Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Monthly Wallpaper: January 2014 - 2013: The Year in Film

Ring out the old and ring in the new with January's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper salute to 2013: The Year in Film!

From the depths of space to the Deep South, our cinematic celebration of the past year stars Mr. Gatsby and Mr. Disney, French lesbians and a transgender Texan, the Man of Steel and a man of snow. Start 2014 off right with the best of 2013!

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Coal in My Stocking

Silver bells and golden statuettes are ringing throughout Hollywood this week before Christmas, primarily thanks to the film critics’ group awards announced thus far. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle have been the big winners, with Spike Jonze’s Her and Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine also receiving numerous laurels.

Alas, in looking back over 2013’s movie and home video releases as well as current award hopefuls, not everything appears jolly and bright. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the industry’s lesser offerings:

Adore (now available on Blu-ray and DVD): A gorgeous-looking movie about gorgeous people. Unfortunately, it is constructed on a ridiculously improbable and just plain tacky plot about two middle-aged, lifelong friends (played by fine actresses Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) who knowingly enter into sexual relationships with one another’s young adult sons. That said affairs go on for more than two years, even after the boys have moved away and developed other romantic interests, only adds to the implausibility. Amazingly, the screenplay was adapted by Oscar winner Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) from a novel by Nobel Prize-winning writer Doris Lessing. Everyone associated with this film save actors Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville, who play the women’s sons, and cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne would probably do well to scrape this off their resumés.

Nebraska (now playing in theaters): While we’re on the subject of implausible plots, this movie also wins my personal award for the most overrated movie of 2013. An obvious throwback to late 1960’s-early 1970’s films featuring gruff yet ultimately lovable characters such as Scarecrow and Midnight Cowboy (and even shot in stark black & white), Nebraska spins a relentlessly heart-tugging tale of a grown son (a nice dramatic turn by SNL alum Will Forte) who accompanies his befuddled father (veteran actor Bruce Dern) on a pointless quest to claim a million-dollar prize promised in a marketing ploy. The now elderly Dern has inexplicably been winning accolades for playing… an elderly Bruce Dern. I am a great admirer of director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) but it seems clear that Payne’s best films are those he also has a hand in writing, unlike this one. While Nebraska isn’t a bad movie, it also isn’t a legitimate awards contender.

Lone Survivor (opening December 25th in Los Angeles and New York): Its ad campaign assures us that this film was “based on true acts of courage,” which is all well and good. When said acts primarily involve SEAL team members indiscriminately shooting, getting shot at and literally rolling down a mountain to their deaths during a failed 2005 mission in Afghanistan, however, they sadly seem more foolhardy than courageous. To me, the real heart of Lone Survivor is the friendly relationship that develops between its title character (played by Mark Wahlberg) and an Afghan father and son who hide him from the Taliban at great risk to themselves. This sequence, though, is only given about 30 minutes of screen time, which seems especially negligent when compared to the 60 minutes of bloody mayhem that precede it. Reliable director Peter Berg; a great all-male cast that also includes Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana; and spectacular photography by Tobias A. Schliessler are compromised by Berg’s excessively action-leaning screenplay.

The Rooftop (now available on home video and VOD): Taiwanese actor Jay Chou, best known in the US as Kato in 2011’s The Green Hornet, wrote the script and songs for as well as directed this ambitious, visually elaborate but pretty juvenile musical. Chou also stars as Gao (a.k.a. “Wax”), a happy-go-lucky guy who runs afoul of some nasty gangsters with his rooftop-dwelling friends. Playing somewhat like a comedic Asian version of Rent if it were directed by the flamboyant Baz Luhrmann, the film is entertaining in spots (gay viewers shouldn’t miss a musical number/fight scene that takes place in a men’s bathhouse) but goes on far too long. Also, while Chou’s music is good his lyrics are pretty bad, although it is possible their real meaning got lost in the translation to English subtitles. God knows there are worse movies out there though.

Watch here for my choices of the best films of 2013 after the holidays. Reverend and everyone at Movie Dearest wish our readers a very merry Christmas!

Reverend’s Ratings:
Adore: C-
Nebraska: C
Lone Survivor: C
The Rooftop: C+

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reverend’s Review & Preview: The Steward of Neverland

Brian Dennehy is best known to moviegoers for his tough-guy appearances in such 1980’s blockbusters as First Blood, Cocoon, Best Seller, F/X and its sequel, and one of my personal favorites, Legal Eagles. However, he is an accomplished stage actor and has won two Tony Awards for his riveting turns on Broadway in the classics Death of a Salesman and Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Dennehy is currently treading the boards of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. He stars as Thomas Dunne in Sebastian Barry’s 1995 play The Steward of Christendom, which opened Sunday and closes on January 5th, and his performance is a beautifully modulated tour de force.

The real-life Dunne was Barry’s Irish great-grandfather. A policeman as well as staunch Catholic, he rose to chief of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in the early 20th century only to see his standing disintegrate amidst the early years of Ireland’s Protestant vs. Catholic “troubles.”

The Steward of Christendom, set primarily in 1932, finds an older Dunne saddled with dementia and subsequently confined to a sanitarium. His three daughters are geographically scattered, and we learn that Dunne’s sole son was killed in combat during World War I. Daughter Annie (a fine, nuanced turn by Abby Wilde) serves as one of the old man’s few temporal visitors.

At nearly three hours in length, much of which is comprised of Dunne’s life-spanning monologues, the play is challenging but ultimately rewarding. Barry’s script threatens to bite off more than it can chew when dealing with Ireland’s tempestuous political-religious history, but Dennehy and accomplished director Steven Robman ensure the production stays dramatically and emotionally grounded by keeping their focus firmly on Dunne. Also noteworthy are Kevin Depinet’s stark yet versatile set design and Jason H. Thompson’s evocative projections, including some breathtakingly holographic blades of grass.

For tickets to this highly recommended production, visit the Center Theatre Group website.

Reverend’s Rating: B+

Also now having its Southern California premiere at the neighboring Ahmanson Theatre in LA is the recent Broadway hit Peter and the Starcatcher. Winner of five 2012 Tony Awards and adapted from a bestselling novel by Ridley Pearson and humorist Dave Barry (no relation to Steward of Christendom author Sebastian Barry), the play runs through January 12th.

There have been many unique interpretations of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of a boy who chooses to never grow up, since the character’s first appearance way back in 1902. Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby have flown in stage productions; Walt Disney made a beloved animated version in 1953; Robin Williams as Peter faced off against Dustin Hoffman as his title nemesis in Steven Spielberg’s big-budget movie Hook; and Peter is currently the main villain on TV’s Once Upon a Time. There is also the 2003 film Neverland, in which Peter is depicted as an androgynous teenager being pursued by a gay, leather-clad Captain Hook.

To this diverse lineage we can add Peter and the Starcatcher. Joey deBettencourt heads a cast of twelve talented actors portraying more than 100 characters in their pursuit of the timeless question “How did Peter Pan become the Boy Who Never Grew Up?” The production has been hailed as “a shimmering treasure,” “an inventive delight” and “the most exhilarating storytelling on Broadway in decades” by various critics.

Of special note, Peter and the Starcatcher is directed by gay Tony-winning actor Roger Rees. Rees will always be remembered by me and other theatre fans of my generation as the original Nicholas Nickleby in the 1981 Broadway production of Charles Dickens’ classic book, which was televised on PBS. He has also made memorable appearances in such movies as If Looks Could Kill (as the bad guy threatening a hot, frequently underwear-clad Richard Grieco), Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, as well as onstage more recently as Nathan Lane’s successor in the musical version of The Addams Family.

Rees’s longtime partner and husband since 2011, Rick Elice, adapted Peter and the Starcatcher for the stage. Elice was previously acclaimed as the writer of Broadway’s smash hit Jersey Boys (currently being turned into a movie by director Clint Eastwood) and as co-author of The Addams Family.

Set Designer Donyale Werle won the 2012 Tony Award for the Broadway production’s settings, which were nearly 100% constructed out of recycled materials. Werle also serves as a leader of the environment-friendly Broadway Green Alliance. For the current tour, each venue including the Ahmanson was invited to contribute reusable items that were then assembled into the tour’s stage-framing proscenium. Among the items donated by theatres across the US were wine corks, bottle caps, small children’s toys, used rope, old silverware and cooking utensils, and paper tubes of various sizes.

Don’t miss this unique chance to travel with Peter Pan and his friends to magical Neverland. For LA tickets or more information, visit the Center Theatre Group website.

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

MD Reviews: Private Parts

One thing about Patrick Moote, the title "character" of Unhung Hero: he may not be packing much penis-wise, but he sure has balls. After being humiliated in front of a sports arena-full of strangers when his girlfriend walks out on his "kiss cam" wedding proposal, the video goes viral, humiliating him further in front of a worldwide, schadenfreude-hungry internet audience. Adding insult to injury, she tells him that she doesn't want to marry him because of his small penis. Yikes. But instead of keeping that information to himself like most dudes would, Patrick, an aspiring actor and comedian, decides to "out" himself as genitally-impaired and sets out on a global journey, seeking the answer to the age-old question "does size matter?" while documenting it in cinema's first ever, ahem, "cockumentary".

During his quest, Patrick tries everything from pumps and pills to heavy weights dangling from his privates, traveling from San Francisco to Korea to Malaysia to learn of the myriad ways men have tried to maximize their members throughout history. Along the way, he seeks out the advice of medical professionals, condom makers, porn stars and "sexperts" like Annie Sprinkle and Dan Savage. Patrick even meets his polar opposite, Jonah Falcon, who reportedly boasts a 13.5" schlong.

Now available on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures, Unhung Hero does to a man's junk what Super Size Me did to junk food. That is, it makes its point in a highly entertaining way while still being informative, enlightening and even, well, uplifting.

From a guy with not enough dick to a man who literally never had one, Buck Angel is the subject of another Breaking Glass documentary available on DVD this week, Mr. Angel. For those who are not familiar with him, Buck Angel is unarguably the most successful transman in pornography, the pioneering self-proclaimed "Man With a Pussy". (Go ahead, Google him.)

Delving into his life as much as his career, Mr. Angel tells a familiar story of a tomboy growing up into a rebellious, drug abusing teenager, a girl who never fit in, even in her own body. A survivor of several suicide attempts, that tomboy became Buck Angel, finding empowerment through his gender expression both on and off camera. His an unconventional yet inspiring story (especially to young transmen), far from the narcisistic self-pity seen in another recent porn star doc, Sagat.

Through his constant struggles to get his DVDs to a wider audience, home life with his wife Elayne in Mexico and a health scare most men will never face, we get to know this Mr. Angel far more intimately then any of his X-rated efforts could ever accomplish.

MD Ratings:
Unhung Hero: B
Mr. Angel: B-

Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Monthly Wallpaper - December 2013: Cars

Rev up your December with this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper salute to our favorite cinematic Cars!

These memorable movie machines can do it all: go back in time or under the sea, fight crime or transform into robots, take a family road trip or even fly. Some even have a mind of their own, whether good-natured (Herbie the Love Bug) or pure evil (Christine). From Ford Mustangs to Trans Ams to Aston Martins to the infamous "Pussy Wagon", this eclectic mix of autos have captured audiences imaginations over the years and satisfied our vicarious needs for speed.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Thanksgivukkah Viewing

Much has been made online and in the popular press about this year’s rare convergence of Thanksgiving Day and the first day of Hanukkah, with some dubbing the joint celebration “Thanksgivukkah.” I am thankful for, among many other things, this holiday week’s large number of high quality gay-themed DVDs.

In light of Hanukkah, it seems most appropriate to start with Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land from Breaking Glass Pictures. This myth-busting travelogue is co-directed by Tel Aviv filmmaker Yariv Mozer with gay-porn entrepreneur (and Russian-born Jew) Michael Lucas. They travel throughout Israel, interviewing numerous gay citizens about their experience living there. Among them is Yossi & Jagger writer-director Eytan Fox. Virtually all relate how positive and accepting an environment it is, especially since homosexuality was decriminalized in 1988. Their stories definitely disprove the overwhelming western notion that all Israelis are conservative, anti-gay terrorists (to paraphrase one commenter’s reference), although being openly gay is more difficult for Muslim men than Jews. At only 46 minutes, the film comes across in the end as more of a tourist recruitment tool than a fully objective documentary but it is worth watching.

The popular web series Old Dogs & New Tricks makes its DVD debut this week courtesy of Wolfe Video. As I am generally averse to watching anything of potential substance online, this was my first opportunity to view the two seasons’ worth of 5-10 minute episodes. I was quite impressed by series creator Leon Acord’s writing and the overall quality of the production, despite some sound issues on some season 2 episodes (which could be due to a potentially faulty DVD transfer). The lead acting quartet of Acord, David Pevsner, Curt Bonnem (the only straight actor out of the lot) and Jeffrey Patrick Olson is strong, and the seasons feature bigger-name actors including Thom Bierdz (The Young and the Restless), Ian Buchanan (General Hospital), Bruce Hart (Homewrecker), Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis and Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc, Hot Guys with Guns). Whether you see it on DVD or online, you owe it to yourself to check this very funny and heartfelt series out.

Green Briefs is the latest release in Guest House Films’ ongoing series of color-themed short films following last year’s Black Briefs and Blue Briefs. The five exceptional shorts selected this time around deal with gay teens and men sorting through family issues. Veteran actor James Karen (Poltergeist and Return of the Living Dead, among nearly 200 credits) gives a touching, all too realistic performance in Marc Saltarelli’s well-written Pride as the dementia-addled father of a resentful gay son (Perry Ojeda, also giving a strong performance). The Commitment is a heartbreaking examination of an interracial gay couple planning to adopt a child. Shabbat Dinner is a very funny story about a gay teen and an initially-straight teen who connect during the title Jewish family gathering, while Kimchi Fried Dumplings is a more serious look at tensions between two gay Asian-American brothers preparing for Christmas dinner. Finally, Cedric Thomas Smith’s hard-hitting, award-winning The Symphony of Silence explores the tragic repercussions of bullying among high school students.

If you prefer gay stories with fairly unexpected twists, check out the new releases Triple Crossed and Solo from TLA. The first is an ambitious, not always successful but genuinely intriguing tale of an Afghan war veteran suffering from PTSD (a very good performance by easy-on-the-eyes newcomer Jack Brockett) who gets hired to off a wealthy gay business owner. It marks the directorial debut of former porn actor Sean Paul Lockhart, who also plays the intended victim. Argentine filmmaker Marcelo Briem Stamm’s Solo, meanwhile, features a steamy encounter between two hot men that devolves into allegations of extortion, betrayal and, ultimately, murder. It is engaging and enjoyable, so long as one doesn’t expect a happy ending.

Movie Dearest and I wish all our readers a happy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and holiday season!

Reverend’s Ratings:
Undressing Israel: Gay Men in the Promised Land: B
Old Dogs & New Tricks: B+
Green Briefs: A-
Triple Crossed: B-
Solo: B

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

Thanksgiving Greetings


Friday, November 22, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: International Tour

Several new theatrical and home video releases this week illustrate how small the world is becoming when it comes to GLBT inclusion and our common struggles.

Our travels begin here in the USA with Geography Club, playing in Los Angeles theaters starting today. Adapted from Brent Hartinger’s popular YA book, it features a group of GLBT high school students who form an underground support group advertised as the “Geography Club.” Figuring they are safe because no one would be interested in such a topic, they are surprised when their school’s football star (Cameron Deane Stewart, who was also recently seen in Pitch Perfect) begins to attend their meetings and even more surprised when he admits to being gay.

While the lead performances are pretty amateurish, the movie benefits from a terrific supporting cast that includes Glee’s Alex Newell, Scott Bakula, Hairspray’s Nikki Blonsky and the hilarious Ana Gasteyer, perfectly cast as the school’s off-kilter sex ed teacher. Current high school students will likely find the film relatable and enjoyable, but I felt old watching it and so will probably anyone of voting age and above. It skews young to the exclusion of virtually everyone other than die-hard fans of its adult cast members. Still, I highly recommend it for the 18 and under crowd.

Those in the central Philippines have endured tragic, epic devastation the last two weeks. The Filipino gay horror-comedy Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings, now available on DVDfrom Ariztical, offers a much-needed sunny look at the island nation and its GLBT inhabitants. Remington (Martin Escudero) had an unfortunate habit as a child of publicly pronouncing as gay anyone who appeared to him to be so. One day, he offended an ill-natured drag queen who subsequently placed a curse of retribution on the lad: as Remington approaches adulthood, he will himself turn gay. The change begins slowly at first, but soon Remington is in full (though admittedly stereotypical) homosexual mode. He shaves his body hair, wears form-fitting t-shirts and jeans, sashays and gets his groove on in the street and — horror of horrors — becomes well spoken. Projecting gay-Remington’s subtitles in pink is another over the top but amusing touch.

In the ultimate case of bad timing, Remington’s transformation gets underway just as a serial killer targeting GLBT people is stalking the city. It isn’t long before murdered drag queens are rising from the dead and the city’s all-female police force is under siege. Despite its low budget, the film also features fun visual effects and accomplished zombie makeup, as well as some lovely cinematography of Philippine countrysides and the sexiest séance ever put on celluloid/digital. The talented Escudero makes his character’s plight both funny and poignant, the latter so most especially during the movie’s finale when someone must choose to sacrifice their heterosexuality so Remington can become straight again. Director and co-writer Jade Castro proves himself an international talent to watch despite this film’s sometimes rough edges and moments of questionable humor.

We next journey to rural Mexico for Peyote, what I consider the best film in this bunch. It is an authentic, sexy look at two disparate souls gradually drawn together. Pablo (Joe Diazzi) is an attractive but geeky teenager who is introduced making a sci-fi movie in his kitchen with vegetable protagonists. He is also in the process of arranging a hookup online with his presumed girlfriend but ultimately hesitates to commit. Frustrated, he takes to the street and crosses paths with the hot, slightly older and definitely worldlier Marco (Carlos Luque).

Since Pablo rebuffs Marco’s initial efforts at flirtation, he invites Pablo to take a road trip with him to the desert town of Real de Catorce in search of hallucinogenic peyote. Pablo agrees so long as he can document their trip on his camera. The peyote proves elusive but the young men learn much about themselves and one another, especially once it gets late and they have to spend the night together. The chemistry and sensuality between Luque and Diazzi are palpable but are used in service of a truly human story by Omar Flores Sarabia, whose impressive directorial debut this is. Peyote just had its world premiere at last month’s Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in New Mexico but is already available on DVDand VOD from Breaking Glass Pictures. Be among the first to discover it.

Our international tour this week ends in Spain and neighboring Portugal, the settings for Tiago Leao’s disappointing Longing Nights (Noches de Espera). It is also available now on DVDfrom Breaking Glass. Trying way too hard to be provocative, Leao cuts between four different stories involving frustrating relationships and/or unrequited love. The most interesting of the main characters is Aitana, a transgender prostitute who subjects herself to all manner of abuse from men before she finds comfort from an unlikely source. Otherwise, there’s a straight couple where the man is a drug dealer, a pretty but dull gay couple struggling with one’s refusal to become monogamous, and a lesbian couple where one partner also refuses to settle down sexually.

There’s lots of graphic sex on digitally-shot display, raw and real but not pretty. Virtually all of it has been seen and done before in better films, with the exception of Aitana’s affecting storyline. If you must watch Longing Nights, concentrate on her scenes and fast forward through the rest. Oh well, three good stops out of four when traveling isn’t too bad.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Geography Club: B+ (for teens)/C+ (for adults)
Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings: B
Peyote: B+
Longing Nights: C-

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Sins of the Past

There were no less than 120 generally well-received films shown during the just-concluded AFI Fest 2013. For many attendees, though, this year’s most memorable and most discussed moment was Mark Wahlberg’s lengthy, foul-mouthed rant following the world premiere on November 12th of Peter Berg’s wartime saga Lone Survivor, which Wahlberg headlines. The actor (and reportedly devout Roman Catholic; Pope Francis ought to wash Wahlberg’s mouth out with soap) was apparently taking to task Tom Cruise and other fellow performers who have likened their preparation for certain roles to military training, à la the Navy SEAL training Wahlberg underwent for his film. Director Berg eventually calmed Wahlberg but the star refused to take any further questions from the post-screening moderator.

The former Marky Mark wasn’t the only one railing against perceived slights and sins during the festival’s seven days. There was plenty of finger-pointing taking place on screen too. Whether it was Julia Roberts bitterly criticizing Meryl Streep as her character’s drug-addled mother in August: Osage County, Will Forte’s underappreciated son on a road trip with Bruce Dern’s stubborn daddy in Nebraska, or Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers versus Tom Hanks’ Walt Disney over the latter’s alleged mishandling of Travers’ Mary Poppins character in Saving Mr. Banks, there was much throwing of stones on display.

Perhaps the most divisive AFI Fest film in this regard was Philomena, the Weinstein Company’s Oscar hopeful that begins its US theatrical run next week. Based on a sad but compelling true story, the film stars Judi Dench as Philomena Lee, who in the 1950’s was forced by Irish nuns to give up a son she bore out of wedlock. Lee only opened up about this episode in 2004, fifty years later. Disgraced British journalist Martin Sixsmith pursued Lee’s story and ultimately wrote a bestselling book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, which served as the basis of the film. Dench is superb as always in the title role and Steve Coogan (so hilarious in 2008’s Hamlet 2) gives a strong co-starring performance as Sixsmith.

Unfortunately, I and at least a few others felt the screenplay co-written by Coogan (who also produced) and Jeff Pope hits too many false notes. This is especially true when it comes to the treatment of GLBT issues and Catholicism. Warning: potential spoilers ahead for those unfamiliar with the book or true story. You see, it is discovered that Lee’s long-lost son, born Anthony, was adopted by an American couple and grew up under a new name, Michael Hess. Hess was a gay man and successful attorney ultimately chosen by President George Bush, Sr. to be his chief legal counsel. As a Republican party insider, Hess was conflicted over his sexuality and secret, long-term relationship. Tragically, he contracted HIV and died of AIDS complications in 1995, nearly a decade before Lee and Sixsmith began searching for him.

In the film, Lee is presented as a simple, naïve woman with little interest in matters other than her strong Catholic faith. When she learns her son was gay, however, she suddenly seems to know all about GLBT issues and vocalizes such terms as “bi-curious” and “beard” (applied historically to women with whom gay men would publicly appear heterosexual). But she also, astoundingly, applies dated stereotypes to her son, claiming she always knew he was gay because he was “sensitive” as a 3-year old (what 3-year old isn’t?) and was photographed wearing “dungarees” as an adult! While all this is presented comically, I was borderline offended by the filmmakers’ misguided effort at pandering to the GLBT audience. It is especially disappointing given that the film’s director, Stephen Frears, previously made two pioneering, non-stereotypical depictions of gay life: My Beautiful Laundrette and Prick Up Your Ears.

The Catholic Church and even God aren’t handled any more sensitively. It’s hardly news that the Church has engaged in and covered up all sorts of questionable behavior in the past. Ireland’s Church-run network of Magdalene laundries, wherein Lee found herself as a teenager, was previously exposed as abusive. The nuns in Philomena are entirely one-dimensional, with the film’s fictional Sr. Hildegard shown as downright hateful. While some viewers will cheer Sixsmith’s climactic showdown with Sr. Hildegard, his victory struck me as so assured that it rings hollow.

Philomena’s central story of regret, love and forgiveness is strong, as are the cast members’ performances. The film could have been much stronger with a more nuanced script that doesn’t veer so uneasily between comedy and drama, black and white. Gay and Catholic viewers, especially: consider yourselves warned.

In LA theaters this weekend are two Polish films that also deal with Catholicism, past sins and/or homosexuality, with a dose of anti-Semitism to boot. In the Name Of, previously reviewed here when it was shown at last summer’s Outfest, reveals the struggles of a closeted gay priest who runs a camp for troubled boys. It has insightful moments but in the end is a pretty familiar story.

Much better is Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s award-winning but controversial Aftermath (Poklosie). How controversial is it, you ask? One of its lead actors, Maciej Stuhr, has received death threats for his portrayal of a man uncovering (literally) his Catholic neighbors’ collaboration with the Nazis during World War II that led to the murders of over a hundred Jews. The film has also been banned from some cinemas in Poland by right-wing political leaders.

Ireneusz Czop co-stars as Franek, the brother of Stuhr’s character, who has returned home for the first time in twenty years from his “adopted” city of Chicago, Illinois. The two form an initially uneasy but ultimately Hardy Boys-like alliance as they strive to discover the truth about their town and family. Entirely engrossing and intelligent, apart from a couple of scenes where Franek unwisely runs alone into the dark woods when he hears mysterious noises, Aftermath serves as a testament to all those attempting to atone for humanity’s sins of the past.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Philomena: C+
In the Name Of: C+
Aftermath: A-

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

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reverend’s Preview: gAyFI Fest 2013

Perched as it is at the start of Hollywood’s award season, the annual AFI Fest (sponsored by the American Film Institute and presented by Audi) has become a showcase for potential Academy Award contenders. This year’s edition, now running through November 14th, is no exception. It opened last night with the gala Los Angeles premiere of Saving Mr. Banks, Disney’s Mary Poppins-inspired character study, and will feature the local debuts of August: Osage County, Nebraska, Ben Stiller’s remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Spike Jonze’s computer romance Her before concluding with Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest from those Oscar-winning Coen brothers.

To its credit, AFI Fest annually incorporates many less-ballyhooed movies by both US and international filmmakers. Among these in 2013 are a handful of provocative GLBT-themed dramas. French and Canadian, or in some cases French-Canadian, filmmakers have seemingly cornered the market this year in GLBT cinema (see also Blue is the Warmest Color, now in theatrical release, for further evidence of this). Fest organizers generously shared three such offerings with me in advance of their screenings this weekend.

Alan Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake is probably the most gay-specific and definitely the most sexually-graphic film in any genre that I’ve seen at AFI Fest in my six years of covering it. Set entirely around a remote lake popular among gay men for cruising, it is darkly comic and ironic in true French style yet sexier and surprisingly compassionate. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a younger, “fresh meat” arrival to the area who finds himself intensely attracted to the older Michel (Christophe Paou). They connect and things are going well until Franck surreptitiously witnesses Michel murdering another cruiser. Uh oh. An officious detective (Jerome Chappatte) is soon on the case and zeroes in on the pair. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the path of true love rarely runs straight. Guiraudie and his attractive cast capture well the rituals and risks associated with cruising. I was disappointed by the film’s unresolved ending but it is well worthwhile until then. Prudish viewers, however, should steer clear.

Meanwhile, 24-year old Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan (Laurence Anyways, I Killed My Mother) returns to AFI Fest with what I consider his best film to date, Tom at the Farm. Dolan stars — and sports a shaggy blonde hairdo — as Tom, the secret boyfriend of a suddenly, unexpectedly deceased young man. He travels to the rural community his boyfriend grew up in for the funeral, staying with the late lover’s bewildered mother (Lise Roy) and sexy but sadistic brother, Francis (played by the Ben Affleck-ish Pierre-Yves Cardinal). Tom finds himself increasingly drawn to Francis even as he subjects Tom to physical and emotional abuse. Things come to a head between them during a pseudo-romantic tango in the barn. The screenplay was adapted by Dolan from a stage play by Michel Marc Bouchard (Lilies), and Dolan’s direction gets downright Hitchcockian (Gabriel Yared’s Psycho-esque music score drives this home as well). A couple of hours with Tom at the Farm shouldn’t be passed up.

Then there’s Vic+Flo Saw a Bear, the latest from acclaimed writer-director Denis Cote. Despite its title and the fact that Cote’s last film was the animal-centric documentary Bestiaire, there are no actual bears or any other animals for that matter here. Rather, Vic (short for Victoria and played by Pierette Robitaille) and Flo (short for Florence and played by Romane Bohringer) are ex-convicts and former lovers who reunite at Vic’s family cabin following her release on parole. Whereas Vic welcomes their newfound peace and quiet, the bisexual Flo finds it unsettling and begins acting out, unbeknownst to Vic, in risky ways. Vic’s genuinely concerned, gay parole officer (Marc-Andre Grondin, consistently clad in Izod shirts and tight pants) tries to keep them both on the straight and narrow, but Flo’s past starts to catch up with her and Vic in disturbingly violent fashion. The cast’s performances are uniformly excellent. Cote has crafted a memorable study of romantic need and attachment, though viewers may never hear the phrase “just take things one step at a time” in a comforting way again after watching it.

Watch for more on AFI Fest 2013 from me next week. Also of note this weekend, no less than three gay-themed movies are opening theatrically in Los Angeles. today: the Lebanese drama Out Loud, in which six friends of both gay and straight persuasions test the conservative strictures of Middle Eastern society; The Falls: Testament of Love, Jon Garcia’s sequel to his popular 2012 film about Mormon missionaries in love with one another; and the hilarious-sounding Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings, a Filipino horror-comedy wherein a lunkheaded, straight jock is cursed by a vengeful drag queen and begins “turning” gay. I regret I wasn’t able to watch these by press time but I will review them fully here in time for their home video releases later this month. Catching them in theaters though is a great way to support the work of gay and gay-friendly filmmakers.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Stranger by the Lake: B
Tom at the Farm: B+
Vic+Flo Saw a Bear: B

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reverend's Preview: Bent-Con Celebrates Diversity

Comic book and pop culture conventions are now ubiquitous throughout Southern California. November brings two such gatherings: the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con (November 23rd and 24th) and Los Angeles’s Bent-Con. Only the second event, however, fully highlights GLBT artists, their creations and fans.

Now in its fourth year, Bent-Con will take place November 8th-10th at the Burbank Marriott and Convention Center. The convention, according to its organizers, “promotes, encourages, celebrates and appreciates GLBT and GLBT-friendly contributions to the comic-book, gaming, science fiction, fantasy and horror mediums… be they works targeted directly to GLBT audiences or the larger realm of underground and mainstream pop-culture as a whole.” One is encouraged to think of it as being like San Diego’s annual Comic-Con International “only gayer,” say organizers.

Super Boys on the Beach by Joe Phillips

Among the celebrities slated to attend are actress Claudia Christian (Babylon 5, Grimm), openly queer author — and son of Interview with the Vampire queen Anne Rice — Christopher Rice, actor and voice artist Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants, The Powerpuff Girls), out professional athlete and actor Ian Roberts (Defiance), producer Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and openly gay comics artist Phil Jimenez (Wonder Woman, New X-Men). Other renowned gay artists appearing will be Patrick Fillion, Joe Phillips, Jeff Krell and Butch McLogic.

As at other conventions, attendees are encouraged to dress in costume as their favorite GLBT or mainstream comic book and pop culture characters. Elaborate “cosplay” outfits will be on view at Bent-Con, some of them minimal or skin-tight and modeled by hot men and women. (Note: the main event is for those ages 18 and over, and youth under 18 will not be permitted to enter the exhibitor/vendor hall or regular programs without an adult parent or guardian.)

Special presentations and panel discussions will be held throughout the weekend on a variety of interesting topics. A few that have piqued my curiosity are:

  • Anything That Loves: Comics Beyond “Gay” and “Straight”, which will explore attitudes toward bisexuality or fluid sexuality and/or gender through a new comics anthology from Northwest Press.
  • Embracing a Brave New World: The Gaming Industry and Allies presented by Andrew LaRock, who admits to having been against the GLBT community up until just three years ago. His mind now open, LaRock will speak about global GLBT awareness, creating new social norms that allow for openness, and about the diversity of GLBT communities in schools, business and entertainment.
  • The Kink in Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso, which might help explain why the Amazon princess described as having “more real-world impact than any other comic book hero” has yet to get a movie of her own since this presentation will explore the “kinky psychology” present in her creator’s original stories.
  • The Importance of Sex in Gay Fiction will address the question “Why are sexually-explicit scenes more permissible in gay fiction (not just gay erotica), and why is this important?” Sign me up!

In addition, there will be exclusive performances during Bent-Con of Masque of the Read Death: A Musical Thriller — described as a gay-themed, sci-fi/horror spectacular — and a mini stage combat version of the new theatrical production Demon-Slaying Drag Queens.

Lest one conclude that Bent-Con is a strictly adult affair, the program on Sunday, November 10th will feature the family-friendly Rainbow Connection. This special series of events is open to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and straight children and youth of all ages. It will consist of panels, workshops, gaming and exhibits designed to foster positivity, imagination, empowerment and inclusivity among GLBTQ youth and their families in a safe and welcoming environment. Admission is free for youth ages 10 and under, and only $10 for ages 11-17 when purchased online.

For a full listing of events and to purchase passes in advance, visit the Bent-con website.

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Viva La Revolucion!

Like most Americans, I suspect, I was ignorant of many of the political, religious and social conflicts that sparked a massive, well-publicized people’s uprising in Egypt beginning in early 2011. Cairo’s historic Tahrir Square became the central gathering spot for hundreds of thousands of mostly young Egyptians seeking to oust longtime president/dictator Mohamed Mubarak. They succeeded only to have Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi, assume even greater power in an unconstitutional manner. The square became the site of more protests this year that ultimately drove Morsi from the office, although this week’s news reports Morsi still defiantly considers himself Egypt’s president.

These events have been brought to the big screen by documentarian Jehane Noujaim (Control Room). Appropriately titled The Square and now playing in Los Angles and New York City, it is a mostly riveting film startling in it’s you-are-there immediacy thanks to the vast number of cell phones and digital cameras that captured the proceedings first hand. Noujaim premiered an unfinished cut of The Square at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and ended up winning the fest’s Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary. Prognosticators, including myself, expect it to be nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards.

The film reveals the uprising primarily through six charismatic participants: British-Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla, known for The Kite Runner and United 93; Magdy Ashour, initially a member of the Morsi-backing Muslim Brotherhood; “unofficial” Square Security officer and storyteller Ahmed Hassan; human rights lawyer and activist Ragia Omran; Ramy Essam, a formerly unknown singer who became one of the movement’s most popular leaders and would, subsequently, be tortured by the Egyptian army following Mubarak’s resignation; and Egyptian filmmaker Aida El Kashef, from whom Noujaim secured some of the most intense footage shown in The Square. Gay American journalist Anderson Cooper also makes an appearance.

In addition to the real-time depiction of critical events, Noujaim incorporates some excellent protest art work that likely can’t be viewed elsewhere. As one protester remarks in the film, “Egyptians do not revolt easily; for us to revolt means we’ve had enough.” Ahmed stirringly refers to the revolution’s central battleground as “the place of pride and dignity.” While there remains considerable unrest in Cairo and throughout the Nile region, The Square and its participants give viewers many reasons for hope in lasting change.

Revolution is also depicted on a quieter, gayer, and more intimate scale here in the US in the recent DVD releaseWaterberry Tears, available from Ariztical Entertainment. Focusing on a migrant family in southern California’s Coachella Valley, it explores the fragility of outdated traditions and expectations through a teenaged son’s coming out process. Goyo (Raul Rodriguez), 17 and on the verge of his high school graduation, has endured emotional and physical abuse from his father Ramon (Juan Loaiza) whenever he has shown the slightest hint of effeminacy.

Things take a dramatic turn for Goyo and his twin sister once they both fall in love with community newcomer Lucio (Daniel Lugo). The bisexual hottie seduces them both but ultimately marries the girl, much to Goyo’s understandable disappointment. Once the truth about Lucio’s and Goyo’s relationship is revealed, however, it forces Goyo to finally embrace himself despite his father’s homophobia.

Waterberry Tears is unique both for its realistic look at the politics of Spanish-speaking migrant communities as well as its cast of local, non-professional actors. While their performances are naturally a mixed bag, Lugo struck me as having genuine star quality and ought to consider an acting career. All the actors, though, have their authentic moments. Directed by the talented Adrian Aldaz (who also shot and edited the film) from a script by Jaime Soria, Waterberry Tears is definitely worth seeking out.

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Square: A-
Waterberry Tears: B

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