Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Blu-ray Cabaret & More

Musicals, animals, murderous male prostitutes, Tom Cruise and James Bond; there’s something for everyone among new DVD and Blu-ray releases!

Cabaret 40th Anniversary Blu-ray
From Warner Home Video
Bob Fosse’s film adaptation of the powerful Kander & Ebb musical about life in Germany as the Nazis rise to power continues to infuriate devotees of the stage version due to Fosse’s major re-working of the original book and score.  On the plus side, the musical numbers that remain as well as a few new ones are impressively staged and sung by Oscar winners Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, and Michael York is affecting as a young writer (based on author Christopher Isherwood, who wrote the Berlin Stories upon which the musical was based) coming to terms with his bisexuality.  This 1972 classic won eight Academy Awards, more than its main contender The Godfather, although the gangster drama beat Cabaret for Best Picture.
Reverend’s Rating: B+

From Zeitgeist Films
Animal lovers abound in the LGBT community, and they will be especially interested in this unusual documentary by Canadian auteur Denis Cote.  Cote spent a year getting up close and personal with the inhabitants of Quebec’s Parc Safari zoo, which include monkeys, ostriches, giraffes, lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) plus an elephant or two.  The resulting film contains no dialogue and struck me as tedious at times (and I could have done without the taxidermy demonstration), but the intimacy with and sympathy for our four-legged friends that Cote achieves can’t be denied.
Reverend’s Rating: B

Our Paradise
From Breaking Glass Pictures/QC Cinema
When older-but-still-hot hustler Vassili (Stephane Rideau, star of past gay-themed dramas Wild Reeds and Come Undone) rescues a young, gay-bashed newcomer (played by cute screen newcomer Dimitri Durdaine), love quickly blossoms.  Vassili, however, has learned to survive by robbing and killing his tricks.  To his credit, he doesn’t keep this from his new bf and Vassili’s protégé fortunately/unfortunately becomes his accomplice.  The pair ultimately set out from Paris to find their special, safe place in the world.  While such a dark storyline may not be for everyone, the film is beautifully directed by veteran Gael Morel and the performances, especially Rideau’s, are excellent.  My only gripe is the movie’s sudden, perfunctory ending.  Beatrice Dalle, who some may remember in the title role of 1986’s sexually provocative Betty Blue, has a pivotal part.
Reverend’s Rating: B

Top Gun 3D
From Paramount Home Video
Quentin Tarantino famously riffed on this 1986 Navy-set saga that made Tom Cruise a star as the gayest movie ever made.  Even though Cruise’s character, a hotshot pilot named Maverick, has a romance with a female professor played by Kelly McGillis (who later came out as a lesbian), homoerotic tension abounds between Maverick and his bronzed, often shirtless and constantly sweaty mates played by such then-up-and-comers as Val Kilmer, Tim Robbins and Rick Rossovich.  Meg Ryan also makes a pre-stardom appearance.  Digitally re-mastered and even in 3D on Blu-ray, the movie holds up well as pure, beautifully-shot melodrama with a great 80’s song score.
Reverend’s Rating: B

From 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Javier Bardem’s revenge-bent Silva may not be the gayest villain James Bond has ever had to face
(that honor would go to the creepy-smiley duo of Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint in Diamonds Are
Forever) but Silva sure comes close.  His virtual molestation of a bound Daniel Craig is
one of this film’s several standout scenes. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes brought new
life and vitality to the 50-year old series, and this entry became the highest-grossing Bond epic
to date as well as one of the best films of 2012.  Adele’s title song is a winner too, including of the Oscar.
Have no fear: James Bond will return to continue thrilling gay and straight fans alike.
Reverend’s Rating: A-

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Awards Watch: Yearly Round Up 2012

With the award season all said and done for the year 2012, Movie Dearest has tallied up the total trophies handed out by the top 27 organizations, critics groups and industry guilds to get a clearer picture of what is indeed the Best Picture (et al) of the year; only categories with at least two wins are included.

Picture of the Year: Argo, 8 wins.
Actor of the Year: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, 9 wins.
Actress of the Year: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, 6 wins.
Supporting Actor of the Year: Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, 3 wins each.
Supporting Actress of the Year: Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables, 8 wins.
Director of the Year: Ben Affleck for Argo, 4 wins.
Adapted Screenplay of the Year: Argo, 5 wins.
Original Screenplay of the Year: Django Unchained, 4 wins.
Cinematography of the Year: Life of Pi, 4 wins.
Production Design of the Year: Anna Karenina and Lincoln, 2 wins each.
Costume Design of the Year: Anna Karenina, 4 wins.
Original Song of the Year: "Skyfall" from Skyfall, 3 wins.
Film Editing of the Year: Argo, 3 wins.
Sound Mixing & Editing of the Year: Les Misérables, 5 wins.
Visual Effects of the Year: Life of Pi, 7 wins.
Makeup & Hairstyling of the Year: Les Misérables, 2 wins.
Animated Feature of the Year: Wreck-It Ralph, 4 wins.
Foreign Film of the Year: Amour, 7 wins.
Documentary Feature of the Year: Searching for Sugar Man, 5 wins.
New Actor/Actress of the Year: Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2 wins.
New Director of the Year: Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2 wins.

The top winner was Argo, with wins in 4 categories, while Daniel Day-Lewis won the most awards in any category, with 9 total.

See the comments section below for the list of the 27 groups tracked.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Men on Film: If We Picked the Oscars 2012

Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert back in the good ol' days, Movie Dearest's very own Men on Film — Chris Carpenter and Kirby Holt — are presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars"! These aren't predictions, but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy. Plus, we're also chiming in with our picks for the "egregiously overlooked" non-nominees as well as the "Worst Nomination of the Year".

So without further ado, the envelope please...

Life of Pi by Tom Whalen

The nominees for Best Picture are: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Les Misérables, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.
And our winners would be:
CC: Beasts of the Southern Wild, since I would vote for Amour as Best Foreign Language Film and believe in sharing the wealth.
KH: In an overall strong line up, Life of Pi stands out as the finest in cinematic wonder that is as spiritually-enriching as it is eye-popping.
Egregiously Overlooked: Keep the Lights On, Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall

The nominees for Best Actor are: Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables, Joaquin Phoenix in The Master and Denzel Washington in Flight.
And our winners would be:
CC: Denzel Washington, whose work I haven’t always admired, does in Flight what I believe to be the most truthful work of his career to date.
KH: Day-Lewis may be getting all the buzz (maybe too much buzz), but he already has two Oscars and I like to spread the wealth as well, especially when we have the transformative performances of Hugh Jackman, finally able to fully display his dramatic and musical chops in Les Miz.
Egregiously Overlooked: John Hawkes in The Sessions, Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Thure Lindhardt in Keep the Lights On

Beasts of the Southern Wild by Rich Kelly

The nominees for Best Actress are: Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, Emmanuelle Riva in Amour, Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild and Naomi Watts in The Impossible.
And our winners would be:
CC: Silver Linings Playbook's Jennifer Lawrence, who gives a riveting performance that ricochets wildly between angst and humor. She is easily the most talented actress of her generation.
KH: I'd give it to little Hushpuppy herself, Quvenzhané Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Egregiously Overlooked: Marion Cotillard in Rust & Bone, Maggie Smith in Quartet

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Alan Arkin in Argo, Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained.
And our winners would be:
CC: Philip Seymour Hoffman, masterful as The Master’s debauched religious guru.
KH: In a race where they are all previous winners, it comes down to who deserves another Oscar, and my choice would be Tommy Lee Jones who (gratefully) set the screen on fire as a strong-willed abolitionist senator in the otherwise deathly dull Lincoln.
Egregiously Overlooked: Javier Bardem in Skyfall, William H. Macy in The Sessions, Ezra Miller in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Tom Wilkinson in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Les Misérables by Phantom City Creative

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Amy Adams in The Master, Sally Field in Lincoln, Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables, Helen Hunt in The Sessions and Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook.
And our winners would be:
CC: Amy Adams, who gave what I consider the best and creepiest performance in The Master and has been nominated several times now in this category but has yet to win.
KH: Sometimes the stars align just right to give an actor just the right role at just the right time in their career for an Oscar, and this year it is Anne Hathaway as the tragic, doomed Fantine in Les Miz.
Egregiously Overlooked: Samantha Barks in Les Misérables, Judi Dench in Skyfall, Emma Watson in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

The nominees for Best Director are: Michael Haneke for Amour, Ang Lee for Life of Pi, David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
And our winners would be:
CC: Ang Lee, whose adaptation of the bestselling book Life of Pi is if nothing else a visual marvel.
KH: I too pick Ang Lee, who won before for Brokeback Mountain and, with Life of Pi, created another instant classic.
Egregiously Overlooked: Ben Affleck for Argo, Sam Mendes for Skyfall, Ira Sachs for Keep the Lights On

Lincoln by Jeff Boyes

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook.
And our winners would be:
CC: I think this is the toughest category for me to decide this year. I would lean toward Lincoln both as a testament to its gay author, Tony Kushner, as well as his usually exemplary prose.
KH: Another highly competitive category, David Magee's adaptation of Life of Pi seamlessly transferred the so-called "unfilmable" novel to the screen.
Egregiously Overlooked: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Sessions

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom and Zero Dark Thirty.
And our winners would be:
CC: As much as I admired Flight’s harrowing depiction of an addict’s journey and Moonrise Kingdom’s playful spirit, my heart is with Amour by Michael Haneke.
KH: Wes Anderson's past films were often too quirky for their own good, but his Moonrise Kingdom (co-written by Roman Coppola) is his most accessible - and enjoyable - movie to date.
Egregiously Overlooked: Keep the Lights On, Looper

Amour by Matt Owen

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Skyfall.
And our winners would be:
CC: Life of Pi is simply amazing to look at, and I give it bonus points for its mastery of immersive 3D that made me feel the bathroom I was in after the movie rocking!
KH: James Bond never looked better thanks to Roger Deakins' crisp photography for Skyfall.
Egregiously OverlookedLes Misérables, Moonrise Kingdom

The nominees for Best Production Design are: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Les Misérables.
And our winners would be:
CC: Similar to my remarks above, and despite my admiration for the look of Anna Karenina, Life of Pi is too gorgeous to resist.
KH: With the (finally, correctly) renamed category one can't help but want to recognize the overall gorgeous look of Life of Pi.
Egregiously Overlooked: Moonrise Kingdom, Prometheus

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Anna Karenina, Lincoln, Les Misérables, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.
And our winners would be:
CC: I loved the late Eiko Ishioka’s knowingly, deliriously over-the-top outfits in the campy Snow White tale, Mirror Mirror.
KH: From convicts to prostitutes to soldiers to rebels, Paco Delgado's rich designs helped establish each character in an instant in the epic Les Misérables.
Egregiously Overlooked: Argo, Django Unchained

Django Unchained by Mark Englert

The nominees for Best Original Score are: Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Skyfall.
And our winners would be:
CC: The long overdue Mychael Danna composed a score for Life of Pi that is as lovely and haunting as its visuals.
KH: A tough choice between two of my top films from last year, Life of Pi and Skyfall; I'll go with the latter as composer Thomas Newman is also long overdue.
Egregiously Overlooked: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Brave, Cloud Atlas

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Before My Time" from Chasing Ice, "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from Ted, "Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi, "Skyfall" from Skyfall and "Suddenly" from Les Misérables.
And our winners would be:
CC: As much as I love “Skyfall,” Adele and Bond theme songs in general, I was struck by the beautiful, heartfelt simplicity of Les Misérables' “Suddenly” and would vote for it.
KH: Another case of perfect timing: as the 007 series celebrates its 50th year in the movies, we get Adele's lush title tune for Skyfall, likely to be the first Bond song to win an Oscar.
Egregiously Overlooked: “From Here to the Moon and Back” from Joyful Noise, "Touch the Sky" from Brave

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.
And our winners would be:
CC: Argo’s editing contributes so much to how engrossing it is.
KH: The "thriller aspect" of Argo is thanks in large part to the fine editing of William Goldenberg.
Egregiously Overlooked: The Avengers, Skyfall.

Silver Linings Playbook by Joshua Budich

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Les Misérables and Skyfall.
And our winners would be:
CC: Life of Pi, for its alternately thrilling and pensive blend of natural sounds.
KH: Despite (or maybe because of) all that hype around the "live singing" aspect of Les Misérables, I opt for the dense aural landscape of Skyfall.
Egregiously Overlooked: The Avengers, Brave

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty.
And our winners would be:
CC: 007 never sounded so good until Skyfall.
KH: Let's make it a clean sweep: Skyfall.
Egregiously Overlooked: The Avengers, Looper

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: The Avengers, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman.
And our winners would be:
CC: A tough call for me between The Avengers and Life of Pi, but I would likely go with the latter.
KH: Just in case you didn't realize it, that tiger in Life of Pi was entirely created by computer animation, and brilliantly so.
Egregiously Overlooked: Cloud Atlas, Mirror Mirror, Skyfall

The nominees for Best Makeup & Hairstyling are: Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Les Misérables.
And our winners would be:
CC: The Hobbit’s makeup effects often looked phony to me, likely an unintended result of the high frame rate 3D format in which I watched it, so I would go with the mutton chops of Les Misérables.
KH: The talented crew of The Hobbit managed to make each of the 13(!) dwarfs distinctive and unique.
Egregiously Overlooked: Cloud Atlas, Lincoln

Argo by Anthony Petrie

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Wreck-It Ralph.
And our winners would be:
CC: ParaNorman strikes me as the most original out of this strong group of contenders.
KH: Although I enjoyed the creepy fun (and gay inclusiveness) of ParaNorman, my vote goes to the unjustly underrated Brave.
Egregiously Overlooked: The Rabbi’s Cat

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: Amour from Austria, Kon-Tiki from Norway, No from Chile, A Royal Affair from Denmark and War Witch from Canada.
And our winners would be:
CC, KH: J’adore Amour!
Egregiously Overlooked: The Intouchables from France

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War and Searching for Sugar Man.
And our winners would be:
CC: How to Survive a Plague, which impressively manages to be both elegiac and inspiring.
KH: I'm baffled by all the awards garnered by the frankly lightweight Searching for Sugar Man, especially over Kirby Dick's gut-wrenching, incendiary exposé of military rape in The Invisible War.
Egregiously Overlooked: Bully, West of Memphis

The nominees for Best Documentary Short are: Inocente, Kings Point, Mondays at Racine, Open Heart and Redemption.
And our winners would be:
CC: The gripping, moving Open Heart.
KH: At this point, have only seen Inocente, so abstain for now.

Zero Dark Thirty by Godmachine

The nominees for Best Animated Short are: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare and Paperman.
And our winners would be:
CC: The beautifully-drawn Adam and Dog is the standout from multiple perspectives: artistic, relational and spiritual/theological.
KH: Paperman is getting all the press (ha!), but I was enthralled by the lovely and funny Adam and Dog.

The nominees for Best Live Action Short are: Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw) and Henry.
And our winners would be:
CC: I liked the intriguing and clever Death of a Shadow.
KH: Curfew struck the right balance of quirkiness and sentimentality for me.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: In general, I consider Lincoln the most overrated film of 2012. It isn’t a bad movie by any means but Steven Spielberg’s direction struck me as schizophrenic, Tommy Lee Jones was chewing the scenery, and the naturalistic cinematography came across as too dark at times. And, while good, Daniel Day-Lewis failed to epitomize our 16th president in my mind.
KH: While it wasn't a bad performance, I am still puzzled about Jacki Weaver's nomination for playing Bradley Cooper's mother/Robert De Niro's wife in Silver Linings Playbook. Chalk it up to "riding on the coattails" of her fellow cast members, I suppose.

And so the final march to Oscar glory, for this year anyway, begins. Tune in to ABC this Sunday to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, most attractive escorts and most heartfelt acceptance speeches.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What If the 2012 Best Picture Oscar Nominees Were Made in Another Cinematic Era?

In the tradition of Marvel Comics; classic "What If...?" series, Movie Dearest takes you through an inter-dimensional portal to see what this year's Academy Award Best Picture nominees would be like if they were produced during earlier movie making time periods.


Lincoln (1917): In his pseudo-sequel to his epic The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith makes his "not-so Honest" Abe into the villain, so naturally he cast Lon Chaney in the title role. Marie Dressler co-stars as the First Lady, while Griffith returns to acting as John Wilkes Booth.

Silver Linings Playbook (1940): Frank Capra reunites Jimmy Stewart (he's not bi-polar, he's just drunk!) and Irene Dunne (the gal with a "bad reputation"!) in this zany screwball comedy about two misfits who find love in the loony bin. Edward Everett Horton and Eve Arden play Stewart's wacky parents.

Life of Pi (1943): Following the success of Jungle Book, the forever loinclothed Sabu plays the spunky Pi. Since the only computers around at that time were abacuses, Richard Parker would be an actual tiger, who would speak with the voice of Monty Woolley.

Django Unchained (1966): The Rat Pack returns for this rollicking, boozy western, with Sammy Davis, Jr. starring as tap dancer-turned-bounty hunter Bo Django. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are his hard-drinking, poker-player partners, who compete for the attentions of sassy saloon girl Angie Dickinson.

Älskar (1972): Legendary director Ingmar Bergman and his muses Liv Ullmann and Max Von Sydow make this tale of "amour" even more depressing. (Of course, everything is more depressing in Swedish.)

Argo (1982): Paul Michael Glaser stars as Tony Mancini in this ABC Sunday Night Movie, which climaxes in an explosive finale that finds the former Starsky in a one-on-one fist fight with the Ayatollah, thereby single–handedly bringing Truth, Justice and the American Way to the Middle East.

Les Misérables (1989): Capitalizing on the latest Hollywood trend of rock stars-turned-movie actors, director Alan Parker casts David Bowie as Jean Valjean, Sting as Inspector Javert and, in a controversial case of double-casting, Madonna plays both Fantine and her grown-up daughter Cosette. Weird Al Yankovic and Cyndi Lauper round out the cast as the Thénardiers, and all the songs are lip-synched.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (1991): Japanimation genius and My Neighbor Totoro director Hayao Miyazaki manages to squeeze in even more allegory in this lushly animated tale of little Eggroll, voiced by Drew Barrymore in the English language dub.

Zero Dark Thirty (2011): Aging action stars Chuck Norris, Stephan Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren team up to take out Osama bin Laden in this over-the-top thriller that went straight to DVD. Now available at Best Buy for $1.99.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reverend's Reviews: Love is On the Screen

Valentine’s Day is here, and Cupid has his bow and arrows ready.  Some of us hope to be struck, while some of us may do everything we can to dodge his arsenal, but there is no doubt that love will be in the air.

Lots of people turn to romantic movies this time of year for both encouragement and solace, which got me thinking about those LGBT-themed films that can be considered the most romantic.  I have my personal preferences but I also enlisted the help of nearly thirty gay and lesbian Facebook friends to identify their favorites.

The notion of romantic movies geared toward our community is actually fairly recent, with few such films made before the 1990’s.  Pioneering productions in this regard include Midnight Cowboy (1969), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Making Love (1982) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).  Things really started to change with 1987’s Maurice.  This gorgeous Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel (which Forster refused to allow to be published while he was living) focuses on the repressed feelings shared between two young, upper-class British men.  While their relationship doesn’t endure, the title character is more successful with a dark and handsome groundskeeper (memorably played by Rupert Graves).  Maurice was mentioned by several of my FB friends.

Pre-90’s romantic favorites among the ladies include Silkwood (1983), in which Cher cares for a radiation-exposed Meryl Streep; Desert Hearts (1986), a passionate, 1950’s-set love story between a divorcee and the Nevada ranch hand she meets; and Personal Best (1982), Robert Towne’s graphic-at-the-time exploration of love between two female athletes and the male coach who threatens to come between them.

For many LGBT people, the most cherished romantic movies are coming-of-age stories.  Frequently cited in my survey are 1996’s Beautiful Thing, the British tale of tentative first love between two put-upon high school boys (based on Jonathan Harvey’s hit play); the similar but lesbian-themed The Incredibly True Adventure of 2 Girls in Love (1995); and Get Real (1998), in which a brainy gay boy crushes on his school’s star athlete and finds his attentions reciprocated, at least for a time.  Two of my personal favorites in this subgenre are 1996’s Lilies, about a tortured love triangle in a Catholic school for boys, and Come Undone (2000), a no-holds-barred French drama about two toned and tanned young men who fall in love on the beach during summer vacation.

Love and loss often seem to go hand-in-hand in real life, so it isn’t surprising that a few gay-themed films considered the most romantic also involve death and dying.  The Oscar-winning gay cowboy saga Brokeback Mountain (2005) is the undisputed champ in this regard, and the film resonates even more strongly in the wake of co-star Heath Ledger’s tragic death just a few years after its release.  Other tragic love stories mentioned by my Facebook pals are the revolutionary AIDS dramas Parting Glances (1986) and Longtime Companion (1989), Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy (1988), the fact-based Soldier’s Girl (2003), A Home at the End of the World (2004) and, the most recent of the bunch, Peru’s Undertow (Contracorriente).  I would add here David Lewis’ 2009 film Redwoods, starring gay fave Matthew Montgomery and the beautiful Brendan Bradley as two men who embark on a life-changing relationship that endures beyond death, as well as Tom Ford’s exquisite A Single Man (also 2009).  Colin Firth scored a deserved Academy Award nomination for his moving yet frequently funny turn as a gay university professor grieving the sudden death of his partner.

As if being homosexual, bisexual or trans wasn’t considered unorthodox enough, a few recent movie gems feature unexpected romances between unusual pairings.  From Beginning to End is a 2009 Brazilian film about an Olympics-bound swimmer in love with another man.  The catch?  The two are half-brothers who were raised together from a young age.  So controversial it was never released theatrically in the US, it is worth seeking out on DVD.  And then there’s Plan B from Argentina, in which two heterosexual men bond as friends over one’s messy breakup with his girlfriend (whom the other man is now dating) but ultimately become lovers.  I found this film refreshing in its disdain for sexual labels and very touching in the end.  Finally, 2010’s Paulista, also from Brazil, boasts a male-to-female trans title character who knowingly has an affair with her initially in-the-dark but increasingly vulnerable father.  It isn’t for everyone but some trans viewers may find their dilemma intriguing, to say the least.

Trick, Jeffrey, Fried Green Tomatoes, Yossi & Jagger, The Wedding Banquet, Carrington and Big Eden wrap up the remainder of my Facebook friends’ nominees for most romantic LGBT films of all time, and I agree with most of them.  Wherever you find inspiration, we wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day!

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Reverend's Interview: Family Man

Darryl Stephens is well-known among gay men as the star of Noah’s Arc, which aired on Logo from 2005-2007 and was followed by a well-received theatrical movie, Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom.  As struggling screenwriter Noah Nicholson, Stephens embodied the many professional and personal challenges endured not only by gay African-Americans but by gay men of all ethnicities.

Stephens is also an accomplished theatre actor, dancer and singer, as I recently learned while researching Stephens’ career prior to interviewing him about his appearance this month in the world premiere of Gary Lennon’s play A Family Thing.  The Echo Theater Company production will run February 16th-March 17th at Stage 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles.

“First and foremost, I wanted to work with Gary,” Stephens said of his decision to do Lennon’s latest work.  Lennon previously authored the acclaimed plays Blackout and 45 (both of which were turned into movies) as well as numerous episodes of TV’s The Shield, The Black Donnellys and Justified.  “I worked with (Lennon) last year on The Interlopers,” Stephens continued, “and he’s really good at writing certain voices and characters.”

In addition to Stephens, A Family Thing stars Saverio Guerra, Johnny Messner and Sean Wing as three brothers raised in New York’s tough Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.  One of the brothers has just gotten out of prison, another is a struggling drug addict, and the youngest is a gay screenwriter trying to break his family’s cycle of mayhem and betrayal.

“This particular play is to me about people running from the past and confronting their demons,” Stephens reflects.  “It’s about how the further we run from our issues or deny them, the stronger they become.”

Stephens’ own family upbringing was spent in Southern California.  He was born in Pasadena in 1974 and grew up between there and the Altadena area of LA.  He studied sociology and ethnic studies as well as drama and dance at the University of California, Berkeley.  Following graduation, Stephens performed in San Francisco for four years with the cult theatre troupe, Sassymouth.  He then moved back to LA to pursue roles in movies and TV.

I asked Stephens when he first began performing.  “It’s kind of a weird story,” he replied.  “In high school, I was getting weird, not necessarily positive attention in the school yard.  I wasn’t being bullied but it was very awkward for me.  I had a friend in show choir and I started going to practice with him during lunch to avoid the school yard.  The choir director asked me to start singing, which I did and enjoyed, and from then on it snowballed into acting.”

Upon his return to LA, Stephens secured parts in the films Seamless (with Shannon Elizabeth) and Circuit, as well as on episodes of the series Undressed and That’s Life.  Then, writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk noticed the actor and cast him as the lead character in Noah’s Arc.  I asked Stephens whether Noah and his circle of friends are gone for good.

“There was talk of a spinoff series after the movie, which did very well, but we all moved on,” Stephens responded.  “Fans are very enthusiastic about a reunion but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.  I hear from fans every single day, and it’s been an amazing experience for me seeing how powerful the representation of these characters was at the time.”

More recently, Stephens had roles in the gay-themed films Another Gay Movie and Boy Culture, and appeared on such popular TV shows as Ugly Betty, Two and a Half Men and Desperate Housewives.   Currently, he can be seen on Logo’s DTLA as well as alongside his fellow Noah’s Arc alumnus, Wilson Cruz, as a gay men’s health professional in Patrik Ian-Polk’s latest movie, The Skinny.  The dramedy about an emotionally- and sexually-charged reunion among a group of former college friends is newly available on DVD.

In speaking with him, it seems that Stephens is most enthusiastic about his work on two other fronts: the page and the stage.  His first novel, Shortcomings, was published last year, and he is currently writing his second novel in addition to “co-writing a couple of screenplays.”

Discussing his recent work on stage, Stephens has a particular fondness for his role in Lennon’s The Interlopers.  “I played a pre-op transgender activist,” he recalls.  “I had never played a character so loud and brassy and I loved flexing my comedy muscle, which I don’t get to do very often.”  Stephens is very much an activist himself when it comes to LGBT concerns.  “I definitely try to keep folks informed about issues that affect our community; I try to represent the community in a positive way.”

In closing, I asked Stephens whether he is satisfied with his career at this point.  “I don’t think an artist can ever really be truly satisfied, but I am happy to be working as an out black gay man,” he said.  “I wouldn’t say I’ve hit my stride yet as an artist but I’m definitely building up to it.”

For more information about A Family Thing or to purchase tickets, visit the Echo Theater Company website or call (877) 369-9112.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Hearts & Brains

‘Twas the week before Valentine’s Day and all through the Cineplex, several scary creatures were stirring: zombies, giant spiders and, perhaps most terrifying of all, Julianne Hough!

Zombies have replaced vampires as the monsters du jour on movie and TV screens, largely due to the massive success of AMC’s The Walking Dead.  Adding welcome doses of romance (yes, really) and humor to the genre is the current Warm Bodies.  Clearly targeted at the tween fans of the recently concluded Twilight Saga (and released by the same studio), it depicts the blossoming love of an undead boy for the ex-girlfriend of the guy whose brain he just ate.  Brains have been zombies’ chief dietary staple since at least 1985’s Return of the Living Dead, and Warm Bodies proposes a novel hypothesis that zombies inherit the memories of the living.

British actor Nicholas Hoult plays R., a bored “walker” who spends his days wandering the remains of a decimated airport and collecting mementoes from the pre-apocalyptic world.  Hoult is memorable as the sexually-questioning student who befriends Colin Firth’s gay professor in A Single Man and also headlines next month’s big-budget Jack the Giant Slayer, by gay director Bryan Singer.  Here he gives his most endearing performance to date as the fine young cannibal suddenly smitten by Julie (Teresa Palmer, vet of I Am Number Four and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).  Unbeknownst to R., Julie is the daughter of the living’s leader (a game and very good John Malkovich), who has walled off their city from the zombie-infested world and has a zero-tolerance policy toward brain-munchers.

The initial, uneasy alliance between R. and Julie grows into a Shakespeare-lite love story complete with a balcony scene.  In the process, R. regains his heartbeat and starts to become human again, as do those fellow zombies who witness his and Julie’s romance.  Unfortunately, this marks them all as menu items for the Boneys, ghastly skeletal creatures (brought to pseudo-life by so-so digital effects) who have completed their zombie transformation and, we’re told, will eat anything with a heartbeat.

Jonathan Levine, who adapted the screenplay from a young adult novel by Isaac Marion and directs, has a definite knack for stories about young people facing life or death situations.  His last film was 2011’s acclaimed 50/50, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt deals with a cancer diagnosis.  Warm Bodies takes place on a grander scale but is in essence a similar story about a 20-ish guy who steps back from the brink and learns to live, and love, again in the process.  Despite being slow in spots, it has enough gore (albeit minimal given the film’s PG-13 rating) and scares to keep the guys interested while being the rare female-skewing horror movie thanks to its genuinely moving — not to mention beatingheart.

Spiders, which premieres this Friday in numerous L.A.-area theaters and premium Video on Demand, certainly lives up to its title.  Chock-full of supersized arachnids infused with alien DNA who fall to Earth from a crippled, Cold War-era Soviet space station, it evoked for me pleasant childhood memories of watching such "giant monsters on the loose" B-movies as Them!, Tarantula and The Giant Spider Invasion.

When the station crash lands without warning in a New York City subway tunnel, Transit Supervisor Jason Cole (Patrick Muldoon, who previously battled giant bugs in Starship Troopers) understandably suspects a terrorist attack.  The truth soon becomes known once a worker he sends to investigate is killed and military scientists descend on the site.  Most inconveniently, the situation causes Cole to be late for his daughter’s birthday dinner, infuriating his already estranged wife, Rachel (Christa Campbell).  Conveniently, though, Rachel is a city health inspector and she becomes convinced Jason is telling the truth about his excuse for being tardy when dead bodies filled with spider eggs start turning up.  Jason and Rachel find themselves thrust into the major responsibility of not only saving their daughter but everyone else in the Big Apple from the eight-legged horde and their monstrous queen.

Several elements raise Spiders a notch above what could otherwise have been cheap Saturday night programming on the SyFy channel.  Most critical perhaps are the excellent special effects, which make the spiders appear more organic than most digitally-created critters (note how the real parked cars move up and down when the spiders crawl on them).  Another merit is Lorenzo Senatore’s hi-def cinematography.  Finally, the film’s NYC setting looks and feels completely authentic despite the fact that most of it was shot in Bulgaria.

Director and co-writer Tibor Takacs (best known for the pretty bad but beloved-in-some-circles 1987 horror movie The Gate) dispenses with much of a set up to the plot and continue to keep things moving along throughout. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than watching Spiders; just wait ‘til Julianne Hough arrives next week in the sure-to-be-sappy Safe Haven.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Warm Bodies: B
Spiders: B-

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Skinny, Wise & Out

This time of year is generally regarded as the doldrums at local movie theaters, Oscar contenders aside.  Fortunately, there are several new DVD releases of interest to gay viewers, if of mixed quality:

The Skinny
From Breaking Glass Pictures/QC Cinema
Reverend’s Rating: B-
The latest from Noah’s Arc creator Patrik-Ian Polk is a dramedy centered on five college friends (four gay men and a lesbian) who reunite in NYC over Pride weekend.  Their host, Magnus (former child star Jussie Smollett from The Mighty Ducks, all grown up and cuter than ever), uncovers secrets about his boyfriend’s behavior while Sebastian (Blake Young-Fountain) plots to lose his virginity to the promiscuous Kyle (Anthony Burrell) before their time together is over.  The film is more explicit than previous Polk productions but also more heavy-handed than usual, especially when it comes to talk about STDs and bottom-training/-cleansing.  Welcome cameo appearances are made by Noah’s Arc alumni Darryl Stephens and Wilson Cruz.

The Wise Kids
From Wolfe Video
Reverend’s Rating: B+
This thoughtful coming-of-age drama with a religious bent racked up numerous awards on the LGBT film festival circuit over the last two years.  A trio of high school seniors, including gay Tim (the talented Tyler Ross, who has more recently starred in the indie hit Nate & Margaret), experience tensions and revelations while working on their Southern Baptist church’s Christmas program.  Refreshingly humane and non-hysterical, the movie was written and directed by Stephen Cone (In Memoriam), who also plays the students’ closeted pastor.

Luna Park
From Ariztical Entertainment
Reverend’s Rating: C
An unusual plot entailing a successful, female producer of erotica, her many secrets, and the stable of hot gay porn actors in her employ.  Although Alexia (Laura Reilly) and her company are based in New York, her younger brother Christi (who is gay, mute and played by Taylor Caldwell) has essentially been banished to the title apartment community in Fullerton, California.  When Christi gets into trouble with some other tenants, Alexia dispatches her trusted assistant Maxwell (former Calvin Klein model Michael Brent) to keep an eye on him.  It isn’t long before a decidedly non-professional relationship develops between Maxwell and Christi.  Writer-director Steven Vasquez employs considerable full-frontal nudity as well as some stylish touches that are all the more impressive given the film’s obviously low budget.  On the negative side, the acting quality is inconsistent, there are some continuity gaffes regarding clothing/costumes, and a distasteful incest subplot eventually figures in.  Still, a unique film all in all.

Out in the Open
From Breaking Glass Pictures/QC Cinema
Reverend’s Rating: D
A disappointingly dated and tedious documentary about the coming out process of various gay celebs, despite the promising participation of Carson Kressley, Greg Louganis, Eric Roberts and his wife (who aren’t gay but apparently have a briefly-mentioned lesbian daughter), and American Idol/Tarzan on Broadway star Josh Strickland.  They reveal little that we didn’t already know, and the movie is hampered by a faux 1950’s framing device about “the horrors of the homosexual lifestyle.”  Director Matthew Smith, who doubles as one of the film’s subjects, may have broken ground with this approach 10-15 years ago but now it just seems embarrassingly retro. To top it all off, the film’s music score is repetitive and irritating.

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

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Around the World with the Fab Five

It is hard to imagine Jules Verne’s classic 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days, with its globe-trotting storyline and cast of thousands, being effectively adapted for the stage.  It’s even harder to imagine a meager cast of five actors assaying all the adventure tale’s characters.  Playwright Mark Brown and Long Beach’s International City Theatre (ICT) haven’t only taken both of these unexpected routes but have succeeded near-brilliantly with them.

The plot is fairly well-known, if not from actually reading Verne’s novel than from one of several movie or TV versions, most notably Mike Todd’s Oscar-winning 1956 production.  Punctuality-obsessed British gentleman Phileas Fogg accepts a wager that he can travel completely around the globe in 1,920 hours — if not less following his departure from London.  He takes with him his newly-hired manservant Passepartout, and together they navigate a route utilizing a combination of trains, steamer ships and even elephants (though not hot air balloon, which Todd’s film added).  The pair encounter a detective who suspects Fogg of being a thief, religious cultists, a pretty Indian princess with whom the impenetrable Fogg becomes semi-smitten, a rootin’-tootin’ cowboy and marauding Apaches in the prairies of the US, and a variety of other residents of the countries through which they travel.

ICT’s fantastically talented cast of five brings approximately 40 of these characters to vivid life during the play’s 135-minute running time.  Jud V. Williford is appropriately taciturn throughout as Fogg, whereas Michael Uribes primarily plays Passepartout but also a number of supporting roles.  As the lone female, Melinda Porto naturally plays Princess Aouda while also portraying a comical variety of other female and male parts.  Mark Gagliardi, who is well-known in southern California as the current Genie in Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular at Disney's California Adventure, proves himself an accomplished master not only of physical comedy but of a diversity of international accents.  Rounding out the cast is Brian Stanton, very funny as the wily-in-his-own-mind detective tracking Fogg and any number of other roles.  On opening night, Stanton and Gagliardi brought the house down with hilarious improv when one of Stanton's mutton chops fell off mid-scene.

This Los Angeles area production was directed by Allison Bibicoff, who served as Assistant Choreographer and Associate Producer of Broadway's Tony-nominated Xanadu.  Her playful spirit gives the production a decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach; it would seem the script could be performed most seriously as well.  Bibicoff and set designer Staci Walters here employ an ingenious wall depicting Fogg's trip route that also contains hidden drawers and a series of Laugh In-like windows through which props appear and characters speak.  The period-perfect costumes were designed by ICT resident Kim DeShazo.

Splendid entertainment for adults, teens and school-age children, Around the World in 80 Days runs in Long Beach through February 17th.  To purchase tickets or for more information, visit the International City Theatre website.

Meanwhile, another, real-life “Fab Five” is currently making an appearance on the considerably larger stage of LA’s Ahmanson Theatre, where Backbeat is having its US premiere through March 1st.  Based on Iain Softley’s 1994 movie about the formational years of The Beatles, it is an uneven, occasionally inert production (especially during the first act) but not without its merits.  These are primarily the excellent quintet of young actor-musicians who play the five founding members of what would become one of the world’s greatest bands: Andrew Knott, as domineering ringmaster John Lennon; Daniel Healy, possessed of a lovely singing voice, as Paul McCartney; Daniel Westwick as George Harrison; Oliver Bennett as drummer Pete Best, who would find himself dumped in favor of Ringo Starr; and Nick Blood (cool, toned and shirtless as often as possible) as Stuart Sutcliffe, an aspiring painter who left The Beatles just as the band's fame was exploding in 1962 and tragically died shortly after of a brain hemorrhage.

Backbeat is essentially constructed around a speculative love triangle between Sutcliffe, Lennon and Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer with whom Sutcliffe did become romantically involved.  The more speculative part is the depth of Lennon's feelings for his longtime best friend, although Lennon's widow Yoko Ono would remark that "hardly a day went by that John did not talk about (Sutcliffe)."  Leanne Best, as Kirchherr, has little to do in the role other than be the camera-toting woman who came between the two erstwhile artist-friends, but then character development isn't this show's strong suit when it comes to virtually all the pop-culture figures portrayed.  Any younger viewers with little advance knowledge of The Beatles' members will likely wonder what all the fuss was about.

The book by Softley and Stephen Jeffreys covers the three-year period during which the boys groomed their sound and, eventually, themselves between Liverpool, London and "decadent" nightclubs in Hamburg.  The second of these German clubs provides the show with some needed style and diversity, populated as it is with drag queens and kings, a leather-suited gay dancer, and a tuxedoed, Cabaret-esque MC.  Five-time Tony Award nominee David Leveaux directs the proceedings with some visual flair, high decibels during the songs and, in Act II, some heavy-handed but nonetheless welcome emotional wallops that the first act sorely lacks.

Songs from The Beatles catalog comprise the show's score, including such classics as "Love Me Do", "She Loves You", "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Twist and Shout".  If the volume is more often than not excessive, I appreciated the free-wheeling feel and lack of obvious choreography during the musical moments.  Those who go to see Backbeat expecting an upbeat "Jukebox musical" crafted on Beatles songs will likely be disappointed.  There's some "dark night of the soul" stuff going on here when it comes to the conflicts that can arise among friends/lovers who are simultaneously heeding the call to be artists, all played out against a frequently seedy backdrop.  By the time band manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin enter the picture in Act II, one may understandably conclude that The Beatles sold their souls to the devil.  Thankfully, this show's talented cast members don't have to do so.

For more information about Backbeat or to purchase tickets for the LA production, visit the Center Theatre Group website.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Around the World in 80 Days: A-
Backbeat: B-

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