Monday, December 31, 2012

Bring Out the Old, Bring in the New...

It's New Year's Eve, and hope are high
Dance one year in, kiss one good-bye
Another chance, another start
So many dreams to tease the heart.
We don't need a crowded ballroom,
Everything we want is here
And face to face, we will embrace, the perfect year.

Wishing you and yours a happy and safe New Year's Eve!
-- Movie Dearest

Friday, December 28, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: The Best & Worst of 2012 - Homos, Heroes and a Hushpuppy

Not only was a gay-themed movie the best of this past year, in my humble but educated opinion 2012 was a great year for GLBT and mainstream films on the whole.  I counted more movies rating A- or higher in my log than I’ve seen in several years, which made coming up with my top ten very easy.  I’ve actually “cheated” and linked together a few films of equal critical assessment and related themes, so you will find more than ten movies on my list below.  I also must confess there were a few much-ballyhooed holiday releases (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained) that I haven't been able to screen yet.

1.    Keep the Lights On (Music Box Films):  Writer-director Ira Sachs’ semi-autobiographical exploration of love and addiction between two gay men, played with admirable honesty by Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth, is the one perfect movie I saw all year.  While it has been criminally neglected for year’s-end awards by the Golden Globes and mainstream critics’ groups thus far, it is up for several Independent Spirit awards and won the Berlin International Film Festival’s Teddy Award for best GLBT film.  There is plenty to appreciate — and learn from — here whether one is homosexual, heterosexual or otherwise.

2.    Amour (Sony Pictures Classics):  Similarly, Michael Haneke’s powerful depiction of the cost of romantic commitment between an elderly man and his wife (the stunning Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) has universal applications.  A couple of horror movie-ish moments are the film’s only missteps, even though it ends up being something of a ghost story.

3.    Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight):  This instantly lovable, amazingly accomplished low-budget feature film debut by director Benh Zeitlin boasts fantastic performances by non-professionals Quvenzhane Wallis (as its 6-year old heroine Hushpuppy) and Dwight Henry.  It is also a timely affirmation of family and community as the greatest strengths against threatening forces.  The film has racked up numerous awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

4.    Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features):  It isn’t often that a movie comes along that is best and most immediately described as charming, but Wes Anderson’s latest is just that.  This saga of pre-teen lovers on the lam from an all-star adult cast including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and — best of all— Tilda Swinton as the nameless, villainous “Social Services” is a beautifully designed, totally enjoyable hoot for kids and adults alike.

5.    Robot & Frank (Samuel Goldwyn Films):  Frank Langella gives a lovely performance as a cantankerous, elderly ex-thief in the not too distant future whose children arrange for him to have an artificially-intelligent caretaker (voiced by gay fave Peter Sarsgaard of Kinsey and Green Lantern fame).  An unlikely and ultimately touching friendship develops between the two.  Oscar winner Susan Sarandon and another gay fave, James Marsden (Hairspray), also star in this gem, which won the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance.

6.    Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros.):  A lengthy, heady and visually spectacular adaptation of David Mitchell’s time-traveling novel that was an undeserved flop at the US box office.  Tom Hanks heads the big-name cast in multiple roles, and a gay romance is a key component of its puzzle-box plot.  The film was helmed by the trio of trans director Lana Wachowski and her brother Andy (of The Matrix fame) and Tom Tykwer, whose last movie was the bisexuality-themed Three.

7.    The Avengers (Marvel/Disney) and The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony Pictures):  Just when I was feeling worn out by the recent glut of increasingly-indistinguishable superhero movies, along came these two smart, thrilling epics by offbeat filmmakers (Joss Whedon and Marc Webb, respectively).  The long-awaited teaming of Marvel Comics’ greatest do-gooders as well as a seemingly-needless “reboot” of the web-slinger’s origins both struck gold dramatically and at the box office, with British actor Andrew Garfield proving to be a particularly inspired casting choice as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

8.    Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Sundance Selects) and Somewhere Between (Long Shot Factory/Ladylike Films):  The two best documentaries I saw all year found their origins in China, though both are made by American filmmakers.  The former is a no-holds-barred biography of the famed artist and blogger, who has consistently defied government censorship in calling for greater freedom of speech in the People’s Republic.  Somewhere Between, meanwhile, provides an intimate, insightful look into the challenges facing children adopted from China by US parents.  Both films reveal it’s not such a small world after all.

9.    Bully (The Weinstein Company):  A timely, potentially life-changing documentary focusing on several young people bullied by their peers for one ridiculous reason or another.  It shows, shockingly but also somewhat predictably, that the juvenile perpetrators may not be so much to blame as their ignorant parents and impotent teachers, who repeatedly turn a blind eye to the abuse.  The movie sparked a silly ratings controversy but was ultimately released in a PG-13 version that ought to be required viewing in high schools nationwide.

10.    Skyfall (Sony Pictures) and Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Epix):  It is certainly fitting, though initially hardly guaranteed, that the 50th anniversary of James Bond’s cinematic exploits in 2012 would result in one of the very best and most financially-successful films to date featuring the superspy, as well as in an exceptional documentary tracing the often-tortured history of the Bond films.  Bond-age is obviously alive and well.  Oh, James!   

Honorable Mentions (movies that rated a B+ in my critic’s log but in no particular order): The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, The Sessions, Return, The Grey, The Invisible War, Sassy Pants, Brave, Love Free or Die, How to Survive a Plague, Argo, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Flight and The Cabin in the Woods.

And my considered picks for the five worst movies of 2012 are:
1.    Magic Mike (Warner Bros.):  Along with many of my fellow gays, I was suckered into seeing this male-stripper epic with a gaggle of my pals during its largely sold-out opening weekend.  The stripteases are coyly shot, the characters are way too hetero given the setting (with the possible exception of the club’s impresario, played to the hilt by Matthew McConaughey), and the central love story dull.  Give me Christopher Atkins in 1982’s One Night in Heaven any day over this!

2.    The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Adopt Films):  I’m not sure which irritated me more: the obnoxious trans musician/performance artists at the center of this documentary or the in-your-face style employed by filmmaker Marie Losier.  At any rate, I’m sorry to say this is one GLBT-interest tale best left unseen by our community.

3.    Prometheus (20th Century Fox): This much-hyped prequel/sequel/reboot of the classic 1979 shocker Alien turned out to be baffling bordering on the incoherent.  Though stylishly made in 3D by the original’s director, Ridley Scott, and featuring memorable turns by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, it ultimately commits the sin of being more pretentious than terrifying.

4.    One for the Money (Lionsgate):  The bounty-hunting Stephanie Plum character created by novelist Janet Evanovich is definitely deserving of big-screen treatment.  Alas, this halfhearted effort wasn’t it.  Katherine Heigl gives the role her best but she seems stifled, as do her gay-friendly supporting cast members Debbie Reynolds, John Leguizamo, Debra Monk and Daniel Sunjata.

5.    The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (Summit):  Calling this closing chapter of the teeny-bopper vampire quintology the best in the series is fairly faint praise, since its predecessors are arguably the most artistically-deficient blockbusters ever made.  Credit gay director Bill Condon for the finale’s more adventurous spirit. 

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reel Thoughts: The 2012 Neelys

EDITOR’S NOTE: The day before his untimely death on December 8, our friend Neil Cohen filed his annual list of the best and worst movies of 2012, which would turn out to be his last article for Echo Magazine, Phoenix's long-running GLBT publication. He called these recaps of the past year in film the "Neely Awards", named after Neely O’Hara, the starlet played by Patty Duke in The Valley of the Dolls. Movie Dearest extends special thanks to Echo Magazine for providing us with the following for posting here.

If judged by this year’s best actor competition, 2012 was a very good year. Daniel Day Lewis, star of Lincoln, is duking it out with Bill Murray’s Franklin Roosevelt from Hyde Park on Hudson. Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock is up against Ben Affleck’s faux 1979 filmmaker Tony Mendez from Argo. And Richard Gere’s 2008-era Robert Miller from Arbitrage is ready to join the fray against 1980s-era John Hawkes from The Sessions. For the most part, the best films of the year all seemed to be living in the past, including a trip back in time to Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and a blast from the past in the 1990s-set The Perks of Being a Wallflower.


Les Misérables: The decades long wait is over, and while Les Misérables isn’t a perfect film, it features enough perfect elements to make it the best film of the year. Anne Hathaway’s heartbreaking performance as Fantine and Hugh Jackman’s tour de force Jean Valjean are reason enough to see the film, and director Tom Hooper keeps most of the show’s power and emotion intact.
Why it rocks: That music! The emotions! “I Dreamed A Dream” will bring tears to your eyes.

Hitchcock: Sure, Anthony Hopkins doesn’t look just like the Master of Suspense, but he creates an Alfred Hitchcock who garners our sympathy and respect. Helen Mirren as his long-suffering wife Alma is just as good.
Why it rocks: The delicious behind-the-scenes look at the making of Psycho is irresistible, with fantastic performances from Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Toni Collette and Jessica Biel.

Argo: Director Ben Affleck proves his talents with this story ripped from the history vaults of the best worst plan to rescue a group of Americans from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis by faking a cheesy sci-fi movie. Affleck is great on screen as well, and his cast disappears into their ’70s personas perfectly.
Why it rocks: As with Hitchcock, the behind-the-scenes stuff in Hollywood and Washington DC is funny and entertaining, while the Iranian scenes have more nail-biting suspense than you’d expect, especially knowing the outcome. Plus, all those ’70’s trappings — the hair, the clothes, the old-fashioned technology — are priceless.

ParaNorman: The best animated film of the year featured a boy who is bullied because he’s different — he sees dead people. Norman’s fight to save his touristy, witch-obsessed town from its evil mascot is a lot of fun, but its anti-bullying message comes through loud and clear.
Why it rocks: With its message of tolerance, ParaNorman is the most gay-positive animated film yet. Plus it features a knock-out funny “outing” you’ll never see coming.

Magic Mike: If you’re going to make a sexy male stripper movie, you might as well cast some of the hottest men in Hollywood and get auteur Steven Soderbergh to direct it and give it some class. Drool-worthy Channing Tatum is funny and likable in the title role, which was inspired by his own life of taking-it-off in Florida. The story is straight off the Saturday Night Fever template of a sexy stud finding his way out of a dead-end life, but the on-stage scenery is way better.
Why it rocks: Let me count the ways. Hot and out Matt Bomer, ripped and rough Joe Manganiello, chiseled and dangerous Matthew McConaughey and even dull Alex Pettyfer make this the best-looking cast of the year. Sharp writing helps, too.

Bully: Lee Hirsch’s heartbreaking documentary shed much-needed light on the epidemic of bullying in our schools and created a dialogue from the moment the ratings board tried to slap it with an R rating. Particularly moving are the story of Kelby, a lesbian in Tuttle, Oklahoma who was openly mocked by teachers, and the story of Tyler Long’s suicide and his courageous parents’ quest to prevent the same kind of bullying.
Why it rocks: Documentaries can right a huge number of wrongs. Bully is an incredibly powerful weapon to effect change.

Safety Not Guaranteed: A trio of newspaper reporters goes in search of a man who posted an ad looking for “someone to travel back in time with me. Safety not guaranteed… I have only done this once.” Jake Johnson (New Girl), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and indie film regular Mark DuPlass enliven this highly unusual comic drama.
Why it rocks: The deadpan Plaza and possibly nuts DuPlass have great chemistry, and the story of investigating a tabloid topic like time travel is a perfect set-up for a film.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Fans of the book are thrilled that the author Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed this film version, but audiences were thrilled by the smart look at high school life and the excellent performances by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, who played his gay character with wit and depth that made him come to life.
Why it rocks: Some might say the rock soundtrack, but the ensemble of Watson, Lerman and Miller, as well as the early-’90s setting, is what really makes the film take off.

Silver Linings Playbook: This slice of crazy life in Philadelphia features Bradley Cooper in his best performance yet as a bipolar guy pining for his unfaithful wife. He learns to move on with the help of a fellow outcast played by a luminous Jennifer Lawrence. Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker all give amazing performances.
Why it rocks: It’s the ultimate date night compromise: sports fever meets ballroom dancing! The family dynamics between Cooper and DeNiro really strike a chord, as does the message about letting go of the past and seizing every moment you can. Plus, Lawrence has never been better.

Life of Pi: Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee brings the best-selling novel to the screen with the most breathtaking use of 3-D yet. This castaway story of an Indian boy trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is a life-affirming story of overcoming obstacles, while it doesn’t shy away from showing the death part of the “Circle of Life” either.
Why it rocks: The CGI tiger (named "Richard Parker") is amazingly expressive and lifelike, while the visuals throughout the film can’t be matched by any other film this year.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: This return to the Middle Earth of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is actually a prequel, just like J.R.R. Tolkien’s book. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is summoned by Sir Ian McKellen’s wizard Gandalf to assist a band of dwarfs in freeing their homeland from an evil dragon. It is chock full of eye-popping action scenes, made even more so by being filmed at 48 frames per second, twice the normal speed.
Why it rocks: The message of finding courage when tested is a great one for kids, not to mention that Andy Serkis’ Gollum is just as certifiably crazy as ever. Is it worth three films? We’ll see, but it is filled with epic battles against orcs, trolls and goblins that will warm the heart of the geek inside all of us.


A Thousand Words: Eddie Murphy stars in a bomb. That isn’t surprising, but what is shocking is how awful this bomb is, even by Murphy’s low standards. Every time he utters a word, a tree of life in his back yard loses a leaf on its way to dying. The audience feels the same way with every passing minute.
Why it sucks: A concept where Murphy is punished for every word he says would have been more fitting for Pluto Nash, but as it is, it’s the weakest premise yet for one of the actor’s flops.

That’s My Boy: Adam Sandler stars in a rancid comedy. Again, you might ask, “Which one?” Basing a comedy off of the Mary Kay LeTourneau molestation case wasn’t brilliant to begin with, but Sandler’s blind confidence in the charm of his annoying character, a man who was seduced by his teacher as a kid and is now a failure trying to reconnect with his son, is really deluded. Andy Samberg better pick better projects in the future if he wants to move past Saturday Night Live.
Why it sucks: Even compared to his usual characters, Sandler’s Donny is a blot on the history of cinema. Sandler brings out the worst in every actor he uses, but at least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

October Baby: This story of a girl who sets out to find the mother who tried to abort her is right-wing propaganda supporting the ongoing “war on women.” The bad acting is just the icing on the rotten cake.
Why it sucks: The issue of a woman’s right to choose is far too complicated and important for this kind of ham-fisted propaganda. It’s a cheap shot in the national discussion.

Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure: These things are oogie alright, although I don’t think they’re supposed to inspire nightmares in kids and migraines in adults. If the warning, “From the makers of Teletubbies” doesn’t scare you off, the horrifying cameos by Jaime Pressly, Toni Braxton, Cloris Leachmen and Chazz Palminteri should.
Why it sucks: “We’re the Oogies!” shouted in voices that will peel paint.

Possession: Oooooooo, a spooky demon box at a garage sale possesses a little girl. How will Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick save their daughter? This PG-13 scare fest is light on the scares and heavy on the claustrophobic “we didn’t have a budget for a full cast or a good screenplay” schlock that plagues most of these Insidious rip-offs.
Why it sucks: Morgan seems more and more like a hungover Javier Bardem. Jumanji had more scares than this tired garage sale reject.

Joyful Noise: It pains me to diss a Dolly Parton/Queen Latifah movie, but since it takes place in a church, I have to tell the truth and shame the devil. A Joyful Noise is full of noise and short on joy. Parton can’t give a bad performance, but her squabbles with her rival for church choir director aren’t funny and the story feels like a tired Glee rip-off. A concert featuring Parton and Latifah, along with co-stars Kris Kristofferson, Newsies star Jeremy Jordan and Legally Blonde’s Andy Karl would have been a far better choice.
Why it sucks: Between the forced whimsy and the curdled fighting, you just want to shout “Shut up and sing!” at the screen.

Friends With Kids: With friends like these, who needs enemies? Cut from the “Problems Yuppies Have” cookbook, this bitter-tasting dramedy about two friends who decide to have a kid together is no Bridesmaids, even though it shares some of the same cast. Director Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) should have hired a better writer and star than Jennifer Westfeldt if she wanted people to warm to her film.
Why it sucks: Westfeldt and Adam Scott’s annoying conversations late at night are meant to be Bridesmaids racy and hilarious, but they’re like something written by an alien who doesn’t quite understand human beings yet.

Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman, who’s made a career of filming WASPs in their natural habitat, overdoses on quirkiness with this annoying film about a trio of do-gooders at a politically correct Ivy League college. Greta Gerwig plays a clueless queen bee who ineffectively tries to help everyone she meets, oblivious to her and the film’s shortcomings.
Why it sucks: The annoying preciousness of this film will send you to the dentist from grinding your teeth. It’s nice that Stillman makes movies he likes, but does he have to inflict them on us?

2016: Obama’s America: Just what this country needed : another divisive, race-baiting piece of propaganda intended to stir up the crazies in the Right Wing. Disgraced filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza wastes our time fabricating a fictional Barack Obama and fretting about what the US will be like after his presidency.
Why it sucks: Who won that election anyway? Americans are finally taking Nancy Reagan’s advice and just saying “no” to Right Wing conspiracy nuts.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Would you believe it’s the second film of the year about a person who dies when all the leaves fall, this time from the title character’s shins? Nothing goes right, from the tone to the acting to the awful framing device. Cutesy and saccharine, Timothy Green is odd alright, just not very good.
Why it sucks: YouTube was on fire with clips of permanently scarred children sobbing from the film’s manipulations.

One for the Money: Katherine Heigl ruins another movie. Not only that, she torpedoed the much-loved Stephanie Plum novels of Janet Evanovich as a potential franchise. Maybe the story of a Jersey girl who becomes a bounty hunter would have worked with an actress that doesn’t send audiences into fits of revulsion. It only took Hollywood 18 years to do this first film version, so don’t hold your breath.
Why it sucks: Two words: Katherine Heigl. And the script by committee didn’t help.

And now for The Chloe Sevigny Award for Worst Actor and Actress of the Year:
Worst Actress: In a year when Kristin Stewart produced multiple performances, she was handily beaten for this honor by the monumentally wooden and unwatchable performance of Cody Horn in the otherwise tasty Magic Mike. Why would anyone cast her? Perhaps because her father is Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios?

Worst Actor: The winner raised his status from annoying to insufferable in just one film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Dev Patel went from acclaim in Slumdog Millionaire to annoying in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, but nothing can prepare you for the full-on Indian minstrel show he puts on in Marigold. It is no wonder that audiences can’t wait to get back to the Brits, like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson, while watching the film. They’re amazing, but Patel makes every scene he’s in nearly unbearable.

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reverend’s Interview: Family Man

Some of us have no doubt noticed attractive actor Garret Dillahunt in our living rooms each week as one of the ensemble cast members of Raising Hope.  Dillahunt plays Burt Chance, patriarch of the Fox comedy series’ trashy but lovable family co-headed by Martha Plimpton.

He can also currently be seen on the big screen in the acclaimed independent film Any Day Now.  Dillahunt and out actor Alan Cumming star as a gay couple in West Hollywood, circa 1979.  They cross paths with Marco (Isaac Leyva), a neglected teenager afflicted by Down Syndrome, and soon undertake a legal battle to adopt the young man.  Scheduled to open in Los Angeles and New York today and in other cities soon after, the sweet but ultimately heart-wrenching Any Day Now has racked up an impressive number of audience awards for Best Feature at multiple GLBT and mainstream film festivals, including Outfest.  Cumming has also been honored several times as Best Actor for his performance.

The friendly, easy-going Dillahunt, who just turned 48 in November, recently spoke with Reverend from the set of Raising Hope.  Though straight and married to actress Michelle Hurd, Dillahunt is no stranger to gay roles.  “Oh yeah, I’ve played gay lots of times,” he told me.  “I played Prior Walter in Angels in America for nine months, among other gay roles.  The stigma (that historically kept straight actors from taking gay parts) certainly seems to be gone.”

Dillahunt spoke appreciatively of one actor he credits with helping to eliminate the stigma.  “I’m probably dating myself, but I was so impressed by Daniel Day-Lewis in My Beautiful Laundrette.”  The 1986 British drama marked Day-Lewis’ film debut as the tough, unapologetic boyfriend of a closeted Pakistani man.  Day-Lewis has since become one of the most respected actors in the industry, having won two Academy Awards to date and likely to be nominated again this year for his turn as Lincoln.

Of his decision to take the role of Paul in Any Day Now, Dillahunt said “I thought it was a good script and a really interesting character that would be a challenge.”  Paul is a closeted lawyer in the District Attorney’s office and, as a result, is both excited and frightened by the prospect of being half of a same-sex couple adopting a child.  “I was just coming off another project and was going to take a hiatus with my wife when the script came along,” Dillahunt recalls.  “My wife read it and said, ‘You should do it.’  So much for taking a vacation,” he laughed.

The actor has been surprised and edified by the response to Any Day Now.  “I’m not surprised it was good or I guess I’ll say important, but I didn’t think it would be so well-accepted.  I’ve been in some award-winning films (including Winter’s Bone, The Road and the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men) but I don’t think I’ve been in one that has won every audience award where its played.”

Dillahunt also speaks highly of his co-star, Alan Cumming.  “He’s something, I dig him” he said initially before going on to rave: “I’ve been a fan of his since (the 1995 movie) Circle of Friends and had seen him in Cabaret on Broadway.  It was so easy working with him; he’s like a little piece of joy.  He’s hopeful and really good for the character of Rudy (Paul’s drag-performer partner) in that way.  He’s also really strong and forceful, and he never breaks eye contact with you when you’re speaking with him.”

Cumming sings a number of songs in Any Day Now.  These include a climactic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” which Dillahunt describes as one of his favorite moments in the film, and “Come to Me,” the disco classic originally sung by France Joli.

Isaac Leyva, who plays Marco and has Down Syndrome himself, also drew praise.  “Nothing against Alan or me, but Isaac is probably the best actor in the thing,” Dillahunt admitted.  “He is a very emotional young man and that shows, which is also due to the director Travis Fine.  Isaac was also completely focused all the time.  If Alan and I would get out of hand, he would rein us in (laughs).”  Other, well-known members of the film’s supporting cast include Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc), Frances Fisher (Titanic), Mindy Sterling (Austin Powers) and Michael Nouri (Flashdance).

Dillahunt has more often than not throughout his career played villainous roles, including in the recent time-travel hit Looper, so he relished working on Any Day Now as well as his continuing comedic turn on Raising Hope.  “We’re about halfway through our third season and I love it,” he said of the series.  “I love the cast, especially Martha Plimpton; I’m very lucky.”  Comedy legend Cloris Leachman also appears on the show as the family’s demented Maw Maw.

He also got to break from his acting norm in 2006, when Dillahunt played the recurring role of Jesus Christ on the controversial, short-lived religious TV series The Book of Daniel.  “We had our hopes for that show but it got hammered before it even got on the air,” he recalls.  “But regardless, I liked it and appreciated the effort of it.  I had just come off HBO’s violent Deadwood and maybe had to atone for my sins (laughs).”

Before concluding our time, I asked Dillahunt if he had any thoughts in general on the rapidly-accelerating recognition of same-sex marriage and GLBT rights in the US.  “I’m personally pleased about it,” he replied immediately before pausing and remarking, “I want to say something beautiful” and laughed.

Dillahunt then continued: “There have been too many people in my life who have been influential or important to me who were gay that it seems insane to me at this point that they don’t have equal rights.  Everyone should be free to choose who they want to spend their lives with.”

I probably couldn’t say it better myself.  Click here for more information about Any Day Now.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Neil Cohen, November 13, 1963 - December 8, 2012

Dear Movie Dearest readers:

It is with deep sadness that I must report the untimely death of Neil Cohen, my longtime friend and fellow writer/critic/movie fan.

Neil, who wrote about film and theater for Phoenix's Echo Magazine for almost 20 years, started contributing his Reel Thoughts reviews and interviews to my blog Movie Dearest in 2008, and his pieces always sparkled with the patented "Neil Cohen wit". Neil, who was a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, counted among his favorite films such Movie Dearest classics as Carrie, Grease, Hairspray, The Parent Trap, Serial Mom and Showgirls.

Over the past few years, Neil gave us great interviews with such stars of stage and screen and GLBT faves as Betty Buckley, Charles Busch, Lynda Carter, Kristin Chenoweth, Christine Ebersole, Leslie Jordan, Stacy Keach, Patti LuPone, Terrence McNally, Julianne Moore, Bebe Neuwirth, Coco Peru, Carrie Preston, Mark Ruffalo, Chita Rivera, Christopher Sieber, Mink Stole, Marlo Thomas, Marisa Tomei (pictured with Neil, above) and, his final piece for Movie Dearest, Broadway legend Bernadette Peters.

In addition to his role as film critic, Neil was a playwright, stage director and actor extraordinaire. His many brilliant performances (as both male and female characters) included those seen in The Bad Seed, La Cage aux Folles, The Maids, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, SantaLand Diaries, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and his own, long-running murder mystery dinner theater production Murder by Proxy.

As befitting a lifelong lover of theater, Neil suffered a fatal heart attack Saturday night while performing in a play. He passed doing what he loved.

Please join me and my fellow Movie Dearest contributor Chris Carpenter in expressing heartfelt condolences to Neil's family. We will all miss his joy, his humor, his Oscar parties, his Suzanne Pleshette impersonation; we love you Neil, now and forever.

-- Kirby Holt
Creator and Editor of Movie Dearest

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Silence is Golden

Homosexuality remains a largely taboo topic in mainland China, but that hasn’t stopped filmmaker Simon Chung from setting another gay-themed movie there.  Speechless, now available on DVDfrom Breaking Glass Pictures, follows Innocent and End of Love as the writer-director’s latest, most provocative look yet at Asian men who love other men.

The film opens with the discovery of a naked man from the West (French actor Matthieu Vital) along the banks of a Chinese river.  Taken into custody by the local police, the stranger seems either unwilling or unable to speak.  He is transferred to a hospital, where a cute, kindly orderly, Jiang (Gao Qilon), takes an interest in him.  When Jiang learns the new patient is to be committed to a psychiatric asylum, he decides to spirit him away to his uncle’s remote home in the country.

Although the stranger remains speechless (hence the film’s title), the two men bond further and even sleep together in a non-sexual way.  Jiang gradually begins to discover clues to his new friend’s past.  This leads to the recounting of a secondary love story between Luke -- which is eventually revealed to be the patient’s name -- and a fellow university student named Han (the very attractive Jiang Jian).  Unfortunately, Han has a girlfriend, Ning (Yu Yung Yung), who proves to be dangerously jealous.

Filmed in Mandarin with English subtitles, Speechless provides an intriguing exploration of modern Chinese culture’s acceptance (or lack thereof) of homosexuality and of East-West relations in general.  While there is a minimal amount of sex in the film, what is depicted is about as graphic as a Chinese filmmaker dare show lest they risk the censors’ wrath.  And whereas the romance between Han and the then-still speaking Luke is engrossing, it is the more subtle growth in love and understanding between silent Luke and Jiang that has stayed with me.  Chung also gets strong yet sensitive performances from his young cast members.  See Speechless, and join me in continuing to keep an eye on its bold, talented director.

Of course, more than a few religious institutions remain intolerant of homosexuality too, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints may well be the most repressive.  The LDS’ (or Mormons’) mistreatment of gay members has been explored previously in the 2003 movie Latter Days as well as the powerful play Facing East, (which is currently raising funds toward a film adaptation via Kickstarter through December 14th; please consider contributing).

Jon Garcia’s directorial debut The Falls, available on DVDtoday, is the latest entry in this growing gay-Mormon subgenre.  Relative newcomers Nick Ferrucci and Benjamin Farmer are impressive as, respectively, Elder Smith and Elder Merrill, 20-year old Mormon missionaries assigned as “companions” in Oregon (the film was shot in Portland over two weeks for only $7,000).

Even though Elder Smith has a girlfriend whom he is planning to marry and Elder Merrill is son to one of the church’s highest-ranking leaders, they soon find themselves attracted to each other.  The pair has to keep their relationship secret, however, lest they be publicly exposed and excommunicated.  As Elder Smith hopefully observes while discussing their perilous position with his new BF, “We’re both on the brink of something new.”

The first half of The Falls is noteworthy for its casual, authentic glimpse into the faith and daily lives of LDS missionaries.  It loses its footing somewhat once the new lovers, having tasted forbidden fruit and liked it, also try smoking marijuana and drinking with a military vet they are ostensibly trying to convert.  As the Southern-bred neophyte drawlingly states upon noticing his instructors’ heightened closeness, “You two seem to be in a slightly different disposition.”  Not unpredictably, the men’s affair is discovered and Elder Smith, at least, has to face his local church council.  Ferrucci gives an excellent, heartfelt reading of a particularly well-written monologue during this climactic scene.

The Falls covers much of the same ground as Latter Days when it comes to the struggle between devotion to one’s faith and one’s sexual longings but The Falls is, thankfully, less sensationalistic.  Neither Elder Smith nor Elder Merrill has to endure shock treatments or ice baths here, even if those have been the regrettable, worst-case experiences of some GLBT Mormons.  Here’s hoping and praying that GLBT people of all faiths find acceptance from their communities sooner, not later.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Speechless: B
The Falls: C+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tune in to TCM: What Ever Happend to Baby Peggy

Before even Shirley Temple, there was Baby Peggy, the movies' first child star. Born Diana Serra Cary in 1918, by age five she had starred in over 150 shorts (most of them now, sadly, lost), had legions of fans, and was earning over a million dollars a year (thus earning her the nickname "The Million Dollar Baby"). But fame, especially for young stars, is indeed fleeting, and by the 1930s she was flat broke and working as an extra.

In later years, Peggy became an author, silent film historian (along with Carla Laemmle, Mickey Rooney and Lupita Tovar, she is one of the few surviving stars from the silent era) and children's rights advocate, specifically for child actors. Working conditions for child actors at that time were shockingly atrocious; for example, Peggy worked eight hours a day, six days a week, and had to perform her own stunts, such as when she was held underwater until she fainted(!).

The life and career of Baby Peggy is examined in the new documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, which will premiere tonight on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Watch the trailer below:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Monthly Wallpaper - December 2012: Santas

Since the early silent era to this year's Rise of the Guardians, cinematic Clauses have been ho-ho-ho-ing their way into the hearts and movie memories of generations of film fans. Whether they are conquering the Martians or winning Oscars are just being very, very bad, these Fathers Christmas and Kris Kringles always put us in the holiday spirit.

So what better way to honor them than with their very own Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper for this December. Seasons greetings... and don't forget to put out the cookies!

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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: Songs of Bernadette

Few Broadway stars generate the unadulterated love and devotion in their fans that Bernadette Peters does. Patti Lupone, Ethel Merman, Liza Minnelli, Betty Buckley and Bebe Neuwirth all have their obsessive fans, but Peters is in a class by herself, thanks in no small part to her frequent collaboration with musical genius Stephen Sondheim. Whenever she is asked why gay audiences love her so much, she always quips, “Because they have great taste.”

There is much more to Peters’ appeal, which lucky Scottsdale audiences will discover when the icon brings her musical evening to the annual Scottsdale Center for the Arts benefit ARTrageous on December 1st. A look at Peters’ calendar shows that she is selective with the number of shows she’ll perform, which makes her appearance this weekend that much more special.

Along with her long time collaborator Marvin Laird, Peters will entertain the audience with music from her long career, and even promises to lounge across the top of the piano while doing a sultry version of Peggy Lee’s “Fever”.

Of course, if you can’t score tickets, you only need to turn on NBC’s deliciously addictive drama Smash to see Ms. Peters playing Megan Hilty’s mother, a Broadway star whose success and perfectionism have scarred poor Ivy (Hilty). Peters hinted that after living in her mother’s shadow, Ivy has to deal with her mother being in the show with her. “You try to make a name for yourself, and then your mother whose shadow you live under is in the show!” Peters said, laughing. “Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote me a wonderful song, and I’m going to do another one, but I don’t know what it is yet.”

The sixty-four year-old powerhouse is guaranteed to give a show legs or keep it running longer than its original star, which is what happened when she gave a devastating performance as Sally in Sondheim’s Follies on Broadway and, before that, took over the part of Desiree in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music from the well-regarded Catherine Zeta Jones.

A well-known animal welfare advocate, Peters co-founded the charity Broadway Barks with her deaqr friend Mary Tyler Moore. The annual event brings out all of Broadways brightest stars like Angela Lansbury and others who donate their time to help unwanted animals find new homes.

Ms. Peters phoned from her home in New York City just days after Hurricane Sandy had devastated Manhattan and the rest of the Northeast.

“I’m very lucky because I live on the Upper West Side and we made it through very well, but friends who live downtown are still without power. But I have another friend who lives all the way down in Tribeca and one of the parking attendants in the garage lost his life. The water must have come rushing in and he drowned.” She posted a link to Broadway Cares on her web site to help fans donate to the victims. “They are an amazing organization. The word “cares,” they really mean it. They really do whatever they can when disaster hits.”

Peters and Moore hit upon the idea to found Broadway Barks when Peters was starring in Annie Get Your Gun. Now approaching its fifteenth year, the event is a fun way for the public to meet their Broadway idols and rescue pets from the shelters.

NC: I’m thrilled that you’ll be in Scottsdale in December. Do you have some favorite songs that you will be singing for us?
BP: There are certain ones I love just hearing the sentiments of like “No One is Alone” and “Children Will Listen.” Those are important things in life, and just for me to hear them again is a great reminder of how we should be thinking about each other and our lives. I do Rodgers and Hammerstein – “Some Enchanted Evening” – and I do “When You Wish Upon a Star” and I do some Sondheim as well.

NC: I flew out to NYC just to see you in Follies, and I was blown away.
BP: Thank you. That’s quite something, that show, isn’t it? I’m bringing two songs from Follies also.

NC: How did you become the go-to woman to bring Sondheim’s songs and characters to life, and how do you identify with his works?
BP: You know, I’m just so fortunate that he gives me so many things to sing about. He writes the music and the lyrics and he says exactly what the character is feeling. He writes the notes which expresses the passion and he writes the words that express the emotion of the moment. He writes about really great stuff... what a gift he is to us! He’s a national treasure, we’re just so blessed to have him.

NC: You must hear this a lot, but you are so iconic in all the roles you have created; how does someone with your talent and resumé still find challenging work?
BP: I trust the universe! (Laughing) And then things come to me. When I plan something, forget it, it never happens. Right now, I’m doing Smash. I am having fun with that because it’s an interesting role.

NC: I just saw the trailer for the film Coming Up Roses. It looks terrific.
BP: Thank you. It’s loosely based on the director’s story. She’s a fifteen year-old girl and I play her mother who has emotional issues. Back in those days, they didn’t really put names on them. She’s not only bipolar but also emotional, scary issues and the girl takes care of her. It’s sort of sad. But family triumphs in the end. It’s a very touching story, I think.

NC: I was touched to see your support of Spirit Day. What else would you like your GLBT fans to know about your support of our issues?
BP: Well, it’s interesting, I just came back yesterday from performing on my “dream cruise” which was that it never left the port and my audience was a gay audience. It was the most wonderful, lovely experience. But in the end I go out in the audience and sing a lullaby and I thought, “Why is this different?” They’re just so open and willing and eager and open. I think that their spirits are just so open, it’s really a beautiful thing. That’s what I felt from the audience, this great warmth. It was lovely, just lovely.

5 Other Places to See Bernadette Peters:
  • All’s Fair: This 1976 sitcom by two of the writers on I Love Lucy, Maude and All in the Family cast Peters as liberal photographer Charley Drake who is dating conservative writer Richard Barrington, played by Richard Crenna. “Richard Crenna really knew about scripts. I just felt honored to be in his company.”
  • Silent Movie: Before The Artist, comedy genius Mel Brooks filmed an almost silent movie starring Peters, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise and every star in Hollywood in hilarious cameos. “He pushed the envelope, but it was always funny. I think what happens today is that they’re shocking, but they’re not funny.”
  • Gypsy: YouTube videos recall Peters’ amazing performance as Mama Rose on Broadway. “I loved that role. It was like going into therapy... it was like the best therapy I ever had. I sort of lived that life because I was on the road with my mother and my sister in that show.
  • Into the Woods: PBS recorded Peters’ performance as the witch in Sondheim’s twisted take on Grimms' fairy tales, which predated TV’s Once Upon a Time by two decades. “That’s another show that I feel so fortunate to have done, and I’m so glad they recorded it because it’s so funny. You don’t ever get to see it when you’re in it, but I finally watched it and thought, “What a good idea for a show! This is great!” But kids across the country studying theater got to see it and Sunday in the Park with George. And I just think it’s the most beautiful score.”
  • The Jerk and Pennies from Heaven: Peters partnership with Steve Martin produced the iconic idiot comedy The Jerk and the unusual musical Pennies from Heaven, which also includes a dance number by Christopher Walken. Peters won a Golden Globe for her performance in the latter.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Thanksgiving Leftovers

The long, quiet Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend presented me with the opportunity to dive into several recent releases.  Like the offerings laid out on a holiday dinner table, these films ended up representing a variety of flavors and colors — artistically, politically and/or religiously speaking — but I didn’t walk out of any of them completely unsatisfied.

For an appetizer, I couldn’t resist the sexually-charged true story The Sessions.  While it has been generating awards buzz ever since its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, primarily for John Hawkes’ and Helen Hunt’s soul-and-body-baring performances, I was unprepared to find the movie so deeply moving.  I had tears in my eyes for nearly half of the 95-minute running time.  Viewing paralyzed protagonist Mark O’Brien’s plight is inherently humbling, even though the Oscar-worthy Hawkes (an Oscar nominee for Winter’s Bone and also visible in the current Lincoln) invests him with a sense of grace and humor that nullifies any potential pity.  I was equally touched, though, by William H. Macy as the compassionate Roman Catholic priest (seemingly a dying breed nowadays) who serves as Mark’s spiritual and unwitting sexual advisor.  But perhaps more than anything, The Sessions impressed and moved me with its all-too-rare, positive approach to human sexuality.  While Hunt’s real-life sex surrogate is the least-developed character in the film (Hunt deserves kudos for making her more complex), she rightly demonstratesand learns for herselfthat sex entails much more than intercourse.  This is a great movie for adults and even for older adolescents.

I next jumped to what many fellow critics would surely call the turkey in my cinematic buffet: Breaking Dawn Part 2, the finale to the mega-successful Twilight Saga.  Having sat out the first part of the series’ climax after seeing the previous chapters, I was quickly struck by how I apparently hadn’t missed anything but the birth of Bella and Edward’s bizarre vampire-human hybrid baby (who is even more bizarrely named “Renesmee”).  Edward (Robert Pattinson) is a little less gloomy since marrying Bella (Kristen Stewart) in the last chapter and she’s happier too, at least until she receives word that the ruling vampire clan, the Volturi (led by a deliciously campy Michael Sheen), are out to kill Renesmee.  Everything builds to a showdown, which is the case in most of the Twilight films, but this one is truly impressive and features a truly unexpected twist.  If only the other films in the series featured such surprises instead of being so by-the-numbers in adaptation and crafting, the saga might have proven more significant.  At least the filmmakers have truly saved the best for last.

Lincoln arrived in theaters swathed in early critical accolades and a seeming guarantee that it would be the important, “good for you” movie of the year, essentially serving as the green vegetable in one’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Steven Spielberg’s biopic about the 16th president of the United States, resurrected via a compelling performance by two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, boasts a screenplay by gay Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tony Kushner (Angels in America) as well as a massive cast of other award-winning actors including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, David Straithairn, Jackie Earle Haley, Hal Holbrook and many more (watch for a brief but welcome appearance by Tony winner and gay fave Julie White of The Little Dog Laughed and Transformers fame).  The proceedings are beautifully shot and given a burnished, painterly quality, and are supported by typically top-notch art direction, costumes and a John Williams score.  Kushner’s script, however, seems much too narrowly focused on Lincoln’s efforts to pass the 13th amendment that would ban slavery; as my partner aptly commented, the movie should have been more accurately titled The 13th Amendment.  The resultant, generally saintly image projected of the “Great Emancipator” ends up feeling constrained and limited, not to mention historically questionable.  The film is a talky, 150-minute affair but not without interesting modern-day ironies and parallels, including to our GLBT fight for marriage equality.  While worth seeing for Day-Lewis (Field is also great as his wife, Mary Todd), one needs to take the one-sided history depicted in Lincoln with a grain of salt.

For dessert, I took in Ang Lee’s 3D visual spectacle Life of Pi at the end of Thanksgiving weekend, appropriately enough.  I have not read the bestselling book it is adapted from so I knew little of what to expect other than a kid and a tiger stuck in a lifeboat together.  The movie, at least, is a thought-provoking religious parable.  Primarily conveyed by grown-up survivor Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a doubting writer (Rafe Spall, a late-in-the-game replacement for Tobey Maguire), it entails young love in Pi’s native India, a shipwreck that claims the rest of his family, and a handful of exotic animals that also make it to the lifeboat.  One is a full-grown Bengal tiger with the unlikely moniker Richard Parker, superbly brought to life by CGI.  Young Pi (an excellent, wholly believable turn by newcomer Suraj Sharma) must befriend the tiger to make it through what turns out to be more than six months at sea, and he learns more than a few things about both animal and divine nature in the process.  The storytelling approach is used a bit excessively; I think I would have preferred it limited to the opening and close of the film and let the images and action speak for themselves in between.  Otherwise, Life of Pi is a profound, haunting and beautifully-made motion picture experience suitable for ages 10 and up.

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Sessions: B+
Breaking Dawn, Part II: C+
Lincoln: B-
Life of Pi: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.