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.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. The Words didn't do much for me but it still had it's moments. Those moments were mainly because of Irons and I wish they had more of him rather than just what seems like an extended cameo.

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