Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - April 2011: Elizabeth Taylor

Legendary star of the silver screen, Academy Award-winning actress, tireless humanitarian and the most glamorous woman in the world. For the month of April, the Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper pays tribute to Elizabeth Taylor.

Eight of her most beloved performances are represented, from the timeless favorite National Velvet to her Oscar-winning roles in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, from the infamous Cleopatra to the Tennessee Williams classics Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer.

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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Toon Talk: Let Down Your Hair

Sometimes a story needs to be heard more than once in order to be fully appreciated. Such is the case for me with Tangled, the recent box office hit making its Disney DVD and Blu-ray debuts this week.

As told in my original Toon Talk review of Tangled upon its theatrical release last November, I admitted to being disappointed with the film. And while Tangled’s faults — such as its formulaic plot, non-distinctive songs and overall sense of “safeness” — are still present, my second viewing was a more rewarding one. Perhaps it was because my expectations were lowered following my first viewing, or maybe Tangled’s charms just needed to grow on me, but I found it more clever and romantic, not to mention funnier, the second time around...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of the Tangled Blu-ray at LaughingPlace.com.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Tailor-Made Role

Imagine falling in love with someone you know your parents won’t accept. Imagine wanting to marry that person even though tradition and religion dictates something else for your life. That is something many GLBT people can appreciate, although the plot I’m describing is from the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof, not a gay drama. Jewish people have traditionally been more accepting of GLBT struggles than other religions, perhaps because they understand what it feels like to be persecuted and attacked for who they are. Although we won’t be lucky enough to see Harvey Fierstein as Tevye in the Broadway tour of Fiddler that is coming to ASU Gammage this week, actor Andrew Boza assures you that you will love the production.

Set in the small Russian village of Anatevka at the turn of the 20th century, Fiddler on the Roof is a moving musical about Tevye, a poor milkman, who must balance his belief in tradition with the realities of the modern world. Each of his three eldest daughters fall in love with men he finds objectionable, one for a poor tailor (played by Boza), one for a fiery radical and, most upsettingly, one for a Russian gentile. At the same time, the Tsar begins ordering attacks against the Jewish settlements that will culminate in the Jews being forced from their homes. Songs like “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” have become well-loved standards that everyone knows. Despite the pain and drama of the story, Fiddler on the Roof contains much humor and levity. Laughing in the face of oppression is something Jewish and GLBT people have in common.

If Boza seems particularly comfortable in his role as the poor, mild-mannered tailor Motel Kamzoil, it is not surprising. He previously played the role in a much darker production of Fiddler done at the Olney Theatre outside of his home in Washington DC. “It’s a first for me,” he explained. “I’ve never played a role twice and both productions are so different. Our current production is much closer to the original, because our director was actually in the original production, he was a dancer. He worked closely with Jerome Robbins. I love my character so much that after I finished playing him the first time, I knew that I was dying to play him again.”


“Motel is very humble; he’s hard-working, quiet. I relate to him a lot. He has a nervous quality. He is used to being alone a lot, and he has to overcome that by facing his fears and standing up for what he really wants, which is (Tevye’s daughter) Tzeitel. I find him so genuine and I try to live my life as close to him as possible.”

Boza spoke to me from Easton, Pennsylvania, where the previous night’s performance had to be cancelled due to snow. “The entire cast is looking forward to heading out West,” he laughed. He enjoys the hectic tour schedule, even though with so many one-night stops, he admits it can be hard to remember where you are and where you have been the week before.

“It’s all about family to me,” Boza said, explaining what resonates most with him about Fiddler. “Everyone in Anatevka overcomes so much, and even though we’re leaving the village we will all still be connected. We’re very blessed as a cast to feel that way offstage as well.”

Boza is a first generation Cuban-American who grew up outside of Washington DC. He graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for six years before making the big move to New York. He got the Fiddler tour shortly after that. “I couldn’t be happier than I am right now.” The production feels very important, he says, after the recent deaths of its creators, Jerry Bock and Joseph Stein.


“Other than that there are a lot of cute guys in the cast?” Boza laughed, when asked what will appeal to the GLBT audiences. “The underlying tone of acceptance, even though there is a lot of change. Tevye really comes a long way from the beginning of the show. I see a parallel to being gay and having come out to my family, and how they had to deal with that struggle. I’m pretty sure that my past boyfriends haven’t been a perfect match,” he laughed. “Tevye really comes along and becomes accepting, as my parents did.”

“My (coming out) was pretty difficult,” Boza explained. “My parents were both raised in Cuba, so they weren’t exposed (to gay people). It took a couple of years, but they have really come around and are the most accepting people. It’s made our family even stronger than it was before. I came out ten years ago, and I think the media was different back then. Not everyone is a stereotype, but I think my parents expected me to come out and suddenly be in a dress or change who I was. I didn’t, and I think that they came to realize that my being gay wasn’t who I was, just a part of who I was.”

“No matter what your background is, you will relate to this show,” he concluded. “I really believe that you will fall in love with all of the characters in our production.”

The Fiddler on the Roof tour opens at ASU Gammage in Tempe, Arizona Tuesday March 29 and continues through April 3. Click here for tickets and more information.

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

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Broadway's Most Requested

Ask someone what their favorite Betty Buckley performance is and you are likely to get a varied list of highlights from Broadway, movies and television. Buckley, the Fort Worth, Texas native, has amassed a résumé that has made her one of the most revered performers in Broadway today.

Many people didn’t know she could sing when they fell in love with Miss Collins, the sympathetic gym teacher she played in Brian DePalma’s iconic 1976 film Carrie. Buckley hit a nerve with bullied or outcast students everywhere as she tried to help Sissy Spacek’s abused teen navigate the horrors of high school. Then, Buckley further endeared herself to TV audiences when she had the unenviable task of coming in as Abby Bradford on the popular show Eight is Enough when Diana Hyland, who played the mother, passed away suddenly in the first season. However, it is on the Broadway stage where Buckley really shines, originating the role of Grizabella in Cats, where she immortalized the song “Memories”, and entrancing audiences as the faded star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.


Buckley lives on a beautiful ranch near Fort Worth where she raises cutting horses and teaches Master Classes when not touring the country. It was after 9/11 that she decided to get back to her roots and buy the ranch, which she considers a solace to her soul. A strong animal rights advocate, she shares her ranch with four horses and “lots of cats and dogs that I’ve rescued". GLBT fans have always appreciated Buckley’s strong support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS as well.

When I spoke to her by phone, she was finishing a critically acclaimed run of the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at the Dallas Theater Center. “We’ve got a really fresh, outrageous production so I am really having a lot of fun with it" Buckley explained.


It is quite a change to go from poisoning old men to finessing Broadway ballads in Scottsdale, but Buckley loves the show she is bringing to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts tomorrow evening. “We’re doing a show called Broadway By Request. My cohort Seth Rudetsky is a brilliant comedian, pianist and he’s a radio talk show host on Sirius Radio. He’s very funny, so we’ve been doing this show for the last year and a half. It’s all the songs that I’ve originated on Broadway and sung in various Broadway shows that the majority of people across the country have requested over the years. Seth also does some of his famous (song) deconstructions. We enjoy doing it, and the audience seems to enjoy it, too.”

Why does the GLBT community love Buckley so much? “Well, I think there’s a history of the gay and lesbian community really loving Broadway “singing ladies,” and I just think in general the gay and lesbian community has good taste,” she said laughing. “I think the community likes things that are authentic and fully emotionally expressive, and I think that that’s part of the reason that divas of the musical stage are embraced by the gay community. I think that the LGBT community is more open and authentic as to who they really are, because in our society they’ve had to really claim themselves, so I think that authenticity is at essence what they’re about.”


I asked Buckley what her personal career highlights were, and she responded, “I think that the jewel of my collection is the song "Memory" from Cats that is my signature song; I feel very fortunate to even have a signature song. But also the songs from Sunset Boulevard. Those two years of my life, a year in London and a year on Broadway doing Sunset, were wonderful and a great, great experience. Playing Norma Desmond was one of the high points of my career, along with playing Grizibella (in Cats)."

Social media has brought Buckley close to her fans, which she enjoys. “I’ve been on Facebook this past year. My brother Norman made me go on Facebook and Twitter and it’s been really nice to have a direct correspondence, if you will, with my friends on Facebook. The lovely things they say about how my work has been meaningful to them through the years really means a lot in every form of how they express it. It’s been very gratifying to experience that.”


Seth Rudetsky has a huge following as well, and Buckley is a big fan. “Seth knows all things Broadway, he’s like an encyclopedia. He especially loves high belting. He’ll play a video or a recording of something and explain why it is what it is and why it’s had the impact that it has right down to the technical aspect of the singing. For one thing, it’s very astute and for another, it’s very, very funny." His “Seth’s Sassy Blog” is full of funny anecdotes about growing up loving Broadway and all of the camps, schools and experiences playing piano on Broadway shows that have filled his life.

Buckley credits Rudetsky with helping her “construct some of the best work I’ve done.” She is excited for people to hear her new recording, Bootleg: Board Mixes From the Road, which contains live performances collected from her concerts, and which contains a preview of her upcoming CD Ghostlight. She reunited with her old friend T-Bone Burnett to record the new album that will come out this Fall. “I am very, very excited about it. I just heard the final mixes at his studio in Los Angeles and it’s just gorgeous. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reverend’s Reviews: 1970’s Live Again in Potiche

A comedic exploration of sexual politics in France, circa 1977, Potiche is the latest work by acclaimed writer-director François Ozon. International superstar and previous Academy Award nominee Catherine Deneuve (lovely as ever at the age of 67) plays Suzanne Pujol, the initially submissive, housebound potiche (“trophy wife”) of a wealthy umbrella factory owner. The mother of two grown children, Suzanne spends her days exercising, admiring nature and writing poetry, generally happy with her domestic existence.

That all changes, however, when her tyrannical, philandering husband’s employees go on strike and he suffers a stress-related heart attack. Suzanne is elected (with the support of the local Communist Party politician, played by Gérard Depardieu) to fill in for her husband while he recuperates and mediate changes at the factory. Initially reluctant to do so, she becomes wildly popular with the employees and finds herself enjoying her new responsibilities, so much so that Suzanne refuses to step down when her husband returns.

Ozon “freely adapted” his screenplay from a popular stage satire of the women’s liberation movement, also titled Potiche. As director, he fills the movie with amusing visual references to the late-70’s setting including a faux copyright date under the opening title card, a Farrah Fawcett imitation hairstyle Suzanne’s daughter sports and, of course, bellbottom pants and other fashions of the time in psychedelic colors.


While not a musical, Potiche includes a disco-set dance number led by Deneuve and Depardieu, and Deneuve brings the film to a close with the rousing “C’est beau la vie” (“How Beautiful Life Is”), which she sings during a political rally. Viewers should pay attention, too, to the film’s campy opening theme music and transitional music cues that echo those used on Charlie’s Angels.

As an out gay man, Ozon clearly sympathizes with the journey toward sexual and political emancipation that Suzanne and her supporters make in the movie. Chief among the latter characters are Suzanne’s secretary and son. Liberated under Suzanne’s leadership, the secretary (a great turn by Karin Viard) bluntly tells her former boss — Suzanne’s husband, with whom she was also having an affair — upon his attempted return to work, “I’ve learned you don’t have to spread your legs to get ahead!” Suzanne’s son is an initially closeted gay man (played by Jérémie Renier with a nod to Dirk Benedict of the late 70’s series Battlestar Galactica) who gradually reveals his relationship with a local man.


The attractive, 43-year old Ozon is a former child model. He previously wrote or co-wrote and directed the award-winning films Swimming Pool, Hideway (Le Refuge), 8 Women and Criminal Lovers, among others. While gay characters figure into many of his movies, most of Ozon’s productions feature strong female lead roles that have been played by such formidable actresses as Charlotte Rampling, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant and, now, Deneuve. As Ozon told one interviewer, “I’m sure I say very intimate things about myself in all my films, but it’s better to say it not too directly, to be hidden behind a woman.” An exception to this among his movies is Time to Leave, about a gay fashion photographer dying of cancer.

Deneuve isn’t chiefly known for comedy, but she gives a wonderful comedic performance in Potiche and clearly had fun making it. In collaboration with Ozon, Deneuve makes Suzanne’s growth from timid housewife to powerful politician believable and inspirational. By the film’s end, Suzanne is no one’s trophy wife.

Reverend’s Rating: B+

UPDATE: Potiche is now 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, March 16, 2011

Reverend's Interview: The Governess & the Ghosts

Henry James' 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw has been giving people the creeps for well over a hundred years. A tale of ghosts, repressed sexual desire and probable pedophilia set in a British manor, it has served as the source of a play, film adaptations (the best received being 1961's The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr, which I just put in my Netflix queue) and an opera. The latter, written by gay composer Benjamin Britten, is currently having a satisfyingly spooky, beautifully staged and sung revival by LA Opera that runs through March 30 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Britten, however, isn't the only LGBT link to the current production. Highly acclaimed soprano Patricia Racette plays the lead role of the Governess, and she is an out lesbian. Prior to a recent phone interview I conducted with her, I wasn't aware just how out and proud is Racette. She justly but humorously chastised me for my ignorance.

"Oh my God," Racette declared, "You don't know?" She then illuminated me with mentions of her many appearances in LGBT publications, her recent involvement in the "It Gets Better" campaign against bullying of LGBT teens and, most significantly, her partnership of 14 years.


Racette and her partner, Beth, call Santa Fe, New Mexico their "home base" but the singer-actress performs throughout the US and around the world. Racette has previously starred in LA Opera mountings of Madama Butterfly and La Rondine, and has performed with such prestigious companies as New York's Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, the Royal Opera House, La Scala in Milan, Vienna State Opera and Opera National de Paris.

While she has appeared in other operas by Britten, this is Racette's first time playing the Governess in The Turn of the Screw. "Yeah, this is a really big deal for me," she said. "It's a wonderful cast, and this is a role that has always been on my list of roles to play. I'd been offered it before but it didn't work out for one reason or another."

Racette called LA Opera's production, which is directed by Francesca Gilpin, "an interesting treatment, staged in vignettes, of an intriguing story." Indeed, Gilpin updates James's original tale and Britten's libretto to the 1950's and stages it in a bright, airy house during Christmas time as opposed to the traditional dark, gothic setting. This actually makes the appearances of the story's two ghosts — Mr. Quint (William Burden) and Miss Jessel (Tamara Wilson, looking like a grown-up version of the vengeful child wraith in the movie, The Ring) — all the more unexpected and unsettling.


Central to the text is the disturbing, lingering question of whether Mr. Quint sexually abused the Governess's two young charges, Miles (an excellent performance by 12-year old Michael Kepler Meo) and Flora (Ashley Emerson). The current production doesn't leave much to speculation in this regard, especially during Act II's opening scene wherein Quint caresses the sleeping Miles' body while he and Miss Jessel repeatedly sing, "The ceremony of innocence is drowned," cribbing from a poem by W.B. Yeats.

"I think this is something that's debatable, but there's always a bit of a homosexual or pedophilia theme in Britten's work," Racette replied to my question of whether she saw any resonance for the LGBT community in the opera. "The Governess is definitely not gay," she laughed, "but the story has a relevance and complexity, especially in the character of Quint. It is provocative."

Other operas composed by Britten, who was unique for being openly gay in early-20th century Britain, include the classics Peter Grimes and Billy Budd as well as a musical setting of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The year 2013 will mark what would have been Britten's 100th birthday, so expect many opera companies to perform his works between now and then.


According to Racette, "Peter Grimes is musically complicated but not as musically complicated as The Turn of the Screw and the role of the Governess." Under the musical direction of LA Opera's always impressive James Conlon, the opening night performance on March 12 was aurally spectacular. There are only six singers in The Turn of the Screw (the other cast member is Ann Murray as the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose) accompanied by a small orchestra, making it a chamber opera rather than a full-blown, chorus-infused production. The cast's voices melded together both gloriously and, when called for, eerily.

There aren't too many operatic ghost stories, although ghosts are all the rage nowadays on TV with various investigative reality series devoted to them. I encourage ghost-obsessed Angelenos and others to catch Patricia Racette and The Turn of the Screw while you can.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Romance Blossoms in New DVDs


It's Spring, time for rebirth and potential new love! As two new, gay-oriented home video releases make clear, nothing says "romance" quite like... bikini parties and blood-sucking vampires?

A bikini party is the memorable centerpiece of the German film Alex and Leo, out April 5 on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures. Set in Berlin, it depicts the challenges the two title characters face in the process of falling in love. Shortly after the two have a brief encounter in a coffee shop, Alex (Andre Schneider) discovers that his longtime boyfriend has been cheating on him. Meanwhile, Leo (Marcel Schlutt, who is too cute, especially when playing drunk) tells his girlfriend of four years that he is gay. She not unpredictably breaks up with him.


Leo and Alex cross paths again in a local cabaret. Alex, still reeling from the end of his relationship, is hesitant to get involved with another man so soon. His friends also caution Alex against getting involved with a "closet case" like Leo. Leo, however, is very attracted to Alex and is anxious to start living an openly gay life.

Alex's hesitance toward Leo begins to falter during the previously mentioned bikini party, at which both male and female guests are required to wear two-piece women's bikinis. I don't know whether this is a traditional German concept or not, but it's fun and there is naturally plenty of flesh on display. Neither Leo nor Alex are model-quality in appearance, but their average looks make their relationship and the movie more believable.

Unfortunately, Alex and Leo (which was written and directed by Ives-Yuri Garate) isn't the most visually attractive film. Many scenes are at times grainy and/or over-lit. This fact and an awful end title song keep it from scoring higher in my critical book, but it is nonetheless a well-acted, sweet and funny take on contemporary gay relationships.


Another new release with romance on its mind is Vampire Boys, from Ariztical Entertainment. Obviously aiming to cash in on the current craze for all things having to do with pretty, ageless bloodsuckers (i.e. the Twilight saga, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries), this direct-to-DVD production features a posse of toned, frequently shirtless dudes who prowl around LA hunting for plasma.

Into their midst comes young, innocent Caleb (Christian Ferrer). The gay college student has just moved to California from Ohio, lured by an online friend named Paul (Ryan Adames). While Paul is hoping for more than just a roommate arrangement with Caleb, the leader of the local vampire squad, Jasin (the truly captivating Jason Lockhart), begins having visions in which Caleb appears as "The One." Jasin needs to mate with "The One" and turn them into a vampire in order for him and his boys to survive.


The vampires had anticipated a woman to be "The One," so they are all initially surprised when Jasin and Caleb become attracted to each other. This is a unique and appreciated twist in the plot of Vampire Boys over the tortured heterosexual love triangle at the center of Twilight, et al. Only one of the vampires (played by Dylan Vox, formerly known as gay porn star Brad Benton) voices objections, so he plots to steal leadership from Jasin.

The film is pretty silly and amateurishly directed by Charlie Vaughn but isn't without its romantic charms. Caleb and Jasin are worth swooning over as their relationship escalates, especially after Jasin "comes out" as a vampire to Caleb and Caleb must decide whether to become a vampire too. I don't like how the character of Paul is treated, however. He is dispatched so unsympathetically and Caleb's concern over Paul's disappearance is so fleeting that Paul ultimately becomes inconsequential. Why have the character in the script in the first place? The producers of this obviously low-budget affair could have spent even less money.

Still, if you like half-naked male vampires (while a couple of their male victims are shown in their full-frontal glory), Vampire Boys may be the movie for you.

Reverend's Ratings:
Alex and Leo: B
Vampire Boys: C

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Hoodwinked

Remember when Catherine Hardwicke was a hot, edgy director with promise? Uh, yeah, me neither. The Sundance sensation Thirteen came out way back in 2003, and now, all Hardwicke is known for is the cringe-worthy Twilight. It’s not surprising that Red Riding Hood, her new film starring Amanda Seyfried in the title role, reeks of the kids from Forks, Washington. The supremely formulaic fiasco is equal parts Twilight, Benecio Del Toro’s The Wolfman and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.

Set in a fairytale village where a wolf monster has plagued the townspeople for decades, Red Riding Hood begins promisingly. Swooping camerawork flying over the fantastic landscape beckons you to a better film than the mundane one you’ll see. Valerie (Seyfried) is a tomboy who’s been promised to one boy (Max Irons, Jeremy’s son) but is in love with another (Shiloh Fernandez). We should all have such problems.


Of course, life is thrown into a tizzy when Valerie’s sister is found killed by the wolf. However, we have to take it on faith, since the PG-13 rating apparently made them throw a few streaks of fake blood on the girl’s dress and call it a day.

Suddenly, everyone starts acting very suspiciously, including Grandmother (Julie Christie), Mom (Virginia Madsen), Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) and both suitors. It is up to crusading wolf-slayer/perverted priest Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to root out evil in all the wrong places and still not find the wolf man.


For a town so prone to paranoia that they’ll lock up whoever Solomon says to, the villagers aren’t so smart. Once told that the wolf is one of them, a simple roll call of who was there and not lupine should have unmasked the monster immediately. Agatha Christie did not write the screenplay, suffice it to say, but a surprise ending is still intended when the wolf reveals itself.

Seyfried is a lovely centerpiece, and her boy toys are definitely dreamy. Christie creates nice suspense with her character, although why an old woman would live way out in exile is never explained. Also, it seems odd that Grandmamma would give Valerie a scarlet cloak, when it just makes the town nags call her a witch and a strumpet. The bloodletting is particularly bloodless, which would normally not bother me except that it looks so cheesy. Red Riding Hood has an okay pace and had the potential to be a new classic fairy tale. Instead, it’s as bland as Little Miss Muffet’s curds and whey.

UPDATE: Red Riding Hood is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.

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

Friday, March 11, 2011

Reverend’s Interview & Review: Elektra Luxx

It’s not often that I get to sit down at a round table for an intimate chat (well, as intimate as it can be with five other journalists present) with three equally lovely, “name” actresses. But, thanks be to God, I had such an opportunity last week as I spoke with Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman and Emmanuelle Chriqui about their new movie, Elektra Luxx, which opens today. Throwing the film’s writer-director, Sebastian Gutierrez, into the mix made for a lively afternoon. Only one topic was off limits: Charlie Sheen.

Elektra Luxx — an unanticipated sequel of sorts to Gutierrez’s Women in Trouble (and the middle chapter of a now-planned trilogy) — is named after Gugino’s character, a former porn actress who finds herself pregnant by a deceased rock star. Striving to live a more conventional life, Elektra has taken to teaching a course on “How to Act Like a Porn Star in Bed” to women at her local community center. In a running joke, she has to share the space with her parish priest’s religious education classes. Elektra soon finds herself in over her head escaping from her past, as a private detective (Timothy Olyphant), a former co-star (Akerman), an obsessed porn blogger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the Virgin Mary (an uncredited cameo by Julianne Moore) all come knocking on her door.


During the interview, Gugino quickly proved herself to be not only as attractive as she is on screen but highly intelligent. A veteran of such diverse movies as Spy Kids, Watchmen, Race to Witch Mountain, the upcoming Sucker Punch and the cancelled-too-soon (in my opinion) TV series Threshold, Gugino shared some of her influences or role models for the character of Elektra Luxx.

“(Porn star) Jenna Jameson was a source of inspiration in this particular case,” Gugino noted, “because she wrote a book and has done very well and is an absolute business woman; that was certainly an influence.”

She continued her thoughts in terms of making character choices. “Being pregnant and a porn star is of course more significant than being pregnant and not a porn star,” Gugino said. “What I really just love about (Elektra) is that despite having many abortions and having slept with so many people and having drug problems, she still seems to have this sense of innocence; I really love this sort of untouched part of her.”


During one particularly well-written scene, St. Mary appears in Elektra’s bathroom. Referring to her “virgin” status, Mary off-handedly tells Elektra “That whole thing is blown out of proportion.” Mary also amusingly tells Elektra she can ask any question of her whatsoever “except ‘What’s the capital of South Dakota?” I asked Gugino what it was like to work with former Oscar nominee Julianne Moore.

“It was so great,” Gugino replied. “She was our dream Virgin Mary because we needed somebody who had a certain kind of resonance that it seemed Elektra would really listen to, so she couldn’t be too young and yet we also needed someone who had a certain pure quality to her. We were talking about ‘Who would be the perfect person?’ and the answer came, ‘Julianne Moore’.”

Gugino also gets to perform a musical number entitled “All I Want to Do is Fall in Love.” Given her character’s long blonde hair and costume, Gugino bears an uncanny resemblance to Christina Aguilera in the recent Burlesque while doing so. She pulls the song off extremely well, especially since — according to Gutierrez — Gugino only had a couple of hours to learn and rehearse it.


On playing Elektra again, Gugino said, “It was a lovely treat, like dessert or something. Somewhere while shooting (Women in Trouble), we realized there’s so much more to explore with this character.” That exploration will continue in the final film of the trilogy, which Gutierrez has titled Women in Ecstasy.

The Venezuela-born Gutierrez has written several big studio productions including Gothika, Snakes on a Plane and The Eye. He has also been a frequent collaborator on screenplays with gay filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. Prior to Elektra Luxx, Gutierrez directed Judas Kiss (starring acting heavyweights Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman) and Rise in addition to Women in Trouble and Girl Walks Into a Bar (which also debuts today in Los Angeles and on YouTube).

Upon his arrival at the interview, Gutierrez immediately noted the rather blank room’s similarity to a set from a certain hit movie from last year as only a true cinema connoisseur could: “I’m a little weirded out by the Inception-like space we find ourselves in.”


We spoke extensively about the conflict Gutierrez has noted, as a foreign-born filmmaker, between how Americans “want to break the rules, but on the other hand there’s this puritanical streak that’s so embedded in the population”. (Interestingly, Philippe Diaz, the Latino writer-director of the recent release Now & Later, noted the same thing.) Gutierrez views Elektra’s struggle to overcome her pornographic past and fit into mainstream society as somewhat of a reflection of this dichotomy.

“The movie is actually very moral,” Gutierrez said. “Both this movie and Women in Trouble have a bark that’s much worse than their bite. (Elektra) is a woman with Catholic guilt talking to the Virgin Mary. I was raised Catholic and was taught you are supposed to forgive the sinner, especially if they repent.”

The writer-director continued: “Not being from (the US), I find it interesting that the place seems to be built on that push-pull between wanting to get away with everything and being very puritanical; while this movie is not really about that, it’s a fascinating thing to me.”

Lastly, supporting co-stars Malin Akerman — whom those who know her refer to as Mal (rhymes with “maul”) — and Emmanuelle Chriqui stopped by. Akerman is a rising star following her turns in Watchmen, Couples Retreat, last week’s happythankyoumoreplease and Children’s Hospital on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Chriqui is best known as Sloan on HBO’s Entourage and from Adam Sandler’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.


As Bambi Lindberg in Elektra Luxx, Chriqui plays the best friend of Elektra’s former co-star Holly Rocket. Holly is played by Adrianne Palicki, who had to cancel out of the press day due to her new, high-profile role as Wonder Woman in David E. Kelley’s new TV series based on the classic super heroine.

During one scene in the movie between Holly and Bambi, Holly confesses her love for Bambi to both their surprise. “It’s not about being straight or gay,” Holly says. “I love you; I’ve never been clearer about anything.” It’s a powerful and refreshing moment, and I look forward to their relationship’s further development in Women in Ecstasy.

As for Elektra Luxx, I loved the film’s humor and subversive attitude, which are especially strong in the first half hour or so (a James Bond-ish opening titles sequence and song are great). Some of the character vignettes in the middle third seem disjointed and most are a bit too serious after the movie’s strong, funny start. However, the entire cast is fantastic, with Moore’s brief appearance a particularly nice touch. Be sure to stay through the end credits for a fun, final send-off.

Reverend’s Rating: B-

UPDATE: Elektra Luxx is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Toon Talk: In the Name of the Father

Fans of the works of the legendary Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki know what to expect when they watch one of his films. The central protagonist, usually a boy or a girl (or both), find themselves in a life-threatening adventure filled with magic and mystery. They must rely on their youthful wits and innate talents to survive against an enigmatic, otherworldly being who will, most likely, at one point turn into a pile of goo. An adult father figure is usually on hand to provide sage advice, and it is highly probable that our hero will eventually learn that they are in fact some higher, magical being. The whole fantastic story is brought to vivid life with highly detailed and incredibly beautiful animation, with strong attention paid to recreating the wonders of nature. Oh, and there will be flying… lots and lots of flying.

Of course, anyone who has seen any of Miyazaki’s films knows that the whole is much more then sum of its parts. His films, from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (available this week for the first time on Blu-ray) to his Academy Award winning masterpiece Spirited Away to his most recent delight Ponyo, are quite simply sublime in their storytelling brilliance and ability to transport you to a myriad of different fantasy lands.


Following in the elder Miyazaki’s footsteps is his son, Goro Miyazaki, who makes his directorial debut with the latest Studio Ghibli feature to be released in the United States, Tales from Earthsea (now also available on DVD). As would be expected, the younger Miyazaki has big shoes to fill, and while it is not entirely fair to hold his work up to the standards of his obviously more accomplished father, Tales from Earthsea is so steeped in the studio style that it is unavoidable...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Tales from Earthsea at LaughingPlace.com.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Naked Love

As co-host Anne Hathaway mused during last week's Oscars telecast, "You know, it used to be that if you got naked, you got a nomination; Not anymore." She was amusingly referring to her frequently-topless performance in last year's Love & Other Drugs, just released on DVD and Blu-ray. While the Academy may have overlooked her, Hathaway and co-star Jake Gyllenhaal did receive deserved 2010 Golden Globe nominations.

In this sometimes touching, sometimes strained romantic-dramedy, Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a callow pharmaceutical salesman during the late 1990's when such now ubiquitous drugs as Prozak and Viagra were first introduced. Jamie will use any means necessary — especially bedding pretty medical secretaries — to spotlight the meds he's peddling in his quest to become Pfizer's #1 field rep.


His ladder-climbing, commitment-phobic ways begin to falter, however, when he meets and begins a casual sexual relationship with Maggie Murdock (Hathaway). Jamie is immediately smitten by Maggie's sharp wit, zest for life and exposed breasts, which he spies during a medical exam. So smitten is Jamie that he doesn't bat an eye when he learns Maggie has been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's Disease, a degenerative neurological condition that will eventually leave her totally incapacitated. Maggie, all too aware of her gradual physical deterioration, has avoided serious relationships... until she meets Jamie, that is.

Love & Other Drugs garnered much pre-release buzz over the extensive nudity reportedly displayed by its attractive co-stars. The buzz seemed to die down quickly though, perhaps because the sex and nudity are depicted casually/realistically and fairly non-provocatively. One can only see Hathaway's buxom bosom and Gyllenhaal's shapely derriere so many times before they become just another part of the scenery, which is to the filmmakers' credit.


The screenplay was co-written by the director, Edward Zwick (who has previously done more significant movies, including Glory and The Last Samurai), and is adapted from Jamie Reidy's autobiographical book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Trying to tread the line carefully, things get shaky whenever Zwick goes for drama rather than comedy. Also, the movie's moral — which basically criticizes drug companies for investing more in what could be deemed unnecessary medications like Viagra than they do in the treatment of truly debilitating conditions such as Parkinson's — is awfully heavy-handed.

Despite its flaws, the film does feature moments of insight into human nature thanks chiefly to Hathaway's and Gyllenhaal's performances. The two have great chemistry (they previously played a conflicted husband and wife in Brokeback Mountain), and I'd love to see them work together again in either a flat-out comedy or a serious drama. They and the film also benefit from a strong supporting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, George Segal and, in one of her final appearances, Jill Clayburgh.

One won't require an antibiotic after watching Love & Other Drugs, but most viewers will likely have the feeling it could have been better.

Reverend's Rating: C+

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