As 2011 comes to a close, it is time to look back on the year in film, and what better way then with the Movie Dearest calendar wallpaper for next month!
Several of 2011's most popular movies make up the collage, so you can spend all of January gazing at the likes of Albert, Cap, Kermit, Marilyn, Rango, Russell & Glen, Skeeter, Thor and the rest. What a way to start off a new year!
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.
2011 was a good year for both mainstream and GLBT-oriented movies. I saw so many great films that I actually felt the need to break my best list into three parts: narrative, documentary and GLBT-themed. Without further ado, my selections as the finest the big screen had to offer in 2011 are:
BEST NARRATIVE FILMS:
1) The Tree of Life and The Tree (tie). These two extraordinary movies, one American and the other Australian, share more than their titular flora. Both explore the great mysteries of life, death, love and family.
2) Moneyball. Set in the world of major league baseball but far from a generic sports story, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill give inspiring performances as underdog team managers who restored virtue and ethics to professional athletics.
3) The Descendants. George Clooney does his best work to date as a wounded husband and father struggling with multiple challenges amongst his character's ancestral Hawaiian islands. Beautifully made and extremely moving.
4) Take Shelter. Suspense movies are often referred to as "Hitchcockian" after the genre's master, but this one is the real deal. Michael Shannon stars as a farmer whose apocalyptic visions may be premonitions or the early stages of psychosis. Keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end.
5) Win Win. A troubled teenage wrestler ingratiates himself into the lives of a reluctant coach (a typically great Paul Giamatti) and his wife. A warm comedy-drama from the talented writer-director of the equally humane The Station Agent and The Visitor.
6) We Need to Talk About Kevin. Superbly crafted if deeply disturbing tale of a mother (the ever-fearless Tilda Swinton, in an award-worthy performance) grappling with her sociopathic son. The Bad Seed for the 21st century.
7) Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The year's best popcorn movie boasts a smart screenplay, great performances and amazing special effects. It is also the second-best "reboot" of a movie series, following James Bond's 2006 Casino Royale.
8) Hugo. Martin Scorsese's opulent valentine to classic cinema (and the works of Georges Melies in particular) is gorgeously designed and photographed, and is a touching, kid-friendly story at heart of "broken" people who are magically drawn together.
9) Carnage. A superior adaptation of the popular but overrated play God of Carnage, masterfully streamlined and directed by Roman Polanski and starring the powerhouse cast of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and, best of all, Christoph Waltz.
10) Hanna. Exciting, fairy-tale inspired adventure of a teenage girl with superhuman abilities who takes on evil "wicked witch" Cate Blanchett. It also features an adrenaline-pumping music score by the Chemical Brothers.
BEST GLBT-THEMED NARRATIVE FILMS:
1) Tomboy. A compassionate, beautifully-made drama about a young girl's coming of age.
2) Pariah. Another fine film focusing on a lesbian teenager's coming out.
3) J. Edgar. Provocative historical epic with a very impressive, Oscar-worthy Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role.
4) Weekend. Nice and sexy British film that authentically depicts two gay men bonding over 72 hours.
5) Beginners. Mike Mills' heartfelt and amusing tribute to his gay father, enjoyably played by Christopher Plummer.
1) Bill Cunningham New York. The celebrated New York Times photographer has the camera turned on himself, with revelatory results.
2) Make Believe. A fascinating and inspiring look at aspiring magicians.
3) Semper Fi: Always Faithful. Shocking but moving expose about a military coverup and one father's quest to hold those responsible accountable.
4) Project Nim. Informative if often heartbreaking account of the life of a chimpanzee used in a failed social experiment.
5) The Last Mountain. A community rallies against the greedy corporation destroying its environment in this excellent doc.
AND THE WORST FILMS OF 2011:
1) The Rite. This film needs an exorcism.
2) Horrible Bosses. Horrible movie.
3) One Day. Contrived, calendar-hopping romantic clap-trap.
4) X-Men: First Class. Inexplicably acclaimed, incredibly dumb.
5) The Thing. Pointless prequel to the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic.
When the planned early-2012 revival of Funny Girl at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre was abruptly cancelled last month, it left an unexpected hole in the theatre's schedule. Fortunately, Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have ridden to the rescue by moving the tour dates of their acclaimed musical Fela! around. It is now playing at the Ahmanson through January 22nd.
One wouldn't think of this biographical portrait of the Afrobeat pioneer and Nigerian political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who died of AIDS in 1997, as typical holiday fare. It is undeniably festive, though, especially during its more upbeat first act. Sahr Ngaujah -- who created the title role on Broadway and was subsequently nominated for a Tony Award -- reprised his performance opening night and immediately, impressively had the audience in his hand. (At some performances, Adesola Osakalumi will play Fela). Director-choreographer Bill T. Jones and the book by Jones and Jim Lewis incorporate considerable opportunities for audience interaction, and we were all too willing to shout back, get on our feet and even dance along with Ngaujah and other members of the show's multi-talented cast.
The musical's action is set within and around a re-creation of the Shrine, a massive dance hall that Fela founded in Lagos, Nigeria. He informs the audience at the start that this is to be his last appearance at the Shrine, as Fela is becoming increasingly involved politically in the wake of his mother's brutal death at the hands of the police several months earlier. Moving back and forth in time, key moments in Fela's musical and political awakening are presented. The show's more surreal second half culminates in a metaphysical reunion between Fela and his mother, Funmilayo (a vocally impressive and suitably ethereal Melanie Marshall). The mostly riveting songs throughout are Fela's own, with occasional additional lyrics contributed by co-book writer Lewis.
Gay audiences will likely eat Fela! up thanks to its endlessly engaging theatricality, high-energy dance numbers, and considerable display of Ngaujah's and the male dancers' toned physiques. To its detriment, though, Fela! fails to acknowledge the activist's AIDS-related death. This is especially odd given how contemporary the musical's other social concerns are, including the current Occupy Movement. Fela himself somewhat understandably kept his illness a secret, however he may have contracted it, but his brother revealed the cause of Fela's death shortly after. The musical's unwillingness to mention AIDS while admiringly noting Fela's "harem" of wives, which in reality numbered more than a dozen, struck me as especially egregious.
Though imperfect, Fela! remains political, sensual and challenging, as the best theatre always is. Click here for tickets or additional information about the LA run of Fela!
One of the most acclaimed films from this year's Sundance Film Festival, Pariah, will finally be making it to theaters this month. The semi-autobiographical drama about the coming of age of a lesbian teenager is scheduled to open in Los Angeles and New York on December 28th and will open nationwide in January.
I first heard of Pariah two years ago. It was initially a well-received short film, and producer Nekisa Cooper was then working hard to raise the funds necessary to expand it into a feature. Cooper and writer-director Dee Rees had an impressive endorsement letter from no less than Spike Lee, for whom Rees had worked on When the Levees Broke and Inside Man. Lee serves as one of the feature's executive producers.
Their hard work has paid off. The finished film is an authentic and moving exploration of a young woman trying to integrate her identity. Confident that "God doesn't make mistakes," 17-year old Alike (pronounced "Ah-lee-kay" and sometimes referred to as "Lee" for short) has to contend with her conservative-Christian mother as well as with other teens not yet as comfortable in their own shoes as Alike. Adepero Oduye gives a breakthrough performance in the lead role, and Kim Wayans (perhaps best remembered as Benita Butrell and other wacky characters from the 1990's TV sketch series In Living Color) is a revelation as Alike's conflicted mother.
Rees recently spoke with me from New York. "It's been a labor of love," Rees said of her six-year odyssey to make Pariah, first as a short and then as a feature. "Our audience reactions have been overwhelmingly positive; (the film) has universal appeal and has been shown not only at LGBT film festivals but at mainstream festivals." LGBT-friendly Focus Features, which has also released such popular movies as Brokeback Mountain and Milk, quickly snapped up the rights to Pariah following its Sundance screening. "It's every filmmaker's dream to have their film released by a major company," according to Rees. "Focus has been incredibly supportive."
Spirituality plays a major role in Alike's journey. Both Rees and Cooper were raised in devout Christian families, and Cooper's father serves as a Catholic deacon. "If anything, it's my spirituality that got me through the past six years," Rees reflects. "My spirituality and spiritual practice have actually gotten stronger than they were before going through this." While their parents will be invited to the official premiere of Pariah, Rees isn't sure how they will respond. "Hopefully," Rees said, "they will respond well so they can witness to other parents" of LGBT children.
With her profile on the rise in the industry, Rees just finished writing a new script for a thriller and is working with HBO on developing a TV series. She speaks appreciatively of all the support she has received, especially from two-time Oscar nominee Spike Lee. Rees calls Lee her mentor and states "He's been a great guiding hand."
"I'm not running, I'm choosing," Alike says in Pariah of a life-changing, climactic decision she makes. It's a statement Rees wholeheartedly agrees with. "I think questioning and affirming your identity is a universal theme, and I definitely want gay teens to connect with the film and see that it's ok to be them."
She concluded, "If you strip away race and sexuality, we are all searching for the same things when it comes to identity. That's what this film is about."
Actress Glenn Close has been nominated for the Academy Award five times for her memorable turns in such films as Dangerous Liaisons, Fatal Attraction and The World According to Garp but she has yet to bring home the gold. That could soon change, given her current performance as a woman passing herself off as a man in Albert Nobbs. It is scheduled to open in theaters everywhere on January 27th.
Based on a short story that Close adapted into a play nearly 20 years ago, the movie's title character is the head servant in an upper-class, Irish guest house during the 19th century. Nobbs is respected by the headmistress (played by Brenda Fricker) and admired by the hotel's clientele, but Nobbs has a secret: he is really a she. Having begun cross-dressing as a young woman in the wake of a brutal attack, Nobbs has effectively led a male life for 30 years and dreams of one day opening "his" own tobacco shop.
Things begin to unravel, however, once Nobbs crosses paths with a hired handyman who also turns out to be a woman (Janet McTeer, giving a great, Oscar-worthy performance of her own). As Nobbs gets to know her and increasingly admires her marriage to another woman, Nobbs feels inspired to make romantic overtures to another servant in his household, the lovely young Helen (Mia Wasikowska). Alas, Helen only has eyes for attractive, impetuous Joe (Aaron Johnson), who soon gets her pregnant. Trouble for Nobbs and all concerned follows.
Close is startlingly convincing in terms of her physical appearance, voice and mannerisms. Though Nobbs is considered less than masculine by many of his co-workers, no one questions his/her gender. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) also appears as a closeted gay man who frequents the hotel. As good as the performances are, I found the screenplay and Rodrigo Garcia's direction tonally inconsistent. The unusual premise seems to be played at some moments for laughs and at other times with heavy-handed solemnity. This kept me from admiring Albert Nobbs completely.
This year's Oscar race for Best Actress is shaping up to be a tough one, with Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Viola Davis (The Help) likely among Close's competitors. As Albert Nobbs would probably say, "May the best man (woman) win!"
If you want something done right, do it yourself. Just ask Rena Riffel, who co-starred in the priceless 1995 gay favorite Showgirls, as well as Demi Moore’s Striptease and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. In Showgirls, Riffel played Penny, Nomi Malone’s (Elizabeth Berkley) fellow dancer at “The Cheetah who ends up with Nomi’s pseudo-boyfriend James (Glenn Plummer). Riffel says that director Paul Verhoeven mentioned that her character Penny could star in a sequel where she goes to Hollywood, and the thought stayed with Riffel for years.
Seeing how popular Showgirls became after its inauspicious debut, Riffel decided to produce the film, titled Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven, herself. As detailed in Entertainment Weekly, German director Marc Volander attempted to make a competing sequel, called Showgirls: Exposed, that has scored a laughable 1.3 rating on IMDB to date. Unlike Vorlander’s brain-crushing monstrosity, Riffel has written a loving homage/send-up of the original that includes tons of memorable quotes that will tickle Showgirls fans. Riffel also laughs about a drinking game that viewers can play, taking a swig whenever the word “whore” is uttered.
Riffel, who has been self-promoting her film and enjoying the wild responses it is getting, approached Verhoeven with her script, but “he doesn’t like to do sequels or similar films. But he gave me his blessing, so I just kept moving forward with it.”
In Showgirls, Riffel and Gina Gershon are the two actresses who most seemed to “get” the material, so that their humor is all intentional. About the original film’s success, Riffel said, “Part of me thinks it was a happy accident, like a beautiful train wreck that happened, but then another part of me thinks that Paul Verhoeven definitely veered it in a direction to make it more exciting. I think that he got the film he wanted. I don’t think that some of the actors realized that it was going to be a ‘forced motivation’ in certain scenes. That’s what gave it that special magic On Striptease, everyone was playing it for comedy and on Showgirls everyone was playing it thinking that we were making Basic Instinct. At the end of the day, Showgirls turned out to funnier than Striptease.”
Riffel’s work in Mulholland Drive and a pilot called Land’s End with Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) gave her a break from being offered parts with nudity, but she says that if the part demands it, “you have to be a trouper” and go with it. “I don’t think you can be an actress and refuse to do nudity. You have to be uninhibited.”
“I want the audience to be in that (Showgirls) world again,” she said about Showgirls 2.”So I included what I thought were the most loved parts and lines from Showgirls, but we say them in a different way. It speaks in a secret Showgirls language.” She laughed about a scene where the women toast each other with hot dogs in honor of the infamous Spago scene where Nomi and Cristal clink tortilla chips together. “That’s what dancers do, toast each other with food.”
In Penny’s from Heaven, Riffel’s Penny leaves Las Vegas in the hopes of scoring a part on a low budget Hollywood dance program. Along the way, she runs into a crazed Marilyn Monroe impersonator and lands in a gothic love triangle right out of Sunset Boulevard. “Valley of the Dolls was probably my biggest influence. I’ve watched it a million times. I watched a lot of old movies from the 40s and 50s because I wanted it to have that melodramatic feel.”
Showgirls fans will be happy to see Glenn Plummer return as her Alvin Ailey-trained boyfriend, as well as other Showgirls alumni like Greg Travis and Dewey Weber. Ungela Brockman, who played ill-fated dancer Annie, wanted to take part but wasn’t able to. Riffel is hoping to use her in another sequel, which she is now developing pending the success of Showgirls 2.
When the movie Black Swan opened to so much acclaim, Riffel was pleased, since her film already contained a similar ballet-based rivalry between Penny and the aging prima ballerina Katya.
In closing, Riffel stressed how important her causes are to her. "I support GLAAD and the LGBT community and issues. I support the NOH8 campaign. I have lived in West Hollywood for most of my life – twenty years – and am part of the community and encourage donations to Out of the Closet (AHF) which offers the most fabulous "second-hand everything" and also offers free AIDS Testing. Also, I was honored to be a Celebrity Presenter at the We Ho Awards for three years, and look forward to more involvement. I support our US Troops. I am planning to do a USO tour, and would love to bring Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven to our Troops, or do a hand shake tour, or anything I can do to let all our Troops know we appreciate their service. I support the Rescue Animal Corp. Animal Rescue Corps supports the rescue of any animals who are suffering.”
The stage musical Billy Elliot includes the showstopping song "Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher," a satiric ode to the long-reigning, conservative British Prime Minister. Appropriately, a new film biography of Thatcher, The Iron Lady, is arriving in US theaters this Christmas holiday season. Meryl Streep stars in the title role and gives yet another amazing, award-worthy performance (La Meryl has already won the New York Film Critics' award for Best Actress and been nominated for SAG and Golden Globe honors for her work here). If only the movie that surrounds her was as good.
The Iron Lady charts Thatcher's rise to power from her humble beginnings as daughter of a provincial grocer to becoming the first and only woman to date to serve as Prime Minister. It also explores her current and -- if the film is to be believed -- fairly demented status, conversing with her beloved late husband (wonderfully played by Jim Broadbent), bemoaning the high price of milk and saying things (not so dementedly) like "It used to be about trying to do something; Now it's about trying to be someone." Whether this is an accurate representation or not, Streep is especially good depicting Thatcher's later years and embodying an elderly woman in general.
As erratically written by Abi Morgan and chaotically directed by Phyllida Lloyd (who previously paired with Streep in bringing Mamma Mia! to the screen), the film is oddly constructed and shifts back and forth in time not only within minutes but sometimes within the same minute. It is at once convoluted and simplistic. To the filmmakers' and Streep's credit, though, The Iron Lady is never boring. I even wonder if it would work better as a musical, given Streep's and Lloyd's last joint success. Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I is even referenced at several points, with Thatcher and husband Dennis joyfully dancing together. Maybe Elton John and Lee Hall, who co-wrote Billy Elliot for the stage, can take The Iron Lady on as their next project.
Years after Thatcher's leadership ended, things aren't looking so good in London. Despite this year's lavish royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, London has been subjected to political and economic unrest, violent riots and terrorist attacks. One devastating act of terrorism in 2005 has inspired the powerful new drama London River, which is already playing in New York City and opens this weekend in Los Angeles.
Brenda Blethyn (perhaps best remembered for her high-strung "Sweetie Darling" turn in 1996's Secrets & Lies) plays Elizabeth, the rural mother of a London-based daughter. When her daughter fails to return her phone calls in the wake of coordinated bombings that killed 52 people and injured more than 700, Elizabeth goes to London to see what's going on. Once there, she learns that her daughter had been taking classes in Arabic and fallen in with a group of possibly radical Muslims. Elizabeth also meets Ousmane (the late Sotigui Kouyate, who won the Berlin Film Festival's Silver Bear for Best Actor), a French arborist searching for his son.
As they interview police, teachers and friends, Elizabeth and Ousmane must confront the growing reality that their children aren't the people they thought they knew and, worse, may have been at least partly responsible for the terrorist attack. Director Rachid Bouchareb (who helmed the Oscar-nominated Days of Glory and Outside the Law) draws excellent, haunting performances from Blethyn and Kouyate. Ultimately moving and cautionary, London River shouldn't be missed.
Reverend's Ratings: The Iron Lady: B- London River: B+
If you haven’t yet found the perfect stocking stuffer for your better half, a number of gay and lesbian-themed DVDs have come out that will make your choice easier. These are all films that had little to no public release yet, so you are sure to look impressive for finding them. It’s okay, we won’t tell!
Into the Lion’s Den(QC Cinema /Breaking Glass Pictures): Into the Lion’s Den is a gripping and graphic gay take on exploitation horror films like Hostel and Vacancy where unsuspecting travelers are lured into a deadly trap. Bored by the West Hollywood gay scene, three buddies, jaded Johnny (Jesse Archer), sweet Michael (Ronnie Kroell) and naïve Ted (Kristen-Alexzander Griffith) decide to drive cross country to New York City. Johnny uses the latest technology on his phone to arrange sex hook-ups, like one with a sexy gas station attendant (porn star Jake Steel), much to Michael and Ted’s annoyance. Reaching Amish country, nerves are getting frayed and the boys end up at a sleazy motel that Norman Bates would love. Even in the middle of nowhere, however, as soon as Johnny gets a signal, he gets another instant message from a man with a hot torso photo inviting Johnny to a bar called The Lion’s Den. After convincing his unsuspecting pals to go with him, they find that the ominously-named bar is a redneck haven with no sign of a gay nightlife.
What happens next plunges the trio into a depraved scene right out of a Saw movie with a sexual twist. Director Dan Lantz pulls no punches either in the sexy early scene at the gas station or in the dungeon scenes later in the film. This approach gives the film a realistic feeling that will make you think twice before meeting someone over the internet. Archer gives another good performance as a past-his-prime party boy, and the handsome Kroell (Eating Out: Drama Camp) is suitably hunky. Griffith is the weak link in the cast, and his monologue at the end of the film is unintentionally funny. Despite some cheesy acting and low budget production values, Into the Lion’s Den is a taut and entertaining thriller for any fans of exploitation movies.
Envisioned as a My Dinner With Andre-style film about two estranged band members reuniting after many years, Trigger turned out to be female lead Tracy Wright’s brave final film before she succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Wright and Molly Parker play the two former members of Trigger, a popular Canadian alternative rock band. After a dramatic fight the band broke up, but now the two women will have to reunite for a benefit concert. Vic (Wright) and Kat (Parker) meet in a restaurant and, like My Dinner With Andre, the two spend the evening talking and confronting old demons. If you are not up for a film rooted in dialogue instead of action, you won’t want to pull this Trigger.
Hold Your Peace(QC Cinema):
The bad thing about LGBT films is that because they are for a niche audience, sometimes bad acting and even worse writing pops up without warning, ruining an otherwise great premise. As far as a gift goes, Hold Your Peace is the perfect lump of coal to drop in some deserving ex’s stocking!
Riding a wave of films dealing with same-sex marriage, Hold Your Peace tells the story of Aiden (Chad Ford), a hapless single guy who is invited to be the best man at his ex-boyfriend’s commitment ceremony. What’s a guy to do? Why, bring his gal pal’s vacuous twink friend and pass him off as your boyfriend, of course. But, what could have been an entertaining premise full of great potential is done in by poor casting and a ridiculous ending that has to be seen to be believed. Despite its shortcomings, Hold Your Peace manages to raise a lot of interesting conflicts that everyone can relate to, such as how to deal with unresolved feelings for your ex, and what to do when his new boyfriend is gorgeous and apparently perfect.
Of the cast, only Blair Dickens as Forrest, the new beau, comes off as natural and engaging. Ford has no charisma and looks constipated throughout of the film, and handsome Tyler Brockington as Max the ex is so wooden, IKEA could build a bookshelf out of him. Scott Higgins, as the flamboyant Lance a.k.a. Brick, is the worst actor of all, taking a stereotypical role and making it worse with terrible line readings and a smarmy presence. You will wonder if writer/director Wade McDonald ran out of film when, after a long lead up to the nuptials, the film is wrapped up in a jaw-dropping ten seconds at the end. Hold Your Peace will definitely make you hold your nose.
In the 30 years since the AIDS crisis first reared its ugly head, it seems some people have forgotten what it was all about, how the LGBT community reacted then and how it changed the way we live and are more accepted today. In the moving documentary We Were Here (now in select theaters and premiering today on Pay-Per-View and Video on Demand), filmmaker David Weissman and the four people who are interviewed on camera insist that people remember.
We Were Here pieces together what life was like in the Castro District of San Francisco in the '80s and early '90s as people first became terrified of the nameless afflictions that were killing formerly healthy men so quickly, then became angry as the government seemed content to let the disease run its course unabated through the gay community. It was before many people can remember, but there was a time when people like Lyndon LaRouche and Jerry Falwell were pushing legislation to quarantine people with AIDS and fought to stigmatize them at their most vulnerable time. Mostly, We Were Here shows how the LGBT community came together to help one another and fight for a cure.
People like nurse Eileen Glutzer, who is featured in the film, were among the few who would go into the rooms of AIDS patients and offer them care and love, when even her coworkers refused to do so out of fear of the disease. The other three people interviewed are men who lived through the disease and watched as more than 15,000 people died in San Francisco alone.
Despite its somber subject matter, We Were Here (which was recently named a finalist for next year's Academy Awards) is must-see viewing for everyone in the LGBT community. It is a powerful rallying cry to fight for the rights and protections we deserve. It also shows how different groups in our community can pull together in times of need, like the women's community, which provided life-saving blood drives in the Castro when gay men were prohibited from donating when the need was so great.
Times have changed and HIV is no longer a death sentence, but it is vital to remember the past so that it isn't repeated.
With the holidays fast approaching, here are some new books that would make great gifts for all the cinematically inclined on your list... or yourself!
For the sci-fi fan: Filled with enough facts and figures on the creation of one of the most popular science fiction movies of all time to weigh down the Nostromo, Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film(Ian Nathan, Voyageur Press) is a must have for all Alien aficiandos. The weighty tome features director Ridley Scott’s own annotated storyboards, Polaroids and script pages; the elegant but disturbing concept artwork of H.R. Giger; costume designs by Moebius; and ten meticulously reproduced artifacts, enclosed in vellum envelopes, for readers to remove and examine more closely.
For the Twi-hard: Blood-suckers on screen are all the rage of late, so it's not surprising that a fourth edition of Alain Silver and James Ursini's The Vampire Film(Limelight Editions) was unearthed earlier this year. Now subtitled "From Nosferatu to True Blood", this newly updated and expanded volume contains an enclycopedic listing of vampire movies and television programs and is chock-full of full color (mostly red) photos. The book is structured thematically, incorporating vampire films of all eras into chapters on vampire lore, male and female vampires, Dracula, and more.
For the aspiring screenwriter: If you think Hollywood films can be formulaic, screenwriter and film fanatic Todd Klick proves it in his new book Something Startling Happens: The 120 Story Beats Every Writer Needs to Know(Michael Wiese Productions). A "how to" guide on how to write the next great screenplay, Klick does a minute-by-minute breakdown of classic and contemporary films to reveal the story telling technique that drives great movies, from Star Wars to Tootsie to The Six Sense to The Godfather. "Good movies do the exact same thing, across the board, in succession, during each and every minute. Doesn't matter if it's minute 1 or minute 101. Even if one movie ends at minute 85 and the next ends at 120, they still abide by this strict, minute-by-minute blueprint," says Klick.
For the classics connoisseur: Chronicling the 50 newest titles added to the National Film Registry in the past two years, Daniel Eagan's Americas Film Legacy: 2009-2010(Continuum Books) shines the spotlight on such favorites as Dog Day Afternoon, Grey Gardens, The Muppet Movie and Pillow Talk, as well as such lesser-known gems as Lonesome, Precious Images and Quasi at the Quackadero.
And speaking of the NFR, their 2012 Movie Poster Wall Calendar(Universe Publishing) is also available. Next year's edition includes poster art for such classics as It's a Wonderful Life, The Invisible Man, The Maltese Falcon, North by Northwest, Singin' in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz.
Click on the links above to order these books from Amazon.com.
Let yourself go, relax. You aren’t going to have to solve math logarithms when you see Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, now on national tour. All you have to do is dream of a snowy holiday in Vermont where two Broadway hoofers woo a couple of sisters and try to save a old friend’s Inn. You won’t see Bing Crosby, but then again, why would you want to? No one can replace Bing, so the makers of this seasonal hit don’t even try. What they do try to do is recreate the 1954 classic film on stage complete with its great music like “Let Yourself Go”, “Blue Skies”, “Sisters” and of course the title song. If we are lucky, the inimitable Ruth Williamson (Nip/Tuck, La Cage Aux Folles) will recreate her Broadway role, since she is one of Broadway’s true divas.
Brandon Davidson is happy to be a part of the show for the fourth year in a row. “It’s like an old family getting together and we’re going to do this Christmas show,” he explained. The youngest of six kids, Davidson grew up in beautiful San Diego. “I’m the only one who moved away,” he laughed. He received his BFA in Musical Theatre from Boston Conservatory, which then presented an annual showcase for New York casting directors. “So the program basically dumps you right into Times Square,” he joked. He’s lived in New York City since 2005.
“The reason I love this show so much is the choreography and the music. The second show I saw in New York was 42nd Street which was choreographed by Randy Skinner, who is the choreographer for White Christmas, and his style is inspired by Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and that old world musical theater style. I grew up listening to jazz and the show is set in the fifties, so to be able to live in that world and dance that style again... I have a real passion for that style. It’s very American and rooted in jazz.”
Since the show is set in a Broadway milieu where two friends try to save their commanding general’s inn by putting on a show, the ensemble has lots of opportunities to shine. “The opening number, “Let Yourself Go” is a blast. It’s like being shot out of a cannon. It’s about seven minutes long and it’s a tap number. My favorite number in the show is when Betty sings, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”. It’s her “eleven o’clock number” and it is set in a Broadway cabaret, so it has that mood about it. She has three dancers who partner her one-by-one, and I am one of those dancers. It’s very emotionally based because she’s just been through sort of a break-up, and I think that Randy’s work and his intuition as a choreographer really shines in this number. “
Davidson also works as a house manager for Broadway shows, including the New York Musical Theater Festival, the showcase that launched [title of show], Altar Boyz, Next To Normal, Yank! and The Great American Trailer Park Musical. The show that he expects to see share that kind of success is Kiki Baby. Starring Broadway favorite Jenn Colella as the title character, a four year old who is gifted with an angelic voice, Kiki Baby tells the story of how she is exploited by her mother and needy neighbors in 1931 Germany.
The past twelve years haven’t been kind to the fluffy, felty band of misfit marionettes known collectively as the Muppets. In the dozen or so years since their last big screen outing (the underrated Muppets from Space), they have been relegated to fast food commercials and shoddy made-for-TV movies (Muppetphiles were hard-pressed to decide which was worse, It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie or The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz).
All that can now be forgotten (if not quite forgiven) with this past weekend’s release of their new hit movie, simply titled The Muppets. And while it doesn’t reach the Muppetational greatness of The Muppet Movie or The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets does serve as an entertaining reintroduction of Kermit and Company to today’s audiences...
Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of The Muppets at LaughingPlace.com.
Oscar nominated actor Ralph Fiennes, best known as the villainous Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, makes an impressive directorial debut with Coriolanus (opening today in Los Angeles and New York City for awards consideration and going wide in January). This modernized adaptation of one of Shakespeare's least-known plays is nothing if not timely for its provocative examination of how those in power manipulate the masses, at least until the masses get wise to them.
Fiennes also stars and gives a fierce, award-worthy performance as the title Roman general. In the wake of his military victory over the Volscians, led by sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (300's Gerard Butler), Caius Martius "Coriolanus" is promoted by Rome's Senate to the powerful position of Consul. He initially secures the required consent of the Roman populace despite his prickly personality and thinly-veiled contempt for "the rabble." But when Coriolanus's political enemies expose and inflame his absolutist convictions, the public not only withdraws its support but votes for Coriolanus's banishment.
The enraged, humiliated general subsequently seeks out the Volscians and their leader and proposes an alliance against Rome. Surprisingly, Tullus Aufidius receives his former enemy warmly and something of a bromance begins between them. Alas, things don't end so well for the pair; Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's tragedies, after all.
Not unlike other works by the Bard, Coriolanus contains its share of homoerotic elements. This is especially apparent in the devotion the Volscian troops show their new co-leader, shaving their heads to appear like him, toning their bodies and stripping down to tank tops. Fiennes and Butler make a potent combination physically as well as in their mastery of Shakespeare's prose, although Butler's Scottish brogue sometimes makes his lines difficult to understand.
Otherwise, screenwriter John Logan's savvy, streamlined approach to the source material makes Coriolanus easily accessible to movie audiences. The story largely plays out on big-screen televisions, cell phones and the Internet, and the military hardware employed is decidedly Bush-era. Those who have been following the "Occupy" movement will easily find relevant the rallying cry of those opposed to Coriolanus and the Senate: "The people are the city!" As the 99% continue to rise up today against the power-wielding minority, Shakespeare's work proves to be not only poetic but prophetic.
Fiennes' amazing supporting cast includes Vanessa Redgrave (giving her best film performance in years as the general's ruthless mother), Brian Cox and actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain, who won the New York Film Critics award for Best Supporting Actress earlier this week for her turns in The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter. Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd effectively utilizes the same combination of hand-held cameras and sweeping vista shots he did in The Hurt Locker.
Coriolanus is challenging, as all Shakespeare is nowadays to increasingly untrained ears. It likely won't be a big hit at the box office but could reap some significant nominations if not awards and go down as one of the better modern interpretations of his work.