Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - December 2011: Nun's Stories

Just in time for the holidays, this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper salutes cinematic sisterhood with a December dose of Nun's Stories.

As you can see, there's nothing like the role of a nun to attract the attention of our favorite movie actresses, from Ingrid Bergman and Rosalind Russell to Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews to Whoopi Goldberg and Meryl Streep. In everything from dramas to comedies to musicals, it's hard to break the habit of a good nun's story.

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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Here Comes Santa Claus

Who knew your average shopping mall Santa has to risk so much? From crying, inconsolable toddlers to sick children vomiting on their freshly-laundered suits and the "post-Christmas depression" that sets in for many of them come December 26th, it isn't easy being the North Pole's jolliest inhabitant. The illuminating, highly enjoyable new documentary Becoming Santa (now available on DVDjust in time for the holidays from Cinema Libre Studio) reveals all these perils of the trade as well as its many joys.

"It's not a job; it's a calling, a destiny," according to one interviewee in the film who annually dons the familiar red and white. Director Jeff Myers primarily follows the journey of Los Angeles resident Jack Sanderson, who found Christmas had lost much of its value and meaning following the deaths of his parents. The funny, well-spoken Sanderson decided to try to re-discover the holiday spirit by growing out his beard, dyeing it white and attending one of several schools for professional Santas scattered across the US. Myers' camera tracks Sanderson as he learns such valuable lessons as never refer to children as "kids," never add an additional exclamation to Santa's traditionally triune "Ho, ho, ho," and to always assure the children sitting on his lap that he will do everything possible to satisfy their Christmas wish lists. "In essence," Sanderson confesses, "I've been given a license to lie to children, and to lie big."

As a lifelong devotee of the pleasantly-plump mascot of gift giving, I was impressed not just by the caliber of character(s) depicted in Becoming Santa but by the documentary's incorporation of historical facts behind the contemporary legend. The source tale of St. Nicholas -- a 3rd-century benefactor known for his secret support of the poor and needy in what is now known as southern Turkey -- is given considerable time, as are the Civil War-era innovations to the tradition. These included the first American artistic illustration of Santa (which would later be appropriated by the Coca-Cola Company to even greater effect), the first Christmas tree sales in the US, and the introduction of Christmas greeting cards. The first "live" Santa, personified by James Edgar, debuted in a Boston department store in 1890.

I wish Myers would have focused less on Sanderson, entertaining though he be, and given some of his supporting Santas a little more screen time. Each has a fascinating back story, and most unselfishly volunteer their considerable time spent as Santa each year in malls, parades and at parties. But Myers succeeds, movingly so, at showing the great good done each year in the name of Santa Claus via considerable fund-raising efforts and gift donations that support underprivileged children, men and women worldwide.

Although I've become increasingly horrified by the greed and commercialism that drive "Black Friday" and the holiday shopping season, I will always believe in Santa and the overly-generous devotion to humankind's good that he represents. If there is anyone out there who needs your Christmas spirit renewed, rent Becoming Santa today. I guarantee you won't regret it.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Trouble in Paradise

Director Alexander Payne has been making great films since Citizen Ruth and Election, but chances are most people are more familiar with Sideways or About Schmidt due to their Oscar nominations. His new film, The Descendants, shares a tone and subtlety with those latter films, to the point where those with shorter attention spans may flee the theater for the latest Twilight saga. I prefer to think of it as playing on Hawaii time, since the film is set completely among the non-tourists of that laid-back paradise.

The Descendants is gorgeously shot and deceptively subversive in the way that it confronts non-native people's co-opting of sacred lands. It won't make you feel bad as you sip a pina colada at a Hawaiian resort, but then again, it might.

George Clooney plays Matt King, a rich lawyer who is a direct descendent of Hawaiian royalty, which makes him executor of a trust that includes hundreds of acres of pristine Hawaiian land that he must sell before the laws dissolve the agreement. Unlike his family of Jimmy Buffett-like cousins, he hasn't lived off the great wealth the trust provided, and he is more than a little conflicted about selling the land for development.
All of this is just a backdrop to what is happening in his life. His wife, Barbara, bored by his lack of attention, began "seizing life" and ended up in a coma from a speedboat accident. Now forced to be a full-time father, Matt doesn't know how to communicate with his younger daughter and has no idea that his older daughter is getting drunk at the pricey boarding school where he sent her to straighten up.

The majority of the film deals with Barbara's imminent death and how to prepare the family and friends, while Clooney's character must additionally deal with a shattering betrayal by his now-comatose wife. Clooney gives a terrific, nuanced performance that is especially heartbreaking when he is left alone in the hospital room with his duplicitous wife and has to make peace with her. He gradually learns through tragic and uplifting events how to reconnect with his daughters and with the great land with which he has been entrusted.

Actress Shailene Woodley, who is best known for her role in The Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family, plays the a tough, wounded daughter who becomes privy to her mother's less-than-admirable behavior in The Descendants. I recently visited with the 20-year-old actress to discuss her breakout role.

About how she got into character: "I'm not one of those actors who approaches it and thinks too much about it. I don't think about ‘the character' and ‘her arc' and what her life is like. I just try to approach it and be as present and truthful in the moment. I really responded to this screenplay because it was so real and raw and truthful and human. And it's so rare, especially in scripts that I read that are geared toward my age range. They're usually glamorized and not quite truthful."

On the screenplay: "The screenplay was so brilliantly written that there was no improvising. Emotion naturally came up and I was so fortunate to work with such phenomenal actors who gave me so much to work off of."

On director Alexander Payne, who she didn't know before she auditioned, and co-star George Clooney: "Alexander Payne is one of my top five favorite human beings on a personal level, and George Clooney is a superhuman. Every positive thing that you've read about him is true and every negative thing is hilarious because that man doesn't have a mean bone in his body.

On the time she spent on location in Hawaii: "These were the four months that shaped my young adult life. It was magical. Being there on set, it was such a comfortable environment. George was never in his trailer, he was always there hanging out with us. No one was better than anyone else and Alexander is such a happy human being, he created such a happy environment, there were never any fights or any disputes."

On the films serious and funny moments: "Everyone in some way or another has to deal with death, whether it's someone close or a family member, and at the same time, this movie is very funny. Life is funny, and we as human beings are hilarious. My friends who are gay always seem more open and comfortable with life and with mistakes. I took one of my friends to see the film and he was crying through half the film and laughing through the other half. Afterwards, he said, ‘That's just like real life: you laugh, you cry and you don't realize how funny life can be until you remove yourself from the bubble and look back on it.'"

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reverend's Report: Returns to Oz

Wicked, the lavish stage production based on a 1995 novel by gay author Gregory Maguire and featuring songs by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Schwartz, remains the top-grossing musical on Broadway eight years after its opening and has been a massive hit on tour. It returns to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles in late November for a month-long run.

Author L. Frank Baum originally introduced us to the magical world of Oz in 1900. His initial novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the first of 14 books set in Oz that he penned), was subsequently turned into a 1902 stage musical as well as the classic film of 1939 starring Judy Garland. A non-musical (and underrated, in my opinion) movie sequel, Return to Oz, was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1985 and quickly flopped at the box office. Now, Disney is trying again with a new film, Oz: The Great and Powerful, scheduled for release in 2013. It stars gay-friendly "it" boy James Franco in the title role and is being directed by Sam Raimi of the Evil Dead and Spider-Man series.

Despite attempts by Disney and others to put Oz's ruling wizard front and center, it has long been the saga's women who have captured the public imagination. Whether they be the young Kansas farm girl Dorothy, unexpectedly transported to the land "over the rainbow" by a powerful tornado, or an assortment of witches both good and bad (played by the unforgettable Margaret Hamilton and Billie Burke in The Wizard of Oz as well as Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis in the new production), the women of Oz continue to command attention.

Wicked is no exception. The stage musical, which is also slated for eventual adaptation into a movie by Universal Studios, recounts the story of how the prickly, green-skinned Elphaba first met and befriended the vacuous but saintly Galinda. Whereas the former would become best known in Oz as "the Wicked Witch of the West," Galinda (nee "Glinda") ultimately became identified along with Dorothy as its savior. Maguire's novel and the theatrical interpretation of it serve as potent political commentary, in which Elphaba is revealed as having good intentions while the Wizard plots to subjugate the citizens of Oz to his self-serving will.

The Oz books, movies and musicals have long held special relevance for GLBT people. I believe this is because we identify with the heroic journeys undertaken by Elphaba and Dorothy in leaving home, discovering their self worth and special/magical attributes, and ultimately helping others with the wisdom they have gained. As we mature in the GLBT community, our personal journeys often undergo a similar process.

In addition to the return of Wicked, two new books have recently been published that continue to explore the lessons we can gain from Oz and its inhabitants. Now available is And Toto Too: The Wizard of Oz - A Spiritual Journey.Written by Nathan Castle, a Dominican priest, it has been recommended by Rabbi Barton G. Lee as "of interest to all who ponder questions about God, ethics, and life's meaning(s) whatever their own religious background." And Maguire's fourth and final novel in his popular Wicked series, Out of Oz,was also released recently.

Clearly, the land of Oz continues to cast a magic spell through a variety of media more than a century since L. Frank Baum dreamed it up.

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Tomboy Joy

One of the best films of the year, GLBT-interest or otherwise, is Celine Sciamma's exquisite Tomboy. After winning raves and awards at various film festivals, it is being released theatrically today in Los Angeles and New York by Rocket Releasing.

Young lead actress Zoe Haran gives one of several beautifully nuanced performances in this sensitive, compassionate movie about a girl's efforts to fit into a new community by presenting herself as a boy. This naturally leads to complications. Both the central character and the film resist easy categorization but Tomboy provides many rewards. Despite its subtitles, even older children and teenagers may appreciate this French import.

Reverend's Rating: A-

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reverend’s Reviews: Full Frontal Fassbender

2011 is proving to be Irish-born actor Michael Fassbender’s breakout year. After playing the romantic lead opposite Mia Wasikowska in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s take on Jane Eyre and his fine turn as the younger incarnation of chief villain Magneto in the otherwise shockingly overrated X-Men: First Class, Fassbender is ending the year with an even bigger bang… and I do mean that in a euphemistic, sexual sense.

Most immediately, Fassbender co-stars beginning today in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method from Sony Pictures Classics. He portrays the pioneering early 20th-century psychiatrist Carl Jung, who falls in with both a miscast Viggo Mortensen (Cronenberg’s go-to guy of late, having previously starred in the director’s Eastern Promises and A History of Violence) as Sigmund Freud, Jung’s mentor, and a deeply disturbed mental patient played by a Russian-accented Keira Knightley.

Fassbender is excellent, and Knightley could end up with an Academy Award nomination for her initially over-the-top but ultimately affecting turn. Although their sex scenes (which primarily involve clothed spanking) are more silly than scandalous, both seem to invest their hearts as well as their bodies in them. I enjoyed Mortensen’s livelier than usual performance as Freud but can’t help but feel busy Oscar winner Christoph Waltz would have been a better, more authentically European choice.

While A Dangerous Method is handsomely-produced and -designed, what should have been an intriguing story fell pretty flat for me. Cronenberg directs with no particular flair, and Christopher Hampton’s talky screenplay doesn’t delve enough into Jung’s hinted-at devotion to mysticism or the Jewish Freud’s cultural/religious insecurities (“Put not your trust in Aryans,” Freud warns cryptically at one point.) The film is now playing in Los Angeles and New York City and will expand nationally soon.

Fassbender also headlines and bares all in Fox Searchlight’s Shame, scheduled to open in select cities on December 2nd. The actor won the prestigious Best Actor award at this year’s Venice Film Festival for his fully-committed performance as Brandon, a contemporary NYC sex addict. All seems to be going well for Brandon both at his day job and with his indiscriminate nightly escapades. Once his rootless sister (Carey Mulligan) enters the picture, however, all hell truly breaks loose.

Screenwriters Steve McQueen (who also directs) and Abi Morgan heavily imply all manner of sexual abuse and incest in Brandon’s and Sissy’s pasts but hesitate from revealing anything definitive. As a result, Shame tends to wallow in its graphic sexual scenes (both heterosexual and homosexual, and far from arousing) rather than provide any illumination or redemption. I still can’t believe that the prospect of Brandon’s participation in a 12-step group for those suffering from sexual addiction is never raised, despite Shame being set in a city as chock-full of fellow addicts and support groups as Manhattan.

Fassbender and Mulligan may deservedly be honored with year-end critics groups’ citations for their arresting work here, even though Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) and George Clooney (The Descendants) are the current front runners for the Best Actor Oscar. The strong-stomached will likely consider Shame worthwhile viewing based exclusively on Fassbender’s performance and/or his frequently displayed, admittedly impressive physical endowment. No offense, Michael, but I have every confidence you are made of stronger stuff and look forward to even finer, predominantly clothed performances from you in the future.

Reverend’s Ratings:
A Dangerous Method: C+
Shame: C-

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Love Bites

The latest entry in the Twilight vampire saga, Breaking Dawn, Part 1, is currently burning up the box office. But despite the involvement of an openly gay director, Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls), the blockbuster is disappointingly low on gay content. And no, Taylor Lautner's frequent shirtlessness doesn't count.

If it's gay vampires one is after, look no further than Bite Marks. It is newly available on DVDfrom QC Cinema. While I wish I could report Bite Marks was as expertly made and lavishly produced as Breaking Dawn, first-time director Mark Bessenger gets some points for his use of slapstick and adding a new twist or two to a pretty tired genre.

Benjamin Lutz (easy on the eyes if not the best actor) stars as a sexually confused trucker hired to transport a shipment of coffins. Along the way, he picks up a pair of gay hitchhiker-boyfriends played by Windham Beacham and sexy former porn star David Alanson. The three soon discover that the truck's hold is full of bloodsuckers, who break free and go after them.

Gay actor Stephen Geoffreys, who memorably played a newly-turned vampire in the 1985 version of Fright Night, has a fun cameo in Bite Marks but the cast's performances are otherwise pretty weak. Despite a promising, animated opening titles sequence and a very good music score by Rossano Galante, the movie is recommended only for die-hard fans of "creatures of the night."

Love and death often go hand in hand, at least at the movies. The Tree is a beautiful Australian family drama that illustrates this expertly. The film was released on DVDNovember 15 following a theatrical run earlier this year. It could well end up on my top ten list for 2011. Charlotte Gainsbourg (who can currently be seen on the big screen as Kirsten Dunst's sister in Melancholia) stars as a wife grieving the sudden death of her husband. While her performance is excellent, the real focus here is on the young actors playing her four children. Precocious, eight-year old daughter Simone (played by charming newcomer Morgana Davies) becomes convinced her late father is speaking to her via the massive fig tree next to the family's home, and she soon convinces her mother of this as well.

The Tree takes a metaphysical approach to be sure (it is adapted from an amusingly-titled book, Our Father Who Art in the Tree), but it really scores in capturing the various experiences and stages of grief. While observant screenwriter-director Julie Bertuccelli (Since Otar Left) explores how we can ascribe meaning to seemingly random events in the wake of a loved one's death, she doesn't rule out the possibility that our loved ones can indeed communicate with us from the other side. Also to Bertuccelli's credit, there isn't a single sentimental moment in The Tree. This is rarely the case in movies dealing with children and death, likely including the upcoming Hugo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for the perfect holiday gift for a gay friend or classic-film lover, the new home video release everyone will appreciate finding under their tree this year is the Oscar-winning musical classic West Side Story, on Blu-rayfor the first time. The film was restored earlier this year to commemorate its 50th anniversary, and the results are even more stunning in high definition. Sing along to Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's memorable score, marvel at Jerome Robbins' choreography, and weep with your main squeeze at the end of this 1950's street-gang adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Nothing says "Happy Holidays" better than that.

Reverend's Ratings:
Bite Marks: C-
The Tree: A
West Side Story: A

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Cheer Desperation

It will probably surprise no one to learn that Bring It On: The Musical, as a piece of theatre inspired by a pre-existing work, is no My Fair Lady. Heck, it doesn't even rank with Legally Blonde: The Musical in terms of quality. The cavalcade of hit movies being adapted for the stage rolls on with this multi-million dollar cheerleader tuner, now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through December 10th before embarking on a national tour.

The 2000 movie Bring It On was an unexpectedly well-written sleeper hit about dueling cheer squads from opposite sides of the socio-ethnic tracks. It made a star of Kirsten Dunst and helped launch the careers of actors Gabrielle Union, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford and director Peyton Reed (Down With Love). Amusingly campy, it introduced such terms as "spirit fingers" and "cheer-tatorship" to viewers of the time.

Alas, there are few such references to be found in the generally way-too-serious Bring It On: The Musical. While it features an increasingly-unhinged novice cheerleader (a game Elle McLemore) out to demote squad leader Campbell (Taylor Louderman) in an obvious spin on the cinema classic All About Eve as well as a transgender character (Gregory Haney as the sassy La Cienega), the stage version features little of the knowing wit that made its film source memorable.

Of course, a musical is ultimately made or broken by its songs, and the score is where Bring It On: The Musical falls short most significantly. Tony Award winners Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) composed the serviceable, hip-hop heavy music, but the lyrics by Miranda and Amanda Green (High Fidelity) are more often than not just plain awful. The few good numbers -- opener "What I Was Born to Do," Act 1 closer "Bring It On" and the 11th hour "Cross the Line" -- may be more memorable for their gymnastic staging than their words, but at least they didn't make me cringe as so many other songs did. And as much as the musical's core audience will probably be 15-year old girls, the lyrics and dialogue penned by Avenue Q's Jeff Whitty contain enough mentions of "stiffies" and even cruder terms for female genitalia that parents should beware.

There is a palpable air of desperation around Bring It On: The Musical. It's producers are desperate for a hit, director-choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (also a veteran of In the Heights) seems desperate to prove he can helm a production and not just stage its musical numbers, and Kitt, Miranda and Whitty may all be anxious to show they are still hip after achieving theatrical respectability. The show needs less desperation and, as any cheerleader will surely agree, more spirit.

Reverend's Rating: C-

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: A Harvest of New Releases

Beginners, last summer's hit starring Christopher Plummer as an older gay man who comes out to his unsuspecting son (Ewan McGregor), may be this month's highest-profile GLBT release on home video (November 15) but at least two other new DVDs command attention as well.

Out Late (now availablefrom First Run Features) serves as a fascinating documentary companion piece to Beginners. Declared "brilliant" by Phil Donahue, it profiles five men and women who came out as either gay, lesbian or transgender between the ages of 57-79. Their stories vividly illustrate how much cultural attitudes around GLBT issues have progressed since the 1950's. In the case of one participant, however, Out Late shows how far we still have to go regarding marriage equality. Cathy and her partner live in Kansas next door to a straight couple with whom they have been best friends for over 20 years. Sadly, Cathy's neighbors don't support a right for civil marriage for GLBT couples. That the couples remain friends, though, is inspiring, as are all the journeys recounted here. Out Late, co-directed by Beatrice Alda and Jennifer Brooke, is not to be missed.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, Harvest (being released on DVDNovember 15 by TLA Releasing) beautifully details the coming of age of two young German men. Benjamin Cantu's gay drama won the Audience Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival. Blonde, insecure Marko (Lukas Steltner) meets the darker, more comfortable-in-his-shoes Jakob (Kai-Michael Muller) at the cattle farm where they are both working summer internships. They gradually realize there is more to learn about than birthing cows and harvesting carrots; namely, their growing attraction to one another.

Cantu and director of photography Alexander Gheorghiu take a naturalistic, almost lyrical approach to their story. While the lead actors are undeniably attractive, I appreciated the fact that there is no nudity or graphic sex shown. Rather, the focus is more often than not on the silences and unnoticed glances between the two. Harvest's nice, subdued but romantic ending works perfectly in light of the film's overall tone.

Meanwhile, another gay-interest November release, Phantom Images (also out on on DVDthe 15th courtesy of Ariztical Entertainment), is a woefully self-important tale about a terminally-ill theatre director coming to terms with his past. High on pain medication, alcohol and regret, Darwin King (played flatly by Rob Moretti) reminisces about his past using the actors of his latest project as stand-ins. Matthew Doyle's screenplay features occasional flashes of insight, such as when King exclaims "the highjacking of the gay movement came when we chose emulation (of straight people) instead of assimilation," but they are rare indeed.

One should probably beware in general of a movie that opens with a quote by Albert Camus and ends with another by Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism can too easily become pretentious in the wrong hands. Phantom Images can't help but evoke Lars von Trier's provocative 2003 film Dogville, as both are played out on black box stages with minimal scenery. While Dogville often threatened to cross the line into pretentiousness, it never did thanks to the quality of the writing and acting by such pros as Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall and James Caan. Doyle's cast is not untalented, and the several African-American actors involved make a particularly strong impression, but the material ultimately fails them as well as the audience.

Reverend's Ratings:
Out Late: A
Harvest: B+
Phantom Images: D

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Best of AFI Fest 2011

Though my time at this year's AFI Fest presented by Audi (which ran November 3-10 in Los Angeles) was cut short by the untimely death of a close friend that required me to travel, I was able to see what are shaping up to be several of this year's major awards contenders. I missed screenings of a few other ballyhooed upcoming releases including Shame, My Week with Marilyn and Luc Besson's The Lady, but the following gems I was able to catch at their LA premieres were more than satisfying.

Carnage: I despised the Broadway/LA production of the award-winning play, God of Carnage, upon which Roman Polanski's star-studded movie is based and approached it with trepidation. Imagine my surprise, then, to find the film a vast improvement over its source material. The movie is tighter (it runs a lean 80 minutes), less literal/pretentious in its staging, and -- most importantly for a comedy -- funnier. Polanski wisely adds an opening depiction of the playground violence that instigates the initially-civilized meeting of two sets of parents played by Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz (a particular standout) and Kate Winslet, as well as a delightful denouement featuring a much-discussed hamster. Carnage is scheduled for release in LA and New York on December 16 and will expand nationally in January.

Melancholia: From controversial writer-director Lars Von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, Antichrist) comes what is probably his most hopeful film to date, despite the fact it culminates in the apocalypse. Kirsten Dunst, who was honored as Best Actress at this year's Cannes Film Festival for her performance here, stars as a woman suffering from clinical depression so inconsolably that not even her lavish wedding to True Blood's Alexander Skarsgaard brings relief. She does however find an unusually comforting emotional (and possibly even sexual) connection to a recently discovered planet, Melancholia, that may be on a collision course with Earth. Von Trier employs an all-star cast (including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt and a chilling Charlotte Rampling), evocative imagery and Wagner's prelude to his opera Tristan und Isolde to spectacular, haunting effect. The movie is now playing in Los Angeles and is available through Video on Demand, although it should be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

We Need to Talk About Kevin: The fearless Tilda Swinton plays grieving, persecuted mother to a teenaged son who slaughtered several schoolmates in Lynne Ramsay's superbly crafted, deeply unsettling adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel. A Bad Seed for the 21st century, it raises provocative questions about nature vs. nurture when it comes to the development of sociopathic children. As Swinton said at a post-screening Q&A session, We Need to Talk About Kevin is "the play Euripides didn't have the balls to write." I consider Swinton a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination as the searching Eva, with her fellow nominees likely to include Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis in The Help, and either Kiera Knightley in A Dangerous Method or Dunst. Swinton's co-star Ezra Miller is also a potential nominee for his frightening performance as Kevin. The film will open theatrically in December.

The final day of AFI Fest 2011 featured the North American premiere of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson's motion-capture epic, The Adventures of Tintin, as well as award presentations. The Audience Award for best film in the festival's Breakthrough section went to the lesbian-themed With Every Heartbeat, which I reviewed here last week. It is encouraging to see many mainstream film festivals this year honoring GLBT films, with Weekend serving as another example. Our congratulations go out to Alexandra-Therese Keining, writer-director of With Every Heartbeat, and all the filmmakers spotlighted at this year's AFI Fest.

Reverend's Ratings:
Carnage: A-
Melancholia: B+
We Need to Talk About Kevin: A-

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Papa Don't Preach

As a professional preacher, I could appreciate The Catechism Cataclysm to some degree as a satiric take on storytelling in both religious and secular circles. Sorry to say, that's about as far as my appreciation goes. This horror-comedy with cult aspirations opens today in Los Angeles, having premiered earlier this year as an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival.

Steve Little (The Ugly Truth) stars as a thoroughly obnoxious Catholic priest, Fr. Billy. His bishop and pastor send him off on a sabbatical after Fr. Billy tells one inappropriate parable too many to his parishioners. Fr. Billy decides to take an extensive canoe trip, but not before tracking down his high-school musical idol, Robbie (Robert Longstreet, who can also be seen currently in the excellent Take Shelter), and bribing him into coming along for the ride.

Before this Catholic campfire story run amok draws to a close, a bible is dropped into a diarrhea-filled toilet, Fr. Billy and Robbie cross paths with a pair of wacky Asian girls and their sinister driver, and someone's head explodes. Fr. Billy, however, learns valuable lessons in effective preaching.

I once had an assistant priest named Fr. Billy, and I once had a man as uncomfortably close to me on his knees during confession as depicted in one scene of The Catechism Cataclysm. That's where any similarities to reality end. The movie has a film school vibe to it even though writer-director Todd Rohal and his producers and actors are fairly accomplished. Perhaps most detrimentally, it only runs 81 minutes but feels much longer.

The Catechism Cataclysm could potentially catch on as a midnight movie event, with attendees wearing Fr. Billy's signature clergy shirt and bike helmet. God knows, stranger things have happened.

Reverend's Rating: C-

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reverend's Preview: AFI Fest 2011

The trailer for Clint Eastwood's latest epic, J. Edgar, shows Leonardo DiCaprio as the equally respected and reviled founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, holding the hand of his #2 and confidante, Clyde Tolson (handsome Armie Hammer), in the backseat of their limousine. While historical evidence of a long-rumored romance between the two men is scant, the new film clearly entertains the rumors. The truth may be revealed in Hollywood tonight, when J. Edgar has its world premiere during the opening night gala for AFI Fest 2011, presented by Audi. It will open in theaters nationwide on November 11.

J. Edgar won't be the first movie to at least allude to questions about Hoover's sexuality. In 1991, Oliver Stone's JFK featured Tommy Lee Jones giving a mincingly-gay performance as Clay Shaw (a.k.a. Clay Bertrand), a New Orleans businessman accused of taking part in a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy that involved Hoover's FBI and the CIA. The film also alleged that a ring of early-1960's call boys existed to discreetly serve political power players, including Hoover.

The new movie was written by openly gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for his excellent script of 2008's Milk. Black has been a busy boy lately, having also penned the stage play 8, about the continuing battle in California over marriage equality. 8 had its world premiere in September at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre. In a recent Out magazine interview, Black said of his work on J. Edgar: "To the conservative right, Hoover was a hero. Of course, in the gay community, you hear he was gay and a cross-dresser. I was curious about where the truth lies. Here is a guy who was arguably the most powerful man in the United States in the 20th century... The truth was often more heartbreaking, more horrible than what people think."

Judi Dench, as Hoover's seemingly manipulative mother, and Naomi Watts also headline the film's all-star cast. DiCaprio may seem an unusual choice to play the title character, even with prosthetic make-up. Black defended the casting, saying "Hoover was a pretty good-looking guy in 1919! He was very fit... they called him 'Speedy.' It's not a huge stretch."

What is known about Hoover's relationship with Tolson is that the unmarried Hoover named the man he described as his "alter ego" as recipient of his estate upon Hoover's death in 1972. Tolson also received the American flag that draped the casket at the end of Hoover's funeral, and is now buried near Hoover at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC. Whether Eastwood and Black's J. Edgar reveals anything more remains to be seen. Still, it may emerge as one of the biggest gay-interest movies of 2011, if only due to the pairing of photogenic DiCaprio and Hammer.

Now in its 25th year, the AFI Fest annually spotlights several GLBT-interest films and/or filmmakers. Other screenings in this vein between now and November 10 will include the world premiere of With Every Heartbeat (a.k.a. Kyss Mig or Kiss Me), a lovely, sincere domestic drama from Sweden about two women (one of them engaged to a man) who unexpectedly fall in love with each other during a family gathering; an evening with gay auteur Pedro Almodovar, this year's guest artistic director, which will include a screening of his Law of Desire as well as conversation with Almodovar and a yet-to-be-revealed "special guest" (could it be Antonio Banderas?); and Wim Wenders' 3D dance spectacle Pina.

Though I'm not a fan of its source material, I am looking forward to the fest's screening of Carnage. Based on the excessive, inexplicably acclaimed play God of Carnage, the usually-restrained Roman Polanski directs a dream cast (Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly) in the film. I'm also excited about the Los Angeles premieres of We Need to Talk About Kevin, starring GLBT fave Tilda Swinton as mother to a sociopathic son, and Lars von Trier's apocalyptic Melancholia. Watch for my reviews of these awards contenders in my festival wrap-up report here next week.

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Horrorscope

From the three magi who visited little baby Jesus to Miss Cleo and her contemporary ilk, astrology has fascinated human beings for millennia. 75% of newspapers run a daily horoscope column and 29% of Americans say they believe in astrology, according to statistics cited in the new rom-com 5 Star Day. The film opens theatrically in Los Angeles today after serving as the closing night film of last week's Beverly Hills Film, New Media & TV Festival.

Easy-on-the-eyes rising star Cam Gigandet (Twilight, Burlesque) plays his first lead role as Jake, a Berkeley philosophy student who sets out to document the fallacy of trusting in horoscopes. Jake becomes disillusioned after his birthday message promising a "5 star day" proves decidedly inaccurate: he loses his job, catches his girlfriend cheating on him, has his car stolen and must evacuate his apartment, which floods following a water break. Happy birthday!

To support his thesis, Jake identifies three other people who were born within five minutes of himself in the same Chicago hospital. He tracks each of them down across the US and interviews them about their birthday experiences to see if all four shared similar misfortune. The first he meets is Sarah Reynolds (Jena Malone, now nicely grown up), a bartender with a young daughter and a druggie ex-boyfriend. Jake's interest in Sarah quickly becomes more than academic.

5 Star Day, written and directed by Danny Buday, has its charms but is more often than not overly talky and serious. The screenplay crams way too many philosophical lessons learned, many of them cliches, into its final ten minutes. A lighter touch on Buday's part would have likely made the film more entertaining as well as more endearing. Gigandet carries the film well on his shapely shoulders, and it is beautifully lit and shot.

Given the enduring appeal of astrology, 5 Star Day may well find an appreciative audience despite its shortcomings.

Reverend's Rating: C+

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - November 2011: Steven Spielberg

With not one but two eagerly-awaited films (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse) coming out later this year, this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper salutes their creator, Academy Award-winning director and producer Steven Spielberg.

From such certified cinematic classics as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost ArkE.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Schindler's List to more recent favorites like Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can, November will be filled with all the fantasy, adventure and drama of the films of Spielberg.

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