Sunday, September 30, 2012

Monthly Wallpaper - October 2012: Alfred Hitchcock

What better month than October for a salute to Alfred Hitchcock? The cinematic "Master of Suspense" would find it fitting that he is payed homage in a month known for its tricks and treats.

Our latest Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper features all of Hitch's classics, from the Oscar-winning Best Picture Rebecca to the current Sight & Sound Poll victor Vertigo, not to mention the terrors of Pyscho, the thrills of North by Northwest, the feathered frights of The Birds and the mystery of Rear Window. Plus, the homoeroticly-charged Rope and Strangers on a Train.

All you have to do is click on the picture above to enlarge it, then simply right click your mouse and select "Set as Background". (You can also save it to your computer and set it up from there if you prefer.) The size is 1024 x 768, but you can modify it if needed in your own photo-editing program.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Odds & Ends

The current, quiet in-between time that bridges the end of summer, with its popcorn movies and overall warm-weather frivolity, and the start of the all too “serious” awards season affords me the opportunity to go through the pile of review-consideration media generously provided by zealous PR folks from coast to coast. Here’s what I’ve watched, listened to and/or read recently among new and upcoming releases…

Desperate Housewives: The Complete Eighth and Final Season (DVDavailable now): While the late series never grabbed me, my hopelessly-devoted partner was thrilled when this five disc farewell set arrived. I do recommend its bonus features, which include a “Finishing the Hat” episode commentary by series creator Marc Cherry (who deserves kudos for naming every episode after a Stephen Sondheim song title or phrase), deleted scenes and bloopers, and “I Guess This is Goodbye,” a series of honest and often moving reflections by various longtime cast members. Farewell, Wisteria Lane, at least until Cherry comes up with a reunion movie.

Del Shores: Sordid Confessions (DVDavailable now): Shores, the Southern-born son of a Baptist preacher, is beloved in the gay community for his play-turned-movie Sordid Lives (which also became a cable series) as well as Southern Baptist Sissies and writing for the American version of Queer as Folk. As a standup comedian, however, he doesn’t exhibit the satiric but good-natured aplomb that usually makes his written work so endearing. In Sordid Confessions, recorded in front of a live Dallas audience, he comes across as a wannabe Kathy Griffin and takes mean-spirited jabs at little people, the homeless, and now-conservative former Saturday Night Live star Victoria Jackson. Skip this and wait for his upcoming movie Blues for Willadean (starring Beth Grant and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer) instead. Or even better, re-watch Sordid Lives.

Twisted Romance (DVDavailable now): Twisted is right. This sexually-charged, Spanish-language potboiler by Jose Celestino Campusano isn’t for everyone, but more adventurous gay viewers will find much to admire. These include its provocative plot about a broodingly attractive (or should that be attractively brooding?) teen who begins a relationship with a middle-aged, sexually abusive man; the brave lead performances of Oscar Genova and Nehuen Zapata; and the film’s gritty yet scenic Argentinian setting.

Virago’s Love Over Fear (CDavailable now). This second studio album by female indie-rock duo Virago (a.k.a. Amy Schindler and Maire Tashjian) alternates in tone between fierce anthems and more reflective songs inspired by Schindler’s fight against breast cancer. The collection is generally inspired and inspiring, especially the soulful “To Be With You” and the rowdy title track. Schindler sounds a bit too Melissa Etheridge-esque at times, but lesbian women and gay men alike are sure to enjoy it.

Zombie Cat (bookavailable October 1st from Skyhorse Publications). Yes, you read the title correctly. Just in time for Halloween comes this whimsically ghoulish, vividly illustrated tale by Isabel Atherton of a sweet housecat, Tiddles, who turns into an undead, flesh-eating beast after being bitten by an infected rodent. If The Walking Dead kept a pet instead of eating it, Tiddles would fit the bill perfectly. In the end, though, the kitty still just wants to be loved by his non-infected human, Jake. Despite occasional scenes of Tiddles chewing on entrails, older kids, teens and my fellow twisted adults will get a big kick out of Zombie Cat.

Barbra Streisand’s Release Me (albumavailable now on vinyl and October 9th on CD). While I haven’t yet finished listening to the advance press download of this 11-track compilation of never-before-released Streisand recordings from 1963 to the present, I’ve heard enough to know it’s a stunning must-have whether you are a Babs-aholic or not. Songs include showtunes "Home" (from The Wiz), "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" (from Finian’s Rainbow) and "Heather on the Hill" (from Brigadoon), as well as songs by Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman and Billie Holiday’s arranger, Ray Ellis.

And while I haven’t yet received it, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival in my mailbox of the world premiere cast recording of Carrie: The Musical. The notorious 1988 Broadway production never got a cast album, but a recordingof the recent off-Broadway revival (starring the fabulous Marin Mazzie as the tortured psychic teenager’s religious-fanatic mother) was just released September 25th through Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight Records. I’m so excited, I might just have to go put on my prom dress and pour fake pig blood all over myself!

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

Friday, September 28, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: Wickedly Divalicious

Thousands of audience members have fallen in love with Alli Mauzey as Glinda in various Broadway companies of Wicked, but her breakout role was her hilarious role as crazy Lenora in the musical Cry-Baby, based on the John Waters comedy. (If you haven’t seen her perform the showstopping “Screw Loose” on YouTube, watch it immediately!) The girl from Anaheim Hills who grew up to watch over the Land of Oz from a floating bubble will be joining fellow Wicked alum and Broadway star Nicole Parker for two nights of delicious displays of their diva mastery with the Phoenix Symphony September 28th and 29th. I caught up with Mauzey and asked her what makes her a Wicked Diva, and what’s next for the rising star.

NC: So, what makes you a Wicked Diva?
AM: All being a Wicked Diva means is that Nicole and I got to star as Glinda and Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway. We're not divas in the negative sense for sure! We would be the first people to call each other out on that! The night is a celebration of these two iconic women that we got to play and a celebration of so many more women in pop music, classical music and Broadway.

NC: What are your favorite roles that you’ve played? What roles do you want to play but haven’t?
AM: I love playing Glinda, and I loved playing Lenora in Cry-Baby and Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. Roles I hope to play, well, originating roles is ideal. I also love the character of Lizzie in 110 in the Shade and I love her music in that show.

NC: I was lucky enough to see you in Cry-Baby in La Jolla and then in New York . You were hilarious and I still rave to my friends about your performance of “Screw-Loose”. What was that experience like?
AM: Thank you! Cry-Baby was the first time I had originated a role. That combined with the character having a few "screws loose" gave me the freedom to be boundless in creating her. In my mind, there was nothing Lenora could do that was too absurd or too crazy because in her mind it always made sense. It was such a blast to work on a character like that. Very freeing.

NC: I am bummed that they never made a cast album of Cry-Baby. Isn’t there a following clamoring for that?
AM: Me too! I meet fans all the time who ask about a Cry-Baby cast album. It's too bad one didn't get done. It had some really fun music and lyrics. I mean, come on... the opening song, "Anti Polio Picnic"? "Girl Can I Kiss you With Tongue"? Anyone?

NC: What did you enjoy most about playing Glinda in the San Francisco production of Wicked?
AM: I fell in love with San Francisco! I had no idea how much I was going to love it. One of my favorite cities in the United States! I loved the ocean air in the city environment, I had no idea how much good food was up the there, and it just has some incredibly beautiful and breathtaking areas.

NC: I understand that you are from Anaheim Hills California. What was it like growing up near Disneyland , the Happiest Place on Earth?
AM: I love Disneyland! I've had an annual pass for as long as I can remember. Friday nights in high school consisted of meeting my friends at Snow White's Wishing Well in the park and hanging out until the park closed. And on some Saturday nights, Carnation Plaza had a swing band and you could go swing dancing which was always fun! Disneyland is such a familiar thing for me and I know the park like the back of my hand. I love taking people there who have never been.

NC: What was your journey to Broadway like?
AM: My journey to Broadway... It took me a while to warm up to being on stage because I was so incredibly shy as a child. My mother put me in some dance classes and such because my sister had been doing them but also because she thought it would help me come out of my shell. It was painful at first to have all the attention on me on stage. But the more I did it the more comfortable I became. But I mostly became comfortable because I had such a joy for singing and playing with my friends on stage. I also had other interests growing up but by the time I was ready to go to college, it just made sense for me to go into acting so I did. I moved to New York and graduated from NYU. Moved back to California after I graduated, got an agent in Los Angeles. One of the first auditions my agents sent me out on was for Hairspray. I went in for it, danced, sang, read sides and after a few callbacks got an offer to join the Broadway company so I moved back to New York and got my Equity Card and made my Broadway debut. It was an amazing show and I look back on it so fondly. I absolutely love the musical Hairspray. I was sad to see it close because it meant more people couldn't see it.

NC: What advice would you give to other aspiring Wicked Divas who want to follow in your footsteps (or floating bubble)?

AM: Work hard and always find the joy in it.

NC: What else would you like readers to know about you, your co-star Nicole Parker, and your concert?
AM: Nicole and I met doing Wicked in New York and have become such great friends since then. We had so much in common, grew up about 20 minutes from each other, knew some of the same people, worked at some of the same theatre in SoCal, et cetera. It was like connecting with an old friend even though we had just met. So when it comes to us and our concert, you see two friends rocking out and sharing stories and it's just a fun evening of great music and laughter. I have a blast with Nicole each and every time we perform together and I think audiences do too.

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

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Sweet Revenge

Lying, scheming, murder and betrayal in the tony Hamptons… how could ABC’s Revenge not become a hit? Brothers & Sisters star Emily VanCamp took a very different role as “Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke,” a young woman who comes to the Hamptons with the singular mission to bring down everyone who helped send her father to his violent death. This puts her on a collision course with the ultra-wealthy Grayson family, headed by cold Conrad (Henry Czerny) and ice queen Victoria (Madeleine Stowe). She is aided by a network of her late father’s friends, including eccentric gay billionaire Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann).

Revenge is the perfect show of the moment. Anger at the wealth and greed of the “One Percenters” like Mitt Romney and Wall Street bankers makes watching their stand-ins on Revenge endure Emily’s wrath very satisfying. Mike Kelley’s delicious drama is pitched at a melodramatic level that gives it a campy boost, especially in the diva-like performance of Madeleine Stowe. The layers of intrigue, backstabbing and shifting loyalties never seem to end, which is just the way we like it.

Amanda Clarke was living an idyllic life as a child with her father David after the death of her mother. She had a puppy as well as a bad case of puppy love for Jack Porter, the young son of Stowaway Tavern owner Carl Porter. Then her world came crashing down, after a horrific terrorist attack downs an airliner and her father is framed for the crime by the wealthy Graysons, who actually were guilty in the crime. As Revenge opens, Amanda is now Emily and armed with vast wealth and insider information, she takes down the people who sent her father to prison (and later death) one by one in very entertaining ways.

Van Camp narrates every episode, à la Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives, and her unemotional delivery gives them a comic edge. By the season’s end, Emily has accomplished much of what she thought she wanted with unintended consequences for her and all of those around her. Next season (starting this Sunday, September 30) promises shocking reveals, such as who isn’t really dead and what caused a fateful plane explosion in the season one finale. Van Camp is perfect as Emily/Amanda, as she battles her feelings for both dark and dangerous Daniel Grayson (hunky Joshua Bowman) and good guy Jack (Nick Wechsler). Everyone on Revenge wants revenge on someone, so of course Emily’s plans don’t always go off as planned. She is adaptable enough to come out on top, making her the anti-heroine of the year.

If you missed Revenge last season, the Complete First Season DVDwill be an irresistible treat. If you are already a member of Team Emily or Team Victoria, you will love all of the extras the DVD supplies. Deleted scenes, bloopers and fun behind-the-scenes looks at the gorgeous sets and costumes will satisfy all of your desires to live vicariously. It is a hoot to listen to Stowe, whose “knowledge about her body” and hands-on approach to her costumes make her sound more like haughty Victoria Grayson than she intended.

Season two of Revenge may veer off into storylines you never expected, but no other show delivered such delightful plot twists episode after episode. Truly, this Revenge is a sweetly evil treat.

Hamptons Exposed! Our Five Favorite Scandals on Revenge:

Things happen in the Hamptons that don’t stay in the Hamptons, and they are jaw-dropping! If you don’t want to know, read no further, but these are a few of our favorite things.

  •  Nolan Ross is gay, and how!: Forty year-old Gabriel Mann plays the eccentric tech inventor in a blond Bieber cut that’s way too young for him. When he casually reveals his sexual orientation, you aren’t prepared for just who he hooks up with. Daniel Grayson’s college pal Tyler (humorously bad actor Ashton Holmes) will do anything to get ahead, including bedding the randy billionaire, Victoria Grayson’s personal assistant Ashley Davenport (Ashley Madekwe) and in a moment of personal weakness, he tries to seduce Daniel when drunk. Nolan is a paragon of virtue in comparison, albeit one who lets his libido torpedo Emily’s plans.
  • Victoria Grayson, adulterer!: What makes Victoria’s betrayal of Emily’s father so terrible is the fact that she was having a torrid affair with him, yet went along with her cuckolded husband’s plan to frame him to save herself and her unborn child (Whose child? Watch and see!).
  • Never trust the Help!: Ashley Davenport seems so sweet and oblivious to Emily’s machinations, even as she is unwittingly aiding her boss’ downfall. Beneath the lovely British exterior, however, Ashley is as scheming as the rest of the folks on Revenge. Trouble is, she hooks her wagon to former hustler Tyler, who isn’t going to get her anywhere.
  • Amanda’s back! Who is she?!: If Emily Thorne is really Amanda Clarke, who is the trashy Amanda Clarke who shows up on Emily’s (formerly Amanda’s) doorstep? Why it’s the real Emily Thorne, played by Brittany Murphy look-alike Margarita Levieva. The “Amanda” who returns proves useful to Emily, and is especially good with a deadly tire iron!
  • Lydia Davis takes the plunge!: With friends like Lydia, played by former supermodel Amber Valetta, Victoria needs no enemies. Her best friend is sleeping with her husband, but not for long! When Emily’s tricks make it look like Lydia is responsible for blackmailing the Graysons, Victoria’s right-hand man Ryan Huntley gives her a helping hand... right over the railing of her expensive loft balcony. Good thing that car was there to break her fall... and most of her bones!
 Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: The Plague Years

I was a high-school freshman in 1981 when AIDS, then known as GRID (Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease), began ravaging first our community and then the world.  It was terrifying to learn that sex — homosexual or otherwise — had suddenly become toxic, and safe-sex education soon became the norm.  While tremendous advances in both prevention and treatment have been made in the last 30 years, new HIV infections and deaths continue.

Journalist and author-turned-filmmaker David France’s How to Survive a Plague (opening today in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago) methodically reconstructs the critical period in the fight against AIDS from 1987 to 1995.  By 1987, half a million people around the world had died.  Just four years later, the number of deaths had quadrupled.  As survivor Peter Staley states in the film via vintage footage from the time: “It’s like living in a war; friends are dropping dead all around you.”  HIV-infection was nearly 100% fatal, with only the drug AZT to buy some of the infected time at the then-unheard of cost of $10,000 per year.  Sitting US president Ronald Reagan had yet to even mention the pandemic.

Angered by this woefully lacking response on the part of American leaders and drug companies, a group of infected New Yorkers and their supporters formed the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which would quickly become known as ACT UP.  ACT UP staged a series of massive and often disruptive protests, the most notorious of which involved an invasion of St. Patrick Cathedral in response to then-Cardinal John O’Connor’s condemnation of prophylactics as a means of preventing HIV transmission (Ray Navarro, a late actor-activist dressed as Jesus in the film, amusingly dubbed the hierarch “Cardinal O’Condom”).  Inspired by playwright Larry Kramer, who was the first to publicly pronounce AIDS “a plague,” ACT UP’s members were able to pressure the government and the FDA into a more rapid and effective response.  Their ultimate success was the introduction of the first protease inhibitor in 1995, the “miracle drug” to which many of those still living with HIV/AIDS owe their longevity.

How to Survive a Plague was beaten to the screen earlier this year by Jim Hubbard’s United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.  Both films use much of the same archival footage, interview subjects and statistics.  Though its content will be familiar to those who saw the earlier film, How to Survive a Plague emerges as the better documentary if only due to its slightly more comprehensive perspective.  Whereas United in Anger essentially ends with the 1992 schism within ACT UP when several of its longtime leaders left to form the Treatment Action Group (TAG), How to Survive goes on to highlight the pivotal protease inhibitor era.  Final, current interviews with Staley and several other longtime survivors serve as a powerful coda.

The global AIDS death toll stands today at more than 30 million and HIV infection rates have remained fairly static in recent years.  Obviously, the plague is not over.  France’s fine documentary succeeds at showing both how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.

Reverend’s Rating: B+

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Master Baiter

‘Tis the time of year when the prestigious films we critics and industry wags refer to as “Oscar bait” start to hit the multiplexes.  The first such obvious release out of the gate is Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (from The Weinstein Company), which opened in LA and NYC on September 14 following its award-winning premiere at the Venice Film Festival.  It will expand nationally in October.

Anderson’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood is distinguished by potent if often flamboyant performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, a more subdued but surprisingly dark turn by the ordinarily-cherubic Amy Adams, and elegant production design and photography that are showcased especially well in the 70mm format in which the film is being projected in some cities.

The screenplay, however, is a murky mash-up of religious expose (particularly in regard to Scientology and similar guru-led “cults”), a critique of post-World War II American mores, and an unrequited love story (possibly two unrequited love stories).  Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a Navy sailor just released from service in the wake of V-J day.  To call Freddie an alcoholic is an understatement, as he imbibes anything containing alcohol -- including mouthwash, paint thinner and even ammunition fluid -- as frequently as possible.  Freddie has even seemingly suffered a stroke as a result of his addiction and is capable of speaking out of only one side of his mouth.  Phoenix also employs a somewhat stooped posture and frequent placement of his hands on his hips as more of Freddie’s idiosyncrasies.

After a fellow field worker nearly dies as a result of drinking one of Freddie’s concoctions, Freddie flees and literally stumbles upon the yacht of one Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman).  Dodd is a published author, philosopher and popular public speaker.  He is also the head of a growing religious movement called “The Cause,” which employs various unorthodox practices.  His devoted yet manipulative wife (Adams) and followers regularly refer to Dodd simply as “Master,” and Freddie soon finds himself under Dodd’s spell.  Dodd unearths numerous skeletons in Freddie’s closet through a series of interviews and uses the information to coerce the too-wasted-to-care Freddie into what writer-director Anderson has referred to as a pseudo-homoerotic relationship.  (SPOILER: The film’s final act is about as gay as you can get, with Dodd tearfully crooning Frank Loesser’s “On a Slow Boat to China” to Freddie.)

Anderson expands to some degree in The Master on the power struggle between faith and commerce/social progress he more clearly drew in There Will Be Blood.  The relationship that develops between Freddie and Dodd is more complex than the rivalry that so palpably, memorably characterized Daniel Day Lewis’ oil baron and Paul Dano’s evangelist.  As individuals, though, the Master and his toady aren’t as well developed and subsequently don’t register as strongly.  Dodd’s motives remain largely elusive, and Freddie is a pretty hopeless case when it comes to The Cause’s efforts to help humankind overcome its animalistic nature in favor of the divine spirit with which we are imbued.  Nevertheless, Hoffman and Phoenix dive into their roles with gusto and exhibit great chemistry.  Amy Adams’ work here is the real revelation among the performances for me, subtly revealing her controlling methods as the film progresses.  I loved how her hair falls ever-so-slightly more out of place as the power her character wields grows.

Jonny Greenwood’s unusual music score, performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, is seemingly a character unto itself that generally supports but occasionally clashes with the film’s flesh-and-blood protagonists and narrative.  Better utilized are the numerous period songs Anderson incorporates, the most telling of which is Irving Berlin’s “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” in addition to the previously mentioned “On a Slow Boat to China.”  Anderson truly is a master himself at using existing music to evoke setting and mood.

While many respected critics are drooling all over The Master, the opening weekend, largely industry-connected audience I viewed the film with gave it a fairly chilly reception.  I foresee deserved Academy Award nominations for its lead performances and in technical categories including art direction, cinematography and costume design, but I can’t declare the movie a Masterpiece.

Reverend’s Rating: B

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Controversial Lives

On his OutQ talk show last week, Frank DeCaro ran down a list of the ten funniest movie comedies of all time, as ranked by a recent survey that determined each film's rate of laughs per minute. #10 was Monty Python's Life of Brian, the British troupe's controversial 1979 religious satire. It is the only Python film on the list, and one of only two movies honored that were produced prior to the last decade (the #1 spot was deservedly claimed by 1980's Airplane!).

Holy Flying Circus, new to Blu-ray and DVDfrom Acorn Media, is a very clever, frequently hilarious recounting of the international brouhaha that erupted when Life of Brian was originally released. This docu-drama/-comedy, written by In the Loop's Oscar-nominated Tony Roche, is told and filmed in a Pythonesque style replete with silly walks, cross-dressing and animated vignettes a la Terry Gilliam's eye-popping work when he was with MP. Adding to the similarities are the actors cast as Monty Python's former members, most of whom are dead ringers. This is particularly true of Darren Boyd as John Cleese, Steve Punt as Eric Idle and Charles Edwards as the extremely nice Michael Palin. (Much is made in the film of Palin's all-consuming niceness.)

Life of Brian does not make fun of Jesus Christ, contrary to the popular sentiment of the time generated primarily by people who hadn't seen the film. Nonetheless, Monty Python endured global accusations of blasphemy and the troupe was split on how best to respond to them. Eventually, Cleese and Palin agreed to be guests on a BBC talk show (hosted in Holy Flying Circus by musical lyricist Tim Rice, amusingly personified by the similar-sounding Tom Price) alongside an Anglican archbishop and British commentator Malcolm Muggeridge. This confrontation serves as the film's climax.

The release of Holy Flying Circus is nothing if not timely given current tensions between the U. and pretty much every Middle Eastern country over a low-budget movie, Innocence of Muhammed, that reportedly depicts the Muslim prophet in a negative light. Without belittling Islam or the present situation, I found one of Cleese's lines in Holy Flying Circus insightful. "It's good to be offended;" Cleese says, "It reminds us that we're alive." If you're not easily offended, be sure to watch this smart docu-satire (as well as Life of Brian if you never have) ASAP.

I finally had a chance to view Somewhere Between, the new documentary about children adopted from China that I mentioned here a few weeks back. It is now playing at the Landmark Nuart Theater in Los Angeles following a successful New York run and after winning several notable film festival awards. Intimate and compelling, the film follows four girls raised in the US and the various unique struggles they undergo in adapting to our culture while yearning to know their origins and homeland.

Deeply Christian and home-schooled, Haley Butler firmly believes that "God does everything for a reason." The doc reveals Haley's seemingly miraculous (though some will be tempted to call it "accidental" or "coincidental") discovery of her birth family during one of her and her adoptive mother's regular mission trips back to China. It's a riveting sequence, but nearly as riveting and deeply moving is the experience of another adoptee, Fang "Jenni" Lee. Fang discovers and becomes connected emotionally to a little "girl in pink" she discovers in a Chinese foster home. The toddler has cerebral palsy but Fang makes it her personal mission to find parents in the US willing to adopt her "little sister."

All four of the teens' stories and experiences featured in Somewhere Between are enlightening. As one of their advisors states in the film: "Adoption is something you carry with you your whole life. You can run from it, but it runs faster than you." My only gripe, as the new uncle of a recently-adopted nephew from China, is that an adopted male isn't featured. Fewer boys are put up for adoption, and those that are usually have severe physical or mental disabilities. However, there are other Chinese-born boys growing up in the US who deserve to have their stories told, too. Perhaps director Linda Goldstein Knowlton, who herself adopted a girl from China, can make a male-focused sequel down the road.

Reverend's Ratings:
Holy Flying Circus: B+
Somewhere Between: A-

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: A New Leading Man

For such a young performer, actor Jason Forbach has made a name for himself in two of the biggest Broadway hits of all time, first in the extravagant Phantom of the Opera which just closed in Las Vegas and now in the re-imagined 25th Anniversary tour of Les Miserables (opening at ASU Gammage tomorrow). Coincidentally, an all-star film version will be hitting the big screen in December featuring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. Forbach feels that the film will help bring audiences to his production, where they will be blown away by the show’s newly cinematic feel and energy.

Forbach most often played the role of Raoul among other parts in Vegas’ Phantom, which featured a truly “crashing” chandelier and a sleek ninety minute run time perfect for Vegas attention spans. He is sad to see the show close after six years and took a brief break from Les Miz to be with the cast at its closing. “It really was one-of-a-kind, it was so beautiful. I had a lot of different shoes to fill (on that production). I probably went on about a hundred times as Raoul. I played a lot of different parts in that show and I loved them all.”

“I play Enjolras, who is the student leader of this revolution that happens during the course of the show,” Forbach explained about his role in Les Miz, laughing when asked if it could be called Occupy Paris. “It could be. (The show) seems to have so much to do with what’s going on in our world now as it did then in Nineteenth Century France, when you think of the uprisings in Syria and Egypt. People are rising up to protest what’s happening on Wall Street and they’re realizing that they have a powerful voice. I think there’s a big message about that in Les Miz.”

“First of all, it’s completely reconceived and directed,” Forbach explained, describing what makes the new tour different from productions you may have seen. “The whole focus, style-wise, is an emphasis on these projections we have that are inspired by the artwork of (Les Miserables author) Victor Hugo. You almost feel like you are watching living, moving art and it’s overwhelming when you see it.”

“It’s more cinematic in scope and feel, and the energy is new and raw and fresh, and everyone is just biting into this text. For all of the diehard fans, they’ll see everything that they have grown to love and expect when they go to Les Miz, but they’ll also see something new.” Forbach feels proud when he sees how passionate audiences are about this new production.

Forbach is excited to see what The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper does with the film, noting that he came to see their production in Chicago and seems to be taking a cue from the show’s gritty and real depictions of the horrors and triumphs on the characters. “It looks really beautiful.”

Forbach grew up in Overland Park, Kansas. “I was really fortunate to have supportive parents,” he explained. They encouraged him to pursue what made him happy, leading to the decision after school to perform in theater rather than opera. He began his career in 2005 and is grateful for the long employment both Phantom and Les Miz have provided him. He also enjoys doing shows like Into the Woods at Regional Theatres on breaks from Phantom and Les Miz, since it “wakes up the creative mind.”

“I have one full length albumcalled A New Leading Man,” he explained. “It’s my first album so I wanted to introduce myself, but it also features songs by unconventional leading men characters by modern musical theater composers.” He also released a holiday CDcalled Remembering to Dream featuring the title song which he co-wrote. Both albums are available from Amazon.

Causes like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Las Vegas’ homeless assistance program called Family Promise are very important to Forbach. “It helps give homeless families the tools they need to survive, especially in this economy.” He continues to volunteer with the cast of Les Miz as well. “We’re always conscious of helping out while we can, and if we can help out with music and bring attention and awareness through music, I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

He finished the interview by saying how much he and the cast loved playing Gammage last year, and he is happy that they are returning. “When we played Tempe, the audiences just blew the roof off the joint. We could not believe the enthusiasm there, so I’m excited to return because it just energizes our show to know that the audiences are so into it.”

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

Friday, September 7, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Labors of Love

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate most about living in the vicinity of Hollywood and covering film openings and festivals is the frequent opportunities I have to speak with up and coming filmmakers about the perilous journeys they undertook to see their scripts through to completion. The hard work and personal sacrifices that went into several new movies, including a slew of gay-themed releases, prove that filmmaking is more often than not a true labor of love.

Out in theaters nationwide today is CBS Films’ The Words. This star-studded morality play blends literary, historical and romantic elements into a continuously intriguing but ultimately only semi-satisfying froth. Still, the 11-year trek its writer-directors took from page to screen ought to merit them and the film some kind of award. Bradley Cooper (who also produced) gives a terrific dramatic performance as Rory Jansen, an aspiring novelist desperate for publication. After a long-lost manuscript by an unknown author inadvertently comes into his possession, Jansen decides to put his name on it and — voila — he becomes an overnight literary sensation.

Then, just when life starts to take off for Jansen and his lovingly supportive wife (Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana), the book’s original author appears. Identified only as “The Old Man” and played by Jeremy Irons, he relates the tortured history behind his work to Jansen. This subsequently sets Jansen into a tailspin as he deals with the ramifications of essentially stealing the other man’s life. Meanwhile, Dennis Quaid plays another, contemporary writer who has chronicled the men’s saga in his own book, but is it a work of fiction or something much more reality-based, discomfortingly so?

The Words has a lot going in its favor: the exceptional cast (which also features Ben Barnes, Olivia Wilde, J.K. Simmons, Michael McKean, Ron Rifkin and Zeljko Ivanek); taut direction by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, whose biggest prior credit was as writers of the story for Tron: Legacy; Michele Laliberte’s exquisite production design; the naturally-lit cinematography of Antonio Calvache; and Marcelo Zarvos’ urgent music score. At the end of the film, though, the payoff isn’t as good or effective as it could and should have been. Also, Irons’ performance rang increasingly false for me as the story progressed; despite his stooped posture and realistic old-age makeup, Irons speaks and moves in a younger manner than would most men pushing 90 years old. Still, I can recommend The Words to moviegoers hungry for thought-provoking fare.

More enjoyable and, in the end, more cohesive is Anthony Meindl’s comedic labor of love Birds of a Feather. Although so recently completed it doesn’t have distribution yet, the film has already won the Spirit of the Festival Award at the 2012 Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival and is well worth keeping your eyes open for it. Meindl wrote and directed Birds of a Feather and stars in it as Mark, a failed actor-turned-successful shoe salesman. He becomes reunited with his former co-star and fiancée, Julie (the very funny Lindsay Frame), who recruits Mark into directing a proposed musical version of Chekhov’s The Seagull.

Birds of a Feather starts out slowly but finds its footing during the first of several campy musical numbers (the songs were written by Meindl, Michael Cudahy and Bert Selen). The best is a Lady Gaga-inspired, synopsized take on The Seagull complete with a cameo by Bruce Vilanch, decked out in stuffed Angry Birds toys. The climactic Red Hot Seagull, which incorporates multiple references to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows, is also hilarious.

Meindl — who is gay and very attractive in an Aaron Eckhart way — has assembled a great, game cast that includes Danielle Hoover as a reality TV star on a downward slide, Kenny Kelleher as her agent, soap opera actor Trevor Donovan playing himself, Blubberella star Lindsay Hollister and, in a too-brief appearance, Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis. Such actors assure that Birds of a Feather at least has cult film potential, although mainstream lovers of theatre and movie musicals will likely love it too. It deserves distribution, and I’ll pray Meindl gets it soon.

Finally, LA-based filmgoers have their pick starting today of no less than three GLBT-themed labors of love, all of them worth seeing. Ira Sachs’ autobiographical Keep the Lights On, reviewed here previously in conjunction with its July screening at Oufest, is the must-see gay movie of the year thus far. Hollywood to Dollywood documents the cross-country effort adorable gay twins Gary and Larry Lane undertook in order to hand-deliver a screenplay they wrote to their idol, Dolly Parton. And another acclaimed documentary, The Right to Love: An American Family, focuses on the anti-discrimination fight waged on YouTube by a gay married couple and their two adopted children. Truly, an abundance of riches.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Words: B
Birds of a Feather: B+

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

Monday, September 3, 2012

Reverend's Previews: You’ll Open Your Door to These Mormons

Ordinarily, people — especially GLBT people — don’t get excited when representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ring our doorbells. We may even quiet ourselves to give them the impression we aren’t home and pray they leave quickly. Whenever I see Mormon missionaries riding around my neighborhood on bicycles in their trademark starched white shirts and black slacks, I’m filled with oddly-mixed feelings of admiration for their obvious dedication to their faith, attraction to the cuter ones, and absolute dread.

How ironic, then, that theatergoers throughout California (myself included) are making plans to see The Book of Mormon during its West Coast premiere September 5th-November 25th at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. This simultaneously sacrilegious yet respectful musical by the irreverent creators of South Park and Avenue Q won nine 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book and Best Direction of a Musical.

A veritable army of eager, fresh-faced LDS missionaries will be singing “Hello!” and taking over the historic Pantages stage in what Vogue called “the funniest musical of all time” and The New York Times anointed “the best musical of this century.” Among the show’s other unforgettable songs are “Two by Two,” sung by the newly paired-off evangelists as they embark on their missions; “Turn It Off,” a paean to self-control and avoiding temptation (including homosexual activity); “Joseph Smith American Moses,” a thinly-veiled homage to the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” number in The King and I; and the uproarious “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” of which the less is said, the better.

The Book of Mormon is primarily the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who created, produce and largely voice the long-running animated TV series South Park. No strangers to musical numbers or incendiary topics, the duo has often skewered religious sanctimony and hypocrisy in the past. Their first, unexpectedly successful Broadway opus offends and delights in equal measure. Perhaps most surprising of all, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at the center of the show has refused to condemn it and is instead embracing The Book of Mormon’s popularity as a sign of the church’s growing, mainstream acceptance.

As is also pretty readily apparent to viewers of South Park and The Book of Mormon, Parker and Stone have a definite gay sensibility. I assumed they were gay for several years until I learned they are both married (to women) with children. I had also assumed that Parker, at least, was a former Mormon based on how frequently he has mocked the LDS not only on South Park but in his earlier feature film Orgazmo. He isn’t, though, which makes it even clearer that Parker has done considerable research into Mormon history and practice.

The main action in The Book of Mormon follows two naïve missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are assigned to a war-torn, AIDS-ravaged community in Uganda. Quickly finding themselves in over their heads, they question their faith even as they grow in it and learn how best to evangelize the locals. Meanwhile, other missionaries in other parts of the world struggle with their repressed desires and forbidden attractions via song & dance.

Robert Lopez (Avenue Q) collaborated with Stone and Parker on the musical’s book and score, while Parker co-directed The Book of Mormon with Casey Nicholaw (who also choreographed the dance numbers). Los Angeles will mark only the second stop for the touring production following its debut in Denver this summer. The original Broadway production is still going strong.

As Parker and Stone commented when they learned that The Book of Mormon would be playing in LA: “We moved to Los Angeles twenty years ago to try and make it as filmmakers; The last thing we expected is that one day we would be bringing our Broadway musical here. It’s crazy and great.”

To purchase this fall’s hottest theater tickets, which are going fast, visit BroadwayLA website. Be warned: The show carries a not-to-be-taken-lightly "Parental Advisory" for explicit language, and no sacred cow goes un-tipped.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reel Thoughts: The Odd Couple

While it may not be the modern Harold and Maude that it claims to be, Nate & Margaret (now available on DVDfrom Breaking Glass Pictures) is a sweet comic drama about the unlikely friendship between an older woman and a young gay man.

Nate (Tyler Ross) is a nineteen year-old film student whose best friend is his next door neighbor Margaret (Natalie West), a socially-awkward coffee house waitress with dreams of being a stand-up comic. Former teen star Gaby Hoffmann stars as Darla, Nate’s boozy, floozy gal pal who sets him up with James (Conor McCahill). Nate and Margaret have an easy, mutually-supportive relationship where he encourages her painfully unfunny stand-up routines and she bolsters his filmmaking aspirations. Still, Nate is missing out on romance, so when he hooks up with the superficial James, he starts blowing off poor Margaret.

At the same time, Margaret hits on a self-deprecating persona based on her past abusive relationships that actually seems to appeal to people. An exaggerated blow-up late in the film threatens to torpedo Nate and Margaret’s friendship for good, but you hope that they can overcome the clumsy plot machinations and become friends again.

Anyone who has had a close friend shut them out when they get involved with a partner will enjoy and relate to the film. Ross is cute and engaging, while West is humorously deadpan. McCahill is suitably slimy as boyfriend James, and it is fun to see Hoffmann enjoying herself playing a bad girl. Nate & Margaret is almost too laid back and never really catches fire, but it is a nice look at an unconventional friendship.

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