Monday, October 29, 2012

Reverend's Preview: Putting the “GLBT” in AFI

While it is not an exclusively or specifically GLBT film festival, Los Angeles’s annual AFI Fest (Presented by Audi) nevertheless has something to offer all lovers of cinema.  The 2011 fest opened with the world premiere of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, which cast the notorious FBI founder (impersonated by Leonardo DiCaprio) in an unquestionably gay light.

This year’s festival, which runs November 1st to the 8th at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and other Hollywood venues, isn’t offering many movies that scream “gay,” but there are several offerings of GLBT-interest to be found.  Best of all, AFI (which stands for the venerable American Film Institute) Fest is absolutely free to the public thanks to Audi and other generous sponsors.

The gala premiere of Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock will open the 2012 fest.  Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins stars as the world-renown director during the production of what would become his biggest box office hit, 1960’s Psycho.  While the film reportedly focuses on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, Alma (played by fellow Oscar-winner Helen Mirren), James D’Arcy co-stars as closeted bisexual actor Anthony Perkins, who famously embodied the murderous, excessively mother-loving Norman Bates.  It will be interesting to see whether the movie at least alludes to Perkins’ relationships with men, who reportedly included actor Tab Hunter, dancer Rudolf Nureyev and composer Stephen Sondheim.  Perkins died of AIDS complications in 1992.

Night #2 of AFI Fest will spotlight Ang Lee’s lavish, 3D adaptation of the bestselling novel Life of Pi.  This philosophical tale of a young man shipwrecked with a tiger and other wild animals marks the director’s most ambitious effort yet.  Lee won the Oscar for Best Director in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain, his beloved, sensitive look at two sheepherders (Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger) who are secretly in love with one another.  As a result, he is well respected among both gay and mainstream moviegoers.  Newcomer Suraj Sharma, who plays the frequently shirtless title character in Life of Pi, is certainly easy on the eyes.

A number of actors favored by GLBT viewers headline films that will be shown.  Among these are Ewan McGregor in the tsunami-set drama The Impossible; Bradley Cooper in the offbeat comedy Silver Linings Playbook; Kristen Stewart in On the Road, based on bisexual poet Jack Kerouac's autobiography; Maggie Smith in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet; and singer-actress Kylie Minogue in the semi-musical Holy Motors.

I highly recommend two unconventional, uncompromising romantic dramas from France that will be screened during the fest in the wake of their acclaimed premieres at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  While both feature heterosexual protagonists, the themes and emotions they evoke are universal.

Amour is writer-director Michael Haneke’s near-perfect exploration of an elderly couple’s commitment to each other in the face of terminal illness.  It won Cannes’ top prize, the Palme D’Or, and is truly one of this year’s best films.  Rust and Bone, meanwhile, depicts the love that develops fitfully between two physically- and emotionally-damaged people.  Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, The Dark Knight Rises) plays a whale trainer who loses her legs during a freak accident.  She meets a directionless bouncer and boxer played by Matthias Schoenaerts (who made an international splash in last year’s Oscar-nominated Bullhead and is frequently nude here), who is also father to a young son.  The four lead actors between Amour and Rust and Bone give unforgettably powerful performances.

AFI Fest programmers do take care to include at least a few films of specifically GLBT interest.  2012 offerings include the US premiere of Laurence Anyways, a transsexual tale by young gay filmmaker Xavier Dolan (Heartbeats, I Killed My Mother); The Sapphires, an Australian hit about a girl group entertaining troops during the Vietnam War; Ginger & Rosa, a new movie by Orlando director Sally Potter about two teenage girls during the 1960’s sexual revolution; Everybody’s Got Somebody… Not Me, from Mexico, in which a troubled intellectual woman has an affair with an inquisitive teenaged girl; and the short film Alaska is a Drag, about a young gay man living in a small town in rural Alaska.

The festival closes November 8th with the official premiere of Steven Spielberg’s highly-anticipated biographical epic, Lincoln, starring two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president of the United States.  Its all-star supporting cast includes Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln), Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader and many more.  Perhaps most significantly, though, the screenplay was written by gay playwright Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame.  No stranger to historical and political topics (he also wrote Spielberg’s Munich a few years back), Kushner could potentially liken Lincoln’s pursuit of freedom from slavery to our modern-day fight for marriage equality.  It will also be interesting to see if the movie addresses rumors about the statesman’s intimate, possibly sexual friendship with another man.

For a complete listing of films and to secure available tickets for screenings and related events, visit the AFI Fest website.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Hitting the Slopes

The Swiss Alps have served as a backdrop for adventure and romance in such classic movies as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Sound of Music.  In Ursula Meier’s Sister (opening today in Los Angeles), which is Switzerland’s official entry in this year’s Academy Awards, the famous mountain range is the setting for a darker, more personal story.

12-year old Simon (an excellent performance by Kacey Mottet Klein) is in many ways your average, precocious pre-pubescent.  He spends his days hanging out with friends at the tourist-oriented ski resorts nestled high above their middle-to-lower-class homes in the valley.  Simon has hit upon a novel way to support himself and his older, unemployed sister: he steals high-end skis from tourists and resells them at a considerable profit.  Though it is a risky enterprise, the boy finds eager buyers in the seasonal adult workers shopping for low-cost Christmas gifts for their own kids.

Desperate for his neglectful sister’s attention, Simon gives her money and lavishes her with high-end clothing.  She continues, however, to spend days at a time away with strange men.  The more mature Simon strikes up friendships with a handsome cook at one of the resorts as well as with a British woman (played by Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame) on vacation with her two young sons.  But once the season ends and Simon again finds himself alone, he begins to realize he has to start making some choices for his own happiness.

Sister, which also won the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, posits the virgin-white snow and frolicsome attitudes of the resort guests in stark contrast to the somewhat incestuous, psychologically-complex relationship between Simon and his sibling (Lea Seydoux, who appeared last year in the US films Midnight in Paris and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol).  Their relationship is revealed to be even more tangled, heartbreakingly so, than it initially appears.  Agnes Godard’s cinematography and John Parish’s spare, acoustic music score provide strong technical support.  You may be shocked, you may be moved, but you won’t easily forget Sister.

Newly out on DVDand VOD and airing tonight on the PBS series Voces is the eye-opening documentary, Lemon.  It recounts the rags-to-riches-to-rags saga of poet and playwright Lemon Andersen. Born in Brooklyn to a Puerto Rican mother and Norwegian-American father (both of whom later died from AIDS), Lemon began to “take my lemons and make the best goddamn lemonade” via poetry at the age of 20 after serving time on Riker’s Island.  He was discovered by producer Russell Simmons at an open mic event and was chosen to star in Simmons’ Broadway production, Def Poetry Jam, which won a 2003 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.  Lemon received his own award as one of the cast members.

Lemon became briefly popular before the show’s closure and demons from his past intervened to derail his success.  As his money ran out, Lemon found himself back in the projects.  In time, though, he picked up his pen and began writing anew, hoping to stage a comeback.  He has since appeared in the feature films Inside Man and The Soloist.

There aren’t many Tony Award winners who are also three-time felons, but the documentary allows Lemon’s talent and ambition to shine through.  I wish co-directors Laura Brownson and Beth Levison had gone into more detail regarding his parents’ fascinating though ultimately tragic lives and the circumstances their subject was born into.  Still, this Lemon-ade is worth sampling as is.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Sister: B+
Lemon: B

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Restoration Station

“Restored” and “extended” directors’ cuts of movies are all the rage today, largely due to demand from home video cinephiles. A film doesn’t have to be a bonafide classic to warrant such treatment; sometimes the director him- or herself revisits even a recent work in an effort to improve it. See Oliver Stone’s 2004 Alexander as one example, which underwent two revisions prior to the “final director’s cut” available on Blu-ray that still has critics and viewers divided.

Increasingly, though, a long-lost film is found, restored to its original glory as much as possible, and presented anew to modern audiences. Such was the case at Los Angeles’ historic Orpheum Theatre on October 13th, when Germany’s 1919, pro-LGBT Different from the Others (Anders als die Andern) made its US premiere nearly 100 years after it was made. The screening was the most spectacular of several highlights at this year’s Outfest Legacy Awards gala.

The annual Legacy Awards presentation has become my favorite of all the great events and festivals Outfest sponsors annually. Funds from ticket sales, auction items and donations solicited during the evening go to the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation. Administered in partnership with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Legacy Preservation Project has grown to more than 20,000 elements in only seven years. It is the largest collection of LGBT images in the world. Feature films and documentaries previously restored through the project include Mona’s Candle Light Footage (1950), Queens at Heart (1965) and Bill Sherwood’s beloved Parting Glances (1986).

Different from the Others saw all of its intact prints, along with virtually all gay media in Germany, destroyed once the Nazis rose to power. Conrad Veidt, of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fame, stars as a gay violinist who falls for one of his young male pupils (the doe-eyed Fritz Schulz, who struck me as a precursor to Sal Mineo’s closeted teen in Rebel Without a Cause). Soon after, Veidt’s character finds himself being blackmailed by a homophobic predator who discovers the men’s relationship. The film is a startlingly frank and compassionate work, even by today’s slightly more enlightened standards, co-written by then-renowned sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld as a protest against Germany’s anti-gay Paragraph 175.

Approximately 40 minutes of film fragments were discovered in Russia a few years ago. Purchased by the UCLA Archive and lovingly restored by the Legacy Project (with descriptive title cards filling in for the missing footage), it made its debut at the Orpheum with live Wurlitzer organ accompaniment before 1,000 enraptured attendees who couldn’t stop talking about the film’s impact at the lively after party. The current version is naturally somewhat stilted, as it is missing large chunks of exposition, but its historical and cultural relevance can’t be denied. With any luck, the missing footage will yet be found; after all, the silent sci-fi epic Metropolis was believed to be as complete as it would ever be in a truncated 90-minute version until its missing hour was discovered four years ago in South America. Outfest and UCLA will soon be re-introducing Different from the Others to the world via theatrical exhibitions and student screenings.

The annual Legacy Awards event also recognizes one or more contemporary filmmakers whose work has advanced positive portrayals of the LGBT community and its members. This year’s Visionary Award honorees were film, television and Broadway producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Their achievements include the Oscar-winning movie version of Chicago as well as the 2007 stage-to-screen transfer Hairspray, both film versions of Footloose, yhe made-for-TV movies Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story and Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, the current NBC series Smash, and the recent Broadway revivals of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Promises, Promises.

Out actors Michael Urie (Partners, Ugly Betty) and Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) as well as gay-for-pay Glee star Darren Criss, all veterans of Meron’s and Zadan’s stage productions, were on hand to fete the pair. Urie opened the presentation in hilarious style with his unsolicited audition to be the next Academy Awards host (Zadan and Meron are producing the 2013 show), while Criss performed a rousing, same-sex version of the song “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” from How to Succeed. Criss and Hayes both spoke personally, sincerely and gratefully of their relationships with Zadan and Meron. It was definitely a night to be remembered.

Frank Oz’s 1986 movie musical Little Shop of Horrors isn’t as significant a cinematic achievement as Different from the Others, but it is an enjoyable romp featuring a stellar comedy cast that includes Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and the late John Candy, among others. Adapted from the 1982 off-Broadway stage success written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (who went on to score Disney’s animated modern classics The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin prior to Ashman’s premature death from AIDS) which was itself inspired by Roger Corman’s ultra-low budget 1960 movie, Little Shop of Horrors spins a bizarre tale of Skid Row-set love, sado-masochism and an invasion by alien, man-eating plants.

The stage version has a memorably dark finale that was expanded on by Ashman and Menken and shot by Oz. However, test audiences hated the original ending in which the hero (Moranis) and his girlfriend (the delectable Ellen Greene) are eaten by the vicious “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space,” Audrey II. Oz was forced to shoot a happier ending and the original version was locked away in a Warner Bros. vault save for a brief, black and white DVD release in the 1990’s.

Fans — myself included — who have been clamoring the last 26 years for Oz’s original version don’t have to wait any longer: the restored, full-color director’s cut of Little Shop of Horrors was just released on Blu-raylast week. The extended, 20-minute ending is very different, even from the stage version, but it blends in seamlessly and is well worth seeing and comparing to the earlier incarnations. It actually goes overboard with the elaborate visual effects now depicting an army of giant Audrey II’s destroying various US cities.

Most welcome though are an additional appearance and song by the musical’s African-American “Greek chorus,” who simply disappeared from the final quarter of the 1986 theatrical release until its second-to-last shot; a genuinely moving reprise of the signature song “Somewhere That’s Green,” performed by the aptly-named Greene as she is dying; and a sinister appearance by character actor Paul Dooley, who was cut entirely from the re-shot version and replaced by the decidedly less-sinister Jim Belushi.

The Blu-ray includes a booklet and numerous extras that relate the movie musical’s tortured history. Oz & Co. can now rest, and all but the most die-hard devotees of the 1986 theatrical version (which is also included on the Blu-ray) can rejoice.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Different from the Others: B+
Little Shop of Horrors Director’s Cut: A-

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: Shores Del-ivers

Saying things other people don’t even want to think much less say, Del Shores is a take-no-prisoners fighter for GLBT equality and the perfect person to take on so-called Christians who use their religion to shame and demonize the GLBT community. Shores, who many people know from his hit Logo series Sordid Lives and the hit film of the same name starring Olivia Newton John and Leslie Jordan, is finishing a tour of his new show Naked. Sordid. Reality., as well as promoting his latest DVD Del Shores: Sordid Confessions.

A follow-up to his hilarious DVDMy Sordid Life, in Sordid Confessions he jumps right in and addresses how his life completely blew up last December when he and his husband Jason Dottley (who played Ty in the Sordid Lives series) divorced. “I’m living a Tammy Wynette song,” he jokes in the show, although he has no regrets about showing his anger toward his ex.

Shores grew up the son of a Southern Baptist minister, and he tried to live life the way the Church dictates, getting married and having two daughters whom he cherishes. After the success of his first play Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?, Shores went on to write Sordid Lives, which ran forever in Los Angeles, and he got into television writing, first on Ned & Stacey (starring Debra Messing and Thomas Hayden Church), then Will & Grace and Queer as Folk. “I can point to the day that changed my life and it was the day the review (of Daddy’s Dyin’) came out in the LA Times. That show ran for twenty-two months in LA, and it changed my life. I started getting the chance to do television and movies, and to this day, that is still my most-produced play,” Shores explained, as he prepared to do a show in Oklahoma City.

Sordid Confessions is just what the title infers, and Shores does not hold back on his feelings about such “celebrities” as Bristol Palin and former Saturday Night Live has-been Victoria Jackson. The most hilarious part of the show is when Shores, who knows his Scriptures, turns the Good Book back on the bad people who like to wield it like a club. His standard P.S. on responses, which he actually sends to these people, is “P.S.: F*** you!”

I had the opportunity to ask Shores about his life and his decision to go back on the road after his divorce, and he was just as honest as he is in his writing and on stage:

On Sordid Lives: “It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m very grateful for that franchise.”

On Sordid Confessions: “I’m really happy with that. You know, I scheduled a taping of that and then my world was rocked with my husband leaving, and I had to delay it. I was really worried about being funny. I was going. “Can I do this?”, but then I stepped on stage at the Rose Room and I felt like it was one of my best shows in my career. I just loved the audience and they allowed me to go off my roadmap and do some really funny ad-libs that made it onto the DVD. That whole bit about AOL chat rooms and the “9 ½ inches” who show up was completely on the fly.”

On Bristol Palin: The untalented TV personality gets special treatment by Shores when he reads from her book, where she claims that she got blackout drunk from wine coolers and doesn’t remember having sex with Levi Johnston. “I read from that book during my shows, but legally, I couldn’t show that,” Shores explained. “It really is comedy at its very best. The fact that she wrote what she wrote and thinks that that’s okay. It amazes me that she claims she has no memory of her encounter with Levi and had to be told the next day by a friend. I always say, “Where was that friend (who knew she had sex)? I always say that the reason that Bristol Palin was the only contestant to gain weight while on Dancing with the Stars was that the whole staff was gay,” Shores joked, adding that they probably steered her to the craft service tables, pulled her hair back in unflattering buns and put her in a flamenco dress that Shores swears in a copy of his Sordid Lives character Brother Boy’s funeral outfit.

On Sarah Palin claiming that John Kerry “diminished himself” by talking about her: “We all have. We all have diminished ourselves by keeping her relevant, and all the Palins.”

On his sold-out shows: “I think the poster (pictured above) had a lot with it. I say in my show, “I deserved that photo shoot after all the angst I went through with my divorce. I also talk about Leslie Jordan’s reaction, “Oh Del, what were you thinking? That picture! It’s so… airbrushed!” and I said, “Yes it is, Leslie, and you should try it.”

On his divorce: “I don’t hold back. In the new show, I don’t tell all the gory details, but I definitely challenge the philosophy that we have to rush to forgiveness and not be angry. Do we really wish our exes well?” Shores worried about how that would be received at first. “I have had such an outpouring from people who’ve gone through breakups or even other conflicts in their lives where they feel less guilty now for having a human response to something. Quite frankly, using my humor and using my no-censor attitude has been very healing for me. It’s the therapy I needed. And certainly I needed to hear those laughs, I needed to feel the applause. I needed to just marinate in love, if you will. I could have closed down creatively, which I did for a while, or I could have embraced this and done what I do best and tell stories. I strongly believe that tragedy, hurt, pain, anger, is the gasoline that’s needed to ignite your creativity.”

On his new film: Blues for Willadean marks the big screen adaptation of Shore’s serio-comic hit The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, starring the incomparable Beth Grant, one of Shores’ muses, as well as The Help Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, Dale Dickey from Winter’s Bone, David Steen and Debby Holiday. Shores admits that he resisted changing the title, but that the name now fits the feeling of the piece better, which is a fairly dark story of spousal abuse. The film is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, and will premiere On Demand soon, so everyone can enjoy Grant’s amazing performance.

About those ladies with C.L.A.P.: Sordid Confessions opens with Shores being accosted outside the theater by a number of women protesters calling themselves Christian Ladies Against Pornography, or C.L.A.P.. He and Jordan pitched a mock reality show where Shores and Jordan would play two Christian women who try to stop homosexual depravity wherever they exist, like gay pride parades and festivals. While the show didn’t happen, Shores really wanted to bring C.L.A.P. back in some way.

About Tennessee State Senator Stacey Campfield: The notorious author of Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill engaged in a nasty correspondence with Shores after Shores challenged the ill-informed legislator to a debate. Campfield, who claims that it is virtually impossible for people to get HIV from straight sex, proved himself to be just as ill-informed about legislative ethics when he demanded $1,000.00 to debate Shores. Word of the demand has prompted the State Attorney General to open an ethics investigation against Campfield.

About the future: Shores is excited to bring his play Southern Baptist Sissies to the big screen by filming it in the style of classic television shows like Playhouse 90. The format will allow him to film economically and use original cast members like Leslie Jordan.

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Covert Arts

With unprecedented saber-rattling by the Right Wing and End-of-Days predictions about an Iran-based war swirling about, not to mention the disturbing attack on the US Embassy in Libya, Ben Affleck’s enthralling new film Argo takes on a whole new level of significance. After all, how will movie-goers react to seeing Iranian protestors attack and take over the US Embassy in Tehran, taking and abusing the hostages while six employees who escaped are trapped in the British Ambassador’s residence as the Iranian authorities search for them?

Argo is based on the fascinating true story of how a CIA hostage extractor managed to get the Iranian government to allow him into the country thinking that he was a schlocky sci-fi movie director. Once there, his plan was to get the six embassy workers out of Iran by posing as his location scouting crew. Affleck just gets better and better as a director, as he leaves his Boston comfort zone of Gone Baby Gone and The Town for 1979 Iran, DC and Hollywood. Affleck gets the Carter-era period perfect, right down to the horrible hairstyles and even worse clothes. He doesn’t demonize the Iranians any more than they probably deserve based on their actions, and he keeps the action and suspense palpable, even though you may remember or can guess how the mission will work out.

While fifty-two hostages remained prisoners for 444 days, ending only on Ronald Reagan’s inauguration day in 1981, the six diplomats who found refuge with Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor (Victor Garber), had no idea from day to day whether or not they would be found out and subsequently killed. Back in the US, CIA “exfiltration expert” Tony Mendez (Affleck) hit upon an idea so crazy it had to work. Posing as a movie producer and enlisting the help of a Hollywood mogul (Alan Arkin) and make-up guru (John Goodman), Mendez concocts the production of Argo, a Star Wars rip-off that had to be everything but filmed in order to fool the Iranians. With doctored Canadian passports, Mendez was allowed fairly free access to “scout locations” with his team, all of whom were actually the trapped diplomats posing as the screenwriter, director, costume designer, etc. It was very dangerous, and Argo works best when the terrified diplomats are forced to go out in plain sight to prove their stories.

Affleck and Brian Cranston are terrific as the CIA’s finest, while the trapped Americans disappear into their roles perfectly. Try to pick out Clea Duval (But I’m a Cheerleader) or Tate Donovan (Disney’s Hercules). Arkin and Goodman bring much-appreciated humor to the dark adventure, but it is the story that keeps you intrigued. American actions by President Carter threaten to blow the operation, but Argo is a rousing adventure docudrama that earns its thrills. By the end, you are almost sorry that we never saw the actual movie “Argo” on screen.

But, as Arkin’s Lester Siegel says to a nosy reporter who asks him what Argo is about, he replies “Ar-go f*** yourself!”

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: Music of the Heart

Georges and Anne are 80-something, retired music teachers.  They live in a comfortable Parisian apartment and are sincerely enjoying one another and their “golden years” together.  But when Anne’s health suddenly starts to decline, the true test of the couple’s love begins.

Amour, winner of the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and Austria’s entry in the 85th annual Academy Awards, won’t open in the US until just before Christmas, but Los Angeles-area members of the press were recently treated to early screenings.  The latest work by acclaimed writer-director Michael Haneke (who was previously honored at Cannes for his films The White Ribbon, Cache and The Piano Teacher) is a thoughtful, unsentimental — though not unfeelingexamination of long-term romantic commitment.  Leave your rose-tinted glasses at the door.

As husband and wife as well as teachers and parents to their professional-musician daughter (played by Isabelle Huppert), Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant, veteran of over 100 films including such classics as A Man and a Woman, Z and The Conformist) and Anne (the utterly heartbreaking Emmanuelle Riva) have given life their all.  As is typically the case for all of us, however, they don’t begin to fully realize the quality and value of their relationship until it becomes clear that it is coming to an end. 

Anne has a mini-stroke one morning during breakfast, which is followed soon after by a more severe event.  Partly paralyzed as a result and requiring more and more assistance from Georges as time goes on, we watch as Anne becomes utterly dependent and, ultimately, unable even to communicate intelligibly.  Georges and their daughter struggle with their own helplessness as they strive to accept Anne's impending death.  As far as plot goes, that's about it.

I found Amour stunning, in a good way.  As I posted simply on Facebook immediately after seeing it: “Wow.”  It is a near-perfect movie (a couple of horror movie-ish nightmares Georges has are Haneke's only missteps) that deals so well and sensitively with aging, facing death, relationships and, yes, love.  My inner moral theologian questions a startling plot development late in the film, but it is a fairly minimal concern in light of Georges' devotion to his wife.  Trintignant and Riva are seriously deserving of Academy Awards consideration and I really hope they are nominated.

Given the characters' professional background, it is only appropriate that music play a fairly large part in Amour.  Much of it is provided by French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, who makes his acting debut in the film as Anne's star pupil (appropriately named Alexandre).  He provides lovely interpretations of Bach, Chopin and Ravel here that serve as at times joyous, at times mournful soundtrack.  As the film illustrates so elegantly and movingly, the music of love has many shades.

Conversely, director Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) forgoes music entirely in her new adaptation of Wuthering Heights (now playing in New York City and opening in LA tomorrow), save for an occasional hymn sung by the actors and an end titles song performed by current country-folk sensation Mumford & Sons.  Arnold's approach to Emily Bronte's classic, 19th-century saga of tortured romance emphasizes the natural sounds of its remote setting.  The result is visceral, at times savagely so, as Arnold removes virtually all the costume drama artifice that has adorned prior film versions.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it chiefly concerns the love of Heathcliff, a poor orphan living in the Liverpool streets, for Catherine, the daughter of a well-intentioned Christian farmer who takes Heathcliff in.  Though Heathcliff is treated as little more than a servant by most in the household, Catherine also develops feelings for him.  Alas, Catherine eventually decides to marry a wealthier man, breaking Heathcliff's heart but setting him on a years-long quest to prove himself worthy of her.

Arnold also made the bold artistic choice to cast a pair of black actors as younger and older Heathcliff.  Though the lad was described by Bronte as having dark skin, Heathcliff has traditionally been played by the caucasian likes of Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton, Ralph Fiennes and Tom Hardy.  Newcomers Solomon Glave and James Howson are excellent here, and the camera loves them (Of note, Wuthering Heights won the Best Cinematography award at the 2011 Venice Film Festival; it is also somewhat curiously shot in full-screen/non-widescreen format).  The remainder of the largely non-professional cast makes less of an impression, though the performances of all concerned are acceptable.

Making Heathcliff unquestionably black naturally adds a layer of racial tension to the story, which gets awkward at times when white characters hurl the decidedly non-Bronte "N-word" at Heathcliff.  Similarly, Heathcliff uses modern vulgarities at one point to describe his oppressors.  Arnold also heightens the sexual tension and content in ways that I'm not sure Bronte would approve of.  Such license serves to diminish the characters rather than bring any greater understanding or appreciation of them to today's audiences.

Despite the director's interesting take on this classic work of literature, I'll stick with the revered 1939 movie version that starred Olivier and Merle Oberon, even though it took its own liberties with the source material.  Notably, it only covers the first half of Bronte's book and therefore ends on a much less tragic note.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Amour: A-
Wuthering Heights: C+

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Reverend’s Reviews: The President and The Spy

This presidential election season has already given Americans plenty to laugh — and cry — about.  Los Angeles’ Center Theatre Group is weighing in with their local premiere production of David Mamet’s 2007 satire, November.  Now running at the Mark Taper Forum through November 4th, it is a scattershot but frequently amusing work… so long as one can tolerate Mamet’s generous use of the F-word.

Ed Begley, Jr. headlines the LA production as President Charles “Chuck” Smith.  As Smith’s failed first term is drawing to a close, he’s less interested in being re-elected than in ensuring he has enough cash with which to build and furnish an impressive presidential library.  When Smith learns he only has $4,000 in his library fund, he begins to concoct far-fetched fundraising schemes with the help of his closest advisor, Archer Brown (played by Rod McLachlan).  Their most immediate target becomes the National Association of Turkey and Turkey By-Products Manufacturers, whose chief representative (the very funny Todd Weeks) happens to be waiting at the moment outside the Oval Office along with two turkeys waiting to be pardoned for Thanksgiving.
Smith also enlists the help of his longtime speechwriter, Clarice Bernstein (former Desperate Housewife and Transamerica Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman), to craft an alternate Thanksgiving Day mascot and menu item should the turkey rep fail to meet the President’s extortionist demands.  Bernstein is an out lesbian who has just returned with her partner from a trip to China, where the pair adopted a baby girl.  She also may have brought back an infection with highly-contagious bird flu.

While November is full of ripe ingredients for an effective satire, Mamet’s dish ultimately feels under-baked.  The cast works hard (especially Begley, who suffered a frog in his throat and some resultant poor delivery during his first scene on opening night but triumphed through the remainder of the performance) and Takeshi Kata’s Oval Office set is excellent, but too much of the play’s humor is dependent on unoriginal swipes at Jews, the Chinese and, yes, GLBT people.  Huffman is a hoot in the final scene, wherein she sashays about in a lavish wedding dress waiting for the President to marry her and her partner on national television (an arrangement she has herself extorted), and the play ends up taking a strong stance for same-sex marriage.  GLBT members of the audience, however, have to endure more than a few references to gay love as “disgusting” and “unnatural” along the way.

November is minor Mamet and hardly a play for the ages, unlike most of his other works.  If the satirically-minded among us aren’t getting enough kicks out of the current debates, though, this big-name LA production may be just the ticket to comedy heaven.

Speaking of presidential elections, the last time a James Bond adventure hit the big screen was just after Barack Obama's victory in 2008.  Now, 50 years after the debut of Dr. No -- the first feature movie adapted from one of Ian Fleming's classic novels -- and just prior to next month's premiere of the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall, there is a terrific new documentary detailing the long-running film series' history.  Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 is now playing theatrically in the UK and on the EPIX satellite channel here in the US.

Writer-director Stevan Riley (Fire in Babylon, Rave Against the Machine) expertly distills five decades' worth of backstage and onscreen drama into 98 rapid-fire minutes.  He incorporates interviews with Fleming and those who knew him, including distant cousin and horror film star Christopher Lee, who played the villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun; footage from Fleming's home movies; snippets from the 22 Bond features; and, most effectively, excerpts from the various Bond movie scores as the documentary's soundtrack.

"Fleming put his own struggles on the page," says current Bond Daniel Craig, while another commentator refers to the British superspy's creator as "a man of infinite contradictions."  Whereas Bond actually made his first appearance off the page in an American (and Americanized) TV adaptation of Casino Royale, it was producers Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and former circus showman Harry Saltzman who transferred Bond to the silver screen in 1962, and in the iconic form of Sean Connery.

Everything or Nothing (which was Broccoli's and Saltzman's motto as producers, the initials of whichEONcomposed the name of their production company) recounts the Connery years, as well as the one-time appearance of George Lazenby in the role.  Lazenby gives a great interview in the doc, during which he reveals that he had to convince Broccoli and Saltman he wasn't gay since his only prior experience on camera was as a male model.  Subsequent Bonds Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan also give illuminating interviews.  

Saltzman eventually had to sell his share in the franchise in order to pay off debts, which made Broccoli the sole proprietor behind the Bond films from 1976 until his death twenty years later.  His daughter, Barbara, and son-in-law Michael Wilson are the current custodians of the Bond name.  "Cubby," Wilson states, "never took the audience for granted."  This shows, I believe, in the series' remarkable consistency and endurance.

Moore's last appearance as Bond in 1985's A View to a Kill is strangely omitted, but Everything or Nothing is otherwise a thoroughly, captivatingly comprehensive tour of 50 years of cinema and cultural history.  It's also one of the best, most uniquely crafted documentaries I've seen this year.

Reverend’s Ratings:
November: B
Everything or Nothing: A-
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Preaching to the Choir

Pitch Perfect takes place at Barden College, a gorgeous old Ivy League-style school that is Ground Zero for nationally recognized a cappella choirs. The ruling kings are the obnoxious Treble Makers, run by douchebag Bumper (Adam DeVine), while the women’s group, The Bellas, are regrouping after an embarrassing projectile vomiting incident at Lincoln Center. Anna Kendrick plays Beca, a sullen wannabe DJ who is attending Barden as a bribe from her professor father. Barden is a college straight out of Glee-land, which means that Beca’s fabulous but undiscovered singing voice won’t be secret for long.

In a fairly homoerotic meet-cute scene, Beca is cajoled by Chloe (Hairspray's Brittany Snow, now a redhead) into trying out for the Bellas while naked in the co-ed showers. Beca immediately butts heads with uptight and vomit-prone Aubrey (Anna Camp, making a big impression) over how old-fashioned the Bellas’ song list is (Ace of Base and the Bangles? Check!). Meanwhile, Beca starts warming up to good guy Jesse, played by Hamlet 2 and Spring Awakening performer Skyler Astin, who ends up in the Treblemakers. Meanwhile, the Bellas under Aubrey’s leadership has to make do with a ragtag bunch of quirky girls, including an almost mute pyromaniac named Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), a fierce lesbian named Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) and the self-nicknamed Fat Amy, played by Aussie Rebel Wilson (who is in every movie this year, it seems).

“Aca-scuse me?” Aubrey says early in the film, and it's the last time that joke will be used. Pitch Perfect is directed by Avenue Q director Jason Moore and it has a cheeky attitude that yields a lot of laughs. The musical numbers are fun, and the cast is great. At the same time, Pitch Perfect can go flat when they push the humor too hard, and it isn’t as sharp as it could have been.

Fans of Christopher Guest films like Best in Show will enjoy producer (and Hunger Games actress) Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as wisecracking commentators on the National Collegiate A Cappella circuit. While Pitch Perfect isn’t perfect by any means, it is a fun and campy change of pace at the multiplex.

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

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Reverend's Interview: Wild About Harry

From co-star of the first major Hollywood movie to deal compassionately with the subject of homosexuality, to being named one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive, to serving as a guest judge at this month’s “Best in Drag Show,” Harry Hamlin has lived a colorful life.

This is the second year in a row that the ruggedly handsome, 60-year old actor has judged the event in support of Los Angeles County’s Aid for AIDS (AFA). Hamlin’s wife of 15 years, Lisa Rinna, is also one of the celebrity judges. The October 7th fundraiser at the Orpheum Theatre will mark the current event’s 10th anniversary.

“It was wild,” Hamlin recently told me about last year’s show. “I hadn’t had any prior experience of it but as they say, try anything once. It’s a great fundraising opportunity and a really fun evening.”

To gay men of a certain generation (including myself), Hamlin will first and foremost be remembered as Perseus in the original, 1981 version of Clash of the Titans. Wearing a barely-there toga throughout, he displayed what one online commentator has crowned “the best nipples I’ve ever seen.” Hamlin was born and raised in Pasadena, the son of an aeronautical engineer father and a martini-swilling, socialite mother. He reveals many intimate, surprising facts about his upbringing in his 2010 autobiography, Full Frontal Nudity: The Making of an Accidental Actor.

Although he initially set out to become an architect, Hamlin graduated from Yale University with degrees in both Drama and Psychology. He then attended the prestigious American Conservatory Theatre, where he played his first lead role largely in the nude as the troubled stable hand in Peter Shaffer’s Equus. Shortly after, Hamlin starred as the title character in a 1979 TV miniseries adaptation of Studs Lonigan.

Hamlin has appeared in several stage musicals over the years, including the popular Broadway revival of Chicago. It was his and Rinna’s involvement with Chicago in 2009 that ultimately led to their current involvement in “Best in Drag.” As Hamlin recounts, “Lisa and I were approached through friends. Greg Butler, who did Chicago with us and performs in "Best in Drag," was the one who really got us involved.”

“It’s a very sober event, which is great,” Hamlin said of his current gig. “But at the same time it’s outrageous and fun, and it’s great to know those two things can go together.” As he shares in his book, Hamlin experimented heavily with drugs and alcohol in his youth. He has since tried to live a more healthy and holistic lifestyle.

Hamlin also had the experience of being on the other side of the judges’ table when he appeared as a contestant on television’s Dancing with the Stars a few years back. “I don’t know what qualifies one to judge "Best in Drag," not having any prior experience with drag myself,” he reflected. “It’s just a lot of fun with obviously talented people.”

The actor enjoyed a popular and lengthy run on the series L.A. Law. It was during that time, in 1987, when People declared Hamlin the “Sexiest Man Alive” for the year. He has since appeared on TV in Veronica Mars, Army Wives and the reality series Harry Loves Lisa.

Of course, it is Hamlin’s performance in the 1982 movie Making Love that has endeared him the most to gay audiences. He played Bart, an unapologetically gay novelist who has an affair with his closeted, married doctor (Michael Ontkean). The film received mixed reviews from critics and wasn’t a hit at a time when gay suburban men didn’t go to the movies in droves (like we do today for Magic Mike), but it eventually found an audience on cable and home video.

“We just had a 30th anniversary retrospective screening in Hollywood last month, and it’s great to see that it holds up well,” Hamlin said. “It was a movie that was clearly ahead of its time.” Hamlin noted that director Arthur Hiller and A. Scott Berg, who wrote the original story the film was based on, were also in attendance. Hamlin speaks about his experience on Making Love in the acclaimed 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet.

Here’s hoping Hamlin continues to expose himself — his talent, that is — for years to come.

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reel Thoughts Preview: Coastal Disturbances

San Diego Theater is Offering Up a Lot for GLBT Audiences

In addition to a variety of theatrical offerings for every audience, San Diego is an ideal destination to see world premieres and other unusual shows. This Fall is no exception, and here are some highlights.

Allegiance: The Musical, Old Globe Theatre (now through October 28): To call Allegiance a labor of love for Star Trek actor and gay icon George Takei has to be an understatement. The Asian-American actor best known for playing Lt. Sulu on Star Trek and for his hilarious Facebook page based Allegiance on his experiences as a child, when he and his family were placed in a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II. Losing everything, some of the men still went to fight in the war, while others protested being treated like criminals in their own land. The musical stars Telly Leung from Glee and Miss Saigon star Lea Salonga.

Allegiance strikes a nice balance between the horrors of the Japanese Internment Camps and the resilient and hopeful dreams of the Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned there. Takei is never less than riveting as a proud veteran who looks back at the mistakes he made and the family he lost and also in flashback as his own loving grandfather who never lost his optimism, even in the cold environs of the Heart Mountain Camp. Leung sings and dances well, and gives his role depth and heart. Salonga is wonderful as Leung’s protective sister, who falls in love with a resistance-minded fellow internee. Her Broadway voice gives the music much-needed star power, although none of the songs will probably stand on their own outside of the show. You only have a short time to catch it at The Old Globe!

Sam Bendrix at the Bon Soir, La Jolla Playhouse (now through October 17): Get your Mad Men cocktail on and travel back to 1958 to see the swinging singer with a secret. Set in a smoky Greenwich Village nightclub more than a decade before the Stonewall Riots, the audience gets up close and personal with smooth Sam Bendrix, who is giving his final performance in New York City. Handsome Luke MacFarlane, who played Kevin Walker’s sweet husband Scotty in the much-loved show Brothers & Sisters, performs songs by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill. McFarlane’s Bendrix tells his poignant tale of a gay man looking for a love “that dare not speak its name” at a time when being gay was illegal.

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, La Jolla Playhouse (November 6 through December 16): Des McAnuff, the man who brought The Who’s Tommy to Broadway, is tackling another challenging musical, this time based on the music by the Flaming Lips. Yoshimi is a young Japanese artist who must battle for her life in a fantastic and surreal robot world. Fortunately, Mitt Romney is not one of her robot attackers...

When Last We Flew, Diversionary Theatre (November 8 through December 9): San Diego’s GLBT theater company is finishing a successful reimagining of Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz’ first hit Pippin, but their next show is even more intriguing. Taking off from the iconic Tony Kushner play Angels in America, When Last We Flew tells the story of a gay teenage boy in a small town whose life is changed when he sneaks the town library’s only copy of Angels in America out and is exposed to the play’s emotional power. Extraordinary things begin to happen to him and those in his dull Kansas suburb as a result of the play.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reel Thoughts Preview: Scottsdale International Film Festival

Amy Ettinger has been producing the exciting ScottsdaleInternational Film Festival for an even dozen seasons, and this year, you will find a lot of interesting films from all over the world that you won’t see anywhere else. In addition, three films will particularly appeal to the LGBT community.

From France comes the hilarious gay Jewish farce Let MyPeople Go! Reuben is a daydreaming mailman who is living a wonderful life with his handsome Finnish lover. Three days before Passover, Reuben’s life gets split in two like the Red Sea when he comes into a pile of money, gets into a fight with his lover over the ill-gotten gains and must rush back from idyllic Finland to his crazy family in France. Gay Jewish stereotypes are exploded in this wild French farce.

Another film of note is In the Family, a drama that takes on the messy realities of marriage and parental inequality when it comes to the LGBT community. One Life to Live actor Trevor St. John plays Cody and director Patrick Wang plays Joey, a happy couple living in Tennessee with their six year-old son Chip. When a tragedy occurs, Joey finds out just how few rights he has regarding his son, when Cody’s sister moves to take full custody of the boy. Wang’s film resists demonizing anyone as it confronts what a lack of recognized parental and marriage rights can do in times of tragedy, especially in states where the Legislature tries to ban discussion of anything LGBT-related in schools.

Perhaps the most hotly-anticipated film is the illuminating documentary Satan’s Angel: Queen of the Fire Tassels, about a lesbian burlesque artist who is still performing alongside a whole new generation of women. Now sixty-eight, Angel Walker takes the audiences back to the 1960’s and tells them her story of love, addiction and determination that has made her a hero to burlesque performers everywhere. Grounding the film is the tender relationship between Angel and her girlfriend. Satan’s Angel features interviews with dozens of women from the sixties to today, who are happy to tell you what makes Angel such an icon.

Other films to watch for:
  • Struck by Lightning: Glee’s Chris Colfer plays Carson Phillips, a high school senior who knows that there is more to life than his close-minded town provides and is determined to seize it. Unfortunately, he is struck dead by lightning in his school parking lot, so we are treated to his recounting of the hilarious last two weeks of his life. Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect) plays his best friend, while Allison Janney and Dermot Mulroney play his far-from-encouraging parents.
  • Quartet: This delicious comedy is the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman, and it features a banquet of wonderful British stars like Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon and Tom Courtenay as retirees living in a home for former opera singers. Life at Beecham House is thrown into turmoil when Smith arrives; she is the ex-wife of Courtenay, and despite acting the part of an opera diva, she refuses to sing in the Home’s annual tribute to composer Verdi’s birthday.
  • Lore: This drama looks at the effects of World War II and the Nazis’ atrocities from a whole new angle. A group of children, led by the title character, set out on a 900 kilometer trek in 1945 Germany to find their grandmother, after their parents are arrested by the Allies for being members of the Nazi SS. Through their journey, they are forced to realize what their parents’ actions really did to people.
  • The Eye of the Storm: Director Fred Schepisi will present his new drama, starring Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush on Friday, October 5th. Rampling plays an eccentric matriarch who lies on her deathbed with plans to give her money to a “German dancer,” much to the dismay for her children, Rush and Davis. Both have built lives of sophistication far from their Australian roots, and they will do what it takes to hasten their mother’s departure before she can disinherit them. Their selfishness turns to something profound when they return home and gain new perspective on their dying mother.
The Scottsdale International Film Festival will begin October 4th and run through the 9th. See their website for more information.

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