Friday, July 27, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Did The Bat Make Him Do It?

Debate has been raging on Reverend’s Facebook page since last Friday’s “midnight movie massacre” in Aurora, Colorado. Some believe Christopher Nolan’s hyper-realistic, post-9/11 take on Batman in his Dark Knight series of films may have played a part in the alleged gunman’s decision to shoot up a theater full of opening night moviegoers, killing 12 and injuring 59 others. However, other FB friends — including several fellow film critics — are certain that nothing in Nolan’s movies or any movie can compel one to commit acts of violence.

I hadn’t seen The Dark Knight Rises, the concluding chapter of Nolan’s series, prior to the shootings. Now that I have, I want to share my reflections not only on the movie but on the (far from new) argument over the effects of violence in films that is being waged in media and government spheres with renewed vigor.

The plot of The Dark Knight Rises is complex, drawing in elements from and allusions to 2005’s Batman Begins as well as its most immediate predecessor, 2008’s The Dark Knight. To summarize most simply: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his Batman persona and become a recluse in the wake of his physically- and mentally-bruising battle with The Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face. After eight years of low crime and relative peace in Gotham City, two new troublemakers enter the scene. One is Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a masterful thief with who is occasionally referred to as “The Cat” but never Catwoman in her Robin Hood-esque effort to rob from the rich and give to the poor. The other, definitely more dangerous threat is Bane (Tom Hardy, who seems to be channeling Sean Connery vocally), a hulking, mask-wearing terrorist out to first lead a people’s uprising against Gotham’s wealthy 1% and then destroy the city with a clean energy generator-turned-nuclear weapon he has craftily commandeered.

New alliances are forged and surprising betrayals occur as Batman strives to take Bane and his henchmen down. Following their first instance of hand-to-hand combat, which Bane decisively wins, Wayne is exiled to a decrepit underground prison where he uncovers hidden truths about his foe as well as about himself. It’s a good, dramatic sequence but it also slows The Dark Knight Rises down in its middle third (the film runs nearly three hours). The movie’s first third and final third are well-paced and undeniably exciting.

All in all, the gifted Nolan’s latest epic is typically well-constructed (despite a plot hole here and there) and beautiful to look at. I loved Batman’s new flying vehicle and Batcycle with extremely versatile, multi-directional wheels. If I were still 10 years old I would totally want those toys for my birthday and/or Christmas. The stock company of actors who have appeared in one or more of Nolan’s previous films is exceptional, and newcomers Hathaway and Matthew Modine (as Gotham’s new police chief) are excellent. (The role played by actress India Wadsworth, interviewed here last week, turns out to be fleeting but fairly pivotal.)

Viewing the film in the wake of last week’s Colorado incident, I was relieved to discover that while it is violent (though relatively bloodless) it doesn’t glamorize violence or anarchy and make them look as “cool” as I thought The Dark Knight occasionally did. Heath Ledger’s deranged but charismatic Joker blew up hospitals and fired guns and missiles indiscriminately, by and large making it look fun. Is it any wonder that James Holmes, the alleged perpetrator of the Colorado shootings, dyed his hair and identified himself as “The Joker” to arresting officers? Meanwhile, the standout sequence of chaos in The Dark Knight Rises occurs when Bane detonates a series of explosions that demolish Gotham City’s football stadium and other locations, while simultaneously trapping most of the police force underground. While impressive, it is on such a scale and magnitude that imitating it in real life would be virtually impossible. At least, I hope and pray so.

Many critics (myself included) and filmmakers consider the movie theater to be a hallowed, sacred space. Nolan noted this himself in his post-shooting remarks last weekend. The Century Aurora 16 multiplex where the shootings took place has remained closed since July 20th, and some locals are calling it a memorial that should not be re-opened. I’m inclined to agree with them in part that auditorium #9, site of the fateful Dark Knight Rises screening, ought to be designated as memorial space but the remainder of the theater should go back to business as usual. Otherwise, the gunman will achieve an even greater victory than the horrific loss of life he caused.

The film industry, however, does indeed need to do some soul-searching in the wake of this catastrophe. Warner Bros. has responded well in the short term, immediately cancelling most ads for The Dark Knight Rises and pushing back the release date of its gunfire-imbued Gangster Squad to next January. The studio is also reportedly cutting a scene from Gangster Squad that depicts a gunfight in a movie theater. Moving ahead, I hope the studio takes steps to ensure that next summer’s Man of Steel Superman reboot, which is being produced by Nolan, isn’t as grim an affair as The Dark Knight trilogy has been. I also hope they take a lighter approach to any future Batman movies. I’m not recommending they resurrect the over-the-top camp sensibility evident in 1997’s Batman & Robin, but I at least would appreciate a villain who prefers — impossibly — to freeze Gotham City than gun down its police force, execute its wealthy citizenry, and blow it and the remainder of its inhabitants off the map.

Of course, Warner Bros. isn’t the only studio making movies, superhero-themed or otherwise. All studios and producers run the risk of unintentionally glorifying the violence their storylines are in most cases attempting to denounce. It’s a delicate balance in this world of computer-generated mayhem in which any large-scale disaster can be executed to terrifying yet awe-inspiring effect. Even if the movies themselves aren’t emphasizing violence and bloodshed, their trailers frequently are doing so. The stream of trailers prior to The Dark Knight Rises screening I attended seemed like an endless assault of gunshots, bone-crunching punches and explosions, with their sound effects and volume jacked up for maximum effect. The trailers in question were for The Watch, The Bourne Legacy, The Expendables 2 and Total Recall. Their representative studios are undeniably using violence and mayhem to sell their product.

Do movies make people go out and commit acts of murder and terrorism? No. We each have free will and can choose to live violently or not. Can movies at least partly inspire the motives, methods and/or settings of those who choose to act violently, especially if such people already have less-than-healthy psyches? Yes, I believe they can, and the Aurora tragedy is just the latest example of this. Hopefully, it will be the last.

Reverend’s Rating: B

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Reverend’s Report: Outfest 2012

Out Glee actor and newly-published children’s book authorChris Colfer brought this year’s 10-day long Outfest festivities in Hollywood to a close Sunday night with the premiere of Struck by Lightning. Colfer not only headlines the comedy but wrote its screenplay, his first. Talk about multi-talented!

By Outfest’s end, several movies had implanted themselves in my consciousness as among the very best that not only Outfest but contemporary GLBT cinema has to offer. These are in addition to a handful of films I was able to preview and acclaim before the fest began (see Reverend’s 2012 Outfest Preview). The standout for me was Matthew Mishory’s Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean, which is notable both for its provocative depiction of an unquestionably bisexual, pre-celebrity Dean and its gorgeous, primarily black-and-white visual style. The mostly speculative bio was photographed by Michael Marius Pessah, who was designated one of Outfest 2012’s “Five to Watch” before the fest began. Also, actor James Preston gives an arresting performance as Dean.

A close second for me was Ira Sachs' already highly acclaimed Keep the Lights On, The film won raves at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival's Teddy Award earlier this year, and it walked away with two of Outfest's most prestigious awards (please find a complete list of Outfest award winners in the comments section below). This authentic, semi-autobiographical saga of two lovers struggling with drug addiction and other challenges over the course of their nine-year relationship is, by turns, heartbreaking and hopeful. Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth are exquisite as the on again, off again pair. Keep the Lights On is shaping up to be the gay-interest movie of 2012 and is scheduled for theatrical release beginning in September.

I was thrilled to not only catch That's What She Said, the feature directorial debut of actress Carrie Preston (True Blood, Ready? OK!, Straight-Jacket), but to finally meet Preston after four years of phone interviews and e-mail exchanges. Her hilarious, NYC-set dramedy about female BFFs and their travails boasts a superb turn by Anne Heche, truly the best performance I've yet seen her give. While cut from the same raunchy girl-power cloth as recent hits Bridesmaids and Friends with Kids, That's What She Said has a truer, warmer heart than either of it predecessors.

A reader commented here recently on my interview with Sassy Pants star Haley Joel Osment that it's good to see filmmakers using more average looking/less physically perfect actors in gay-themed films. This was true of several Outfest entries but perhaps most significantly in I Want Your Love. Writer-director Travis Mathews enlisted a full complement of everyday physical types for this thoughtful drama of gay maturity, and they all engage in graphic, non-simulated sex. It's striking, even shocking, but ultimately moving.

As usual, a number of fine documentaries were screened at Outfest, including the highly-touted Vito, Love Free or Die (about out Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson) and How to Survive a Plague. Of those I saw, I was most impressed and informed by United in Anger: A History of ACT UP by Jim Hubbard. While it gets a little long and repetitive in detailing the 25-year history of the pioneering organization, the doc provides valuable insights into the initial years of the AIDS epidemic, the US government's inability/unwillingness to respond effectively, and ACT UP's leadership and often volatile tactics.

All in all, Outfest's 30th anniversary lineup was one of its best to date. Here's to 30+ more years of spotlighting the finest in GLBT cinema.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reverend's Interview: One Grand Dame

Sandra Bernhard has distinguished herself in the entertainment industry since the late 1970's as a stand-up comedian, singer, actress and author. More recently, she has gained regard as an advocate, activist and mother. For all her achievements to date, Bernhard is being honored as Grand Marshall of the San Diego Pride parade on Saturday, July 21st.

She often wields a harsh or bitter attitude in her comedic performances, which landed Bernhard in hot water in 2008 when she declared that then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin would be "gang-raped by my big black brothers" upon her arrival in New York City. Fortunately, Bernhard was nothing but pleasant and gracious when Reverend spoke with her recently.

"I know, isn't that exciting?," she replied to my congratulations on being named Grand Marshall. "It's always great to be among my people and to appreciate each other." Bernhard was so honored previously during the St. Louis Pride parade two years ago and reflected fondly on the experience. "It was great, so fun; there was definitely mutual admiration" between her and that parade's spectators.

Along with the elders among us, Bernhard has watched the growth in prominence and equality of our LGBT community over the past few decades. This growth has exploded in just the last few years. "I think it's really timely and the perfect evolution of the gay movement," Bernhard noted. "It's a natural thing, but it is an ongoing battle and we need to keep those in mind who have paved the way for us: feminists, black people, and others who have suffered oppression."

Bernhard was raised in a Jewish family and came of age (along with Reverend) in Scottsdale, Arizona. After graduating from high school, she lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year. She then moved to Los Angeles and began to develop her stand-up comedy while making ends meet as a manicurist. Soon after, Bernhard became a regular performer at The Comedy Store and was cast on The Richard Pryor Show, which she describes as "a great learning experience." She presently ranks among Comedy Central's listing of the 100 greatest standups of all time.

"When I was really little, my inspirations were Carol Channing, Carol Burnett and Phyllis Diller," Bernhard shared. "My musical influences were Tina Turner, Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell. It's pretty obvious I've always been attracted to tough, ballsy women."

The comedian-turned-actress made a big splash with her first major film role in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983). As Masha, a psychotic woman who stalks and ultimately kidnaps a talk show host played by Jerry Lewis, Bernhard inspired Oscar speculation and won the National Society of Film Critics award that year for Best Supporting Actress. Other prominent movie turns followed including Casual Sex?, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird and, my personal favorite, Hudson Hawk. She plays the megalomaniacal Minerva Mayflower in this campy, 1991 comedy-adventure.

Though the big-budget movie starring Bruce Willis in the title role became a notorious flop at the box office, Bernhard has no regrets. "It was a blast, to live in Europe for three months and just fool around, because they spent so much money on that movie. Also, Richard E. Grant, who played my husband, and I have remained very good friends since then."

Bernhard was also famously good friends -- and possibly more -- with Madonna for a time. During an appearance together on The David Letterman Show in the late 1980's, the women alluded to a romantic relationship between them and staged a sexy confrontation before the flummoxed Letterman. Bernhard also appeared in Madonna's documentary Truth or Dare but the pair later grew distant.

As one of the first actresses to portray an openly-lesbian recurring character on TV, Bernhard had a six-year run on the hit sitcom Roseanne. She also played herself on two renowned episodes of Will & Grace. She includes these among the highlights of her career to date, along with The King of Comedy and her one-woman show Without You I'm Nothing, With You I'm Not Much Better, which became a movie in 1990.

"For me, almost every time I get up to perform live, it's a major moment," Bernhard said. "To still feel that way after thirty years is a great feeling." Today, she is making the rounds with a new live show, working on a new book, and working with some producers to try to resurrect her 1992 late-night show Sandra After Dark, at least as a weekly show. Bernhard also continues to make frequent guest appearances on various TV series, including recent shots on Hot in Cleveland and the final episode of GCB.

"On a career level, just getting up every day and being creative is something I enjoy and am blessed to be able to do," Bernhard reflects. "On a personal level, spending important quality time with my daughter and spending time with my family and friends" is important to her at this stage of her life. Bernhard, who lives in New York but gets back to Southern California and Arizona regularly, has been partnered with her girlfriend for the past 13 years and their daughter, Cicely, will be starting high school this fall.

Before concluding, I asked Bernhard if there was anything she wanted to say specifically to the GLBT community of Southern California. "I think it's really important to stay mobilized and to stay clear about our goals, and to get marriage equality recognized at the federal level," she replied. "There shouldn't be any question about that."

To keep up with Bernhard, visit her website.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reverend’s Interview: Batmania Rises

These final days leading up to the release of anticipated blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises have seen Internet speculation about the movie’s content reach a fever pitch. Does hulking villain Bane (Tom Hardy) kill Bruce Wayne, with co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt potentially assuming Batman’s cowl? Will Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow make a rumored cameo? Does Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman wear the black latex as well as predecessors Julie Newmar and Michelle Pfeiffer? Will Gotham City survive the terrorist attacks and urban warfare shown in the trailers?

A conversation I had last week with actress India Wadsworth shone very little light on the finished film, which she hadn’t yet seen. Wadsworth couldn’t even confirm who she plays in The Dark Knight Rises. While billed as “The Warlord’s Daughter,” some with more knowledge of the Batman comics and graphic novels than I have deduced that Wadsworth may actually be appearing as Talia Al Ghul and/or Talia’s mother. Talia is the pseudo-villainous daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul, the destructive mastermind played by Liam Neeson in Batman Begins. Neeson is slated to make an appearance in the new sequel, with another actor listed as playing a younger Ra’s. Could “The Warlord” be Ra’s mysterious alias?

“I really didn’t find out what I was doing until the day of filming,” Wadsworth says. “I had little advance knowledge of my character and didn’t have much time to prepare.” She also claims that, to this day, she doesn’t know who “The Warlord” is. Still, Wadsworth was thrilled to be cast in what I referred to as one of the most highly anticipated movies of all time.

“Oh my God, that sounds so scary when you put it like that!” she responded. The British-born actress and model has had a number of roles on BBC shows and in independent films but The Dark Knight Rises represents her first major movie. “I auditioned in London but didn’t even know what movie I was auditioning for,” Wadsworth said. “When they called and offered me the movie, I was so excited and said ‘yes’ right away.”

What is known about this climactic entry in director/producer/co-writer Christopher Nolan’s ultra-serious take on the superhero is that the drug-fueled Bane, possibly under the direction of a higher authority, cuts Gotham City off from the world and launches a punishing assault on The Bat (returning Christian Bale). Other returning cast members include Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, who are joined by series newcomers Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.

Wadsworth did reveal — perhaps cryptically — that she worked closely with co-star Hardy during her four days on set. In one Batman comics storyline, Talia Al Ghul had a reluctant relationship with Bane at her father’s behest after things with Batman, Talia’s one-time lover and Ra’s initial intended successor, didn’t quite work out.

“I kind of don’t really know how my character and story fit in (to the final film),” Wadsworth shared, “so I’m excited to see the film when it comes out to see how it all turned out.” Of her experience on set, she enthused: “It was awesome! It was such a huge, massive set. There wasn’t any green screen so it was all right there. Christopher Nolan is such a genius.”

Given that The Dark Knight Rises is the 25-year old’s introduction to the cast of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I asked Wadsworth whether she was very familiar with the iconic character beforehand. “Yes, definitely,” she replied. “I was a huge fan of The Dark Knight and found it inspiring. I’m also a huge fan of Tim Burton and his earlier Batman films."

Wadsworth is currently better known in the UK than in the US thanks to her appearances on BBC series, London Fashion Week runways and in various beauty campaigns. That may well change after this Friday, when The Dark Knight Rises is released worldwide. She was discovered by a model scout when she was 14 years old and has been noted as an “Afro-Asian head-turner.” Despite Wadsworth’s rapid success as a model and actress, furthering her education after high school was important to her. She went to the London School of Economics and studied social anthropology, a field which captured her interest because of her African and Chinese roots.

“I wouldn’t say my dream is to be a movie star but I love the craft of acting and modeling,” Wadsworth said. “I want to be a success and happy with what I do, whatever that ultimately is.” She is currently shooting an indie film, Counter-Clockwise, and trying to base herself in the Los Angeles area. No matter who or what she plays in Batman’s latest, secrecy-shrouded epic, I predict even bigger things for Wadsworth in the future.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: La Cage in LA

When it first opened in 1983, the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein stage musical adaptation of La Cage aux Folles was a far riskier venture than most Broadway productions of the time. Despite being based on a popular French stage play and an international hit film (which would be remade as the acclaimed, English-language The Birdcage in 1995), the unabashedly pro-gay musical was opening at the height of AIDS hysteria and much resultant anti-gay sentiment. The beloved, Tony Award-winning Herman — who had scored the classics Hello, Dolly! and Mame — even had a certified panic attack prior to the show’s pre-Broadway tryout in conservative Boston.

He needn’t have worried. Happily for all concerned, La Cage aux Folles was an instant smash in both Boston and New York. It eventually won six Tonys and ran for over four years. It’s 2004 and 2010 Broadway revivals both won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, making La Cage the first show to win a record three times for best musical production. Now, the 2010 revival is making its Los Angeles debut in a tour headed by out Broadway star Christopher Sieber (a Tony nominee for his hilarious turns in Monty Python's Spamalot and as the diminutive Lord Farquuad in Shrek the Musical) and 72-year old Hollywood legend George Hamilton. It is running through July 22nd at the Pantages Theatre.

Hamilton (as tan, in-shape and perfectly coiffed as ever) plays Georges, manager and MC of a popular gay nightclub in St. Tropez. Georges is also the longtime partner of his drag revue’s star, Albin (Sieber, who played Georges during the revival's Broadway run opposite Fierstein as Albin). Also known as Zaza when performing, Albin is the more flamboyant and histrionic of the two. Their relationship is put to the test when Georges’ son, Jean-Michel (a fine, attractive Michael Lowney), suddenly announces his engagement to the daughter of France’s leading family-values crusader. Before the in-laws-to-be meet over dinner, Jean-Michel demands that his birth mother be invited and Albin be put out of sight for 24 hours.

The plot, though fairly familiar now as a result of the various films’ popularity, remains fresh thanks to some tweaks from Fierstein, moments of improv by Sieber (he references Sarah Palin at one point to uproarious effect, asking Hamilton “Can you see Russia?” when Hamilton’s head briefly ends up under Zaza’s skirt) and the plot’s own inherent timeliness. The musical’s greatest strength is Herman’s score, featuring such memorable, hummable gems as “The Best of Times,” “Look Over There,” “Song on the Sand,” “A Little More Mascara,” “With You on My Arm” and, of course, the now-classic “I Am What I Am.” Sieber performs the latter anthem of gay- and self-pride more angrily than it has traditionally been done, and the result is riveting. Herman himself declared after the 1983 premiere of La Cage that he was so pleased with its success he would never write another original musical (although he did subsequently write a handful of songs for the 1996 made-for-TV movie, Mrs. Santa Claus, starring Angela Lansbury).

The revival now in LA and on tour originated in London and is on a smaller scale and more intimate than the show’s original staging. Directed by Tony-winner Terry Johnson and energetically choreographed by Lynne Page, this incarnation of La Cage has a reduced chorus and orchestra and only six gender-bending Les Cagelles. The orchestra wasn’t at its best opening night but this may have been due to adjustments necessitated by the Pantages’ cavernous space.

As is appropriate, the heart of La Cage remains the committed if frequently frustrating relationship (is there any other kind?) between its lead gay characters. Sieber has impeccable comic timing, a superb voice and is nothing but delightful as Albin/Zaza. While not the strongest singer, Hamilton’s voice is certainly pleasant enough and his dancing is impressive. Hamilton was a bit stiff opening night during his initial banter with the audience, but he loosened up as the show proper began. He and Sieber have excellent, genuine chemistry. Hamilton gets bonus points for being one of the few big-name actors of his generation to not only play a gay man respectfully and compassionately but to kiss his co-star full on the lips at the show’s climax. In the original Broadway production, nervous leads Gene Barry and George Hearn only kissed each other on the cheeks, claiming to follow “French tradition.”

Alas, as I witnessed opening night in LA, not all of today’s audience members are necessarily more comfortable than they were back in 1983 when it comes to acceptance of same-sex relationships. A heterosexual couple walked out in the middle of Act I, and several seats in my vicinity previously filled by heterosexual couples were empty when Act II began. I’d love to know which show the deserters thought they would be seeing when they purchased their tickets, perhaps the latest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza? More blatantly, a man seated a few rows behind me and my partner yelled out in opposition to drag performer Lily Whiteass’ pre-curtain call to legalize same-sex marriage in California. As far as American culture has come in the last 30 years, thanks in no small part to artistic works like La Cage aux Folles, we still have a way to go.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Movie Dearest: Year Five

Just five years ago today, Movie Dearest was born! To celebrate this milestone achievement in blogging, I and my "Men on Film", Chris Carpenter and Neil Cohen, want to thank all of our readers for making Movie Dearest so successful. Here's to another five years!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reverend's Interview: Haley Joel Osment, From “I See Dead People” to “I Play Gay People”

When he was the ripe old age of 11, actor Haley Joel Osment was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as the traumatized, ghost-plagued child in The Sixth Sense.  Soon after, he was acting for Steven Spielberg as an android yearning to be human in the Oscar-nominated sci-fi adventure A.I. Artificial Intelligence.  Other prominent roles followed in Pay It Forward and Secondhand Lions.  Then he entered college and essentially disappeared, by choice, from the public eye.

Today, Haley Osment (he drops the “Joel” in casual conversation, and has also been dubbed “HaJo” by some press wags) is back in a big way… and playing gay.  The 24-year old sports earrings, piercings and cutoff short-shorts in writer-director Coley Sohn’s debut feature, Sassy Pants.  He plays Chip, a flamboyant bartender who is also the much younger boyfriend of the heroine’s gay father.  This funny but heartfelt dramedy will screen at Outfest on Saturday, July 14th.

Osment recently spoke with me from Toronto, where he is filming I’ll Follow You Down with gay actor Victor Garber (Godspell, Titanic), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and Rufus Sewell (the current Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).  Osment is straight but clearly not concerned about that being his primary defining characteristic.

CC:  In Sassy Pants, you are sporting a very different look.  Was this your first time wearing Daisy Dukes?

HJO: Yes, it was. (Laughs)  It was a lightning-fast shoot and I showed up a few days into it.  We had a lot of fun putting this character’s look together.

CC:  What was it about this character or script that attracted you?

HJO: I read it just a week before.  They called me on a whim and asked if I would do it.  I loved the kaleidoscope, the spectrum of characters in the film.

CC:  Did you have any gay influences or models for the character?

HJO: I think we all wanted to avoid Chip being based on any one person.  However, there is an online database of hairstyles we looked at to help determine his look (laughs).

CC: What was fame at an early age like for you?

HJO: I remember it very well and really enjoyed it.  (Osment’s first big-screen appearance was actually as the title character’s son in Forrest Gump, Oscar's Best Picture of 1994.)  It had its material benefits, but I mostly enjoyed the work and the chance to look at great scripts.  That still guides me in the acting choices I make.

CC: Do you have a favorite role or film to date?

HJO: It’s hard to choose a favorite, but as an experience A.I. really stands out.  It was months of prep and shooting, learning to film underwater, and of course working with Spielberg from Stanley Kubrick’s original story.

CC: What are you working on now?

HJO: Well, I’m set to do Wake the Dead (an update of the Frankenstein story in which he’ll play a college-aged mad scientist) later this year, and may squeeze in two other films this summer.  I definitely want to do more theatre (Osment co-starred with John Leguizamo in a 2008 Broadway revival of David Mamet’s American Buffalo and majored in theatre at NYU).

CC: Are you planning to attend the Outfest screening of Sassy Pants?

HJO: I’m going to try to get there.  I know there are a couple of fests (the film’s writer-director) Coley is trying to get me to.

So, dear readers, if you want to potentially meet the Oscar-nominated star of several of the most successful films of the last 18 years, plan to see Sassy Pants this weekend.

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Reverend's Previw: Outfest at 30

In 1982, the Rubik’s Cube was all the rage, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was the #1 movie, and Madonna’s career was just beginning.  It was also the year a group of GLBT volunteers at UCLA first organized what would become Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.  That initial event featured a mere three films: Taxi Zum Klo, Making Love and the lesser-known Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man.

Outfest 2012, which is set to take place July 12th-22nd, will celebrate the global growth of GLBT-themed films over the last three decades with special anniversary screenings of those movies as well as the Los Angeles premieres of 147 productions from 24 countries.  Outfest is today the oldest of the many annual film festivals in LA and the leading GLBT festival in the US.

“In this 30th anniversary year, it is remarkable to see the evolution of queer storytelling,” said Outfest’s Executive Director, Kirsten Schaffer.  ”Outfest began with just three films, and now we are screening nearly 150 high-quality movies that represent the rich diversity of our community; stories that contribute to changing culture and attitudes about LGBT people.”  Several of the most prominent queer filmmakers of the last thirty years — including Gregg Araki (The Living End), Rose Troche (Go Fish) and Tommy O’Haver (Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss) — will be feted during a special “Directors Tell All” program on July 15th.

Opening night gala events on Thursday, July 12th will include the LA premiere of the excellent documentary Vito, about author/historian Vito Russo of The Celluloid Closet fame, as well as presentation of the 16th annual Outfest Achievement Award to John Waters.  Waters needs little introduction as the writer-director of such contemporary classics as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester, Hairspray, Pecker (my personal favorite), A Dirty Shame and, of course, Serial Mom.

For me, Outfest wouldn’t be complete each year without its Sing-Along Musical night at Hollywood’s Ford Amphitheater.  This year’s selection, largely in tribute to Waters, is the 2007 musical version of Hairspray starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah and Zac Efron.  It will be held the evening of Thursday, July 19th.  Attendees are encouraged to dress in costume as characters from the film and, naturally, to sing along.

Other movies being shown during Outfest 2012 that I have seen in advance and recommend highly include: Sassy Pants (see my interview with one of its stars, Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment, later this week); the International Centerpiece film Young & Wild; local filmmaker Aurora Guerrero’s lesbian romance Mosquita y Mari; the sweet Slamdance Film Festival award-winner Heavy Girls, from Germany; the Swedish girl-on-girl tale Kiss Me; Stud Life, from Great Britain; and Katherine Brooks’ Facebook expose, Face 2 Face.  For a complete listing of films or to purchase tickets for screenings and related events, please visit the Outfest website or call (213) 480-7065.

Quentin Lee is another prominent queer filmmaker who has been featured at Outfest several times.  The director of such Asian-fusion movies as Drift and The People I’ve Slept With is back this year with White Frog, a moving family drama that incorporates homosexuality, conservative Christianity and Asperger’s Syndrome.  It boasts a great cast that includes Glee’s Harry Shum Jr., out actor BD Wong, the lovely Joan Chen (The Last Emperor; Lust, Caution) and, in a potentially star-making performance, Boo Boo Stewart (The Twilight Saga).  The Hong Kong-born Lee took time out just prior to starting work on a new film, provocatively titled Chink, to speak with me about White Frog.

“Reaction to the film has been really good,” Lee reported.  “We’ve played one festival so far (the San Francisco International Asian American Film Fest); kids, in particular, really loved the movie.”

The central story in White Frog is about two brothers (Shum and Stewart) afflicted by what others may perceive as “handicaps” who are being raised by fundamentalist Christian parents (Wong and Chen).  When tragedy strikes, one of them must stand up to defend his brother’s honor and become the man he is meant to be.

The screenplay, written by Ellie Wen but shepherded by Tony Award-winning playwright and producer David Henry Hwang, found its way to Lee via Facebook.  “What happened was a year and a half ago, the writer contacted me on Facebook and said, ‘Hey, I’d love for you to direct this!’  It was very personal for them, the story of someone they knew who died and hadn’t been able to come out.  I liked too that it was about two generations and multi-cultural.”

In the film, a traditional story is related of a young frog that is encased in a coconut and emerges completely white (hence the movie’s title).  When asked about this, Lee responded: “We were thinking, ‘Was the white frog something good or is it something bad?’  We decided it was a metaphor for how parents raise and form their children.”

White Frog makes a number of nods to the New Testament and traditional Christian themes of rebirth and resurrection.  Lee shared about his own diverse religious background: “My father was an atheist; I went to Protestant schools and have a Christian background but am not particularly religious.  I hope the movie encourages discussion and debate about Christian conservatism.”

What Lee did not know while he was immersed in pre-production on White Frog was that his own sister was struggling with Asperger’s Syndrome.  She was diagnosed just two weeks before cameras rolled.  While “totally coincidental,” according to Lee, it brought an unexpected resonance and heft to the project.

“I hope the film sparks more discussion among younger people about both homosexuality and Asperger’s, these controversial topics,” Lee said.

White Frog will screen at Outfest on July 21st.

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

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Men on Film: Magical or Magic-less?

I don't know how a movie about strippers can manage to be simultaneously leering and coy, but such is the case with Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike. The surprise hit has been drawing hordes of screaming women and, to my observation, quieter but not necessarily less enthusiastic groups of gay men since it opened last Friday. While unique as a movie-going experience (at least during opening weekend) the film is strictly standard issue despite its exotic setting and Oscar-winning director.

The suddenly omnipresent Channing Tatum stars (and inspired the plot) as the title character, who performs at a female-oriented Miami nightclub as part of a troupe of male stripper-dancers. He takes an aimless 19-year old (Alex Pettyfer, the alien teen in I Am Number Four) under his wing and they soon become, at the younger’s stated insistence, best friends. But Magic Mike isn’t able to protect his charge from the temptations of drugs, greed, indiscriminate sex and disloyalty that are, if this film is to be believed, part-and-parcel with the stripping vocation.

Matthew McConaughey gives the film’s best performance as the club’s charismatic yet occasionally sinister owner. He’s something of a buffer, tanner version of Joel Grey’s emcee in Cabaret. Rounding out the troupe are familiar faces Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (the out star of White Collar), Kevin Nash and Adam Rodriguez. Sadly, though, Reid Carolin’s by-the-numbers screenplay doesn’t allow for much to be revealed of these supporting characters other than their bare chests and butts. Meanwhile, actress Cody Horn is less than impressive as Mike’s romantic interest, sporting exactly one facial expression throughout the film except when she laughs while taking a sandbar stroll.

I’m no connoisseur of male strip shows, although I have been known to stuff a few dollars (neatly folded, never crumpled) into a few g-strings in my time. To its credit, Magic Mike captures well the stylish yet seedy veneer of many such clubs. The strip/dance numbers are also well-staged and –photographed. Strangely, though, the movie tends to obscure or cut quickly away from the mens’ full-frontal yet thong-clad moments. There is stage humping and lap dancing galore but we rarely get even a veiled hint of the actors’ natural endowments. While incidental, such coyness in this heavily-trumpeted celebration of man-flesh struck me as odd and maybe even hypocritical. There also isn't a single gay character in the film but it does feature a bisexual female character.

More than a few reputable fellow critics have bestowed laurels upon Magic Mike, largely thanks to Soderbergh’s reputation. While Mr. S. does fine work with what he’s given, it ultimately amounts to little of substance. You may be able to pad a stripper’s pouch but not this film’s barely mediocre script.

Reverend's Rating: C-

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

Channing Tatum really comes into his own in Magic Mike, which is fitting since the film was inspired by his own experiences as a stripper in Florida. Director Steven Soderbergh, best known for Erin Brockovich and last year’s disappointing Contagion, brings some cinematic class and depth to the story of a group of rowdy strippers in Tampa, Florida.

Led by Matthew McConaughey in a gonzo performance as club owner Dallas, Magic Mike is as sexy and fun as you could hope for, at least in the first half. There are plenty of hilarious and raunchy strip numbers where the gorgeous cast really gets to show off their stuff. The latter half of the movie feels more like a hangover after a drunken bachelorette party, but that is in keeping with the film’s segue into the darker side of the dirty dancing business.

In addition to Tatum, who plays Mike, a stud with his eye on more than working construction, detailing cars and, most lucratively, baring it all at Club Xquisite, the cast includes True Blood’s tall, dark and studly Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie, the Fireman. We don’t get to see nearly enough of his well-endowed character off stage, but you do get to see evidence onstage of where he got his name. Manganiello deserves more screen time, as do his fellow dance studs. Newly out hunk Matt Bomer plays Ken, a stud with a wife who likes to swing with his fellow dancers and is very into the partying lifestyle. (Look for Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough in Bomer’s big scene; she’s the one with the piglet!) Also, Ugly Betty’s Latin lover Adam Rodriguez co-stars as Tito, who doesn’t figure into the story very much but does add a lot of nice eye candy during the dance routines.

At 6’10” and fifty-two years old, Tarzan (WWE wrestler Kevin Nash, a.k.a. Big Sexy) is the biggest and oldest of the guys, but he’s made of pure muscle. He’s definitely the homeliest dancer in the bunch. Overdoing it with a drug cocktail supplied by the club’s DJ, he leaves an opening in the act for Alex Pettyfer’s character nicknamed The Kid. Pettyfer’s Adam meets Tatum’s Mike at a construction site where Adam manages to get fired the first day. Mike gives him a lift home, where he meets Adam’s over-protective sister Brooke, played by Cody Horn, the daughter of Walt Disney Chairman Alan F. Horn. This becomes notable when Horn’s deadpan acting leaves you wondering why she was cast.

Mike makes Adam the slacker into a stripper star, and like Margo Channing in All About Eve and Cristal Connors in Showgirls, the older star watches as his protégé becomes more and more enamored with the lifestyle as Mike becomes more serious and disillusioned.

Tatum is unbelievably cute in Magic Mike, even making a scene with a loan officer sexy. His charisma actually brings his costar Horn to life, which is a miracle. The blonde Hilary Swank look-alike’s performance is so dry, she makes Kristen Stewart and Chloe Sevigny look like Meryl Streep in comparison. Mike’s infatuation with such an uptight drip is the film’s biggest flaw. Pettyfer, who looks like Ashton Kutcher in this film, plays Adam with a mysterious blankness, but the scene where he blithely dismisses a huge gesture of friendship by Mike plays so false and hollow, it’s phonier than the scene is intended.

Of course, Magic Mike is all about the stripping, and on that count, it doesn’t disappoint. The group numbers and Tatum’s gymnastic solo dance routines will make you want to pitch dollars at the screen. Until, that is,  the film turns serious and Adam starts messing around with the sleazier side of the business, including a tryst with Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough.

Magic Mike is hilarious and light-hearted entertainment. It may also be the only Hollywood film where a penis pump is shown in use. Although the story of a guy who begins to question his fun-loving, fast-partying life was old when John Travolta did it in Saturday Night Fever, Tatum and director Soderbergh make Magic Mike a surprisingly moving peep show.

Reel Thoughts Rating: B

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