Saturday, June 30, 2012

Monthly Wallpaper - July 2012: French Cinema

You'll be shouting "Viva la France!" all throughout the month of July with the Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper salute to the best of French Cinema.

From silent classics by the likes of Méliès and Buñuel to modern favorites starring Depardieu and Tautou to the queer cinema classic La Cage aux Folles,this month's selections are all c'est magnifique!

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, June 29, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: We Like Short Shorts

Summer isn't only shorts-wearing season, it's shorts-viewing season... as in short films! While virtually every major film festival includes short films, last week's Palm Springs International Short Film Festival is one of the few fests devoted exclusively to shorts. Each year, the PS fest features a number of GLBT-oriented offerings. Eight such shorts were screened last week: Prora, Performance Anxiety, The Oldest Lesbian in the World!, What You Looking At?!, Pursuit, Hot in the Zipper, Hold on Tight and Absence of Love.

While all have their charms and/or positive qualities, the standouts for me were Prora, Stephane Riethauser's examination of two young men struggling with their attraction to one another while touring the massive remnants of a real-life Nazi resort; the alternately insightful and amusing Oldest Lesbian, a no-holds-barred documentary about out, 99-year old Bobbie Staff; and What You Looking At?!, in which a drag queen and an orthodox Muslim woman trapped in an elevator strive to find common ground.

Alas, none of the GLBT shorts were named as award winners at the fest's end. However, organizers deserve kudos not only for programming them but for having the cajones to run a major film festival during summer in one of the hottest cities in the US, and getting a sizable number of people to show up.

Speaking of short films, Guest House films has just released Blue Briefs, their latest DVD compilationof six gay-themed shorts. As the title implies, these are generally bittersweet tales of young men finding and, more often than not, losing love. They include Requited, a nice mix of melancholy and camp humor that features several attractive actors and asks the resonant question (especially for those of us whose first love was our straight best friend) "How do you get over something you never had?"; the truly heartbreaking We Once Were Tide, in which a lonely man on the South Coast of England is caught between his lover and duty to his terminally-ill mother; Iranian-American director Abdi Nazemian's Revolution, starring Cougar Town's Busy Philipps as the mother of a gay teenager who falls for the son of the traditional Iranian family they are working for and living with; and the amateurish but still compelling Frozen Roads, from Canada. I found the characters and/or voiceover in the collection's remaining two films -- Boys Like You and The In-Between -- irritatingly, endlessly chatty.

And speaking of other recent film festivals that showcased GLBT topics, both San Francisco's Frameline and the Los Angeles Film Festival came to a close this past Sunday. Although LAFF ended with the well-received world premiere of gay-friendly stripper extravaganza Magic Mike, the fest's second week also featured the US premiere of the potent documentary Call Me Kuchu. It details the ongoing persecution of homosexuality in ultra-conservative Uganda. The film was also screened at Frameline a few days later and won that fest's award for Best Documentary. It is absolutely not to be missed. Cloudburst, starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as a lesbian couple, won Frameline's Audience Award for Best Feature while Beasts of the Southern Wild (which I acclaimed here a couple of weeks ago) won the Audience Award for Best Feature at LAFF. LAFF's Jury Award for Best Performance was shared by the cast of the gay-themed Four, which I also reviewed in my pre-LAFF coverage.

Reverend's Ratings:
Blue Briefs: B
Call Me Kuchu: A-

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Reel Thoughts Preview: Do You Believe in Magic?

We’re fairly certain that Sir Laurence Olivier didn’t start his acting career as a stripper named “Chan Crawford” in a troupe called “Male Encounters”, but then again, he didn’t have Channing Tatum’s abs of steel. Tatum joins a gorgeous cast of Hollywood hunks in esteemed director Steven Soderbergh’s (Traffic) sexy and fun-looking romp Magic Mike, in theaters this Friday.

Check out YouTube and you’ll see where the inspiration for this film about a seasoned male stripper showing a “Kid” (Alex Pettyfer) the ropes (and g-strings) of the business originated. Tatum is a rarity – a drop-dead handsome actor who is comfortable enough with his masculinity to have stripped in Florida and posed for some pretty homoerotic pictures to pay the bills. As Ulla in The Producers sings, “If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!” and Tatum is happy to oblige. He pitched the idea of a film about his experiences as a dancer and Soderbergh saw the potential.

Magic Mike is a Tampa stripper who teaches a newcomer everything he needs to know about dancing, partying and making big money taking off his clothes. In the process, he falls for the Kid’s protective sister Brooke (played by newcomer Cody Horn, who just happens to the be the daughter of Warner Brothers President Alan F. Horn). Eventually, every stripper has to hang up their tear-away pants and settle down, but Brooke isn’t much interested in joining Magic Mike’s lifestyle. Fortunately, the audience is treated to many scenes of what exactly Mike and company do for crumpled up singles, fives and the occasional twenty dollar bill. “You don’t want to know what I have to do for twenties,” Mike warns Brooke, but we can only hope he shows us.

While it will be a couple of days before we can see Tatum and his boys strut their stuff under the watchful eye of club owner Matthew McConaughey, we do know enough about the film to introduce you to the Men of Magic Mike:

- Dallas: McConaughey plays the owner of the night club who shows off some pretty ripped abs himself. McConaughey is photographed shirtless so often, it’s become his trademark, and who can ever forget his Texas arrest for naked bongo-playing?

· 'Magic' Mike Martingano: Tatum plays a big draw at McConaughey’s club who is trying to find something more to do with his life. Tatum is comfortable in comedy, drama and Nicholas Spark-y romances, and more than comfortable out of his clothes.

· The Kid: Pettyfer plays the young guy who Magic Mike indoctrinates into the world of stripping. At twenty-two, Brit Pettyfer has already gained a reputation as a bad boy, which he denies. He likes tattoo tributes to his girlfriends, who’ve included Emma Roberts and Glee’s Diana Agron. He’s best known as the lead in I Am Number Four and Beastly.

· Ken: Matt Bomer has recently come out, which makes him even more gorgeous. In addition to his starring role in the USA Network's White Collar, Bomer also drew raves for his musical work on Glee as Darren Criss’ semi-famous brother. His great physique is drawing raves in Magic Mike. At thirty-four, he and his partner have three children who were born via surrogate.

· 'Big Dick' Richie: Joe Manganiello’s moniker must refer to his 6’5” height, right? This thirty-five year-old True Blood werewolf has been driving audiences wild with his rugged looks for a decade, but he is also a classically-trained theater actor. (It’s also just a coincidence that his 2002 role in something called The Ketchup King was as “Black Dildo.”)

· Tito: Adam Rodriguez rocked Ana Ortiz’ life on Ugly Betty and made CSI: Miami bearable. It only makes sense for a Florida-set comedy to have some Latin flavor.

Eight Sizzling Stripper Sagas:

Magic Mike isn’t the first film to delve into men baring all for their art (and those crumpled singles), but it may be the sexiest. Here are six films to see if you’re into eager ecdysiasts, male or female:

The Full Monty (1997): This hit British film about a bunch of regular blokes who turn to stripping when their factory shuts down was more heartwarming than heart-racing, but it spawned a hit musical and featured Once Upon a Time’s Robert Carlysle, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Addy.

A Night in Heaven (1983): All stripper movies seem to be set in Florida (heck, even the Octomom is set to strip in the Sunshine State), so it is no surprise that this overheated drama was filmed in Titusville. Lesley Ann Warren plays a sexually frustrated professor who falls in lust with Ricky the Rocket, one of her failing students who she spies stripping at a bar called Heaven. The Blue Lagoon’s Christopher Atkins continued his mostly unclothed career as the sexy but immature Rick.

Ladykillers (1988): Grade A Cheese with a healthy serving of beefcake! This TV movie stars Marilu Henner as a tough detective in charge of finding out who is killing the strippers of LA’s hottest club Ladykillers right in the middle of their finales. Her solution is to send her partner, played by Melrose Place’s Thomas Calabro, in undercover, although it is really more of an 'uncovered' stakeout. Another Lesley-Anne, Lesley-Anne Down, plays the Joan Crawfordesque owner of Ladykillers, but is she living up to her bar’s name?

Trick (1999): This hilariously sweet romance tells the story of sweet Gabriel, played by Christian Campbell, who meets sexy stripper Mark, played by adorable John Paul Pitoc. As the title says, they just want to “make it” in the city, but everything and everyone is standing in the way of their trick, including the hilarious Tori Spelling and and the scene-stealing Miss Coco Peru.

The Chippendales Murder (2000): Who knew that before he was a ruthless Iraqi assassin on Lost, Naveen Andrews played Steve Banerjee, the man who invented Chippendale’s male revue? This TV movie featured Castle’s Victor Webster in a very revealing role as dancer Marco Carolo. It’s the true life tale of how Banerjee tried to poison his star strippers when he found out they were going into competition with him.

For Ladies Only (1981):  Many a gay man of a certain age looks back fondly upon this made-for-TV beefcake classic, which starred a hot and hunky Gregory Harrison as an Iowa farm boy trying to make it big in the Big Apple. The (almost) all-star cast also included Empty Nest's Dinah Manoff, Reagan daughter Patti Davis (as Harrison's love interests) and a pre-Beastmaster Marc Singer. Why isn't this on DVD yet?

Striptease (1996): What kind of a stripper (in Florida, naturally) does her bump-and-grind routines to Annie Lennox songs? Do truckers and horny businessmen even know who the Eurythmics singer is? Of course, Demi Moore was trying to do “art” with her “striptease,” which makes this sad comedy funny for all the wrong reasons. Burt Reynolds is embarrassing as a sleazy and obsessive congressman who fixates on Moore at “The Eager Beaver” and who likes to cover himself in Vaseline.

- Showgirls (1995): No list of supreme strip-a-thons is complete without mentioning Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece of bad taste. While the glitzy “Goddess” number at the Stardust Casino was getting all the buzz, the real action was happening over at the Cheetah Show Club, where Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi Malone didn’t just pole dance and lap lance, she “lick-danced” the stripper pole in one awesomely crazy moment (to a Prince song, no less). That, Demi, is how you do it! The Cheetah is a treasure trove of talent, from Lin Tucci’s boob-baring comic Henrietta Bazooms to Rena Riffle’s sweet Penny, all under the watchful eye of sleazy club owner Robert Davi, who only ten years earlier had been a Bond villain.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Tarnished Singing Saints

The 1996 film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice's Evita wasn't a blockbuster but, as the first big-screen musical in some time, did fairly well at the box office and racked up a few Golden Globes and an Oscar. Now out on Blu-rayfor the first time in a special 15th anniversary edition (and also simultaneously enjoying a Broadway revival), Evita has aged exceedingly well and makes more recent musical adaptations like Chicago, Hairspray and the current Rock of Ages look puny in comparison.

Evita tells the story of Eva Peron, wife of Argentinean dictator Juan Peron during the 1940-50's.  Various directors tried and failed to adapt the show into a film since its 1980 debut, with such actresses as Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli (!) and Meryl Streep in discussions at various points to play the title role.  Finally, Alan Parker (who had previously helmed such diverse movie musicals as Bugsy Malone, Fame and Pink Floyd's The Wall) succeeded by casting the one woman truly born to play Evita: Madonna.  News of Madonna's casting filled many fans of the stage version with dread, based on the various poor performances she had given in movies.  However, the part was a natural for the dance diva who had endured many of the same criticisms that Evita herself had.  Also like Evita, Madonna continues to enjoy a popular appeal among the masses that ensures her a permanent place in pop history.

Apart from its magnificent song score, the greatest artistic achievement of Evita -- both on stage and film -- is in presenting its subject as both a saint and, to put it delicately, a whore. While depicting Eva Peron as having considerable talent in the areas of leadership and diplomacy, for which she is still revered in Argentina more than half a century after her death, she is also shown to be a masterful manipulator who slept her way to the top and stole from her people.  She certainly gave her public what they wanted, but she and her husband made them pay handsomely for it behind their backs.  Eva's early death from cancer foreshadowed the demise of the Peron era but also served to enshrine her as Evita, a popular saint of the people whose cult endures to this day.

As anyone familiar with Madonna's career knows, similarities between her life and Eva's are far from coincidental.  Madonna has walked in Eva's shoes, if not in political circles then in cultural ones.  Both Madonna and Evita have utilized principles of Catholic ritual and popular devotion to get where they got. While both women have been vilified at times for actions some have seen more as desecration than reverence, both can rightly be considered legendary.

Evita, the musical, can be frustrating for some viewers for its ultimate refusal to either canonize or condemn its protagonist.  Instead, it shows her simply as she was perceived by a variety of foes and admirers, warts and all.  The film adaptation is able to present both more detail and more nuance than the original stage version, and is superbly photographed by Darius Khondji and -- as is especially apparent on Blu-ray -- impeccably edited by Gerry Hambling.  I wish the movie had more full-on dance numbers, but a fresh viewing reveals it as one of the last large-scale productions with a literal cast of thousands before digital imaging took over.  Supporting cast members Antonio Banderas (perhaps in his sexiest screen role) and Jonathan Pryce are also excellent.

From the perspective of traditional Catholic anthropology, each human person embodies both the qualities that define a saint and the qualities that define a sinner.  Just like the rest of us, the true nature of Evita's soul (and Madonna's) can be known only to God.

Also new on Blu-rayin a special combo package is the delightful 1992 comedy-with-musical-numbers Sister Act and its unnecessary but still enjoyable sequel, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993).  Whoopi Goldberg headlines both (in a role originally written for Bette Midler) as a lounge singer-turned mob informant-turned erstwhile nun.  Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makenna and the late, great Mary Wickes shine as her fellow convent dwellers.

Reverend's Ratings:
Evita: A
Sister Act: B+
Sister Act 2: B-

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Guess Who’s Coming Out for Dinner

You could call the Italian dramedy Loose Cannons “Guess Who’s Coming Out for Dinner?” and your guess would probably be wrong. Tommaso Cantone (Riccardo Scamarccio) is the younger son of a pasta-making dynasty. While his conservative Catholic parents think he’s at business school in Rome, he has actually been writing a novel and living with a gorgeous man named Marco (Carmine Recano). He returns home to attend a big family dinner during which his father plans to pass the business down to him and his brother. What better time to come out to his family and pass the reins over to his brother Antonio (Alessandro Preziosi), who has been working at the factory for years. As a test run, Tommaso tells Antonio that he’s gay, and his brother seems okay with it.

Then, at dinner, it is Antonio that steals the moment and announces that he is gay. He is immediately disowned and kicked out of the house, and worse yet, Tommaso’s father suffers a heart attack and collapses. Suddenly, Tommaso is the good son, expected to take over the plant and save the family business. Antonio is relieved to be free of his obligations and goes in search of the man he loved and wronged years ago. On the other hand, Tommaso suddenly feels trapped the way Antonio did all those years, now unable to come out to his family for fear of killing off his father.

The only person who really understands what Tommaso is going through is his kind grandmother (Ilaria Occhini) who once gave up her happiness to marry a man she didn’t love, rather than his brother, who was the love of her life. Tommaso’s attempts to hide his Roman life become much more complicated when Marco, his boyfriend, and his three flamboyant friends show up to find out what happened to him. Their attempts to blend in will strike a chord with any man who has tried to “tone it down” for a family function.

Loose Cannons is a touching, funny film full of handsome Italian actors and a randy European sensibility. A tragedy late in the film provides the catalyst for all of the Cantones to reevaluate their lives and attitudes and to grow into a real family. Director Ferzan Ozpetek, who made a splash with his 1997 film Steam: The Turkish Bath, does a great job balancing the humor and drama the story provides, and he gets great performances from his actors, particularly Occhini, who creates the kind of strong, compassionate woman every LGBT person wishes they had in their family.

Loose Cannons (now available on DVDand on all VOD platforms) is an entertaining trip to Italy that won’t cost you a thousand Euros.

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

Friday, June 15, 2012

Reverend's Preview: Beasts, War & More in LA

Summer in Hollywood doesn’t just entail a wanna-be blockbuster opening every weekend. It also serves as the start of film festival season, with a new fest running virtually every week in the greater Los Angeles area between now and mid-November. Dances With Films recently ended, the LA Film Fest (LAFF) is now beginning, and Outfest is just around the corner.

LAFF, presented by Film Independent, opened last night with the US premiere of Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love (which fellow critics who saw it in advance are saying is no Midnight in Paris) and closes June 24th with the world premiere of the male stripper epic, Magic Mike. In between, a promising smattering of narrative features, documentaries and shorts — several of them GLBT-themed — will be screened.

Reverend was able to preview a handful of the festival’s offerings and even spoke with the acclaimed director of one of them (see further below). Of note among this year’s GLBT offerings is Four, which will have its world premiere at LAFF tonight. Adapted from Christopher Shinn’s play by talented new screenwriter-director Joshua Sanchez, it follows a quartet of ethnically-diverse and sexually-complex characters during one revelatory 4th of July night. One of them is an older African-American man (an excellent performance by Treme’s Wendell Pierce) who picks up a closeted chorus boy (Emory Cohen of Smash). Secrets and hypocrisies arise. The nicely shot (by Gregg Conde) but occasionally talky film is most potent in its characters’ silences. It is well worth seeing.

Other GLBT-interest films being shown include Call Me Kuchu, a documentary about the oppression of homosexuals in Uganda; Gayby, a feature version of the popular comedy short in which a gay man tries to impregnate his best girlfriend; and France’s Unforgivable, a bisexual, modern-day piece of film noir.

The Sundance- and Cannes-anointed indie Beasts of the Southern Wild will also screen tonight at LAFF. Set in “The Bathtub,” a small bayou community off the coast of Louisiana, the film is evocative and filled with magnificent sights and spirit. Its central character is 6-year-old Hushpuppy (an amazing debut by the charismatic Quvenzhane Wallis), who lives with her no-nonsense father (Dwight Henry, also a non-actor but similarly riveting). When disaster strikes in the dual forms of hurricane and heart disease, Hushpuppy must step up to the plate for the good of her community. Meanwhile, some giant, prehistoric monsters are also bearing down on The Bathtub. As wide-eyed and imaginative as its pint-sized heroine, Beasts of the Southern Wild shouldn’t be missed. It is scheduled to open in US theatres starting June 27th.

The Invisible War is the latest work of institutional critique by Oscar-nominated documentarian Kirby Dick. Dick previously took on the Roman Catholic Church with his Twist of Faith (2004), the secretive dealings of the Motion Picture Association of America in 2006’s This Film is Not Yet Rated, and anti-gay, frequently-closeted politicians in his last film, Outrage. In Dick’s latest, disturbing opus, he uncovers the dark history of sexual abuse against women and men serving in the US military by their fellow soldiers. It will receive a free screening at LAFF tomorrow, prior to its June 22nd theatrical release.

Dick, who I previously had the privilege of interviewing at the Sundance Film Festival when Twist of Faith premiered, spoke with Reverend a few days ago about his new film. No stranger to difficult subjects, the director revealed of making The Invisible War: “It was tough…I think I was more personally affected by this film than any other I worked on before.”

Consisting primarily of interviews with the victims, most of whom speak of their rape and abuse for the first time, Dick’s film is hard-hitting and upsetting. “To deal with these survivors, who are all really idealistic and joined the military because they felt it was the right thing to do, and hear their stories was devastating” he said. But Dick insists his film is not anti-military. “The intent of the film is to challenge one aspect of the military so it and our society as a whole will improve.”

The statistics are staggering. The Department of Defense estimates there were 19,000 violent sex crimes in the US military (many of which go unreported by the victims for fear of reprisal) in 2010 alone. 20% of all active-duty female soldiers have been sexually assaulted, and 1% of male soldiers (nearly 20,000) were sexually assaulted in 2009. While three male victims appear in The Invisible War, Dick says “It was much, much more difficult for the men to come forward and tell their stories; there is an incredible stigma.”

Throughout Dick’s more recent work, I’ve noticed a trend of critiquing historically patriarchal institutions. I asked him whether this was intentional on his part. “I am intentionally challenging patriarchal systems in my films,” he replied. “Certainly this is true of the Church — especially with the current attack by the bishops against American nuns — and the military and the film industry too, especially in light of the recent LA Times article about the predominantly-male membership of the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences).” He admitted his tendency “to take on these institutions that are at the center of these injustices.”

I naturally asked Dick who his next target might be. “We are looking at a couple of institutions right now,” he shared without revealing any specifics. “We don’t want to give any ‘spoilers’ to the institutions we are thinking of investigating (laughs).” Here that, you representatives of abusive, patriarchal systems out there? You had better reform or your sins may soon be exposed on the big screen.

For more information about the 2012 LA Film Fest or to purchase tickets, visit their website.

Reverend's Ratings:
Four: B
Beasts of the Southern Wild: A-
The Invisible War: B+

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reverend's Interview: A Night with Mrs. Honey B.

I employed a life coach a few years back to help me gain a greater sense of direction during a transitional point in my life.  Helpful though she was, she probably couldn’t hold a candle to Honey Buczkowski, a.k.a. Mrs. Honey B.  She is now available for very public consultations at the Laguna Playhouse through June 24th as star of the world premiere production Ask Mrs. Honey B., Certified Life Coach.

This interactive comedy’s title character is created and played by Maripat Donovan, who is best known as the indomitable, all-knowing Sister in Late Nite Catechism.  As one of the writers of Late Nite Catechism as well as one of its original and continuing actresses, Donovan shared with me that she is looking forward to her new role.

“I’m a full person and so is Sister, but there are some things Sister can’t relate to: marriage, kids and family,” Donovan said.  “I was thinking of maybe doing a cooking show or home economics where I could wear a wig and a dress and pearls, everything Sister can’t wear.”

Eventually, Donovan and co-writer/director Marc Silvia created Mrs. Honey B., a retired home economics teacher from Ronald Reagan High School in Illinois who has become a life coach. “I attended an online course to become a certified life coach and actually have served as a life coach to Marc,” according to Donovan.  “A life coach isn’t supposed to give advice, just ask questions to get people to find their own answers.  Mrs. Honey B. can’t resist, however, giving her clients a little extra push.”

As excited as she is about her new show and character, Donovan certainly doesn’t regret the time she has been associated with Late Nite Catechism.  “I never expected the popularity of (Late Nite Catechism) in a million, billion, trillion years; it’s my life and I’ve been very fortunate,” she says in all humility.  “My friend at a tiny theatre in Chicago put it in a late-night slot because there was so much theatre going on in Chicago at the time.  Since then, I’ve written five sequels and it’s been going over 20 years.”  Shortly before we spoke, Donovan’s agent had called her with an idea for a sixth show featuring Sister.

Donovan has historically been the only person on stage during her lengthy run in Late Nite Catechism.  “It gets lonely when you do one-person plays,” Donovan said, so she sounds thrilled to be sharing the spotlight with Denise Fennell and Scott Bielecky in Ask Mrs. Honey B.  The popular alumni of the long-running Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding co-star as Angie and Frank Travertino, a troubled married couple who come to Mrs. Honey B. for coaching.

“They are such geniuses,” Donovan gloats.  “I spent many hours prior to this watching them in Tony ‘n Tina, then asked Denise to play one of our nuns in Late Nite Catechism.”  Donovan reports that while there isn’t any specific GLBT content in Mrs. Honey B., “the show is so improvisational and interactive that if there is a same-sex couple in the audience, we will include them and who knows what will come out… so to speak.”

Donovan is herself lesbian and has been partnered with a fellow actor for 15 years.  They live with their family of Chihuahuas and one cat in Hollywood.  “I was born and raised in Chicago and thought I’d always live there, until I moved to Hollywood,” Donovan confessed.  “I love it here.”

Laguna Playhouse’s production of Ask Mrs. Honey B., Certified Life Coach will be, Donovan delicately says, “the first time the world is going to sniff us.”  She then enthused, “It will be a lot of fun and we’ll all have a lot of laughs together.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Laguna Playhouse's website or call (949) 497-ARTS.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Divine Punishment

Theology has long been considered a dangerous pursuit by religious insiders and observers.  Ridley Scott's Prometheus proves it.  Definitely a prequel to the sci-fi/horror Alien series (despite the director’s and studio’s occasionally vehement denials over the last two years), it starts out intriguingly as an exploration of faith and humankind’s origins.  To my disappointment, though, it largely abandons this once the familiar face-huggers and chest-bursters start to appear.

Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander in the superior Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) leads a cast that includes newly-christened “ice queen” Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce buried in old age makeup, and most valuable player Michael Fassbender as one of those traditional Alien androids with mysterious, potentially sinister motives.  Their characters are united in the wake of a monumental discovery by the deeply religious Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace), who uncovers matching pictographs from diverse ancient cultures indicating Earth was once visited by giant beings from another world that may have formed us after themselves, albeit on a less monumental scale.  Shaw and her boyfriend secure the trillion-dollar spaceship of the film’s title from Pearce and Theron’s corporation and they all embark together on a galactic voyage to meet their maker... in every meaning of the phrase.

Following a beautifully-filmed if ultimately confusing prologue and this fine expository set-up, things degenerate in terms of both storyline and quality once the explorers reach their destination.  Scott and the screenplay by Lost’s Damon Lindelof kick things into overdrive and move events along a little too quickly.  Within minutes of landing, Shaw & Co. rush into a massive structure they discover, the first of many unwise decisions.  The more dim-witted crew members begin to split up, touch things they shouldn’t and, before you can say “acid blood,” encounter early but still nasty variations of the evolving alien species.  Shaw, who is initially infertile for reasons never explained, soon discovers herself pregnant and initiates the movie’s most squirm-inducing sequence.  Being a Ridley Scott production, it's all beautifully designed and shot but with few, brief exceptions, the plot developments are thoroughly predictable.
I left the theater feeling Prometheus has definitely been over-hyped by the fanboy press, early reviews, and the director himself.  Sorry, Ridley and his admirers: as much of a genre classic as Scott’s then-startling, 1979 Alien is, James Cameron made the standout entry in the series, 1986’s Aliens.  I even consider the oft-maligned Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection to be better, more adventurous films than Prometheus.  Scott has said the main impetus for re-visiting the franchise after 30+ years was his persistent wondering about the backstory of the dead, oversized pilot (dubbed the “Space Jockey”) discovered in the original movie.  Was that really enough to sustain a feature-length prequel?  Clearly no, especially since the Space Jockey’s final resting place as seen in Alien is altered during Prometheus’ finale.

There is, however, something admirable about the seriousness with which the film depicts Shaw’s faith journey.  The well-intentioned scientist is asking time-honored questions about the origins of life, the existence of God or other creative force in the universe, and the exact nature of humanity’s relationship with the Creator, theological questions that could — and did get one burned at the stake just a few centuries ago.  Shaw is tempted to abandon her longtime faith as it is increasingly challenged by a hostile alien world, but she re-claims her faith in the end despite the terrible suffering she and her crew mates endure.  She also embarks on the next stage of her exploration, virtually assuring a sequel.
Like several other eminent directors of his generation (including Terrence Malick, Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood), Scott is clearly using his late-career work to address issues related to faith, spirituality and the afterlife.  Whereas Robert Zemeckis was able to blend science fiction and religion effectively in 1997’s Contact, Scott’s similar effort in Prometheus falls short.  Still, Scott gets a gold star not only for asking the questions but surviving the quest.
Reverend’s Rating: C
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Men on Film: Can Even Jesus Save GCB?

The trouble started for GCB, the funny and fabulous sitcom about dirty dealings amongst Dallas’ most holier-than-thou society women, when ABC made them change the name to GCB from the original Good Christian Bitches. To be fair, no network but HBO or Showtime would have risked offending the heartland with such a brash but hilarious title. But in what may have been a harbinger of doom, Reverend's own mother (who is no prude and would otherwise love the show) couldn't even get past the abbreviation and refused to watch. Sadly, it was recently announced that ABC was pulling the plug on the freshman comedy – the second time they have done so to poor Kristin Chenoweth (Wicked) after the sadly overlooked Pushing Daisies, which at least got two seasons.

The first and to date only season of GCB is out on DVDtomorrow. There is still a glimmer of hope for Cricket, Carlene, Gigi, Amanda and Pastor Tudor. Even author Kim Gatlin, upon whose book the show is based, was overwhelmed to learn that an online petition intended to save the series has already received over 57,000 signatures. If you want to see more GCB, go to and join the holy fight! You may also consider sending a Bible and/or bottle of BBQ sauce (wink) as soon as possible to ABC exec Paul Lee at 77 W. 66th Street, Suite 100, New York, NY 10023-6201.

Created by Steel Magnolias writer Robert Harling, the series stars not only the sublime Chenoweth but also Miriam Shor from Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Annie Potts from Designing Women, not to mention the extremely hunky Mark Deklin (soon to be sort of seen as Tarzan's father in the upcoming, updated motion-capture version), David James Elliot (JAG) and Tyler Jacob Moore. GCB may not have been a ratings star, but it is like a slice of heaven for the GLBT community. You will definitely want to own the whole series even if you haven't yet seen a single episode.

Former mean girl Amanda Vaughn (Popular's Lesley Bibb) is forced to move back to Dallas to live with her mother Gigi (Potts) after her husband defrauded millions from investors and then died in a scandalous sex-related car crash. Amanda spent her high school years tormenting less popular girls, so imagine her dismay to discover that all of her enemies are now the queen bees of her affluent Dallas suburb, and that they definitely know how to hold a grudge. Carlene Cockburn (Chenoweth) and her husband Ripp (Elliot) are rich benefactors to the church, while Cricket Caruth-Reilly (Shor) and her gorgeous husband Blake (Deklin) have a ranch and run numerous big businesses. Behind the scenes, their marriage is somewhat unusual. Blake spends his quality time with his “ranch foremen” while Cricket releases her tension with her personal trainers. Meanwhile, sweet Sharon Peachum (Jennifer Aspen) starts off an insecure former beauty with a weight problem, but blossoms into an entrepreneur pushing a Jesus-based weight loss diet plan.

Amanda isn’t the cruel girl from high school, and it takes all ten episodes before some sort of truce is reached. Along the way these Good Christian Bitches fight over who will sing the solo in the Easter Pageant, whether the women can cook Texas Barbecue as well as the Good Ol’ Boys and who will win the heart of the sexy blond Pastor (Moore).

GCB is non-stop fun from beginning to end with a cast that is heaven-sent. Chenoweth, a devout Christian herself, brings integrity to her scheming character, who usually lets her faith lead her back to doing the right thing no matter how much she may despise Amanda. Shor and Deklin have some remarkable scenes together where they discuss their unconventional love. Potts (channeling her late Designing co-star Dixie Carter) steals every scene as a big-haired, gun-toting Dallas doyenne who isn’t about to let a bunch of gossipy church ladies hurt her girl. While we all pray that ABC or some network finds divine inspiration in the girls and guys of GCB, this full season will make you laugh, cry and even think about going to church again. If your pastor looked like Moore, who wouldn’t?

Five Divinely Inspired Scenes From GCB:
1. The Pilot: Amanda goes out to dinner with Blake and his current ranch foreman Booth Becker (Denton Everett), and when she drops her napkin, she spots Blake and Booth getting friendly under the table, giving the show its first gay jolt.

2. Episode 4: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: Carlene’s Uncle Burl (Bruce Boxleitner) shows up with his wife Bitsy, Gigi’s arch-nemesis, played by none other than Knot’s Landing bitch extraordinaire Donna Mills. A rogue hors d’oeuvre dispatches Bitsy in hilarious fashion, leaving Gigi and Burl to reunite.

3. Episode 7: Sex is Divine: Sharon tries to lose weight and spice up her marriage, and hits upon a sure-fire business idea: a Christian diet plan called “Losing It With Jesus!” that uses food from the Bible to help you shed pounds. Also, Pastor Tudor encourages his flock to have sex at least once a day for a week.

4. Episode 8: Pride Comes Before a Fall: To show up Pastor Tudor’s rival across town, Amanda directs an Easter pageant featuring a hot Jesus (Ripp) a flying Holy Spirit (Carlene or Cricket) an ultra-buffed Lazarus (Blake) and a lowly leper (Cricket or Carlene). The pageant is a hoot, but the guys running the flying inadvertently send someone sailing through the Church’s stained glass window.

5. Episode 10: Revelation: Carlene’s dream of opening Condos for Christian Living in unincorporated Juarez, Mexico hit a snag when the girls are kidnapped and brought before the sublime Sandra Bernhard. Barring a miracle, this is the way we leave our Good Christian Bitches, with more shocking scandals (An illegitimate child! A forbidden kiss!) that may never be resolved.

The DVD boasts a number of fun bonus features including "Living Large," wherein Potts and Aspen give a behind-the-scenes tour of the show's great sets by Denny Dugally, and "Preaching to the Choir," which reveals among other things that the first season's musical pageant was intended to be an annual event. Also to be found among the DVD's three discs is a mixed bag of ten deleted scenes and a hilarious collection of bloopers... interspersed with scriptural quotes!

Even if ABC doesn't continue GCB, perhaps another network will see the light (a la the transferred cult hit Cougar Town) and save these nasty but hilariously GCBs.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine and Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Reverend’s Interview: America’s Gaysian Sweetheart

One can never be sure what’s going to emerge from Alec Mapa’s mouth/iPhone. While negotiating an interview with the actor-comedian in conjunction with his headliner appearance at LA Pride on Sunday, June 10th, I assured him I would be gentle (with my questioning, that is). He replied, “I never asked you to be gentle.”

Mapa, for those of you who have been hiding under a rock the past 25 years, has carved quite a name for himself in GLBT entertainment history. Since appearing in an ABC Afterschool Special in 1987 and succeeding B.D. Wong in the original Broadway production of M. Butterfly the following year, Mapa continues to distinguish himself in the worlds of television, theatre and film. While perhaps best known for playing Vern, Gabrielle’s gay best friend, on the recently-ended Desperate Housewives and imperious fashionista Suzuki St. Pierre on the late, great Ugly Betty, the Filipino-American Mapa has also appeared in such classic TV series as The Cosby Show, Friends and NYPD Blue as well as the mainstream, hit movies You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Marley & Me.

Here’s my own (slightly edited) rollicking, revealing conversation with the delightful Mapa.

CC: So, how did you dethrone B.D. Wong and George Takei as “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart”?
AM: (Laughing) I was the only one who showed up to accept the bouquet. I always kid George by telling him he should have come out 40 years ago if he wanted to be the queen. I love George, and he’s had an amazing career since coming out. I was actually doing a sitcom a few years back but was jetting off to a benefit somewhere. I’m always doing benefits for HRC and the Matthew Shephard Foundation and AIDS support. Anyway, I told that to someone on the set as I was leaving and they said, sarcastically, “Well, aren’t you America’s Gaysian Sweetheart?” I thought, “Oh, I like that."

CC: This will be your first appearance at LA Pride. Why only now?

AM: For an out performer, June is like December if you’re playing Santa Claus or an elf. You get invited to all the Pride events everywhere. I’d been asked to perform at LA Pride before but this is the first time our schedules finally aligned. I’m absolutely looking forward to it. This is a good time in terms of how the tide is turning regarding gay marriage.

CC: You know that Queen Latifah just performed at Long Beach Pride but didn’t actually come out.
AM: I know, what’s that about? Is there anyone who doesn’t think Queen Latifah is a lesbian?

CC: What can attendees look forward to during your LA Pride performance?
AM: Well, I’ll be keeping my language as clean as possible since it’s outdoors, but I’ll be taking on all the hot topics of our time, meaning gay marriage. It amazes me that my relationship and family are the subject of such debate and division, that some people are scared of us. If those people came over to our house, they would see me doing laundry and steaming broccoli and making macaroni and cheese. What’s so scary about that?

CC: How are married life and parenthood treating you? (Mapa and his husband became legally married during the brief time when it was legal in California, and they have since adopted a son.)
AM: Really great. I always liked the idea of being married, because I’m lazy (laughs). I’m too lazy to be with lots of people. My husband and I just celebrated our 10th anniversary of being together, which is a lot of apologies (laughs). I think a lot of relationships would last if couples apologized more. So many relationships end because one person or both people won’t say “I’m sorry.” My husband is a terrific father. I think I’m a good parent because I’m comfortable with people not liking me. When my husband yells at our son, who is 7, it’s because he’s done something wrong. When I yell, it’s because it’s morning (laughs).

CC: Any thoughts on the recent end of Desperate Housewives?
AM: I’m sad I wasn’t in the finale. I died in the tornado a couple of seasons ago. I’m sad it’s over but believe the show will become emblematic of our times. (Series creator) Marc Cherry is a genius and I loved how the show exposed all the secrets of suburban life.

CC: What current projects are you working on?
AM: I’m reviving my show Baby Daddy at the LA Center June 1st and 2nd. 100% of the proceeds will be going to the Center. That’s how I’ll be kicking off Pride Week. I just did a guest role on a new TV show, Bad Girls.

CC: Will you be playing one of the title characters?
AM: (Laughs) No, I’m the gay BFF of one of them. And I love that Ugly Betty is still running on the TV Guide Channel.

CC: Anything else you want readers to know?
AM: Happy Pride, everybody! Oh, and the President loves you! We’ve waited a long time to be able to say that.

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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reverend's Interview: One of the Family

The macabre yet whimsical creations of cartoonist Charles Addams have been entertaining on the printed page and small and large screens since the 1930's. More recently, Gomez, Morticia and their "creepy kooky spooky ooky" brood made a leap to the Broadway stage with 2010's The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy. After a tortured development process that saw the work of original directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (Shockheaded Peter) ultimately supervised and tweaked by veteran Jerry Zaks (Mame, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), the production opened in New York with Tony-winning headliners Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth and enjoyed a huge advance in ticket sales. Fellow critics, however, gave it a less than rapturous response.

The musical has been substantially re-worked since its Broadway run and before going on tour. Now playing at Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre through June 17th with Douglas Sills (having a lot of infectious fun) as Gomez and New York favorite Sara Gettelfinger as Morticia, I found the end result highly enjoyable if hardly groundbreaking. While the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa's score are largely routine (although two songs, "Happy/Sad" and the finale's "Move Toward the Darkness," are hauntingly beautiful), the show contains so much humor, impressive stagework and clever puppetry that I must recommend it to all but the most jaded theatregoers.

San Diego native Brian Justin Crum is featured as Lucas Beineke, arguably the most "normal" character in the show, whose engagement to Wednesday Addams (the impressive Cortney Wolfson) serves as the central point on which the musical's rather slight plot pivots. At only 25, Crum has already racked up an impressive set of credits that includes Next to Normal, Wicked and Grease on Broadway, as well as an acclaimed turn in the title role of Disney's Tarzan at North Shore Music Theatre. He is also an out & proud gay actor. Crum took time out of his busy schedule before arriving in LA to speak with Reverend.

"Our director always says the final product (i.e. The Addams Family) in New York was not meant to be the final product," Crum related. "They re-wrote the script, cut some songs and added others for the tour, which has gotten a great reception." The major revision in the book of the current version is Wednesday now confiding in her father the truth of her and Lucas' engagement, which creates tension between Morticia and the formerly always-honest Gomez.

"The whole plot of the show," continued Crum, "is this 'normal' family from Ohio that meets the Addams family. The show challenges what we think is normal or crazy and gets us to look at things from a new perspective." Indeed, at one point Morticia pointedly states "Define normal," which drew a cheer from the opening night crowd in LA.

I asked the talented and (it should be said) attractive Crum if the show has a highlight for him. "I love 'Crazier Than You,' the scene before and the song; Cortney, who is a great friend, and I have great chemistry." Crum also speaks highly of Tony nominee (for The Scarlet Pimpernel) Sills. "We're so lucky to have Douglas. He's become like my father; I've gotten so close to him. I can't say enough how wonderful he is both onstage and offstage to work with."

Crum had complimentary things to say about the entire Addams Family ensemble. "I've been with the tour for nine months now, and I've gotten to be great friends with so many of the cast and crew." I naturally had to ask whether Crum, as a young gay man touring the US of A, was single. "I'm single-ish," he laughingly replied without elaborating.

I also felt compelled to ask what was next for the up-and-comer, or if he had any dream roles he'd like to play. "I always draw a blank when I get asked that," he replied. "I like to think that my dream role hasn't yet been written." In the meantime, "I'm with the (Addams Family) tour until mid-August and then back to New York. I'm really excited and really blessed."

I encourage everyone to check out Crum and his temporary Family while they are visiting southern California, or wherever they may be found on tour this summer.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: PTown to Shakespeare

Everyone from the Pilgrims to Eugene O'Neill to John Waters has called Provincetown, Massachusetts home at one time or another. The small community at the tip of Cape Cod, affectionately dubbed "PTown" by locals and the thousands of tourists (many of them GLBT) that descend on it each summer, currently hosts Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Norman Mailer and Michael Cunningham.

As Mailer declares in the new documentary PTown Diaries, out on DVDthis week from Cinema Libre Studio, "Provincetown is the freest place in America." It also is described by the film's narrator, out actor Alan Cumming, as a historic "place of refuge" for those who have long sought tolerance. No wonder PTown boasts a significant year-round GLBT population and is considered by some to be the San Francisco of the east coast.

Director Joseph Mantegna (no relation to the actor, Joe Mantegna) became intrigued by PTown's extensive, colorful history while shooting a prior documentary focused on Mailer's life and work. Politicians, hippies and drag queens are spotlighted, as well as same-sex and straight parents with children who vacation there. Mantegna lets a few sequences set in gay and lesbian clubs go on too long, but the film otherwise serves as an intriguing travelogue for those of us who haven't yet had the pleasure of visiting PTown.

Also available this week on DVD are several gems from last year's GLBT film fest circuit. Alan Brown's extraordinary Private Romeo(Wolfe Video) is an all-male, modern version of Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet. The prose remains the same, but the love story has been given a same-sex makeover set against a military school backdrop. Brown also gives the climax a decidedly more positive spin than did The Bard. The movie's cast is excellent, so much so that its members were collectively honored with the 2011 Outfest Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actor in a Feature Film.

Tomboy(Wolfe Video) also won a number of high-profile awards and received a brief theatrical release in major cities. This touching coming of age story by French writer-director Celine Sciamma stars impressive teen newcomer Zoe Heran as a girl who presents herself as a boy to her schoolmates following her parents' move to a new community. Unpredictable yet humane throughout, it is a must-see for women, men and teenagers alike.

Finally, the rockumentary Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Drummer Patty Schemel(Well Go USA Entertainment) relates the challenging coming out process endured by the drummer of Courtney Love's band Hole. More than that, it provides a glimpse at the little-known gay and lesbian players in the contemporary rock music industry. The film is well worth checking out whether one is a Hole/rock-n-roll fan or not.

Reverend's Ratings:
PTown Diaries: B
Private Romeo: A-
Tomboy: A-
Hit So Hard: B+

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