph was the result of a concert version of Kander & Ebb’s 1975 Chicago at Encores! At City Center. No one thought it would go further, but the audience response “blew the roof off of the theater. It was like seeing an old friend that you just love so much when we gave the audiences Chicago again.” Ten years after blowing audiences away as merry murderess Velma Kelly in the sleek Chicago revival that followed and after hip replacement surgery in 2006, Neuwirth returned to Chicago playing the other killer, foxy Roxie Hart. It was a great experience, both because she got to see the show from a different angle, but also because it set aside any worries that she wouldn’t dance again.

“There were two things going on,” she explained. “One was the absolute exalting feeling of being able to dance again after excruciating pain and going through an operation and all the physical therapy and being able to dance on Broadway again. I can’t come up with words to tell you how happy that made me. And the other thing was being able to experience the show from a different perspective made me appreciate it all the more.”

“I’m so grateful and humbled by that,” Neuwirth responded when reminded of her iconic status in the GLBT community, from playing so many strong and empowering women. “That’s inspiring to me.” She is very happy about New York approving marriage equality. “Sometimes, when (same sex) couples come and tell me that they just got married and that they wanted to come see me in a show, I find that extremely moving, because marriage for anyone is a big deal. To be included in the celebration of that means a lot to me.”

One of Neuwirth’s favorite causes is animal rights. “I love animals and they can’t speak for themselves, they can’t do anything for themselves. It’s like children, you have to stand up for people and creatures who can’t speak for themselves. There are people who do so much more greater work than I do, but I help out when I can.” Before coming to Scottsdale, she will be doing a benefit for Equine Advocates and the Henry Street Settlement. “They have an equine sanctuary in upstate New York and they bring kids and women (who’ve been abused) up to the farm to visit with the horses. Horses are mystical creatures and if you’re in the presence of a horse, something happens to you. Some of these city folks are a little scared at first by this big animal and then something just opens up inside of them and there is this healing that takes place. They learn the stories of these horses that had suffered abuse in their past but were rescued and brought to this farm. It’s a really interesting link between the two groups and they’re helping each other right now.” She also praised Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore for a huge pet adoption event called Broadway Barks. “They’re a couple of heroes, and I help them out when I can.”

When asked what she’d tell aspiring GLBT youth who want to follow in her footsteps. “When kids want to be what they want to be, it might feel unattainable,” she responded. “I got bullied by a girl in school also, not to compare myself to anyone, and everyone has their own story to tell. Bullying is lousy no matter the degree, but there was a girl who made my life hell in the fifth grade, really horrible, and you know, I hate her to this day. I think to myself, if I ever saw her on the street at the age of fifty-two, what would I say to her? Here’s what I think, and I don’t know that I have any qualification to give out any advice on this because I understand that the bullying that you’re talking about is really profound and ultimately sometimes tragic. I would say, be yourself and believe in yourself. You are a gift to the world and acknowledge that because that is the truth. It used to be upsetting to me that I wasn’t like ‘that person’ or ‘that person’ and maybe I should change. It took me a while to realize, “No, exactly who I am is exactly who I should be. That’s the best I can do.”

Bebe Neuwirth: Stories With Piano will be performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts this Saturday, October 15. Click here for more information and tickets.

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

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Cooking with Pride

Nigel Slater is hardly a household name in the US. In the UK, however, the chef, food writer and host of the BBC series A Taste of My Life is the equivalent of our Wolfgang Puck or Emeril Lagasse. Unlike them, Slater is openly gay. He is also so popular that a movie has been made from his memoirs, Toast, which opens today for a limited engagement at Landmark's Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles. Fans of gay coming of age stories, British cinema and/or Helena Bonham Carter shouldn't miss it.

Nigel was only nine years old when his beloved mother died and he began to cook for his more distant, widowed father (Mum and Dad are memorably played in Toast by Victoria Hamilton and Ken Stott). Soon after, his father hired a housekeeper, Mrs. Potter (no relation to Harry though amusingly portrayed by Bonham Carter, last seen as Bellatrix LaStrange in the boy wizard's movie finale). Mrs. Potter, a seductive vision in blonde wig and red high heels, began fighting with Nigel for the elder Slater's affections. She initially won and found herself the second Mrs. Slater. But once Nigel began to hone his cooking skills in a high school Domestic Science class, the gloves came off and the war commenced.

Young actors Oscar Kennedy (making his film debut) and Freddie Highmore (best known to American audiences as Johnny Depp's young co-star in both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland) give fantastic performances as Nigel's juvenile and adolescent selves. From the film's cute opening titles emblazoned on grocery store signs and products to its scenes of Nigel exploring his homosexual attractions, first to the family's hunky groundskeeper and later to a male ballet dancer, Toast serves as a wistful reminder of the battles we all fought to become who we are today. As Nigel says in the film, "When you're deprived of something, it just makes you more hungry for it." Amen to that.

Food also plays a role in the climactic drag ball documented in The Sons of Tennessee Williams (First Run Features), opening today in New York City and October 14 in LA. Director Tim Wolff uncovers the vibrant history of gay life in New Orleans via the famous "krewes" that participate in each year's Mardi Gras festivities. As a 1950's newsreel report declares at the film's start, "Gay celebrations usher in Lent!" Needless to say, "gay" meant something else to most folks back then.

One participant who has been involved all along states, "You didn't put your lifestyle on the street the way they do today." Indeed, doing so would almost immediately get one arrested. Since Mardi Gras (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year) was the only day men could legally cross-dress in New Orleans, it became the city's de facto gay pride celebration at an early point in its history. Many decades later, in the wake of such devastating adversities as AIDS and Hurricane Katrina, the annual balls thrown by long-lived gay groups such as the Krewe of KY(!) and the Krewe of Armeinius are not only hot tickets but have won the respect of the local Black and White, moneyed, straight communities.

Amazing, elaborate costumes are in abundance throughout The Sons of Tennessee Williams but the film's finale -- shot during the Krewe of Armeinius's 40th anniversary ball, at which the theme was "desserts" -- is spectacular. Decoupage patterned on gingerbread, petit fours and New York cheesecake will not only make viewers hungry but are guaranteed to take one's breath away.

Reverend's Ratings:
Toast: B+
The Sons of Tennessee Williams: B

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Toon Talk: Lions Share

On the heels of its record-making 3D theatrical re-release (which cemented its box office standing as the most successful traditional animated movie of all time), The Lion King roars back on to home video this week with its high definition debut on Disney Blu-ray. The Academy Award-winning King, along with another Disney “jewel-in-the-crown” Beauty and the Beast, also makes its 3D Blu-raythis week. And joining them for the first time on DVD shelves is the Disney Blu-ray and DVDpremieres of Disney Nature’s latest “true life adventure” documentary African Cats. Talk about “lions and cheetahs and beasts, oh my...!"

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of The Lion King: Diamond Edition Blu-ray at

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Tricks & Treats on DVD

'Tis the season for all things creepy and costumed, and several gay-geared home video releases this month are hoping to cash in. Only one of them is a true horror movie, though, and it disappointingly turns out to be the weakest of the bunch.

Unhappy Birthday, out October 25 from Wolfe Video, draws inspiration from such classic chillers as The Wicker Man (the 1973 original, not the dreadful Nicolas Cage remake) and Children of the Corn but adds a gay twist. Rick (David Paisley) and Jonny (Jonathan Keane) are secret lovers who decide to surprise their girlfriend, Sadie (Christina DeVallee), with a birthday getaway to the mysterious isle of Amen. Separated from the mainland at night by the high tide, the town's inhabitants are gradually revealed to have nefarious plans for their three visitors.

Written and directed by Mark Harriett and Mike Matthews, Unhappy Birthday is stylishly shot and features nice chemistry between Paisley and Keane. Unfortunately, anyone who has seen The Wicker Man or other movies in this genre will find the plot predictable, and the bloody make-up effects look fake. Better to rent a horror classic such as The Exorcist if you want to get truly spooked this Halloween.

Meanwhile, Breaking Glass Pictures' QC Cinema is bringing out two new releases in which "tricks" play a central role. The Cost of Love(now available) is a British drama focusing on a successful hustler, Dale (Christopher Kelham), who finds himself in crisis as both his 30th birthday and his best friend's wedding draw near. Although he is able to confide in and receive support from his drag performer friend Sean (Michael Joyce, who sadly passed away shortly after filming this), Dale is drawn to increasingly dangerous sex scenes in a misguided effort to deal with his conflicted feelings. It is an engrossing, often sexy -- though occasionally disturbing -- character study.

The label's other new DVD is Rent Boys, a well-made German documentary (available today) about hustler culture past and present as situated at West Berlin's Bahnhof Zoo train station. Both frank and sympathetic, it offers considerable insight into the motivations, struggles and relationships between young male prostitutes and the men who love (or at least employ) them.

Also available today on DVD and Blu-ray is the one undisputed "treat" among this month's new releases. Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On(Image Entertainment) is the Emmy-nominated record of the brassy singer-comedian's Vegas show, which ran for nearly three years. "These are such strange and polarizing times," Midler declares to her audience at the start, "but at least we all agree on one thing: We love me!"

Midler sings her greatest hits, acknowledges her gay fans and leads her backup performers, the Staggering Harlettes and the Caesar Salad Girls, in extravagant production numbers. With a reported budget of $10 million, there is also no shortage of lavish costumes in the show. And what says "Halloween" better than that?

Reverend's Ratings:
Unhappy Birthday: C-
The Cost of Love: B-
Rent Boys: B
Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go OnB+

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

Off the Shelf: Grease: Music on Film

Whether you're a T-Bird or a Pink Lady, the latest edition of Limelight Editions' Music on Film book series spotlighting the ultimate 50's musical Grease is the word. This compact tome, written by Stephen Tropiano (author of Music on Film: Cabaret and The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on Television) packs a whole lot of facts and trivia on the making of the #1 movie musical of all time into its 128 pages.

For example, did you know the Grease movie was almost an animated one directed by Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat)? Or that original casting ideas included Elvis as Danny, Ann-Margret as Sandy and Lucie Arnaz as Rizzo? Or that the film's famed Rydell High was actually three separate Los Angeles-area high school locations?  Or how infamous porn star Harry Reems came this close to playing the school's athletics coach?

A quick read, Grease: Music on Film also delves into the creation of the original stage musical, through its three Broadway productions all the way up to its recent Chicago revival that returned to the show's raunchier, R-rated roots. In addition to insights from Grease creators Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, quotes and anecdotes from the filmmakers -- including infamous producer Allan Carr, first-time feature director Randal Kleiser and members of the cast -- are also featured.

Beyond the stage and screen Greases, the book also covers its less-than-successful (but still beloved in certain circles) sequel Grease 2 as well as its presence on television, like the You're the One That I Want reality competition series that cast its last New York revival. I particularly got a kick out of the list of promotional tie-ins, like the "Grease Hustle", that were attempted around the time of the film's 1978 premiere.  Alas, they didn't include some of the various merchandise, such as the Grease Barbie line,that have sprung up over the past 30+ years.

Although scant on pictures, Grease: Music on Film will definitely be the "one that you want" for every Grease fan. Click hereto purchase the book from

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - October 2011: Werewolves

The full moon is on the rise this October as the Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper for the month salutes our favorite movie Werewolves.

From Lon Chaney Jr. to Benicio Del Toro, Michael Landon to Jack Nicholson, Teen Wolf to Twilight's wolf pack, the lycanthropes are on the ramapage this month as we count down the days to Halloween.

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.