Monday, January 30, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Grey Matters

If it takes intense trailers and commercials highlighting ravenous wolves, plane crashes and a sharp-shooting Liam Neeson to pack audiences into what turns out to be a meditation on faith and atonement, then so be it. Such is the case with this weekend's big release, The Grey.

Neeson gives one of his best performances to date as John Ottway, a petroleum refinery worker in Alaska. It's a great role that allows Neeson to display both the bad-ass persona popular in past films Taken and The A-Team with his more sympathetic traits previously seen in Schindler's List and Michael Collins (and heard as Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia films). Ottway finds himself one of only seven survivors after the jet taking his crew home goes down in the frigid wilderness. The cold becomes the least of their worries, as the men soon become prey to a pack of vicious, possibly metaphysical/metaphorical wolves.

As the gradually dwindling group makes its way toward what they hope is civilization, each man's past is laid bare. Most of them are guilty of sin in how they have mistreated their wives, children and/or neighbors. The film begins with Ottway reflecting "I don't know why I did half the things I've done," and wondering whether he's been "damned" or "cursed" as the result of his misdeeds. Increasingly, the men's plight takes on the semblance of a communal judgment day. Some come to greater faith in God, a few have the chance to make their peace before the wolves or the elements take them, and Ottway downright puts God to the test (against scriptural advice) before all is said and done.

The Grey was directed by Joe Carnahan, veteran of the similar morality thriller Narc as well as the big-screen version of The A-Team, in which he previously teamed with Neeson. Carnahan co-adapted his latest from a short story, The Ghost Walker. While the script is rife with now standard, profanity-laden macho dialogue, it isn't without humor or -- more significantly -- compassion. Poetry and even prayer figure in the mix too, with one survivor saying to God in all humility: "Thank you for sparing us and helping us. Keep that up if you can."

A classic theological theme of light vs. darkness becomes gradually pronounced, and is dramatized in particular through Masanobu Takayanagi's superb cinematography that utilizes a variety of styles: verite, handheld, standard and spectacular widescreen nature shots. The film's production company and press rep were kind to let me watch The Grey via streaming download since I was unable to attend press screenings, but this is a film that truly should be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated.

And then there are the fearsome wolves, brought to life through a combination of real animals, animatronics and CGI. Religious-minded viewers can debate whether the movie's lupine adversaries are demonic agents of Satan or are a justice-seeking force of God. It is intriguing that the wolves kill those unfortunate humans who cross their path but don't eat them, and that they maraud but also seem to police the men. I think it may have been more effective on Carnahan's part to show less of the wolves, a la Spielberg's handling of the infamous shark in Jaws, and leave their existence even more to the characters' and viewers' imaginations.

Different people will no doubt draw different conclusions from The Grey, depending on one's spiritual/religious background, physical endurance, emotional temperament, and admiration of or aversion to wolves. I look forward to hearing and reading viewers' reactions here and elsewhere. As far as filmmaking expertise goes, though, The Grey may ultimately emerge as one of this new year's better films.

Click here to access a special "film companion"/discussion guide prepared by Allied Faith & Family.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reverend's Report: The Year in GLBT Film Begins

Each January, the eyes of everyone in Hollywood turn toward remote Park City, Utah. While skiing may be on the agenda for some, most film industry insiders are curious about the offerings at this year's Sundance and Slamdance film festivals. The concurrent events ending this weekend provide a sneak preview of independent movies that GLBT audiences can look forward to later in 2012. After all, such popular queer-interest films as Pariah, Circumstance, Contracorriente (Undertow) and Quinceniera all debuted at Sundance in the past.

Some of this year's most intriguing GLBT indies that just had their world or US premieres in Park City include:

Unconditional: From British director Bryn Higgins comes this dark, psycho-sexual tale about bored teenage twins, Kristen and Owen, who meet an older man promising them endless love and good times... if Owen becomes his sister.

Love Free or Die: The bluntly-titled biography of openly gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson, this documentary provides considerable insight into the many obstacles he has endured as he has tried to serve God's people (including death threats) as well as into his longtime relationship with his devoted partner.

Heavy Girls: A poignant German comedy, in which an overweight "mama's boy" teams with his elderly mother's male caregiver to find her when she goes missing. The two men soon discover an unexpected affection for each other. Heavy Girls won two special awards at Slamdance: a Special Jury Award for Bold Originality and the Spirit of Slamdance "Sparky" Award.

The Invisible War: Not specifically GLBT but nonetheless of interest is the latest eye-opening documentary by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith, This Film Is Not Yet Rated). He details how an estimated 30% of women and at least 1% of men serving in the US military have been sexually assaulted by their trusted comrades.

Kelly: A young transgender prostitute searches for love and acceptance in a landscape of broken Hollywood dreams in this powerful documentary.

Keep the Lights On: Documentarian Ira Sachs helmed this fictionalized but no less personal account of a gay relationship fueled as much by addiction as attraction. This film was among the finalists in the Sundance Film Festival's US Dramatic Competition.

How to Survive a Plague: A bracing expose of mostly HIV-positive young men and women who took on the medical establishment during the AIDS epidemic's early years. Not unlike last year's We Were Here, this is a revealing and inspiring documentary.

In addition to features, both Slamdance and Sundance showcased a number of GLBT-interest short films. Notable among these were 33 Teeth, about a hormonal boy who becomes fixated on the comb of his hunky neighbor; The Devotion Project: More Than Ever, the moving true story of two men who forged a 54-year romance against tremendous odds; Park, in which a teenage girl living in a trailer park begins a relationship with an older woman; The Thing, by trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst, finds a trans man, his girlfriend and their pee-shy cat on a road trip to see the title oddity; and Andrew Ahn's intuitive, telling Dol, which focuses on a gay Korean-American man's coming of age through the occasion of his nephew's first birthday.

I can't conclude without mentioning the Slamdance Audience Award winner for Best Feature Narrative, Bindlestiffs. It is directed by Andrew Edison, who has the distinction not only of being the youngest filmmaker at this year's fests but of being the grand-nephew of cinema pioneer Thomas Edison (curiously, both Edisons are deaf in their right ears). Tom Cruise's Joel in 1983's Risky Business didn't have anything on the three degenerate youths (one of them played by the director) desperate to lose their virginity in Bindlestiffs. It is crude, gay-ish, bound to offend some and absolutely hilarious. Watch for it and all the great features and shorts showcased in the Mormon capitol this year.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the makers of Love Free or Die and The Invisible War, who are among the award winners of this year's Sundance Film Festival.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reverend's Reaction: 2011 Oscar Nominations

Nostalgia will reign supreme at this year's Academy Awards, judging by the number of backwards-glancing movies announced Tuesday as nominees. The World War I boy-and-his-steed epic War Horse, the valentines to cinema's early years Hugo and The Artist, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (itself a tribute to/critique of nostalgia), and historical dramas The Help, My Week With Marilyn, Albert Nobbs and The Iron Lady fairly predictably dominated the nominations.

I was disappointed that Tilda Swinton's powerful turn in We Need to Talk About Kevin wasn't recognized, as well as by the Academy's neglect of Leonardo DiCaprio's closet-case incarnation of J. Edgar, which was shut out completely. I'm delighted that Terrence Malick trumped both Steven Spielberg and Stephen Daldry among Best Director finalists for his masterful The Tree of Life. Other pleasant surprises for me included the multiple nods for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Best Actor, Screenplay and Score), the phenomenal Jessica Chastain's nomination for The Help, Nick Nolte's inclusion in the Supporting Actor category for the criminally under-seen Warrior, the recognition of J.C. Chandor's smart Margin Call screenplay, and the wonderful Animated Feature nominee Chico & Rita.

But the biggest surprise out of this year's nominations for pretty much everyone is the incredibly weak Original Song category, which consists of a whopping two contenders. For the past six years, best song submissions have to score above a certain percentage as rated by the music branch's members in order to be nominated. Out of more than 80 songs from 2011 releases considered, only "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets and a song from the animated Rio passed muster. What about the delightful, instantly memorable "Life's a Happy Song" from the Muppets' big-screen revival, or the Glenn Close-penned lullaby "Lay Your Head Down" from the genderbending Nobbs, or -- perhaps the most egregious omission -- "The Living Proof" from The Help. With apparently so few qualifying songs in recent years, I believe the time has come for this Academy branch to either relax its criteria somewhat or (gasp) do away with the category altogether.

If the Academy is truly about quality and justice, The Tree of Life, Moneyball or The Descendants will win the Oscar for Best Picture over enjoyable but overrated front runner, The Artist. Well, maybe they'll get it right when next year's 85th annual Academy Awards roll around.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards will be held and televised on Sunday, February 26th.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Boys and Balls

Most gay men I know tend to avoid sports-themed movies like… well, like sports themselves. We may all be for athletes in their prime but athletics hold appeal for relatively few of us. That being said, Kickoff is a must-see. It is now available on DVDand digital download from Wolfe Video.

This comedy-drama is written and directed by out British filmmaker Rikki Beadle-Blair, who previously helmed such acclaimed GLBT-themed productions as Stonewall, Metrosexuality and Fit. Kickoff takes place entirely on a football (or soccer, to us Yanks) field. It is there that the all-gay Platoon meets an all-straight rival team, the Reapers, for a Sunday competition.

Things quickly devolve into, as one character states, “total non-stop drama-rama.” The issue of gay vs. straight soon becomes secondary, however, to conflicts amongst each team’s members. Among other things, Platoon team captain Archie (the yummy Ian Sharp) freaks out over the fuchsia shorts selected by his partner for the players to wear, and a black male couple discovers they’ve both been having sex on the down low with the same... woman. Meanwhile, the Reapers have to contend with two sparring brothers, one of them a drug addict, and an overly aggressive player who is hooked on steroids.

Very little football is actually played before Kickoff’s finale but that doesn’t stop most of the in-shape, multi-ethnic cast from spending much of the movie shirtless. The script is chock full of Beadle-Blair’s trademark great, snarky dialogue that plays on clichés and stereotypes. While it doesn’t overcome them all, Kickoff could still help advance dialogue between sports-playing members of the gay and straight communities. Sports has probably made stranger bedfellows in the past.

Reverend's Rating: B

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Bala to Ballet

Drug trafficking is estimated to be a $40 billion a year industry in Mexico, where most people live on the equivalent of only $2 in US currency per day. No one is immune -- not even children -- from being victimized by the country's pervasive and violent drug cartels, which have seemingly infiltrated the Mexican government itself.

Gerardo Naranjo's hard-hitting Miss Bala, now playing in Los Angeles and New York, provides a discomfortingly intimate glimpse into the complexities of the Mexico-US drug trade. Inspired by a true story, the film focuses on the unfortunate Laura (Stephanie Sigman), a young woman who yearns for beauty pageant victory but becomes the unwitting pawn of a vicious drug lord, Lino (the very impressive Noe Hernandez, previously seen in Sin Nombre and the Mexican HBO series Capadocia).

The scary yet protective Lino initially spares Laura's life during a dance club massacre. Laura feels compelled, however, to find out what happened to her best friend, who was at the disco but is missing post-attack. This brings Laura back into Lino's path. He exacts increasingly dangerous, degrading demands from her even as he works to help Laura achieve her dream of being crowned Miss Bala during a nationally-televised broadcast.

Laura serves as the naive lens through which viewers get an inside look into a dark, all too realistic world. As a character, I found Laura's cluelessness frustrating at times but Sigman's performance can't be faulted. Also worth noting in a brief role is James Russo, memorable as Axel Foley's loving but doomed best friend in 1984's Beverly Hills Cop. Naranjo stages the initial dance club attack, as well as a showdown between police and Lino's cartel in a freeway underpass and the assassination of a federal agent, with effective intensity.

Miss Bala was produced by Y Tu Mama Tambien acting duo Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. It is Mexico's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film in this year's Academy Awards but was excluded from the list of finalists in the category announced last week. Although I can't say I'm surprised by its absence, Miss Bala shouldn't be written off by adventurous moviegoers. It gives new meaning to the term "fashion victim."

From Bala to ballet, Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance is a revealing documentary about the groundbreaking dance troupe. It is having its sold-out world premiere this Friday, January 27th, as the opening night selection of NYC's Dance on Camera film festival and will make its West Coast debut on February 1st at LA's Colburn School. Whether one is a dance fan or not, gay or straight, it shouldn't be missed.

Narrated by Mandy Patinkin and produced, intriguingly, by Harold Ramis of Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day fame, the doc relates the biographies of dancer-choreographer Robert Joffrey and his longtime partner, Gerald Arpino, as well as the history of the company they founded. Though their romantic relationship had ended by the time of Joffrey's death from AIDS-related complications in 1987, the two men continued living together and remained virtually inseparable. The film incorporates considerable vintage footage of Joffrey at work in addition to interviews with former members of the company who trained under him. As one of them says of the closeted early years of Joffrey's and Arpino's love affair, "Everyone knew they weren't cousins."

And then there are the fantastic dance segments, past and present, through which the evolution of the Joffrey Ballet's unique mix of classical and modern dance styles are chronicled. They include "The Green Table," an anti-war composition that cemented Joffrey's reputation for daring excellence in the 1960's, and several scenes from the blockbuster, Prince-inspired "Billboards."

The company went through an inevitable period of decline in the wake of Joffrey's death and with the rise of modern masters Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp, but it has more recently rebounded following a move from New York to Chicago and under new leadership. Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance serves as a fitting if arguably too brief testament to an art form and its founders.

For more information about these and future US screenings of Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance, visit the film's official website.

Reverend's Ratings:
Miss Bala: B-
Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance: A-

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: Movie of the Year - WEEKEND

While most awards-givers are heaping praise on more mainstream titles, we at Movie Dearest like to take a queerer look at film. Andrew Haigh’s intimate romance Weekend, while every bit as moving as, say, The Descendants or The Artist, is the film that will resonate much more with the GLBT community. Although some found the accents hard to decipher, those who could understand the handsome blokes in Weekend were rewarded with a sweet, sexy, moving romance with a keen understanding of how gay men interact and the walls they put up while seeking companionship. Tom Cullen was a gorgeous teddy bear and Chris New was a purposely abrasive party boy at first, who then dropped his façade when confronted with Cullen’s innate sweetness and lack of pretense. A bittersweet ending was the perfect way to complete this enthralling Weekend.

Honorable Mentions:
In a year overflowing with marvelous female performances on screen, what other film had the amazing collection of women as The Help? Based on the bestseller, The Help is a moving story of the strong African-American women who worked tirelessly for their often-abusive Southern employers in Civil Rights-era Mississippi. Drama and comedy meld effortlessly in this chick flick extraordinaire! Meanwhile, in the amazing French import Tomboy, Zoé Héran plays a young girl who moves to a new town and is mistaken for a boy by the neighborhood kids. This gives her the freedom to live her life the way she wants, at least for the summer. Tomboy showed a deep understanding of gender identity issues and its hopeful ending demonstrates the saying about “Out of the mouths of babes.”

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

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: Man of the Year - CHAZ BONO

2011 was a big year for Chaz Bono. His acclaimed documentary Becoming Chaz, which detailed an important time period in his transition from Sonny and Cher's daughter to the man he is today, aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network and was nominated for an Emmy Award. And if that wasn't enough, he became the most famous transgender person in the world with his much-watched stint on Dancing with the Stars. Chaz's appearances on the hit series may have been controversial too some, but proved far more inspirational and enlightening to many.

Honorable Mentions:
Ever since The Sound of Music, Christopher Plummer has had a special place in the hearts of many a gay fan. But his performance as a newly-out elderly man in Beginners has sealed the deal; multiple awards, including the Golden Globe and a strong chance at the Oscar, only makes it sweeter. This past year, Zachary Quinto completed an acclaimed Off-Broadway run in Angels in America, both starred in and produced the underappreciated Margin Call, and guest starred on the cult creepfest American Horror Story. And, oh yeah, became the biggest star since Neil Patrick Harris to come out as a gay man.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: Women of the Year - GLENN CLOSE & JANET MCTEER

Our Woman of the Year couldn’t go to just one actress after we saw the pair of sublime performances by Glenn Close and Janet McTeer in the flawed but moving period piece Albert Nobbs. Close’s Albert is a tightly-wound manservant with a secret: he is really a woman who has hidden her gender for thirty years in order to work and live as a man. Spoiler Alert: McTeer plays a fellow who discovers Albert’s deception and reveals that he is a woman as well, but one who has a life with a wife that opens Albert’s eyes to what life could be for him. Close is amazing, playing a passive closed-off person, but showing Albert’s inner life very subtly. McTeer’s forceful and energetic performance was even better, and the two actresses formed one of the most touching relationship of the year.

Honorable Mentions:
A powerhouse collection of actresses led by Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson brought the best-selling novel The Help (about Mississippi maids gaining their voice in the civil rights era) to entertaining life on screen. Davis, Spencer and Chastain are generating some much-deserved Oscar talk.

As Glee's Coach Beiste, Dot-Marie Jones has become an unconventional hero and challenged stereotypes and cliches. She showed audiences how not to judge a butch by her cover, since Coach is just a big-hearted gal looking for her Mr. Right.

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: New Star of the Year - MICHAEL FASSBENDER

Michael Fassbender and first runner-up Jessica Chastain had a year like no other new or veteran actor, appearing in no less than five films each in 2011. While we predict lengthy big-screen careers for both of them, Fassbender gained a slight edge in our eyes not only thanks to his chiseled good looks (on ample display as Rochester in Jane Eyre as well as Magneto in X-Men: First Class) but through his no-holds-barred lead performance as a struggling sex addict in Shame. Such fearlessness is what stars are made of.

Honorable Mentions:
Out of a slew of great turns this year (including The Debt, Take Shelter and The Tree of Life), Chastain delighted audiences most as a naive but well-intentioned Southern belle in The Help. And not to be ignored, Chris Hemsworth is well worth mentioning honorably for carrying the superhero epic Thor and its bigger-name stars on his beefy but ultimately down-to-earth (literally) shoulders.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Addicted to Dolly

My partner, Jim, is the world's biggest Dolly Parton fan... well, after Gary and Larry Lane, those adorable gay twins at the center of last year's documentary, Hollywood to Dollywood. Therefore, Jim and I had to go see Dolly's first big-screen movie in nearly 20 years -- Joyful Noise, co-starring the formidable Queen Latifah -- on opening day this past Friday. While some critics are dismissing this gospel-tinged dramedy as "fluff" and "cheese," I found it to have considerably more substance than they are giving it credit for.

Parton plays G.G. Sparrow, the bankrolling widow of recently-deceased church choir director Bernard Sparrow (a briefly-shown but effective Kris Kristofferson). When G.G. is passed over by the church's council to lead the choir in favor of single mom Vi Rose Hill (Latifah), tensions in their tight-knit, recession-ravaged Georgia town begin to rise. A budding romance between G.G.'s grandson, Randy (cute and charismatic Jeremy Jordan), and Vi Rose's teenage daughter (Keke Palmer, a lovely and gifted singer) only adds fuel to the fire.

A number of conflicts come to their head as the choir preps for the high-profile "Joyful Noise" gospel music competition, including Vi Rose's separation from her re-enlisted military husband (a nice turn by Jesse L. Martin of Rent fame). Vi Rose also has to deal with her son, who has Asperger's Syndrome but also could be gay based on an exchange he has with Randy. At minimum, the boy's medical condition can be read as a metaphor for homosexuality, and a conversation with Vi Rose in which he reveals his anger at God for his disability will ring true for any GLBT viewers.

Writer-director Todd Graff, best known for the indie hit Camp, is no stranger to plots where music, sexuality and faith collide. In Joyful Noise, Graff also raises the timely issues of economic instability and the challenges faced by military families. It's a busy, somewhat overstuffed and frequently predictable script but it incorporates a number of serious, affecting moments as well as some enjoyably quirky humor. There's no doubt, though, that the main draw for audiences is the promise of cat fights and musical performances by Parton and Latifah, and the film doesn't disappoint. While Latifah has the showier role (she also serves as one of the producers), Parton's trademark brand of corn-pone, self-effacing humor shines through. Parton also contributes a number of memorable new songs to the score, including "He's Everything," "Not Enough" and "From Here to the Moon and Back," the latter of which could easily snag her another Oscar nomination for Best Song next year.

Dr. Victor DeNoble probably wouldn't consider an addiction to Dolly Parton life-threatening, but he definitely feels otherwise about tobacco. As a strapping young doctoral student in 1980, DeNoble was recruited by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, ostensibly to research ways to make tobacco less toxic. In the process, DeNoble discovered a previously-unknown, secondary chemical in cigarettes that actually made them more addictive. He soon found himself out of a job, while Philip Morris covered up his research and went on to market an even more dangerous product while continuing to deny publicly that tobacco was addictive.

DeNoble's story is recounted, primarily by the good doctor himself, in Addiction Incorporated (now playing in Los Angeles and opening January 20th in San Francisco). Charles Evans, Jr. makes an impressive directorial debut (he previously produced such acclaimed films as Johnny Depp's The Brave and Martin Scorsese's The Aviator) and utilizes animation, interviews with DeNoble's co-workers and footage from the 1994 Congressional hearings that ultimately doomed "big Tobacco." Philip Morris and other cigarette manufacturers were ultimately found guilty in a federal racketeering case, a decision upheld by the US Supreme Court.

While entertainingly constructed, Addiction Incorporated suffers at times from a too-comical approach. DeNoble and other commentators also sound excessively rehearsed, though this makes sense once it is revealed later in the film that DeNoble routinely gives his anti-tobacco spiel to school students. I also noticed (and I'm probably being too picky here) that some of the on-camera speakers have unsightly blemishes and/or shaving cuts that appear dramatically vivid in hi-def on the big screen. It wouldn't hurt documentarians from using make-up even while striving for naturalism.

Dolly Parton likely wouldn't hesitate to tell the Addiction Incorporated crew that the more make-up used, the better. Despite their flaws, I recommend both it and Joyful Noise for the valuable, even life-saving messages they have to offer.

Reverend's Ratings:
Joyful Noise: B
Addiction Incorporated: B

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

Editor's note: The 2011 Movie Dearest Awards will continue tomorrow.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: Television Show of the Year - MILDRED PIERCE

Who would have thought that a 5 1/2 hour-long remake of a campy 1945 Joan Crawford classic could become compelling television in 2011? Or that Kate Winslet would make the title mother struggling with class issues and a demanding daughter as memorable as Crawford did in her original Oscar-winning turn? While more faithful to James M. Cain's original novel, gay writer-director Todd Haynes made this Mildred Pierce uniquely his own, as well as funnier, sexier and surprisingly relevant to our own class-torn times.

Honorable Mentions:
Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story, meanwhile, was also successful at updating the time-honored haunted house story by adding generous heapings of gore, nudity and Jessica Lange. Our second honorable mention, HBO's Cinema Verite, starred Diane Lane and Tim Robbins as the heads of TV's first reality-show family, the Louds, with Thomas Dekker as their son, Lance, likely the most famous out gay person of the time.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: Foreign Film of the Year - THE ARTIST

You’ll be forgiven if you didn’t realize that The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’ brilliantly beautiful ode to old Hollywood and silent movies, is really a foreign film. That’s because this homage to silent cinema is almost completely silent itself, and you won’t miss the chatter at all. Jean Dujardin, a beloved French actor known for his campy OSS117 spy spoofs, perfectly plays George Valentin, a 20’s matinee idol unwilling and unable to make the leap to talkies, and beautiful Bérénice Bejo played the captivating Peppy Miller, who becomes a star while George’s career fades. No other film better celebrated the magic and hope that movies can bring than this seemingly un-French French import, making it our Foreign Film of the Year... and a probable Best Picture Winner come Oscar time!

Honorable Mentions:
Potiche, another fantastic French film, proved that sixty-eight year-old Catherine Deneuve is still a sexy screen presence as a trophy wife who powerfully takes the reins of her husband’s company when he is taken hostage by his striking employees. Out director Francois Ozon recreated 1977 in all of its disco glory as he showed us an 'Iron Lady' we can all root for.

Andrew Haigh’s British-based romance Weekend couldn’t have been simpler in story or more profound in how it peeled away the layers of two different men who meet, have sex, and then decide to spend the weekend building a romance. Sexy bear cub Tom Cullen and gym-toned party boy Chris New made perfect surrogates for anyone who has met Mr. Right-Now, only to realize they might have found Mr. Right.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: Documentary of the Year - WE WERE HERE

There have been numerous documentaries and feature films made during the 30 years since AIDS first raised its ugly head, but few have captured the virus's initial, devastating impact as well as David Weissman and Bill Weber's We Were Here. Focusing on San Francisco's unsuspecting gay community in the late 1970's-early 80's, it captures the personal losses suffered by the survivors like no other movie I remember. A must-see... though not without a box of Kleenex handy.

Honorable Mentions:
Becoming Chaz is the revealing and inspiring story of Cher's little girl turned trans activist (not to mention a great 2011 Dancing with the Stars contestant), and Carol Channing: Larger Than Life serves as a lovely testament not only to the legendary performer but to her late-life husband, who sadly just passed away last mont.

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

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dearie Awards 2011: Stage Show of the Year - THE NORMAL HEART

We now present The 5th Annual Movie Dearest Awards!

The 2011 "Dearies", chosen by myself and my fellow Men on Film, Chris Carpenter and Neil Cohen, honor the best and brightest of film, television and theater as covered here on Movie Dearest.

To kick off the festivities, we turn our attention to the stage...

26 years after its debut, Larry Kramer's controversial, landmark drama The Normal Heart finally made it to Broadway, and with all its power still intact. One of the first plays to tackle the subject of the AIDS crisis, the new production featured a stellar cast (including the Broadway debuts of such gay faves as Ellen Barkin, Luke MacfarlaneLee Pace and Jim Parsons) and drew critical raves and numerous awards, including three Tonys.

Honorable Mentions:
Daniel Radcliffe proved there's life after Hogwarts with his crowd-pleasing turn in the hit revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, now starring Glee's Blaine, Darren Criss. And on the high heels of La Cage aux Folles came another glitzy drage musical based on an international blockbuster, this time from down under: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reel Thoughts: The Neelys 2012

Every year, critics start looking for award-worthy films as early as March, but 2011 kept chugging along with no clear candidates. As the year closed, still no runaway winners emerged, even though a lot of strong films were released. This leaves the Oscar for Best Picture wide open, and the acting awards are sure to be the most competitive in years.

Even though 2011 lacked the amazing films of years past, The Neelys (named for Neely O’Hara, the starlet in Valley of the Dolls) still manage to recognize ten great films and ten specimens best left at the vet’s office to be tested for worms.

Best Pictures:

Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen hasn’t been this effortlessly hilarious in years. Owen Wilson plays a blocked writer who travels to Paris with his shrewish fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and magically finds himself transported back in time to meet literary giants like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates)...  and maybe true love. A brilliant and intelligently comic romance.

The Artist: The most gorgeous film of the year is also the most unusual. The Artist is an authentic silent film starring a pair of French actors who capture the magic of old-time Hollywood better than most American performers. George Dujardin plays a dashing silent film star who laughs at the idea of talking pictures, only to watch a young fan, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), become a huge star in the new medium. Director Michel Hazanavicius’ obvious love for classic movies shows in every frame of this amazing film.

Crazy, Stupid, Love: – The overlooked comedy highpoint of the year came from the crazy but far from stupid guys who made I Love You Phillip Morris last year. Steve Carrell plays a sad-sack dad who gets dumped by his unfulfilled wife (the luminous Julianne Moore) but “gets his groove back” when coached by a super-hot player played by Ryan Gosling with seemingly Photoshopped abs. Twists and hilarity abound as good girl Emma Stone decides to see if Gosling is worth the hype. Believe me, he is!

Hugo: Martin Scorcese isn’t known for children's films, but Hugo is going to change that. Like The Artist, Hugo is a gorgeously-filmed love letter to the history and magic of filmmaking. Hugo, portrayed by the talented Asa Butterfield, is a young boy who lives in a Paris train station, caring for the clocks while trying to solve a mystery his dead father left him. Hugo should be seen in stunning 3D, and it is the best use of the medium I’ve seen.

Win Win: Thomas McCarthy hit another home run with this funny and humane comedy-drama about a downtrodden New Jersey lawyer who discovers a star athlete under his nose and gets everything he wants... as long as no one finds out his secret. Paul Giamatti gives a great, understated performance along with the sexy Bobby Canavale as his brash best friend.

Sarah’s Key: Criminally overlooked, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s moving adaptation of the best-selling novel was one of the best dramas of the year. Kristin Scott Thomas played an American journalist whose investigation of the brutal 1942 Vel d’Hiv Roundup of French Jews by the French Vichy Government uncovers a tragic tale that hits very close to home.

The Help: This all-star women’s film was a tribute to the strong African-American women who kept Southern households running in the 60’s. Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Cicely Tyson gave unrestrained and powerful performances as the maids, while Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney and especially Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain bring the white women they serve to delicious life. Some decried the film’s reliance on a white protagonist to spur the maids to rebel, but one thing is for sure: you’ll never look at chocolate pie the same way again.

Weekend: Love stories are a dime a dozen, even gay ones, but Weekend upended the genre. Writer/director Andrew Haigh and his stars Tom Cullen and Chris New did this by keeping the budding weekend relationship of two British men so real, you feel like you’re a voyeur into their lives. The two men are distinctive characters who are not the type of gay men usually shown in movies, the kind who aren’t comfortable with labels and stereotypes. One of the most romantic films of the year.

Final Destination 5: Every diet needs a little cheese in it, and Final Destination 5 was Grade A 3D fromage that reinvigorated the campy series. A group of generically beautiful actors survive a suspension bridge disaster only to be stalked by Death in creative ways. Death by acupuncture? Check. Death by laser eye surgery? Ick! From its insane 3D-on-steroids opening to its jaw-droppingly brilliant twist ending, FD5 wins the Neely for Best Thrill Ride of the year.

Source Code: David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones followed up his acclaimed sci-fi drama Moon with this time-tripping suspense film. Jake Gyllenhaal was the perfect action hero who has to unmask a terrorist bomber in a fateful eight minute period through a scientific breakthrough. What sets Source Code apart is the intricate human drama that anchors the action. Tough questions about military service and our treatment of veterans, the nature of fate and free will, and the threat of homegrown extremists elevates the film beyond typical sci-fi fare like In Time. I am still haunted by the powerful image when Gyllenhaal’s real status is revealed.

Bombs Away!

2011 was unusual in the number of high-minded duds it produced. Rather than just pick on dreck like the one where Adam Sandler plays his own screechy matron of a sister, my Worst Neelys go to the biggest disappointments of the year.  Some people might even have a few of these titles on their Best Ten lists. Those people are wrong.

The Change You Can’t Believe In Award goes to The Change-Up: – Like last year’s Dinner for Schmucks, The Change-Up takes a curdled premise and stews it in the worst R-rated “funny” bodily fluid gross-outs to the point that stars Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman better have awesomely follow-up films to get the rancid taste of this turkey out of audiences’ mouths. No wonder Scarlett Johansson dumped Reynolds; a character like his would turn off a nymphomaniac.

The Jack Kevorkian Award goes to Melancholia: Those people looking for an alternative to the late doctor’s assisted suicide machine now have their option. Insufferable Danish “enfant terrible” Lars von Trier praised Hitler at Cannes, but this piece of pretentious “serious drama” is even more offensive than his comments. Kirsten Dunst plays a hyper-depressed bride who finds peace only when a rogue planet shows up to destroy Earth. Then, she just becomes bitchy. Armageddon can’t happen soon enough to spare you.

The Cheap Sentiment Award goes to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: I was shocked that this piece of abrasively phony 9/11 exploitation was directed by Stephen Daldry, of The Hours and Billy Elliot fame. Thomas Horn the actor seems like a smart and engaging kid, but within five minutes of this drama about a boy who may have Asperger’s Syndrome seeking meaning for his dad Tom Hanks’ death in the Twin Towers, you may want to join the father to escape listening to him. Sandra Bullock has the thankless role of shut-out mom, and only Max von Sydow as a mute WWII survivor shines. The premise of a boy searching to make sense of his father’s death was already done right in Hugo.

The Is That All There Is? Award goes to Cowboys & Aliens: If you have the mash-up of cowboys and aliens and you have Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, you’d think the script would write itself into something pretty entertaining. Sadly, it doesn’t even feel like the script was written, only cobbled together from every other alien invasion film of the last five years. All that was missing was Bill Pullman as the mayor of Absolution, Arizona.

The Dim Bulb Award goes to Green Lantern: It takes a pretty bad movie to make Ryan Reynolds in a body suit boring, but this by-the-numbers superhero dud managed to succeed. It has the added humor of making Peter Sarsgaard even more repulsive than he already is, but that isn’t enough to recommend the film.

The Grimm’s Fairy Trash Award goes to Red Riding Hood: Fairytale characters are everywhere this year, from Grimm to Once Upon A Time to competing Snow White films coming out soon, but Red Riding Hood was the howler of the bunch. Amanda Seyfried leads a cast of Twilight wannabes through a pointless retread of The Village. Poor Julie Christie as grandmother probably wishes the Big Bad Wolf had eaten her to save her embarrassment.

The Bad Romance Award goes to Like Crazy: Mimicking last year’s sullen Blue Valentine, this much-improvised drama expected us to go, like, crazy over two deadly-dull leads (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones) and their uninteresting romantic trials as they dealt with love and immigration woes. Sundance voters must have been drunk when they gave the film the Grand Jury Prize for drama.

The Animal Cruelty Award goes to The Future: To say that Miranda July is an acquired taste is like saying that ipecac is an acquired taste... and both will make you want to throw up. July’s latest expose of the insignificant troubles of vapid hipsters upped the nausea level by couching it in the story of a sickly pound cat named Paw Paw, who proceeds to narrate this nightmare in July’s scratchy baby-talk voice. Sarah Mclachlan should do a PSA against this inhumane treatment of fictional cats... and the audience.

The Mr. Ed is Weeping Award goes to War Horse (or Bore Horse, as I like to call it): Given the powerful theatrics of the stage version, one would have expected the film adaptation of the Youth Lit bestseller War Horse to be spectacular. It is… spectacularly dull, filled with forgettable characters and manufactured sentiment Stephen Spielberg can do in his sleep. While The Black Stallion was thrilling, War Horse should be put out to pasture.

Finally, the Neely for Worst Film is titled The Real American Horror Story Award and it goes to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: If you thought the murder house on American Horror Story was bad real estate, it is nothing compared to the devil-vermin-infested mansion starring in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Guy Pearce is the worst father on earth, Katie Holmes the most oblivious caretaker and young Bailee Madison the stupidest child in the world; why would someone stay in a house after unleashing killer tooth fairy goblins? This pointless remake of a 1973 TV movie had every element in place and squashed them like the trolls in the movie.

This year’s coveted Chloe Sevigny Award for Acting Beneath the Call of Duty goes to Ashton Kutcher and Sarah Palin. Kutcher deserves the award for basically playing the same character in every film, TV show and Nikon ad, and New Year’s Eve didn’t change the tradition. Palin, on the other hand, has been doing a terrible impression of a compassionate politician for years. This year, though, she attacked a teeny number of multiplexes as the dull-witted star of The Undefeated. As John Gielgud proclaimed in Arthur, “Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature.”

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