Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: What’s the Word?

One-word titles dominate this month’s notable new GLBT-interest home video releases.

Jeffrey Schwarz’s superb look at film critic and gay rights activist Vito Russo was inexplicably ignored when this year’s Oscar nominations for Best Documentary were announced.  Russo’s life-long fascination with the portrayal of GLBT characters in mainstream Hollywood movies led him to write the acclaimed book The Celluloid Closet, which itself became a movie in 1995.  Sadly, he passed away due to AIDS complications in 1990 and didn’t live to see his own mainstream impact today.  Many celebs appear in Vito, including Lily Tomlin, Bruce Vilanch, Larry Kramer and Armistead Maupin, and even more appear (notably Judy Garland, whom Russo adored) via archival footage.
Reverend’s Rating: A

Bill Moyers: Beyond Hate
It’s unfortunate that this exposé of hate-motivated violence, originally broadcast on PBS in 1991, is just as timely today as it makes its DVD debut.  The eminent journalist traveled across the US and around the world to violence-prone hotspots such as South Central LA, Brooklyn, Jerusalem and South Africa in an effort to understand the root causes of homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, sectarianism and a lot of other nasty “isms.”  What Moyers learns from such revered experts as Elie Wiesel, Nelson Mandela, Yaclav Havel, former president Jimmy Carter and others interviewed here remains must-see TV.  The DVD contains a discussion guide for use in classrooms or other settings.
Reverend’s Rating: A-

This long-overdue sequel to 2002’s gay favorite Yossi & Jagger finds Yossi (once again played by Ohad Knoller), now a successful surgeon, still grieving the tragic death of his lover while they served together in the Israeli army.  Forced to take a sabbatical, Yossi goes to a beach resort where he meets a gay soldier on leave/new prospective boyfriend (the stunning Oz Zehavi).  The movie’s standout scene, at least emotionally, occurs when Yossi goes to introduce himself as Jagger’s former lover to Jagger’s in-the-dark parents.  A reflective, lovely film by Eytan Fox, who similarly wrote and directed the original.
Reverend’s Rating: B+

Gay porn superstar François Sagat is immediately identifiable thanks to his tattooed scalp, among his other noteworthy (ahem) physical attributes.  This eye-opening, explicit documentary reveals that Sagat’s “desire to embody hyper-masculinity” was borne from his surprising experience as an effeminate, bullied teen growing up in a small town in Brittany.  Due to the film’s brief 40-minute running time, it raises more questions than it answers but is still illuminating.  The DVD also features 80 minutes of extras including interviews that help fill in the blanks.
Reverend’s Rating: B-

Talented young director Damon Jamal makes an impressive transition from documentaries to narrative features with this Breakfast Club for the digital age.  A budding filmmaker snags the master key to his high school and invites five other students from different academic and social classes as well as ethnic backgrounds to star in his magnum opus.  Locked in the school overnight, the students’ secrets (including a basketball star’s sexual orientation) are revealed both on- and off-camera.  The movie goes on a little too long, but the amateur cast’s performances are good and you have to love a screenplay that references not only John Hughes’ 1980’s classics but also 70’s uber-producer Robert Evans and Dr. Seuss!
Reverend’s Rating: B-

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reverend's Reviews: Desert Debacle

It isn't many movies that have pushed their studio to the brink of bankruptcy, broken up its stars' marriages and been condemned by the Vatican, and all before the movie even opens!  Such was the case with 1963's Cleopatra, which is still on record as the most expensive movie ever made at $300 million, when adjusted for inflation.  Twentieth Century Fox's much-criticized yet Oscar-winning historical epic is making its Blu-raydebut today.

Digitally remastered and undeniably stunning in a way that today's CGI effects could never accurately approximate, Cleopatra notoriously paired Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton for the first time on screen.  Theirs would quickly become an off-screen union as well (even though they were married to others at the time), and would result in not one but two marriages to each other.  Taylor's and Burton's flagrant exhibition of their adulterous love for one another during shooting in Rome led Pope John XXIII to accuse Taylor of "erotic vagrancy."  In short, the pope was essentially calling the million-dollar actress a slut.

Former Fox exec Tom Rothman relates, in remarkably candid fashion, the history behind Cleopatra's tortured production during a "Fox Legacy" analysis that serves as one of several extras on the two-disc Blu-ray.  By the time the film opened, it had burned through two directors (the esteemed Joseph L. Mankiewicz saw shooting to completion, only to be fired and then re-hired to supervise editing of 96 hours of footage), two studio heads, four different leading men (Peter Finch and Stephen Boyd were cast as Caesar and Mark Antony prior to Burton and Rex Harrison) and two primary shooting locations (England and Italy).  What's more, Taylor had life-threatening health issues that postponed production for nearly a year.  The unfortunate scar she obtained from an emergency tracheotomy is all the more apparent in hi-def.

So how does the final, 4-hour film play today?  Its first two hours are spectacular and highly enjoyable, largely due to the well-written repartee between Taylor's Egyptian queen and Harrison's Roman emperor (Harrison, quite understated here, received a deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actor).  The crowning technical achievement of the movie is Cleopatra's triumphant entry into Rome -- complete with dancers, load-bearing slaves and a massive sphinx -- mid-way through its first half.

Alas, things take a turn following Caesar's assassination and the audience's intermission.  Historical and editorial incongruencies abound, the worst and weirdest being an argumentative sequence between Antony and Cleo that is spread over three different locations, with as many hair (for Taylor) and costume changes.  Curiously, Taylor and Burton don't exhibit as much passionate charisma as she has earlier with Harrison.

I had tried to get through Cleopatra in years past but it was daunting given the film's length.  While an ideal viewing would be on the big screen, I recommend watching the Blu-ray as my partner and I did: have a friend or two over and serve a nice dinner during intermission.  Although Cleopatra falls short of greatness, it is both fortunate and unfortunate that they don't make movies like it any more.

Cleopatra wasn't a disaster upon its release, but it took nearly twenty years for Fox to make a profit on it following TV and home video sales.  Anticipation over its impending Blu-ray release got me thinking about the big screen's anointed "Master of Disaster," the late producer-director Irwin Allen.  Following a successful TV career during which he produced the 1960's hits Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, he moved into movies with 1972's The Poseidon Adventure.  Long one of my all-time favorite films, I re-watched it recently and found that the essentially ocean-set religious allegory holds up extremely well (and much better than its over-produced, dramatically inert 2006 remake, simply titled Poseidon).  Allen followed its massive success with another, 1974's The Towering Inferno.

By the end of the 70's, though, Allen's formula of star-studded disaster spectacle was wearing thin.  I was also inspired recently to re-watch The Swarm (1978) and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979).  Both feature Michael Caine in lead roles and such big names as Sally Field, Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray, Karl Malden, Richard Chamberlain and the still-lovely Shirley Jones among their supporting cast members.  Allen also served as director on both films, the only films he did direct.  It becomes all too apparent that he was a better producer.

The Swarm is a paranoid killer bee epic based on a bestselling novel of the time, à la Jaws.  It actually holds up better today than its reputation would lead one to believe, especially in the original 156-minute cut available on some DVDs (beware the 119-minute version).  While history has proven many of the movie's assertions about the devastation that could be caused by Africanized bees inaccurate (especially the laughable hallucinations of giant bees suffered by those stung), the current decline in the American honeybee population due to yet-unexplained causes and potentially apocalyptic fallout from this gives The Swarm an unexpected resonance today.  Unfortunately, at the time of its theatrical release it proved a box office disaster for Allen and distributor Warner Brothers.  Fellow film critic Michael Medved, in his classic book The Golden Turkey Awards, memorably dubs The Swarm "the most badly bumbled bee movie of all time."

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, meanwhile, is a middling and unnecessary sequel that was ironically made possible by a budgetary shortcoming of its predecessor's.  As explained in a "making of" extra on The Poseidon Adventure DVD, the film was supposed to end with a shot of the ship sinking following the climactic rescue of its six survivors but the money ran out.  In the sequel, Caine, Field and Malden play a salvage crew who come upon the still-floating hulk of the capsized liner.  They board it in hopes of finding the purser's safe before it sinks and find a handful of other survivors.  They also cross paths with the villainous Dr. Svavo (well played by Kojak himself, Telly Savalas), who is seeking a secret shipment of plutonium onboard.  Not even Slim Pickens is safe from Allen's waterlogged machinations.  Despite its still impressive upside-down sets, few moviegoers were willing to take the cruise Beyond and the expensive sequel bombed big time.

Hollywood has been dogged by occasional disasters pretty much since its inception.  Although some studios and producers haven't survived them, the industry on the whole manages to stay afloat.  Next, we'll see whether June's trouble-plagued World War Z is dead on arrival or has (fast-moving zombie) legs.

Reverend's Ratings:
Cleopatra: B-
The Poseidon Adventure: A-
The Swarm: C+
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure: C-

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

Friday, May 24, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: To Bardly Go

What did writer-director Joss Whedon do for R&R between the end of principal photography and the start of post-production on last year’s global mega-smash The Avengers?  He got his friends together and filmed the latest version of Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado AboutNothing.  Shot in twelve days at the Los Angeles home of Whedon and his wife, producer Kai Cole, the first movie made from this work of the Bard since Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation twenty years ago will open theatrically across the US beginning June 7.

Shot in stylish black and white by Jay Hunter, the 400-year old play receives a joyous, utterly contemporary treatment.  Martinis, cell phones, Jacuzzis, aerial artists and wedding photographers are all right at home in this tale of manipulative matchmaking.  The plot in brief for those unfamiliar: Leonato, the governor of Messina, hosts his friend Don Pedro, two of Don Pedro’s officers, and the villainous Don John, whom Don Pedro has just captured.  One of the officers, Claudio, quickly falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero.  Meanwhile, Don Pedro’s other officer, Benedick, develops a tense relationship with Leonato’s niece, Beatrice.  While Leonato & Co. conspire to make Benedick and Beatrice fall in love, Don John and his allies plot a nasty revenge against Don Pedro and Claudio.

The terrific cast of Whedon regulars from such prior endeavors as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, The Avengers and The Cabin in the Woods includes Amy Acker (a superb and funny Beatrice), Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg (now best known as Agent Phil Coulson in the various Marvel movies), Fran Kranz and gay actors Sean Maher and Tom Lenk.  Of course, Nathan Fillion (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, TV’s Castle) also appears and is hilarious as the bumbling detective, Dogberry.

Whedon’s geek fan base may be perplexed by their icon’s turn to Shakespeare, but it makes perfect sense for the more-literate-than-most genre auteur.  While the production’s bare-bones budget shows at times (though not during the extravagant party scenes), Much Ado About Nothing is clearly a labor of love on the part of all involved.  It also serves as a more than decent, thoroughly enjoyable transposition of the classic text.

Speaking of geeks, the rapturous response J.J. Abrams’ current Star Trek Into Darkness has received from some fans and critics would lead one to believe it represents the Second Coming.  Well, it does if one is referring to the second coming of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  (Warning: potential spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the new movie.)

The sequel to 2009’s hit reboot Star Trek, also directed by Abrams, finds the younger incarnations of James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Uhura and the traditional USS Enterprise crew up against no small number of adversaries.  Their initial foil, a terrorist dubbed John Harrison who first bombs Starfleet’s archives and then tries to take out its top command, is eventually revealed as the genetically-engineered superman Khan.  British actor Benedict Cumberbatch has porcelain-like skin and a sinewy physique, and speaks in low, intentional tones.  He works in the role for anyone unfamiliar with Ricardo Montalban, who originated the megalomaniacal guru in an episode of the original Star Trek TV series and was resurrected in 1982’s big-screen Wrath of Khan.

What Khan absolutely lacks in the new movie -- written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof -- is a sense of humor, which in my opinion is what made Montalban’s Khan so memorable (yes, even more so than his big, buff, waxed chest).  Khan relished being ruthless and didn’t hesitate to let Kirk, in particular, know it.  The new Khan also doesn’t exhibit the literary proficiency (notably of Milton and Melville) that distinguished some of his repartee with Kirk during the villain’s original appearances.  Cumberbatch’s Khan is being ballyhooed by some as one of the greatest cinematic villains ever.  Better than Montalban’s?  I stab at thee!

Comparisons to Wrath of Khan aside (and Into Darkness’s climax is essentially a role-reversed, shot-for-shot remake), I found the current sequel to be very well-made and exciting.  I enjoyed it considerably more than the last film, which I felt spent too much time introducing the almost-juvenile versions of the classic characters and indulging Abrams’ personal fetishes.  The female cast members are also treated more respectfully, despite an embarrassing scene where Kirk (Chris Pine, really making the role his own) spies on Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus in her underwear.  Kirk’s/Pine’s bromance with Spock/out actor ZacharyQuinto is further and nicely developed here, and the film’s 3D effects are truly special.

I’m not hating on the geeks, especially since I’m pretty much one myself.  I do hope, though, that the inevitable next entry in the re-configured Star Trek series boldly goes where no previous episode or movie has gone before.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Much Ado About Nothing: B+
Star Trek Into Darkness: B+

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

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reverend's Preview: Hangovers, Heroes & Hunks

The heat is on, not only outdoors but on the big screen as Hollywood rolls out its biggest, priciest and most heavily-hyped movies over the next three months.  While Iron Man 3 may have gotten a jump start at the cineplex, there is plenty more to look forward to below.  Note: All release dates are subject to change.

The Hangover Part III - Opens May 24:
The “Wolfpack” comprised of stars Bradley Cooper (fresh off his Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook), Ed Helms and Zack Galifianakis take a road trip this time around.  Their numerous adversaries, inadvertent victims and/or allies are played by Heather Graham (returning from the first Hangover), Melissa McCarthy, John Goodman and The New Normal’s Justin Bartha.  And, of course, Ken Jeong is once again on hand as the oft-naked Mr. Chow.

Fast & Furious 6 - Opens May 24:
Musclemen Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson (who seems to be in every other movie nowadays), Tyrese Gibson and Jason Statham and their muscle cars once again crash onto the big screen.  Michelle Rodriguez also returns as tough yet sensitive car thief Letty.  Few fans likely go to the Fast & Furious films for their plots, but are instead drawn by the admittedly cool spectacle of flying, rolling, cartwheeling roadster mayhem. This one definitely looks like it will fulfill their expectations.

The Kings of Summer - Opens May 31:
A big hit at January’s Sundance Film Festival.  Three teenaged boys, seeking to escape their repressive home lives, decide to build a house in the woods for themselves and live off the land.  They face unexpected environmental and relational challenges along their coming-of-age path.  Karen Walker herself, Megan Mullally, appears as the mother of one of the boys.

This Is the End - Opens June 12:
James Franco, the hardest-working man in movies after Dwayne Johnson, teams up with funny guys Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Jason Segel.  They and a host of other celebs play themselves, who unfortunately have to confront the end of the world while attending a party hosted by Franco.  Reportedly, the gay-curious Franco (see his recent turns in Milk, Howl, The Broken Tower and Interior. Leather Bar; no, Oz The Great and Powerful doesn’t count) is raked over the coals about his sexuality in this comedy.

Man of Steel - Opens June 14:
Super-stylish director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) teams up with the Dark Knight producer-writer team of Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer for this new, darker take on Superman’s origin and exploits.  Henry Cavill (The Tudors, Immortals) stars in the title role, with Oscar nominee Michael Shannon opposite him as evil General Zod.  The all-star supporting cast includes Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Pa and Ma Kent, Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Laurence Fishburne, in colorblind casting, as news editor Perry White.  Gay fave Christopher Meloni (Oz) also appears as a military bigwig.

World War Z - Opens June 21:
Brangelina’s male half, Brad Pitt, produced and stars in this apocalyptic chiller.  He plays a United Nations worker and family man who races around the world in order to stop an unknown virus that is rapidly turning humanity into flesh-craving zombies.  The film’s trailer showing the creatures literally crawling over themselves like ants to scale walls and catch their prey is truly unsettling.  These aren’t your traditional, slo-mo walking dead.  Lost hottie Matthew Fox co-stars.

I’m So Excited - Opens June 28:
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest looks like a return to all-out comedy form after the gay filmmaker’s more serious, recent endeavors such as The Skin I Live In and Broken Embraces.  Almost entirely set on a passenger jet forced to keep circling Mexico City due to a malfunction, it sounds like a delirious spoof of the old Airport disaster movies.  A healthy dose of bisexuality, a drug-fueled orgy and Pointer Sisters songs are reportedly thrown into the mix.  Almodovar regulars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz head the cast. 

The Heat - Opens June 28:
The potentially hilarious teaming of Oscar winner Sandra Bullock and Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy has definitely piqued my interest.  Here, they play a mismatched FBI agent and a Boston cop assigned to work together in order to take down a ruthless drug lord.  Directed by Paul Feig, whose last film was the estrogen-powered monster hit Bridesmaids.

White House Down - Opens June 28:
Gay director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla, 2012) is not one to be outdone when it comes to large-scale destruction on screen.  Although the similarly-plotted Olympus Has Fallen beat it to theaters, this action-thriller about bad guys attacking 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and attempting to kidnap the President (played by Jamie Foxx) will probably leave the earlier movie in the dust.  Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) stars as the Commander-in-Chief’s studly, tank top-clad bodyguard.

The Lone Ranger - Opens July 3:
Armie Hammer (The Social Network, J. Edgar) stars as the masked do-gooder of radio, TV and a flop 1981 big-screen take on the legend.  Johnny Depp is at his side as devoted Native American partner Tonto.  The new version recounts the hero’s beginnings while pitting him against arch-enemy Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and other miscreants played by Oscar nominees Tom Wilkinson and Helena Bonham Carter.  Hi-yo, Silver, away!

Pacific Rim - Opens July 12:
In what may well be this summer’s most original adventure, the human race is forced to battle massive monsters from another dimension who invade Earth by creating giant robot warriors.  Charlie Hunnam, who played the original twink Nathan on the British Queer as Folk and now appears on Sons of Anarchy, has his first lead action movie role as the robots’ chief pilot.  Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth fame.

The Hot Flashes - Opens July 12:
I've actually already seen this sports-tinged comedy, which could emerge as the sleeper hit of the summer.  The stellar, menopausal quintet of Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah (in a lesbian role), Camryn Manheim, out comedian Wanda Sykes and Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen are former high school athletes who re-group to save their deceased friend's mobile breast cancer clinic.  It is hilarious, heartfelt and, most significantly during a special effects-dominated season, human. 

The Wolverine - Opens July 26:
Our favorite adamantium-clawed hero returns, once again played by one of our favorite leading men of screen and stage, Hugh Jackman.  His latest adventure, which reportedly takes place after the events of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, finds Logan in Japan fighting ninjas, gangsters and the villainous female mutant, Viper.  Famke Janssen is also slated to make a re-appearance as Jean Grey/Phoenix.  Of course, the main draw for many will be Hugh taking his shirt off.

The Smurfs 2 - Opens July 31:
Oh no!  Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) has been abducted by that nasty Gargamel (Hank Azaria).  The Smurfs’ human friend, gay poster boy Neil Patrick Harris, must come to their aid.  Other gay actors or community favorites in this sequel’s voice cast include AlanCumming, Christina Ricci, Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara and the late, great Jonathan Winters.  With so much GLBT energy in these family films, I’m surprised the Smurfs don’t change colors from blue to rainbow!

Elysium - Opens August 9:
Matt Damon and out actress Jodie Foster (she did finally come out at the Golden Globes, didn’t she?) headline this sci-fi opus from the writer-director of the terrific District 9.  Set in the year 2159, Damon plays a lower-class, earthbound worker who becomes contaminated by radiation and must break into the space station community of the wealthy to find a cure.  Foster is the amoral Corporate Authority out to stop him.  It sounds like it will play with class issues the way District 9 potently did with race.

Lovelace - Opens August 9:
A big-screen biography of 1970’s porn star Linda Lovelace.  Though she suffered greatly, Lovelace’s popularity helped legitimize the adult industry and arguably helped to empower women at the height of the sexual revolution.  Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables) takes on the title role, with Peter Sarsgaard as her abusive husband and James Franco (again!) making a cameo as Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner.  Co-directed by gay filmmakers Rob Epstein and JeffreyFriedman (The Celluloid Closet, Howl).

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

Friday, May 10, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: A Great Gatsby

Roadsters roar, flappers flap and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words often leap literally from the page — in 3D no lessin Baz Luhrmann’s flashy new take on the classic novel TheGreat Gatsby.  Livelier than any previous screen version (notably the sleep-inducing 1974 iteration that starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow), it is now playing nationwide and will open the Cannes Film Festival next week.

If, like me, your primary exposure to Fitzgerald’s work was back in high school, there may be an initial, understandable hesitance to revisit it now.  I didn’t remember much of the writer’s lauded prose nor the plot’s details, and other pieces of required reading (notably Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Orwell’s 1984) made more of an impression on me at the time than The Great Gatsby.

The stylish-to-a-fault Luhrmann has had some great successes (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!) but his last epic, Australia, was a big flop everywhere but Down Under.  He definitely redeems himself artistically with his immersive, visually spectacular approach to the achingly romantic saga of Jazz-age gazillionaire Jay Gatsby’s love for married debutante Daisy Buchanan.  Luhrmann doesn’t direct the film so much as he meticulously choreographs it, from every large-scale dance sequence down to the opening and closing of dining hall doors, and even seemingly the individual steps Gatsby takes during walks out onto his pier.  The director receives superb support in this regard from choreographer John O’Connell and director of photography Simon Duggan.

As he did in Moulin Rouge!, Luhrmann employs a soundtrack of modern-day dance and hip-hop tunes plus a few period songs all supervised by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter (aka Mr. Beyonce Knowles, whose hit “Crazy in Love” makes an appearance here).  Most of them are used effectively to accentuate the racial and class distinctions of the 1920’s.  They aren’t as pervasive nor are they arranged as frenetically as songs by Madonna, Fat Boy Slim and other contemporary artists were in Moulin Rouge!  Luhrmann also wisely discards the winking, camp spirit that infused much of his earlier, Oscar-winning hit.

While the adapted screenplay by Luhrmann and regular collaborator Craig Pearce takes some liberties with Fitzgerald’s text (I don’t recall so many automobile races in the source material), it remains absolutely faithful to the ultimately tragic main storyline.  Gatsby’s readiness to spare no expense in his obsessive effort to reclaim Daisy’s affections and, subsequently, the past is heightened by CGI elements added to Catherine Martin’s already-lavish sets and costumes.  Of note, the screenplay and lead performances underscore a long-debated homoerotic dimension to the relationship between Gatsby and his neighbor, writer/narrator Nick Carraway.  This is fairly subtle in the new movie, even if Gatsby seems unusually intent on getting Carraway into his under-used swimming pool.

Speaking of the performances, Luhrmann has cast his Great Gatsby splendidly.  Leonardo DiCaprio, who looks better and better with age, has never been better as an actor than he is here.  As Gatsby, he runs the full gamut of personas and emotions.  He is by turns suave, insecure, aloof, desperate, omnipotent, vulnerable, childish, triumphant and broken.  It is hard to decide whether his best scene in the film is when he rages at Tom Buchanan in their over-heated room at the Plaza Hotel or when he nervously waits for Daisy’s tea-time arrival at Nick’s cottage.

Former Spider-Man Tobey Maguire, still charmingly boyish at the age of 37, is an excellent foil as Nick, while Carey Mulligan conveys suitable innocence but is morally devastating in the end as the conflicted Daisy.  Relative big-screen newcomer Joel Edgerton (Warrior) may make the biggest impression as brutish, unfaithful Tom Buchanan.  Terrific supporting performances are given by Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, Isla Fisher as the doomed Myrtle Wilson, Jason Clarke (recently seen in Zero Dark Thirty) as George Wilson and Aussie vet Jack Thompson who, in perhaps this version’s biggest departure from the novel, plays a kindly psychiatrist tending to a post-traumatic and “morbidly alcoholic” Nick.

Whether The Great Gatsby will redeem Luhrmann commercially will be known within a few weeks.  If nothing else, his invigorating vision of the literary classic should go over great in high school classrooms after it is released on DVD, maybe even better than the book itself.

Reverend’s Rating: A-

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Man of Mettle

That Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, is capable of saving the world from mass destruction has already been proven in Iron Man, IronMan 2 and The Avengers, not to mention his popular 50-year run in Marvel Comics.  What the superhero hasn’t always been shown capable of, at least not in the hit movies, are the more mundane but equally beneficial roles of serious romantic interest, partner/husband and father or father figure.

Iron Man 3, now playing worldwide to the tune of nearly $600 million in a little over two weeks, devotes as much time to Stark’s growth in these relational areas as it does to his evil-defeating heroics.  Indeed, Iron Man spends much of the new movie without his armor.  Stark (once again played winningly by Robert Downey Jr.) is largely forced to rely on his own, more limited physical strength in his fight against The Mandarin, a seemingly all-powerful mega-terrorist intent on destroying the good ol’ U.S. of A.  Oscar winner Ben Kingsley makes The Mandarin a truly frightening specter, aided by very disturbing videos.

The Mandarin is hardly Stark’s only foe in Iron Man 3.  Aldrich Killian (an initially unrecognizable Guy Pearce), a scientist rebuffed by Stark fourteen years prior, has developed a well-intentioned physical therapy called Extremis that enables lost limbs to regenerate.  The therapy, however, has some unique side effects that pose a serious threat.  To the extent that the plot’s potency hinges on Extremis, I found it the least explained and ultimately somewhat silly dimension of an otherwise taut screenplay by Shane Black and Drew Pearce.  Still, Extremis run amok makes for a visually impressive, wham-bang finale that also involves dozens of remotely-operated Iron Man suits.

I have found each of the Iron Man films a marked improvement over its immediate predecessor (not including The Avengers, which outshines pretty much every superhero movie to date) primarily due to the trajectory of Stark’s relationship with Pepper Potts (returning Gwyneth Paltrow) and the series’ more fearsome recent villains.  Many critics would disagree with me but I encourage them to re-view 2008’s Iron Man and witness how woefully insipid most of the banter between Tony and Pepper is, as well as how weak a nemesis Jeff Bridges’ deceitful (and laughably named) Obadiah Stane turns out to be even with his own hulking iron casing.  Largely thanks to co-writer and director Black, working on the franchise for the first time, Iron Man 3 makes Potts a smart and strong equal to Stark.  The Mandarin and Killian, meanwhile, nearly reach the pinnacle of big-screen bad guys currently occupied by Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and the Wicked Witch of the West.

The beating (magnetized?) heart of Iron Man 3, though, is Stark’s embrace of his humanity.  Already suffering anxiety attacks in the wake of The Avengers’ battle with alien invaders, Tony has to further endure the destruction of his sea-side Malibu pad by The Mandarin’s forces and finds himself banished to (gulp) rural Tennessee.  In his friendship there with a fatherless boy and separation from Potts, who thinks him dead, Stark begins to accept that what matters most in life is not money, pride, power or superheroics.  Rather, he learns that sympathy, compassion, eye contact and loving self-sacrifice can be the best attributes for any man — iron or otherwise to possess.

Reverend’s Rating:
Iron Man 3: B+

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Monthly Wallpaper - May 2013: Cinematic Striptease

Summer may be a month away, but May is going to get hot with this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper salute to Cinematic Striptease!

From the burlesque bump and grind of Gypsy to the oiled-up pecs and abs of Magic Mike, movie strippers -- both male and female -- can always be counted on to turn the silver screen red hot! Get your dollar bills ready!

Just click on the picture above to enlarge it to its 1024 x 768 size, then right click your mouse and select "Set as Background", and you're all set.