Monday, February 28, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - March 2011: Gangsters

With its salute to classic movie Gangsters, the Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper for March is an "offer you can't refuse".

Represented is a "who's who" of cinematic crime, from Don Corleone to Little Caesar, Bonnie and Clyde to the Goodfellas, and Scarface to... Scarface.

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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

MD Poll: All Hail the King

With just over a day until the "real thing", it's time to take a look at the final results of our latest MD Poll and see what movies and performers would win the top Academy Awards If You Picked the Oscars:

At close to 30% of the vote, The King's Speech was victorious as your Best Picture pick. However, second place went to Black Swan over the heavily favored The Social Network, which placed third. Inception and Toy Story 3 round out the top five.


Just as expected for tomorrow night, Colin Firth easily topped the Best Actor race, with Oscar co-host James Franco coming in a distant second for his performance in 127 Hours.

The Black Swan herself, Natalie Portman, triumphed as Best Actress, with her closest competition, The Kids Are All Right's Annette Bening placing second.

As for the supporting categories, one film delivered two knockout performances that you chose as the champions. With over half of the votes, The Fighter's Christian Bale was named your Best Supporting Actor. But it wasn't without a fight, as The King's Speech's Geoffrey Rush earned over half of the remaining votes.


The closest race, here and in reality, was for Best Supporting Actress. With just 0.5% of a difference, The Fighter's Melissa Leo squeaked past The King's Speech's Helena Bonham Carter for the win. Also making an impressive showing was True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld.

See the complete results in the comments section below, and be sure to tune in to the actual Oscars tomorrow night on ABC to see how well we matched the actual winners!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Monk-y Business

As we have learned throughout history, long past and recent, faith in God can be as divisive a force among people as it can be unifying. Two new releases illustrate this conundrum well if via wildly different genres.

Of Gods and Men (which opens today in LA and NYC prior to a national rollout) arrives laden with laurels, having won both the Grand Prix and the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival as well as the award for Best Foreign Language Film of 2010 by the National Board of Review. It is a fact-based drama set in Algeria and focused on a devoted community of Trappist monks from France. As Christian men serving in a predominantly Muslim region, the peace-loving monks of Tibhirine found themselves targeted when civil war broke out there in the mid-1990s.

The men spend their days providing medical and other human services (including, in one touching scene, dispensing love advice) to the poor villagers outside their monastery walls. At morning and evening, they pray and eat together, the latter often in silence. Informed that Islamic extremists have seized control of the military and ordered all foreigners out of the country, the monks must decide whether to leave or to stay with the people they have been called to serve, even if it costs them their lives.


Sensitively written and directed by Xavier Beauvois (The Young Lieutenant), Of Gods and Men bears similarities in plot and tone to 1986's The Mission. The monks here face not only political conflicts but inter-personal trials as well. The cast, headed by Lambert Wilson (Catwoman, The Matrix Reloaded), is exceptional, and veteran actor Michael Lonsdale (probably best known in the US as the affect-less Bond villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker, which is curiously omitted from Lonsdale's resume) radiates Christian virtue and humility as the doctor in the house.

Much of the film is set at Christmas time and frequent, increasingly ironic mention is made of Jesus as "the Prince of Peace." The scriptural teaching that "love endures everything" also gains heightened significance in light of the monks' plight. Finally, inspired use is made of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake score during the movie's climax, even if it might strike some as overly familiar in the wake of Black Swan. Of Gods and Men definitely heeds the swan's call: making the ultimate sacrifice for love.


Meanwhile, Black Death (opening March 11) is essentially a horror movie that finds its basis in the prejudice and intolerance that religious extremism can breed. Despite its numerous scenes of torture and mutilation, the film emerges as a more mature and thought provoking exercise than I anticipated. It helps immensely that the production team behind last year's wonderful, Oscar-nominated The Last Station is responsible.

A monk is also the central figure in this intriguing story. Young Father Osmund (Eddie Redmayne, recently seen in the TV miniseries Pillars of the Earth) all too eagerly volunteers to guide a retinue of knights seeking a mysterious village that is rumored to be immune from the plague sweeping the rest of Europe. Rumor also has it that the commune in question is led by a sorcerer with the power to raise the dead. The local bishop has charged the knights with capturing the necromancer and slaughtering anyone who opposes them... all in the name of Jesus, naturally.


Fr. Osmund is anxious to accompany the crusaders because his secret girlfriend is waiting for him in the vicinity where they are headed. Little goes as planned once they arrive at the village, which turns out to be led by a lovely-seeming woman (Dutch actress Carice Van Houten) who is more than a bit critical of Christianity due to its followers' history of committing violence, despite the intentions of the faith's peace-loving namesake. Osmund understandably finds himself beginning to question his commitment to the Lord. Of course, not all is at it seems in the land of the possibly-undead.

I would have preferred a bit more nuance in Black Death, not only during the violent scenes but also during its theological debates. Still, the writing and the acting are good (Sean Bean plays the head knight and longtime screen baddie David Warner also appears, nicely against-type, as Osmund's wise abbot) and the production values impeccable. The film more than proves the point that whether one is Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Jewish, of any other faith or even of no faith, intolerance of other religions is always horrific once it raises its ugly head.

Reverend's Ratings:
Of Gods and Men: A-
Black Death: B

UPDATE: Of Gods and Men is available on DVD and Blu-ray and Black Death is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Men on Film: If We Picked the Oscars 2010

Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert back in the good ol' days, Movie Dearest's very own Men on FilmChris Carpenter, Neil Cohen and yours truly — are presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars"! These aren't predictions (you can see those here), but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy.

So without further ado, the envelope please...

The nominees for Best Picture are: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter's Bone.
And our winners would be:
CC: The Social Network is the near-perfect standout for me out of an unusually strong list of contenders.
NC: The film that transported me to a fully realized and stylized world wasn't Inception. It was the Coen Brothers' vivid True Grit.
KH: Call me and my pick old fashioned, but I was swept up by the emotion and quiet power of The King's Speech.

The nominees for Best Actor are: Javier Bardem in Biutiful, Jeff Bridges in True Grit, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Colin Firth in The King's Speech and James Franco in 127 Hours.
And our winners would be:
CC: If these same performances were nominated any other year, I might well vote for Franco's intense, revelatory work in 127 Hours. However, since Firth was robbed for A Single Man, this is his year.
NC: I loved Bridges' rough and ready version of Rooster Cogburn, but Firth deserves to be rewarded for his second great performance in two years.
KH: Once again, Firth delivered a heartbreaking performance filled with strength and subtlety.

The nominees for Best Actress are: Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right, Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Natalie Portman in Black Swan and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine.
And our winners would be:
CC: This is another incredibly strong list of performances and I'm feeling conflicted between Bening and Portman, but I would likely "vote with my heart" and go with Portman.
NC: I love Portman's cuckoo swan princess, but my vote goes with the tightly wound but oh so subtle work of Bening.
KH: I still can't get Portman's crazy ballerina out of my head.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Christian Bale in The Fighter, John Hawkes in Winter's Bone, Jeremy Renner in The Town, Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech.
And our winners would be:
CC: Bale's is the showiest role and performance here, but I prefer the other more low-key nominees. I vote for the long admired but never-before-nominated Ruffalo, who was excellent as the unwilling pariah of a sperm donor/father.
NC: In another year, I'd have rushed to Rush's defense or gone to town with Renner, but how can you bail on Bale's brilliant transformation?
KH: Bale took enormous risks with a characterization that could have easily been too over-the-top.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Amy Adams in The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech, Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit and Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom.
And our winners would be:
CC: Similar to my feelings about Bale in the same film, I thought Leo's role/performance a bit too flashy. I would vote for the amazing Steinfeld and think most Academy voters are doing the same.
NC: Leo was spot-on as the trashy mom, but Steinfeld made an incredible first impression full of her own "true grit".
KH: Her co-star is getting all the press, but I was taken by Adams' ballsy "bar girl".


The nominees for Best Director are: Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen for True Grit, David Fincher for The Social Network, Tom Hooper for The King's Speech and David O. Russell for The Fighter.
And our winners would be:
CC: Fincher's direction is masterful here, and he deserves an Oscar not only for it but his impressive body of work to date (Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, et al).
NC: Fincher is hard to argue with, but the Coen Brothers reined in their excesses (mostly) with True Grit. Their virtuoso work wiped the other directors from my mind.
KH: Hooper may be the least-known of the bunch, but that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve it.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter's Bone.
And our winners would be:
CC: The Social Network, hands down. No one would have thought the story of Facebook's founding could be so dramatic.
NC: That dialogue! So pure and so contraction-free! True Grit was the true favorite of mine and the script was the major reason.
KH: Toy Story 3 brought the beloved animated trilogy to a bittersweet close.

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Another Year, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right and The King's Speech.
And our winners would be:
CC: While it does reference many prior movies, intentionally and lovingly, Inception is still the most original and extraordinarily complex script out of this bunch.
NC: Taking her personal experience and turning it into a witty, controversial comedy, Lisa Cholodenko's script for The Kids Are All Right was all great.
KH: Have to give it to The King's Speech writer.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Black Swan, Inception, The King's Speech, The Social Network and True Grit.
And our winners would be:
CC: I love that four out of five of these films tended toward darkness and their DP's did equally great work, which makes it hard for me to single one of them out. I would vote here for the more traditional — and brighter — visual pageantry of The King's Speech.
NC: The burnished beauty of True Grit ruled over all the kings, swan queens, social media and dream weavers.
KH: The look of Black Swan had such a brittle realness to it that made the shocking weirdness all the more thrilling.

The nominees for Best Art Direction are: Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Inception, The King's Speech and True Grit.
And our winners would be:
CC: Alice in Wonderland was a visual delight from beginning to end and the standout for me.
NC: Sure, it was a mess of a movie, but the Art Direction of Alice in Wonderland was divine.
KH: Unfazed by the glitz of the fantasy entrees, my vote would be for the period royal opulence of The King's Speech.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Alice in Wonderland, I Am Love, The King's Speech, The Tempest and True Grit.
And our winners would be:
CC: I Am Love boasts ravishing contemporary attire and star Tilda Swinton knows how to work it, but I vote for the various, more classic styles on display in The King's Speech.
NC: True, the Oscar-worthy Swinton looked glorious; but Alice in Wonderland trumped the others visually (if never emotionally).
KH: Again, royalty reigns for me with The King's Speech.


The nominees for Best Original Score are: How to Train Your Dragon, Inception, The King's Speech, 127 Hours and The Social Network.
And our winners would be:
CC: The composers of all these did very interesting work and I loved Hans Zimmer's frequent nods to the Bond movies' musical guru, the late John Barry, in Inception. However, The King's Speech score is the most emotionally affecting of them, which always gets me in the final analysis.
NC: Alexandre Desplat is my single favorite composer, and since he wasn't recognized for The Ghost Writer, he deserves an Oscar for his royal triumph in The King's Speech.
KH: How to Train Your Dragon's Celtic-flavored music scored with me.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: “Coming Home” from Country Strong, “I See the Light” from Tangled, “If I Rise” from 127 Hours and “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3.
And our winners would be:
CC: “I See the Light” is a new classic among Disney films and other movie musicals. I predict it will also serve as a lovely wedding ballad for years to come.
NC: “I See the Light” is light and lovely.
KH: It's a toon tune sweep again: “I See the Light” was the highlight of Tangled.

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: Black Swan, The Fighter, The King's Speech, 127 Hours and The Social Network.
And our winners would be:
CC: This category is where Black Swan really scored for me. With its quick cuts between dance & drama and sanity & insanity, the editing was (as the film's lead character would surely agree) perfect.
NC: You almost want to black out from the wildly effective editing of Black Swan.
KH: It was the editing of 127 Hours that made it so "edge-of-your-seat" satisfying.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Hereafter, Inception and Iron Man 2.
And our winners would be:
CC: Inception may not have been the flashiest of the nominees, but its effects felt the most organic and realistic to me.
NC: Hereafter's tsunami recreated an event we all saw on CNN, but this is about the only place for me where Inception planted the idea of perfection in my mind.
KH: Inception brought it in the effects sequences, both big and small.

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Inception, The King's Speech, Salt, The Social Network and True Grit.
And our winners would be:
CC: Inception featured the most "bang" in this category, especially when compared with the just plain noisy Salt.
NC: Again, Inception was a dream in this category.
KH: Remember the infamous ending of Inception...?

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Inception, Toy Story 3, Tron: Legacy, True Grit and Unstoppable.
And our winners would be:
CC: Inception, ditto my remark above but here applied to Unstoppable.
NC: Uh-oh, how did I end up giving Inception a third award? Because these accolades have nothing to do with its derivative script.
KH: ... we're still waiting for the sound of that top falling.


The nominees for Best Makeup are: Barney's Version, The Way Back and The Wolfman.
And our winners would be:
CC: Lycanthrope master Rick Baker scores again with the granddaddy of all cinematic werewolves, The Wolfman.
NC: True, Benecio del Toro is already half werewolf, but how can you compare the fabulous work Baker did with these other films?
KH: I just can't give it to Baker for another werewolf movie, so I'll go for the sunburns and Colin Farrell tattoos of the sight-unseen The Way Back.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist and Toy Story 3:
And our winners would be:
CC: Though I consider Toy Story 2 the best of the trilogy, Toy Story 3 triumphs here over its very worthy rivals.
NC: Nothing toyed with audiences emotions like Toy Story 3, about which grown men admitted bawling.
KH: Toy Story 3 was an instant classic, animated or otherwise.

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: Biutiful from Mexico, Dogtooth from Greece, In a Better World from Denmark, Incendies from Canada and Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) from Algeria.
And our winners would be:
CC: Since Biutiful is the only nominee here I've seen to date, it gets my vote. It is morose in spots and gets long but it has effective moments and Bardem is great as usual.
NC: I found Biutiful anything but, so I always hope to live In A Better World.
KH: Dogtooth was a trip, but I found Biutiful emotionally and spiritually rich.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo and Waste Land.
And our winners would be:
CC: In the absence of the wonderful Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work in this category, Exit Through the Gift Shop emerges on top.
NC: Our Wall Street leaders bled us dry and all we got was this lousy T-shirt... and the chilling documentary Inside Job.
KH: Rarely does the doc branch offer up a not-so-serious nominee, and Exit Through the Gift Shop was a hoot-and-a-half.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short are: Killing in the Name, Poster Girl, Strangers No More, Sun Come Up and The Warriors of Qiugang:
And our winners would be:
CC, NC, KH: Sadly, time is truly too short to see everything and we haven't had the privilege of viewing any of these yet.

The nominees for Best Animated Short are: Day & Night, The Gruffalo, Let's Pollute, The Lost Thing and Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Madagascar, a Journey Diary).
And our winners would be:
CC: Some great work here but the odd, moving The Lost Thing is easily my favorite.
NC: Day & Night didn't say anything profound, but as they say, getting there is more than half the fun.
KH: With its mixture of old school traditional animation and 3-D CGI, Pixar's Day & Night showcased the bets of both worlds.


The nominees for Best Live Action Short are: The Confession, The Crush, God of Love, Na Wewe and Wish 143.
And our winners would be:
CC: Wish 143 is an irreverent but touching delight.
KH: It's a great year for this category, with five worthy contenders. In the end, Wish 143 proves to be as irresistible and persistent as its protagonist.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: While this is a rare year in which I feel all the nominees in every category are well-deserved, I wish the directors' branch would have passed over the Coen Brothers (who won the Best Director Oscar just 3 years ago) in favor of either Christopher Nolan for Inception or Debra Granik for Winter's Bone. True Grit, while good, isn't as strikingly directed as these two haunting visions.
NC: My pick is for the noisy incoherence of Inception as Best Picture over the superior-in-every-way Shutter Island. Leo and his wife's mental struggles were better and the whole reality vs. fantasy was so much more involving on Scorcese's creepy psycho island.
KH: I could go for such easy targets as the redundant Harry Potter Art Direction (come on, half of the movie took place in a tent!) or Randy Newman's Randy Newman-esque Toy Story theme song. Instead, I'll aim for the big guns and go with the overrated Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network, considering his questionable Best Actor nomination Oscar-blocked such worthier candidates as Get Low's Robert Duvall and Blue Valentine's Ryan Gosling.

And finally, see the comments section below for how we would rank the 10 Best Picture nominees, just like how Academy members are required to do now when they vote.

And while you're there, tell us who and what you would vote for too!

Illustrations by Adam Simpson for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Movie Dearest's Fearless Oscar Predictions 2010

Mentally unstable. Out of their element. Full of themselves. In over their heads. Lacking the proper faculties to fulfill their duties. No, these aren't the subjects of this year's Academy Award nominees, these are the wannabe Oscar pundits who foolishly try to win their office pools or party contests without consulting the 2010 Edition of Movie Dearest's Fearless Oscar Predictions!

Best Picture: Bucking the recent trend of gritty contemporary fare, The King's Speech should reign over all other contenders come Sunday night.
Best Actor: The surest of bets in the acting races is Colin Firth in The King's Speech.
Best Actress: The Academy loves A) young actresses who B) take a challenging role and C) aren't afraid to get a little ugly doing it. This year, that's Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
Best Supporting Actor: Showy roles shine here of late, and there was no one showier this year than Christian Bale in The Fighter.
Best Supporting Actress: Probably the toughest call of all the major races. Looking back at recent winners in this category, the victors have been women who have "paid their dues". The Fighter's Melissa Leo fills that bill best of all.
Best Director: Expect a split between Best Picture and this award, with The Social Network's David Fincher taking this prize.
Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay: The writing awards are easily split between the two Best Picture heavyweights, The King's Speech and The Social Network, respectively.
Cinematography: Roger Deakins is long overdue, and his True Grit has what it takes to get the gold for him.
Art Direction: It's usually not so much "Best" as "Most" Art Direction, so that would be Alice in Wonderland.
Costume Design: Royal films have been on a roll in this race, and that would mean another for The King's Speech.
Original Score: The prolific Alexandre Desplat will finally score (ahem) for The King's Speech.
Original Song: From this lackluster batch, Randy Newman will get a "collective" award for all his work on the Toy Story films.
Film Editing: With presumed front-runner Inception out of the running, the prize should go to the slick Social Network.
Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects: No worries though, as Inception should sweep the rest of the tech categories.
Makeup: It's doubtful that members have even seen all three of these lone nominees... but they'll vote anyway, and for the obvious one at that: The Wolfman.
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3 all the way.


The remaining five categories are voted on only by members who have seen every nominee in each race, so they can be tricky... in other words, these are the Really Fearless Oscar Predictions:
Foreign Language Film: Mexico's Biutiful may be more well known, but Denmark's In a Better World has the buzz.
Documentary Feature: Despite the possibility of an appearance by its covert director, Exit Through the Gift Shop will likely be passed over for the more traditional (and more serious) Inside Job.
Documentary Short Subject: In a field of dourness, look for the uplifting inspirational story... especially if it's about kids. This year, that's Strangers No More.
Animated Short Subject: Pixar got the Academy to screen Day & Night in 3-D, which should help it stand out (get it?) from the crowd.
Live Action Short Subject: Dark subjects with a twist of humor have proved victorious here recently, leading me to predict a win for No Wewe.

Make your own predictions in the comments section below. Oscar winners will be announced this Sunday when ABC presents the 83rd Annual Academy Awards live from Los Angeles.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Embracing Sedona

After years of being embraced by the community of Sedona, Arizona, director Tommy Stovall and his partner of fifteen years, Marc Sterling, figured it was about time to return the favor. Originally from Dallas, the couple fell in love with the Red Rocks, and they are raising their son Trevor in the arty community. After finishing his first film, 2005’s popular thriller Hate Crime, Stovall and Sterling began thinking about what their next film would be. Taking a cue from the colorful and sometimes crazy people they’ve met or heard about, Stovall decided that there was no place like home to set his new picture.

Sedona (the motion picture) is having its world premiere this weekend at the Sedona Film Festival, and according to Patrick Schweiss, the Festival’s executive director, it is the single most talked-about movie in town. The film tells the intersecting stories of different people who all converge on Sedona for different reasons. Frances Fisher (Titanic) plays a driven woman who finds herself trapped in town after a car accident, or rather a car/airplane accident. She reluctantly begins meeting people while she waits, including Beth Grant (Sordid Lives) as a cosmic spiritual type and Christopher Atkins (The Blue Lagoon) as a friendly coffee shop owner. Seth Peterson, who was so good as the lead in Hate Crime, plays a gay dad who is too consumed by work to pay attention to his family. An outing to Sedona changes his priorities when one of his children wanders away, played by Stovall and Sterling’s son, Trevor. Comedienne Lin Shaye (There’s Something About Mary), Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) and Robert Shields (half of the mime team Shields & Yarnell) also round out the cast.


I spoke with Stovall, who was busy putting finishing touches on the film prior to its premiere. Stovall originally thought that a Northern Exposure-type television show based in Sedona would have a lot of potential, but a film seemed more manageable. “I started thinking, what would happen if this woman got stuck in Sedona and couldn’t get out,” he explained. “I wanted to do something totally different from Hate Crime. This is more of a comedy drama. As far as gay characters, there is a family with two kids and they happen to be a gay couple. With Hate Crime, homophobia and the couple’s sexual orientation was a big part of the film, but in this movie, the gay issue isn’t even mentioned; they just happen to be gay. As a filmmaker, that’s been one of my goals.”

“Lin Shay (who was also in Hate Crime) is great in this, too,” Stovall explained, adding that her character is based on a Sedona figure called Crazy Mary, but that Shay came up with calling herself Claire de Loon. “It’s an interesting story about how I got Beth Grant. I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a message. I sent her the synopsis, and a couple of days later, she said she’d do it. She’s actually how we got Frances Fisher. The two of them are friends and they’d been working on their own project together. Chris (Atkins) plays sort of a love interest for Frances’ character. He really surprised me, because he hasn’t done many comedies, but he’s really funny. Even between takes he had everyone cracking up.”


Asked whether or not the subplot of Trevor Stovall’s character getting lost came from personal parental fears or experience, Stovall said that fortunately, that wasn’t the case. “Luckily with Trevor, he’s never been one to wander away. I wrote the character for him because he’s been wanting to get involved in movies; when we made Hate Crime (in which Trevor appeared), he didn’t want to do it at all. The character is this kid in a fantasy world out on the trail and he gets lost, but he doesn’t really know that he’s lost. Really, that storyline is about a father who realizes what’s important in life. He’s been worried all the time and stressed out because he feels responsible for taking care of his family and making money.”

The experience of filming in Sedona couldn’t have been better, Stovall explained. “For a long time, we’ve been wanting to get the film industry going up here. It’s been hard because of the economy, but we’re hoping that this is the start of things to come. In fact, we’re hoping to turn the film into a TV series eventually. In Sedona, everybody has their story” He hopes that the film will bring the town more tourism dollars, since it has been hit hard by the recession.

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

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Sex on Screen, Now & Then

The depiction of sex on screen has been a source of controversy, titillation and even academic study since the early years of the film industry. While some moviegoers complain about increasingly graphic sex scenes, others defend them as important expressions of artistic freedom, albeit for adults only.

A great retrospective of films made in the last 30 years that are renown for their frank take on human sexuality — heterosexual, homosexual, and everything in between — will take place at the Quad Cinema in New York City today through February 24 and then at Laemmle's Sunset 5 in Los Angeles February 25-March 4. This "Celebrating Sex in Cinema" series will include 1986's notorious but excellent Betty Blue plus more recent eye-openers Antichrist, 9 Songs, Shortbus and the acclaimed documentaries This Film is Not Yet Rated and The Price of Pleasure. In LA, Bruce LaBruce's flamboyantly gay 1996 homage to classic Hollywood, Hustler White, will also screen as part of the retrospective.


Both city's showcases will also feature the latest entry in this envelope-pushing, non-pornographic-but-just-barely-so genre (and some would term Shortbus, at least, decidedly pornographic for its shots of ejaculations). Philippe Diaz's Now & Later is an intelligent exploration of sexuality that takes a quote from philosopher-sociologist Wilhelm Reich as its starting point: "A sexually repressed society will resort to violence." Reich wrote that the most famous illustration of this to date was Nazi Germany, where natural sexual impulses were largely condemned and the resultant cultural inhibitions led to the Holocaust and all out war.

In Now & Later, an attractive young man named Bill (played by James Wortham) is on the run from the law due to his involvement in a banking scandal. He is planning to leave Los Angeles for Nicaragua with the help of his immigrant friend/former driver, Luis. While Luis makes the final arrangements for Bill to leave the US, Bill hides out in the rooftop apartment of Angela (the lovely and vivacious Shari Solanis). Angela is a sexually uninhibited professional nurse, originally from Nicaragua, who has learned through her own past experience living under a repressive political regime that "Free love is the only true love." She decides to help Bill shed his puritanical worldview by overcoming his sexual inhibitions. Graphic lovemaking and blunt conversations about such seemingly disparate subjects as masturbation, luck/chance vs. will, and US foreign policy follow.


There is a lot of talk in Now & Later, despite its vigorous sex scenes, and the film really bogs down in the middle with a lengthy political discussion between Angela and Bill. However, it is generally very well-written and -acted as well as beautifully photographed. Wortham comes across as wooden at first, but gradually this becomes intentional and appropriate for his character; Bill loosens up as his libido is unchained. The film gets bonus points for giving the men equal exposure when it comes to full-frontal nudity (I say this from a justice perspective rather than a gay one), for including condom use in the sex scenes, and for a three-way, bisexual scene involving sexy TV star Adrian Quinonez.

Writer-director Diaz earned a doctorate at Europe's prestigious Sorbonne, and it shows in his work here. Anyone going to see Now & Later expecting a mindless orgy of sex will be disappointed. The film is more reminiscent of moody, literate films like Henry & June and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (both directed by Phillip Kaufman), Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris or Catherine Breillat's Romance (yes, women make sexually explicit movies too) than Debbie Does Dallas or Chi Chi Larue's latest gay porn epic.


Diaz, his predecessors and his current collaborators are right to challenge the enduring puritanical attitudes toward sex that have long permeated American culture. The end result has been a media that is overly permissive of violence and violent sex and virtually neglects mature, loving sexuality.

So, you ask, what are Reverend's fave "Sex in Cinema" achievements? In addition to Kaufman's two masterpieces above, I'm a fan of the kinky yet artistic eroticism of Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book; 1988's underrated, vividly acted Patti Rocks; the late Derek Jarman's "saintly" Sebastiane; and the gay coming-of-age drama Come Undone. Also, while it isn't sexually graphic, I would feel remiss if I didn't mention Bill Condon's Kinsey, a great biopic of the (in)famous sex researcher.

Movie Dearest would love to hear YOUR favorites! Be sure to leave your comment below.

Reverend's Rating for Now & Later: B

UPDATE: Now & Later is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

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

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reel Thoughts: German Exhibitionism

It’s hard to imagine what American audiences thought in 1981 when they got a look at Frank Ripploh’s explosively explicit film Taxi Zum Klo, which translates as “Taxi to the Toilets”. Thirty years later, in an uncensored director’s cut now on DVD, Ripploh’s semi-autobiographical tale of a closeted teacher by day who leads a sexually-uninhibited life at night is just as shocking and liberating as it was then. Of course, AIDS had yet to decimate the population, and the action takes place when there was still a West Berlin. Still, the candid way that Ripploh shows his character’s insatiable appetite for sex, even after he finds a ‘safe’ and loving partner resonates at a time when a greater number of men are engaging in high-risk behavior.

Taxi Zum Klo is more than just a fascinating time capsule and by far the most explicit gay film I have ever seen. It presents Frank without judgment while giving everyone who watches it the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Frank’s visits to bathhouses and cruisy toilets are beginning to interfere with his school job; he even accidentally writes a prospective trick’s phone number in a student’s dictation book.


Then he meets Bernd (Bernd Broaderup), a movie theater clerk who starts off as a one-night stand but stays. Many people will recognize themselves in the sweetly naïve Bernd, who assumes that Frank wants the same life in the country he craves. Finding Frank with another man and watching the two have sex is a bit of a wake-up call for Bernd, but Frank is unapologetic. Frank, too, has to face whether he likes the life he’s living, or if he’s reached the critical point where health issues, coming out to his students and the thought of losing Bernd will cause a change of heart.

Taxi Zum Klo is extremely sexual, but not very erotic. The men are hairy and average looking, but the intensity is alluring nonetheless. This film caused a historic change in the way gay films and gay life were portrayed on screen, and you’ll find it just as powerful to watch in 2011 as it was in 1981.

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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Toon Talk: Brush Up Your Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “Romeo and Juliet” practically invented the concept of “star-crossed lovers”, so it’s no wonder that the Bard’s most familiar romance continues to inspire storytellers to this day. Speaking specifically cinematically, “Romeo and Juliet” has been the basis of many films, from the sublime (West Side Story) to the ridiculous (China Girl), not to mention direct adaptations by the directorial likes of George Cukor, Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann.

The doomed lovers’ influence has even carried over into the animated world, most notably with Disney’s own Pocahontas. Their latest toon incarnation is Gnomeo & Juliet (in theaters now, in both 2-D and 3-D versions), where they are embodied by (you guessed it) garden gnomes.


The more culturally snobbish may look down their noses at such a “blasphemous” idea, but Gnomeo & Juliet is actually a charming little fairy tale perfect for children and, smartly, the script is laced with many sly nods to the Shakespearean canon (referencing everything from “Out, damned spot!” to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) to keep their parents entertained as well during its quick running time...

UPDATE: Gnomeo & Juliet is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Gnomeo & Juliet at LaughingPlace.com.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Cherish

While you’ll have to wait until March 1 to see Cher in her most recent role in Burlesque on DVD, now is the perfect time to check out her first roles, followed by four of her notable performances since then. Cher: The Movie Collection gives you six chances to cherish Cher, even if the films are sometimes a hoot or a drag.

The first DVD is more of a Sonny movie than a Cher one. Good Times, starring Cher’s ex, the late Sonny Bono, is a bizarre film filled where the then-hot duo are being cajoled into making Hollywood trash by none other than George Sanders, channeling his Addison DeWitt character from All About Eve. It’s hard to care whether or not the “kids” sell out and make the hillbilly hit Sanders wants, since their alternatives are a bunch of skits (a western, a jungle saga and a private eye spoof) done better on their variety show. Still, both Sonny and Cher sing, and it’s fascinating to imagine that he was the bigger star back then.


Next is Chastity, where Cher plays a teen-aged runaway with a secret, who can’t let anyone get too close to her. People sure try, though, from the guy she scams at a gas station, to a nice guy she calls Andre to the lesbian madam of a Mexican whorehouse where Chastity hangs out after fleeing domestic bliss with Andre. It’s a 60’s road trip that is a hoot, but it’s most notable for its Phoenix locations. Look closely and you’ll see Wagon Wheel Kiddie Land (where the madam who looks like Shirley Partridge takes Chastity), the Phoenix Zoo, the long lost Japanese flower gardens on Baseline and Macayo’s on Central.

(It bears noting that Chaz Bono, Cher’s trangender son, was conceived during this film, and named for a character who is basically a hustler and wannabe hooker. It’s like Sir Anthony Hopkins naming his kid Hannibal.)


The next films are more familiar Cher fare, and probably don’t need introductions. As Dolly Pelliker in 1983’s Silkwood, Cher plays the lesbian roommate of Meryl Streep’s ill-fated whistle-blower. Cher captures her character’s conflicting loyalties perfectly. Her Oscar-nominated performance put her on the map as a dramatic actress.

Then comes her Oscar-winning performance in 1987’s Moonstruck, where Cher plays Loretta, a dowdy New York bookkeeper who blossoms when forced to choose between a nice-guy suitor (Danny Aiello) and his handsome estranged younger brother (Nicolas Cage). This is Cher at her best, and she’s luminous in the role.


1990’s Mermaids comes next, starring Cher as the scandalous single mother of Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci, who is adorable in her very first film. The collection ends with 1999’s Tea With Mussolini, Cher’s only trip to period drama à la Merchant Ivory. Franco Zeffirelli directed this semi-autobiographical story of a boy raised by an Englishwoman in Mussolini’s Italy. Cher is gorgeous as Elsa, a Jewish-American heiress who falls victim to internment while trying to help a group of British women (Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Judi Dench).

Certainly, there are titles missing from this collection, since it contains only MGM releases, but Cher: The Movie Collection is a great way to enjoy Cher’s second best talent after singing.

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

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Oscar Shorts 2011

From a religious standpoint, I find it interesting that three of this year's five Academy Award nominees for Best Live Action Short Film deal with spiritual topics, and two of them involve priests. Has some sort of theological bias affected the nominating branch's members or is this another sign, following the strong showing at this year's Sundance Film Festival, of an increased interest in religious topics by filmmakers?

At any rate, these nominees as well as the five 2011 candidates for Best Animated Short Film are now available for public consideration in Los Angeles, New York and other select cities. In some cities, the Best Documentary Short Film finalists are also being shown, the first time this has been done prior to Oscar night (February 27 this year). All the nominees will be available for viewing on iTunes and cable's Movies on Demand beginning February 22.

I had the opportunity to screen the honored Live Action and Animated shorts in advance. All are worth seeing, but here are my more specific reactions to each of them:


LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS:

The Confession: This is a sly, disturbing morality tale from the UK, and a study in Catholic guilt to the nth degree. It starts out innocently as two young boys prepare to make their first confession with their classmates. One is having difficulty identifying a sin for which he feels true remorse — which is necessary for absolution, according to Catholic practice — but things change dramatically in the wake of a prank the boys play that has unexpectedly tragic consequences. Dark stuff, but the film is extremely well-directed by Tanel Toom and beautifully photographed by Davide Cinzi.

Wish 143: The tonal antithesis of The Confession if also steeped in questions of morality, this is my personal favorite of the five. When a terminally-ill teenager is asked by the British equivalent of the Make a Wish Foundation what he would like to do before he dies, he knocks them for a loop when he responds that he wants to lose his virginity. A delicate subject is handled not only humorously but gracefully here primarily thanks to screenwriter Tom Bidwell and a great cast. The priest character, played by recognizable actor Jim Carter, is particularly indicative of the short's balance of laughs and compassion. When the young patient, attempting to convince the good Father that he deserves a night with a prostitute, states bluntly "I've got cancer, Father," the priest replies, "I don't care if you've got stigmata!"


God of Love: A decidedly tongue-in-cheek exploration of love and divine intervention. A lounge singer (played by Luke Matheny, who also wrote and directed) pines for the drummer in his band, but she only has eyes for his best friend and guitarist. Help mysteriously arrives via a box full of darts that have the magical effect of making those struck with them fall in love with the first person they see. Amusing, and well-shot in black and white, if a bit slight and amateurish for Academy Award contention in my opinion.

Na Wewe: The title of this selection from Belgium is pronounced "No wayway" and means "You too" in Kurundi. It sets up a tense showdown between travelers journeying in a bus through civil war-torn, 1990's Burundi and a group of rebels that stops them. The armed rebels, intent on distinguishing between Hutus and Tutsis on the bus (when most of the travelers are neither), somewhat learn a lesson in the futility of making such ethnic/tribal distinctions. If the film's ending is perhaps overly optimistic, even comical, this is still a worthy 19 minutes that may well win the Oscar in this category.


The Crush: While it isn't unusual for school children to develop romantic feelings for their teachers, it is rare for such situations to grow as intense as they do in this well-written, sweet and sour short from Ireland. Eight-year old Ardal, crushing on his newly-engaged teacher, challenges her fiancee to a duel to the death with pistols. To say much more would likely ruin the satisfying payoff.

ANIMATED SHORT FILMS:

Day & Night: Pixar has become not only an annual fixture in the Best Picture and Best Animated Feature categories in recent years, but among the nominated shorts as well. Day & Night, which played theatrically before Toy Story 3 last summer, similarly serves as the latter's "date" to the Oscars this year. A bit more artsy or experimental than usual Pixar fare, it's an enjoyable visual parable about prejudice that, if nothing else, is much better than the corny, cloying short involving baby-creating clouds (or something like that) that preceded last year's Up.


The Gruffalo: Beautifully animated if overlong and too slowly paced for a child-oriented tale (based on the book by Julia Donaldson). It benefits substantially from a great voice cast of name British actors, including this year's Best Supporting Actress nominee Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech) as well as John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson and Robbie Coltrane. Given the star power involved and its visual accomplishment, German co-directors Jakob Schuh and Max Lange will likely take home the Academy Award.

The Lost Thing: I'm hoping, though, that this imaginative, haunting short from Australia will emerge triumphant. A young man discovers a bell-laden, mechanical-crustacean hybrid with tentacles on the beach. While it serves as an odd pet for a time, he commits himself to finding a suitable home for it with other "lost things." Charmingly designed, the film can potentially be interpreted as a commentary on immigration, environmental displacement, adolescence or any number of other issues. Definitely my favorite among the animated shorts.


Let's Pollute: Speaking of environmental meltdown, this American production takes a sprightly approach to the subject in the guise of an 1950's-60's educational movie for elementary school kids. Amusingly animated, it becomes irritatingly heavy-handed and preachy at only 6 minutes in length. History, though, may yet prove it prescient.

Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage: A French-made travelogue through the title country that bears no relation to the DreamWorks series that stars Ben Stiller as a talking lion. Here, the filmmakers employ an arresting, unpredictable mix of animation styles. Although it doesn't really have a plot or a point, it may persuade more viewers to actually visit Madagascar than Stiller & Co. have done.

Visit Shorts International for more information. Click here to watch clips from all the nominated shorts.

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