Monday, April 30, 2012

Monthly Wallpaper - May 2012: Classic Tearjerkers

Get out your handkerchiefs this month as the Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper celebrates our favorite Classic Tearjerkers.

Cry away in May along with Bambi, Ennis, Jack & Rose, Rick & Ilsa, Sophie, Stella and all the rest of the stars of these beloved weepers.

Just click on the picture above to enlarge it to its 1024 x 768 size, then right click your mouse and select "Set as Background", and you're all set. If you want, you can also save it to your computer and set it up from there, or modify the size in your own photo-editing program if needed.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Hole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Love her or hate her, Courtney Love certainly did spice up the music scene back in the 1990's with her almost all-female band, Hole. Love's onstage shenanigans tended to get more attention than the group's songs but Hole's drummer, Patty Schemel, garnered nearly universal praise from critics and audiences.

Schemel herself became known for more than just her music when she came out as a lesbian in a 1995 Rolling Stone interview. The new documentary Hit So Hard, subtitled The Life and Near-Death Story of Drummer Patty Schemel, opens today in Los Angeles. Focusing on a turbulent time not only in Schemel's journey but in the evolution of popular music, P. David Ebersole's film functions on several levels: as biography; celebrity expose; concert movie; a GLBT coming-of-age saga; and a requiem for both Love's late husband, Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, and former Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff. Cobain and Pfaff both died tragically in their 20's from drug overdoses.

Schemel speaks candidly about her struggle not only with her sexuality but with addiction. She had her first drink of alcohol when she was 12 and eventually worked her way to crystal meth and heroin. Schemel finally entered a rehab program and is happy and healthy today. One of Schemel's role models, the out lesbian singer Phranc, appears in the film and makes the not-irrational argument that the "grunge" style Cobain & Co. made popular evolved from lesbian fashion styles of the 1970's.

Hit So Hard also reveals the gay men behind Hole's success, Joe Mama-Nitzberg and Roddy Bottum. They were and remain two of Schemel's closest allies, and they provide valuable insight into Cobain's suicide as well as the challenges presented by being gay in the predominantly straight world of rock 'n roll. If all this wasn't gay energy enough, director/editor/writer Ebersole (Death in Venice, CA) is gay too or, as he puts it in the press notes, "proud to be a lesbian filmmaker."

This is a well-constructed, enlightening documentary about a challenging period in music and society at large. Whether you are a Hole or Nirvana fan or not, check it out.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: The Ape Man Cometh

One thing that is certain about Arizona Broadway Theatre’s Arizona premiere of Disney’s Tarzan: Rhys Gilyeat, who plays the title character, will be comfortable in his loincloth. The New York-based actor is in the best shape of his life, and as anyone who saw his previous performances in Take Me Out or The Full Monty can attest, Gilyeat was in pretty great condition to begin with. His commitment to the part went so far as to include visiting a local waxing salon to achieve the hairless Tarzan seen in the 1999 animated film. Gilyeat admits that his reaction to pain is to laugh, which he demonstrated on a funny but painful-to-imagine video he shot at his first waxing session.

“It’s a really great script,” Gilyeat explained “and I am watching every single (Tarzan) film I can find and the music is wonderful. Phil Collins wrote it, so it’s very pop, which is right up my alley.” Regarding his trademark “Tarzan Yell”, he laughed "It’s going to need some work.”

The show coincides with the hundredth anniversary of Edgar Rich Burroughs’ character, a boy who was adopted by apes when his parents were killed, who must save his habitat, and rescue Jane, before it is destroyed by greedy explorers. Songs include Collins' Oscar-winning hit “You’ll Be In My Heart” along with songs written especially for the musical like “Like No Man I've Ever Seen” and “For the First Time.”

When asked what he is most excited to do in the show, Gilyeat replied, “It’s going to be the flying. I am really stoked, because this is the first time that I’ve ever done true stage flying. This is the first time I’ll be hooked up to a harness... it’ll be great! I get an adrenaline rush from all of that stuff, so I’m really excited.”

ABT has hired Flying by Foy, the professional agency in charge of Broadway flying productions like Peter Pan and The Phantom of the Opera. It means that Gilyeat will be swinging over the heads of the audience with the same finesse as the Phantom’s chandelier, although he won’t crash on the stage in the same way.

“It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, but he has this massive discovery arc that goes through the entire show,” Gilyeat explained, adding that he has to imagine having been raised by apes his whole life and then having to grow up in a human sense and perhaps find love with Jane.

Gilyeat was born in Utah and raised Mormon, but moved to Mesa, where he graduated from Dobson High. He became involved in theater at a young age, which he says, helped him with his coming out process. “Fortunately, I was able to discover myself quite easily, and I had a support group behind me. Not everyone is that lucky as we are in the arts. For me, Pride is about nurturing and helping others get to the point that I was already at. I started the coming out process when I was about fourteen. Obviously, you go in stages. First, your friends, and then go to your family, depending on the relationships. It’s takes time,” he added. “I was raised very religious in a Mormon family, so there were those elements to go through. I have a very large family and opinions vary, but at the end of the day, we’re still family. So it’s been wonderful and they’ve been very supportive. At this point in my life, it’s almost a non-issue.”

Like a lot of notable performers such as Emma Stone, Chelsea Kane and Max Crumm, Gilyeat got great training at Valley Youtheatre, and he also performed with Jordin Sparks when both were finalists in the Arizona Idol promotion for American Idol. Gilyeat’s favorite role was his award-winning performance as The Who’s Tommy, as well as Dean in ABT’s hit All Shook Up last season.

When asked how he was enjoying living in New York now, Gilyeat replied that he and New York have a love/hate relationship, but that he’s made his peace with the fast-paced city. He says that he’d love to return to the Valley and do more parts, and he is excited for audiences to get their first look at Tarzan.

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

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reverend's Review: Dancing King

The 2000 movie Billy Elliot didn't strike me as a candidate for stage musicalization, despite its dance-centric storyline and multiple Academy Award nominations. It was simple, spare and sweet, and that easily could have been lost in adapting it for Broadway at the cost of millions, even with original screenwriter Lee Hall and director Stephen Daldry at the helm.

It was reportedly Elton John who had the idea to turn the movie into a musical and he offered to compose the music, with Hall providing the lyrics. The resulting success, which debuted on Broadway in 2009, confirms John's Grammy-, Tony- and Oscar-winning genius and proves to be just as enchanting and touching as the film. Billy Elliot: The Musical had its Los Angeles premiere over the weekend, and subsequently blew me and local audiences away.

11-year old Billy (stunningly danced and acted on opening night by Ty Forhan, one of four boys who rotate in the role) lives in a rural mining town in mid-1980's England. His father, older brother and neighbors all feel the pain when then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher cracks down on unions throughout Great Britain. The majority of miners strike, and the community is economically decimated as a result.

Still, Billy's father (Rich Hebert, who seemed a bit weak vocally opening night and slightly old for the part) gives his younger son enough money each week to afford "manly" boxing lessons. Billy, though, finds himself increasingly drawn to the girls' ballet class that takes place in the gym following the boxers. The ballet teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson (a terrific Leah Hocking), takes an interest in Billy when she recognizes his innate talent, and becomes determined to get him an audition with the Royal Ballet with or without the permission of Billy's father.

Scenic designer Ian MacNeil gives the show's sets a nice lived-in feel. While the touring production doesn't feature the working mine elevator of the New York incarnation, it uses a curtain effectively to mimic descent. Nicky Gillibrand's costumes are similarly authentic, although she goes hilariously over-the-top in a couple of big production numbers, "Shine" and "Expressing Yourself."

"Expressing Yourself" is performed by Billy and his cross-dressing, possibly gay friend, Michael, and it packs as much visual inventiveness and gay affirmation into six or seven minutes as all of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert does. Cameron Clifford played Michael in the LA premiere and nearly ran off with the show. I found his performance a bit too self-aware at times, gratingly so, but the audience clearly loved him almost as much as they loved Forhan.

Two other numbers were the standouts for me. One is a wordless duet Billy dances with his grown-up, professional dancer self. Forhan was beautifully paired with Maximilien A. Baud, and the latter helps his younger self soar into the air over the stage and even over the audience at one point. It breathtakingly encapsulated Billy's dreams and yearnings. Then there's the magnificent song "Electricity," during which Billy loses physical control in front of his Royal Ballet audition judges and, more significantly, his father.

Peter Darling's choreography is generally superb but I found a few of Billy's moves more contemporary than those we employed back in 1984-85. This is nit picky though, for Billy Elliot: The Musical is about as good as a musical can get.

Reverend's Rating: A-

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

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Cabin Fever

With a vague 80’s slasher flick title, you’d be forgiven for expecting The Cabin in the Woods to be a dreary slice of torture porn. With producer Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame co-writing the film with director Drew Goddard, however, you should definitely expect the unexpected.

Sure, Thor’s Chris Hemsworth and a generically beautiful cast of twenty-somethings head out to a cabin straight out of The Evil Dead, passing a hillbilly gas station where the disgusting owner warns them of impending death, but something strange is going on: everything they do and everyone they encounter, dead or alive, are being master-controlled at some dull-looking government bunker by a bunch of techno-nerds. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins dispassionately press buttons that sick undead hillbilly cannibal zombies on the unsuspecting campers, while betting on who will make it out alive. It’s like The Hunger Games with monsters.

Combining Scream-like self-awareness and humor with a gonzo anything-goes attitude, The Cabin in the Woods almost succeeds in creating a new horror classic. To say that all hell breaks loose at end is an understatement. A sublime surprise cameo caps the movie off in perfectly bizarre fashion, and although The Cabin in the Woods loses a little narrative steam at the end, you will enjoy going on this end-of-the-world joyride.

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

Friday, April 13, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Horror-ific

Great horror movies are few and far between in my experience. I can count on one hand what I consider the best genre entries of the last 40 years: The Exorcist, Halloween (1978), Dawn of the Dead (also 1978), John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing, and 2001's underrated, under-seen Session 9. Although they aren't as accomplished, I also appreciated or at least enjoyed Poltergeist, David Cronenberg's 1986 version of The Fly, Land of the Dead, and the first Saw film. The many Jason, Chucky, Freddy, Jigsaw and Hostel iterations simply can't compare.

The Cabin in the Woods, opening nationwide today, boldly references virtually all of these earlier movies to great effect. The smart, keeps-you-guessing screenplay by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) and Drew Goddard (making an impressive directorial debut after writing the hit monster movie Cloverfield) also incorporates elements from the writings of horror masters Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft as it gleefully theorizes the origins of all such tales.

It's difficult to write about The Cabin in the Woods without potentially revealing spoilers, so I won't say much. The plot synopsis in the film's press notes is amusingly limited to "Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Bad things happen." Viewers may well think they've walked into the wrong movie based on the first five minutes, in which two technicians played by Richard Jenkins (an Oscar nominee a few years back for The Visitor) and Bradley Whitford (of TV's The West Wing) have a discussion at the water cooler about everything but the film's main storyline.

Other members of the game cast include Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth; Kristen Connolly; Fran Kranz (who is currently on Broadway in Mike Nichols' acclaimed revival of Death of a Salesman); and Jesse Williams (from Grey's Anatomy). The film's finale also features a terrific surprise cameo by a big-name genre veteran, along with an abundance of zombies, werewolves, ghosts and other creatures of the night.

The provocative thesis Whedon and Goddard seem to propose via The Cabin in the Woods is that our time-honored indulgence in cinematic and literary horror stories with their fairly archetypal, "sacrificial victim" characters ultimately helps to keep the real monsters that lurk among us at bay. While I feel the movie cuts to the chase a little too soon, possibly due to budget constraints, it's one heck of an entertaining ride.

Also opening today for a one-week engagement at Landmark's Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles is The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, a documentary on the British, allegedly-groundbreaking musician/performance artist Genesis P-Orridge. Considered a 1970's-80's progenitor of industrial music, Genesis founded the boundary-pushing bands COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. Genesis met his kindred spirit and soulmate Jacqueline Breyer, whom he would term "Lady Jaye," in 1992. Subsequently, as both an act of devotion and as a living form of performance art, Genesis underwent a sex change in an effort to appear more like his beloved.

Seeking to capture Genesis' unique brand of "Romantic consciousness," director Marie Losier's film is informative but it is also more often than not irritating in both content and technique. The photography and editing seem intentionally slapdash, and Genesis himself is off-putting as a subject. One can see how Genesis has perhaps influenced comedian Eddie Izzard, but Genesis' cultural impact today is otherwise negligible. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is more to be endured than enjoyed.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Cabin in the Woods: B+
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye: C-

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reverend's Preview: Life is a Cabaret at 2012 TCM Fest

Liza with a Z will be walking the red carpet at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre this Thursday night prior to the world premiere of a restored, 40th anniversary print of Cabaret. The Bob Fosse directed musical will open the third edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival, running April 12th-15th at various Hollywood venues.

Minnelli won’t be alone. Joel Grey, her fellow Oscar-winning co-star, will be on hand, as well as such alumni of classic movies as Kim Novak, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley Jones, Kirk Douglas, Robert Wagner and Angie Dickinson. Festival passes have sold out for the second year in a row, ensuring packed houses throughout the Robert Osborne-helmed weekend (individual tickets will be available for purchase prior to screenings).

Cabaret is generally considered a milestone among film adaptations of Broadway shows. After such big-budget 1960’s spectacles as Camelot, Finian’s Rainbow and Hello, Dolly tanked at the box office, Fosse took an engagingly stripped-down approach to Kander & Ebb’s examination of the rise of the Nazi party via the denizens of a German nightclub. The movie makes some major changes to the source material, eliminating a number of songs, supporting characters and subplots, while also making the originally British Sally Bowles (Minnelli) American and her originally American, bisexual lover (Michael York) British. While some critics and theatergoers bemoaned these modifications, the movie was a great popular success upon its release in 1972 chiefly due to Fosse’s sexy staging and Minnelli’s and Grey’s vibrant performances.

Other guaranteed highlights of this year’s TCM Fest include:

- A celebration of Universal Studios’ 100th anniversary, with a focus on its great string of 1930’s-40’s horror films. Screenings will include The Wolf Man, followed by discussion with Oscar-winning makeup designer Rick Baker; Frankenstein, introduced by director John Carpenter; Son of Frankenstein, introduced by director John Landis; and The Black Cat, featuring discussion with the children, Sara Karloff and Bela G. Lugosi, of its two stars. Keeping with the theme, Mel Brooks’ spoof Young Frankenstein will also be shown, with Brooks on hand.

- The festival will mark the 100th anniversary of the luxury liner Titanic’s sinking on April 14th with the premiere restoration of A Night to Remember, based on survivors’ accounts of the disaster. Other premiere restorations to be screened during the weekend include Singin’ in the Rain (celebrating its 60th anniversary), The Longest Day (50th anniversary), Grand Illusion (75th anniversary), Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road, and Rio Bravo followed by discussion with its female star, Angie Dickinson.

-Enjoyably self-aggrandizing producer Robert Evans will be present at screenings of a number of his 1960’s-70’s hits including Chinatown, Love Story, Marathon Man and Rosemary’s Baby. Similarly, director Norman Jewison will introduce his Moonstruck (25th anniversary) and The Thomas Crown Affair, while Donen will discuss his classics Funny Face and Charade in addition to Two for the Road.

-Sunday morning will feature a rare screening (for those not in church, of course) of the western epic How the West Was Won at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome on the very screen for which it and other Cinerama films were shot. It’s all-star cast includes John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart and Debbie Reynolds, the latter of whom will appear at the screening.

-Of particular note for GLBT attendees will be showings of the revered Auntie Mame and The Women, with discussion led by fashion designer Todd Oldham. GLBT viewers who have never seen them ought to also check out Black Narcissus, starring Deborah Kerr as a nun out of her element, the pre-Production Code potboiler Call Her Savage, a hunky Kirk Douglas and fearsome James Mason in Disney’s big-screen version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and, of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Here’s to another memorable weekend at the TCM Classic Film Festival! For full details, visit the fest's official website.

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Sordid Affairs

If you enjoyed taking a trip down the pink carpet with Leslie Jordan, you will love watching playwright Del Shores dish about his "sordid life." in Del Shores: My Sordid Fife, available on DVDthis week. Shores gained popularity with his hit play Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will? but really hit the big time when his play Sordid Lives played for several months in Los Angeles. The film version, starring Olivia Newton-John, Delta Burke, Leslie Jordan, Beau Bridges and Beth Grant, became a iconic favorite for LGBT audiences, as did the short-lived Logo TV series which brought Rue McClanahan into the dysfunctional mix.

You will laugh out loud as Shores describes the real life inspirations for his crazy characters, all provided courtesy of his mother’s side of their Southern Baptist family. “They’re the back-sliding side,” he confides. There really was a man with two scary wooden legs, and an uncle who had to send off to a vein bank in Baton Rouge to get a replacement vein for his leg. Shores has gone on to write Southern Baptist Sissies and the award-winning play Yellow, and he takes a more serious moment to perform an angry monologue he cut from Sissies. He brings up the much-ignored fact that religious bigots tend to ignore parts of the Bible that they don’t like, so Shores calls them on all of the times the Bible condemns gluttony and obesity, a condition that afflicts many of the most virulent equality foes.

One thing is for sure: do not be an ass to Del Shores as an actor, because he will call you on it on stage. Shores' entire show has a dishy confessional feeling to it, as he calls Thomas Hayden Church (from Ned & Stacey) and Judge Reinhold (from Daddy’s Dyin’) assholes for being difficult. Looking into the audience for Reinhold, he said “Is he out there? I know he’s not working…” He also has some choice words for Queer as Folk cast member Randy Harrison, who very vocally complained about the writing on the Showtime hit, and who Shores paid back in season five with poetic justice.

One thing that Shores does not touch on is his divorce from husband Jason Dottley, who starred on Sordid Lives. The sad break-up hadn’t happened when the show was filmed, but otherwise, Shores holds back nothing as he talks about stars he loves, like Rue McClanahan, and people he dislikes, like Perez Hilton, who brought his pet Labradoodle to lunch with Shores and McClanahan without asking.

Watching My Sordid Life is like spending the evening with a dear friend who always has the best stories. It is ninety-nine minutes well-spent, and for a closer peek into Del Shores’ interesting life, check out his Facebook page. He is not afraid to stand up to bigots like Tennessee politician Stacey Campfield, author of the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law.

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

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Interview with a Cheerio!

Whether you love your Sisters “Twisted” or “Christian,” Phoenix native Wesley Faucher knows that you will love the Broadway show Rock of Ages, now on tour. Filled with the music of Journey, Whitesnake, Pat Benatar and Foreigner, Rock of Ages will definitely take you back to the time of huge haired rock music.

“The show is very, very high energy,” she explained. “If you lived in the 80’s or know any of the rock music from the 80’s, it’s just one big hair-tossing, head-banging energetic show. It’s about this girl who comes to LA to make it big and she finds love along the way. She loses the guy and then gets him back eventually.”

Rock of Ages takes place in 1987 on the famed Sunset Strip, where aspiring rock star Drew works as a busboy at the fictional Bourbon Room. He meets and falls instantly in love with Kansas girl Sherrie Christian who just came to town. He serenades her with "Sister Christian" before scoring her a job at the bar, unaware that greedy German developers are planning to tear the whole Strip down and make it family-friendly. Debauched rock god Stacee Jaxx (the part Tom Cruise will play in the upcoming movie) comes to the Bourbon Room to give one final concert before the band breaks up. Sherrie and Drew’s romance is rocky to say the least, but the slimy Jaxx might doom it for good. Despite the efforts of Regina, a City Councilwoman, the Strip’s “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” history looks like it will be gone forever. It is nothing that a rock anthem like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” can’t fix.

Faucher wasn’t even born when Rock of Ages takes place, so he had to bone up on her 80’s big hair and heavy metal. “And I had just chopped off my hair last year, so going from no hair to this huge wig that I have to head-bang and go crazy in while I have a mic on my head under the wig was a lot to learn, but as soon as I put that wig on, I knew exactly what era I was in and I love it! Doing the show, my favorite song is “Nothing But a Good Time”, because it is exactly what the show is: it’s one big party onstage. It gets the audience energized right off the bat.”

In June, the big screen version of Rock of Ages hits theaters, but Faucher hasn’t seen it yet. “My boyfriend actually went to a big screening of it in LA and I have heard that it’s very different from our show. I think it does stay true to is the 80’s music and era, and with headliners like Tom Cruise, I think it will really bring in a good audience and it will help our show.”

Faucher spent time in Los Angeles concentrating on dance, when she got a role on Glee as one of the Cheerios in the first season. “I got to do two episodes, but then they said there was a height requirement, so I didn’t get to do as many episodes as I would have liked. It was amazing; you go in one day and you have to learn the entire routine all in one rehearsal. It was the first season, so everyone on set was really sweet and it was a great experience.” Working for Sue Sylvester was not as grueling as the show makes it look. “I actually got to ride back from the set with Jane Lynch. Everyone in the cast is great, but she is the humblest, sweetest, nicest person in the cast. She was just as amazing as you would think she is.”

Rock of Ages has been mostly playing the East Coast, so Faucher is relieved and excited to get back to the Southwest and see friends and family. “I had to learn East Coast weather real quick,” she said, laughing. As the daughter of a dance studio owner, what does Faucher think of Dance Moms on Lifetime? “I am so glad you asked that question! I’m obsessed with it! I think it is the funniest show, because I grew up going to competitions and I would see these crazy people all the time. I would always tell my mom, “You should make a reality TV show about these people,” because it is pure entertainment. As soon as Dance Moms came on, I’d ask her every week if she was watching it. She said, 'Wesley, as a studio owner, I can’t watch this kind of stuff. I deal with it every day.' My parents can’t stand it, but I think it’s hilarious.”

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Hippity Hoppity Habemus Papam

There was an episode of TV's South Park a few years back that hilariously linked both the tradition of the Easter Bunny and the continuance of the Roman Catholic papacy to a Da Vinci Code-esque coverup of the shocking "truth": Jesus's pal St. Peter was actually a rabbit. It therefore seems doubly appropriate that the Italian-French dramedy We Have a Pope (also known by its Latin translation, Habemus Papam) is opening in the US today, just in time for Easter.

The film opens with the Church's cardinals gathering for the traditional conclave to elect a new pope in the wake of the previous patriarch's death (actual footage of Pope John Paul II's funeral is used in these early scenes). After several rounds of voting, they elect a humble, little-known brother, Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli), to serve for the rest of his life as the "Vicar of Christ" following in the footsteps of St. Peter. The cardinals and the waiting world are shocked soon after when the new pope refuses to be introduced and makes an unprecedented demand of more time to think about whether to accept his appointment. "God sees abilities in me I don't have," Melville declares to his confounded fellow prelates.

Seeking solace and direction, the not-yet-publicly-known pontiff flees the conclave and his handlers for the streets of Rome. He gets a room at a hotel, meets with an unaware psychiatrist, and falls in with a troupe of actors performing Chekhov. Meanwhile, the other cardinals are held captive in the Vatican along with another, decidedly secular psychiatrist (played by Nanni Moretti, who also wrote and directed the film) initially brought in to counsel Melville. As boredom sets in, the doctor organizes the cardinals into an international volleyball tournament.

We Have a Pope is similar in plot if more serious in tone than 1986's Saving Grace, which starred Tom Conti as a pope who tires of his responsibilities and escapes the Vatican for a small Italian village. Moretti's sense of humor is casual and observant rather than slapstick-based. I feel conflicted, though, about this movie's finale. I won't give it away, but I continue to ask myself whether it is overly pessimistic or refreshingly honest?

Piccoli gives a wonderful performance as Melville and is truly the film's heart and soul. This great French actor's resume spans nearly 60 years, and he has worked for many of the greatest directors of all time, including Godard, Bunuel, Hitchcock, Costa-Gavras and Louis Malle. He hasn't yet been in a Martin Scorsese production, however, and I would love to see the two of them pair up before Piccoli's career comes to an end. Piccoli could easily play a vicious mobster, a kindly grandfather or another Catholic cleric for Scorsese.

As a former Roman Catholic priest and current Reformed Catholic bishop (yes, I went to reform school, which I recommend to all Roman Catholics), I was most impressed by how much of the Church's rituals, traditions and clerical garb Moretti gets right. No movie or TV show purporting to depict the Catholic Church passes muster with me unless it accurately depicts these essentials; that is what doomed, in my opinion, the otherwise intriguing and intelligent series Nothing Sacred back in 1997. We Have a Pope also features impressive recreations of the facade of St. Peter's basilica as well as the interior of the Sistine Chapel and other Vatican locations, many of which I've personally toured twice in the past, so I can testify to their authenticity.

I don't know if non-Catholics will appreciate We Have a Pope as much as the "papists" out there probably will. But given the top choices at the box office right now -- namely The Hunger Games, American Reunion and Wrath of the Titans -- adult viewers will likely thank God for Moretti's religious flight of fancy.

Reverend's Rating: B

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: War is a Zoo

I'm a sucker for movies about animals (my all-time favorite film is the often reviled, 1967 musical Doctor Dolittle) and am all for family films. So one would think I'd love We Bought a Zooand War Horse,both out today on DVD and Blu-ray. I was looking forward to both prior to their theatrical release last Christmas but, while I caught the latter then, director Cameron Crowe's zoo story got away from me until now.

Adapted from the autobiographical book by Benjamin Mee (who is portrayed in the film by Ben Affleck's bff, Matt Damon), it recounts Mee's rather impulsive decision to buy a country house with a dilapidated menagerie of wild animals attached to it. He and his two children are grieving the recent death of their wife and mother, and they find renewed purpose and unity as a family in their efforts to rehabilitate the zoo. They are aided by Scarlett Johansson as an idealistic keeper, Thomas Haden Church as Mee's investment-broker brother and Patrick Fugit, former teen star of Crowe's acclaimed Almost Famous, as another animal handler. Opposing the zoo crew's mission, however, is an inexplicably cranky county inspector played by the always enjoyable John Michael Higgins, veteran of numerous Christopher Guest movies and current co-star on Fran Drescher's gay-themed sitcom, Happily Divorced.

We Bought a Zoo is life- and family-affirming and spotlights an impressive assortment of birds and beasts. More religious or philosophical viewers can also decipher a number of spiritual themes in the film, including the triumph of light over darkness, growing through loss and sacrifice, and how human beings and animals share in God's wonderful creation. (A companion guide created by Allied Faith & Family that highlights this content can be accessed here.) Unfortunately, the movie suffers from a case of schizophrenia; some of it is waaay too simple, cutesy and/or sappy for adults, while other scenes are too intense and adult for children. This likely explains why the film wasn't a bigger hit at the box office, despite its promising premise.

Steven Spielberg's War Horse is similarly handicapped... though thankfully no horses died during filming, unlike the recently (and deservedly) cancelled TV series Luck. Despite earning $70 million+ in the US as well as a number of Oscar nominations (the most deserving of which was for Janusz Kaminski's stunning cinematography, which lost to the equally stunning Hugo), War Horse is too long and violent for kids and too cloyingly sentimental for many adult viewers.

What is a simple, World War I-era tale of a boy and his horse on the page and stage becomes bloated in Spielberg & Co.'s hands. Walt Disney likely could have produced an equally lovely, more economical version of the story in the 1960's. Here, we get a truly affecting central story padded to the 2 1/2 hour mark by three excessive, and excessively preachy, sequences involving extraneous characters that drive home the point ad nauseum about how awful war is to man and beast alike. War Horse would have been much more successful if it focused simply on the painful separation of Joey, the title steed, from the young man, Albert (played by the pretty but dull Jeremy Irvine), who trained Joey and eventually enlists in the military to search for him.

War Horse does benefit from an excellent supporting cast that includes Emily Watson as Albert's mum, Tom Hiddleston (better known as the conniving Loki in Thor and next month's The Avengers), and up-and-comer Benedict Cumberbatch, who will play a key villain in the upcoming Star Trek sequel. Technically, too, the movie bears the trademark Spielberg stamp of excellence. It is also being honored with a prestigious Christopher Award, given by a Catholic order to films that uphold ideals and values. This makes it all the more unfortunate that most children and adolescents will likely consider War Horse the unbearable antithesis of The Hunger Games.

Reverend's Ratings:
We Bought a Zoo: C
War Horse: B-

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

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Monthly Wallpaper - April 2012: Marlon Brando

In celebration of his 88th birthday this month, Movie Dearest dedicates April's Calendar Wallpaper to one of the greatest actors of the silver screen, Marlon Brando.

Featuring his Academy Award-winning performances as Terry Malloy and Vito Corleone, as well as such other iconic roles as Mark Antony, Fletcher Christian, Jor-El, Stanley Kowalski and Sky Masterson, this tribute surely is an offer you can't refuse.

Just click on the picture above to enlarge it to its 1024 x 768 size, then right click your mouse and select "Set as Background", and you're all set. If you want, you can also save it to your computer and set it up from there, or modify the size in your own photo-editing program if needed.