Friday, September 27, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: You Are What You Eat

Fans of the stage musical La Cage aux Folles (and who isn’t?) surely recall its fabulous opening number, “We Are What We Are.” But be warned that there are no drag queens or musical numbers to be found in the new religion-tinged horror film We Are What We Are, now playing in Los Angeles and New York City, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing by adventurous moviegoers with strong stomachs.

An English-language remake of the 2010 Mexican thriller Somos Lo Que Hay, it focuses on a normal-to-all-practical-appearances family whose members just happen to be cannibals. Having lived undetected for generations in rural upstate New York, patriarch Frank Parker (Bill Sage of Precious, Boardwalk Empire and numerous Hal Hartley films), his two teenaged daughters and 5-year old son find themselves stricken by their wife and mother’s sudden death during a fierce storm. Her loss is all the more significant because it occurs on the eve of Lamb’s Day, the family’s annual weekend-long ritual that involves fasting, capturing a young woman and turning her into a climactic, celebratory stew in honor of a centuries-old survival story.

Daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers, recently seen in Gangster Squad and The Master) and Rose (ethereal up and comer Julia Garner) are increasingly and, for viewers, comfortingly troubled by their family tradition. As the eldest, Iris is assigned by Dad to prepare the Lamb’s Day meal. She and the allied Rose are reluctant to voice their resistance given their father’s fragile emotional state, yet resistant to killing the woman Frank has chained in their basement. Meanwhile, the town doctor is growing suspicious of the family after receiving Mrs. Parker’s autopsy report, which indicates unusual, cannibalism-related maladies. It doesn’t help the Parkers that the doctor’s daughter mysteriously went missing a year earlier.

Lesbian actress Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, Witness) appears as an increasingly nosy neighbor who also seems to have a romantic interest in newly widowed Frank. Let’s just say she shouldn’t get her hopes up. The adapted screenplay by Jim Mickle, who also directs, and Nick Damici (the pair previously collaborated on the very good apocalyptic vampire saga Stake Land) plays out as more of a domestic drama or police procedural than a full-blown horror movie, and this is to their credit. (I haven’t seen the Mexican version so can’t say how the two films compare.) In true horror movie tradition, some of the smartest characters in We Are What We Are (notably the doctor) do stupid things just when they shouldn’t be letting their guard down. This is a fairly minor criticism though given the otherwise mature, non-sensationalistic and even at times compassionate tenor of the film.

Also worth noting, especially from my professional religious perspective, is the historically and liturgically accurate notion that some actions or rituals considered sacred hundreds of years later are often derived from mundane, even profane origins. Some examples of this in Catholic tradition are when the priest adds water to the wine prior to consecration, which originally was done to make wine more palatable but today represents the mingling of humanity and divinity, and the solemn washing of believers’ feet in imitation of Christ’s humble but fairly simple act recounted in Scripture.

Gore hounds may be disappointed by the relative lack of graphic bloodletting for the majority of We Are What We Are’s running time but they will be rewarded in the final ten minutes, an over-the-top yet appropriate climax to this unusually thoughtful, well-done horror tale.

Also opening this Friday in select cities is the best gay-themed film I’ve yet seen this year, Out in the Dark. You can read my previous review of Michael Mayer’s award-winning, politically-complicated romance between a Palestinian student and an Israeli lawyer here. It will also be released on DVDon October 29th. Whether viewed in a theater or at home, it should not be missed.

Reverend’s Ratings:
We Are What We Are: B+
Out in the Dark: A-

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

Friday, September 20, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Getting My Fix

When asked by a street evangelist if he knows what the initials C.O.G. stand for in the new movie of the same name out today, young Samuel (out actor Jonathan Groff of Glee and Broadway fame) sardonically replies, “Capable of genocide?” It is one of the few genuinely witty moments that fans of gay writer David Sedaris have come to expect to be included in this rather grim autobiographical film.

Adapted and directed by the talented Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who last made the very good gender-bending romance Easier with Practice, C.O.G. (which actually stands for “Child of God”) follows Samuel’s personal journey from recent Yale graduate alienated by his parents for undisclosed reasons to fruit picker on an apple farm in rural Oregon. Claiming that he wants to “get (his) hands dirty,” Samuel fools few people least of all the farm’s owner, Mr. Hobbs (played by the always enjoyable Dean Stockwell). Hobbs soon promotes Samuel to a position in his apple-sorting facility, where he catches the eye of attractive forklift operator Curly (Corey Stoll, memorable as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris).

When Curly gets a little too aggressive with his intentions, Samuel seeks refuge with the aforementioned street evangelist, Jon. Played by out Tony Award winner Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story), Jon is a born-again Gulf War veteran. He is also a one-legged recovering alcoholic with anger issues. Jon takes Samuel under his wing initially and teaches him the stone-cutting trade while also trying to convert his atheist protégé to Christianity. It isn’t long though before things between them start to get ugly.

I really wanted to like C.O.G., being a fan myself of Sedaris’ writing, of Alvarez and of the great actors assembled here. Unfortunately, the screenplay lacks focus (not unlike its protagonist) and is more often cruel than comedic. Characters start out likeable but most aren’t so by the end of the film. If events such as those depicted helped Sedaris to find his voice as a writer, then great but this is ultimately unclear in the movie. The only additional thing for which to recommend the film apart from the cast’s fine performances turns out to be Jas Shelton’s great, naturalistic cinematography of the beautiful Pacific Northwest countryside.

While similarly harrowing in spots, Stuart Blumberg’s Thanks for Sharing (also opening this weekend) is a sharper and much funnier movie about, of all things, sex addiction. It also boasts a great cast including Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo, Oscar winners Tim Robbins and Gwyneth Paltrow, The Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad and, in her feature film debut, Alecia Moore, a.k.a. pop/rock singer Pink. All are exceptional as either addicts or the people who love them, with Ruffalo potentially award-worthy for his shattering Jekyll & Hyde-like turn. (This duality seems to be becoming a specialty of Ruffalo’s when one also considers his popular performance as Dr. Bruce Banner/the Hulk in Marvel’s The Avengers and its upcoming sequel.)

Successful environmental consultant Adam (Ruffalo) has just marked his fifth year of sobriety from out of control, meaningless sex when it is challenged by the arrival of both a 12 step-skirting young newcomer to his support group (Gad) and a perfect-appearing woman, Phoebe (Paltrow), who presents Adam with his first dating opportunity since entering recovery. Meanwhile, Mike (Robbins), Adam’s devoted sponsor, has to confront longtime unresolved issues when his drug-addict son (all-grown-up Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous fame) reappears on his and his wife’s doorstep, or rather in their kitchen.

Blumberg makes his directorial debut on Thanks for Sharing in the wake of his Oscar-nominated screenplay for 2010’s lesbian-themed The Kids Are All Right. I found his writing on that film as well as his previous script Keeping the Faith strained and credibility-testing at times, but here Blumberg and co-writer Matt Winston (the Yale-educated son of late makeup and creature artist Stan Winston) make pretty much all the right moves while walking a delicate tightrope between deadly-serious dramatic scenes and some guffaw-inducing comedic moments. Most of the latter are courtesy of the very talented Gad, who also inspires heartbreak through his character’s escalating addictive behavior.

Ruffalo and Paltrow prove to have nice romantic/sexual chemistry together as well as great comic timing. I would love to see them work together again soon. While it goes to some dark but real places that will likely scare off more than a few moviegoers, Thanks for Sharing is one of the most mature and illuminating movies of this or any year. One could say I’m hooked on it.

Reverend’s Ratings:
C.O.G.: C
Thanks for Sharing: B+

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

Reverend’s Reviews: Hollywood Horrors

I’ve never before had to sign an agreement not to publish my review or reveal plot points of a movie, as all Los Angeles-based critics were required to do before a recent press screening of Insidious: Chapter 2. This sequel to 2011’s deserved horror hit opens today in theaters across the US. Having endured the film and its few, ho-hum twists, I can understand why the studio (FilmDistrict) wanted to make every effort in advance to prevent bad buzz from slipping out.

Picking up immediately where the first Insidious left off, the Lambert family (once again headed by Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and grandma Barbara Hershey) has regained their son from a shadowy netherworld but also garnered a malevolent spirit that has secretly possessed Wilson’s husband and father, Josh. Viewers know that Josh/"the Bride in Black" killed paranormal investigator Elise (played by Lin Shaye, who manages to make a welcome return appearance from beyond the grave here) at the end of "Chapter 1". While Josh's wife Renai has her suspicions, she becomes too trapped in haunted house movie clichés to face the truth.

It isn't long — ten minutes, to be exact — before the baby's unattended rider toy starts lighting up and carrying on like a casino slot machine, son Dalton is having bad dreams again, and Renai is hearing the piano play by itself. Ultimately, the first hour or so of the sequel is chock full of all the predictable horror movie conventions that the first Insidious and shared director James Wan's more recent low-budget blockbuster The Conjuring so smartly avoided. Wan and screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell even crib from The Conjuring, substituting a "hot & cold" spook hunt for the July release's now-infamous clapping game.

Chapter 2 is just plain sloppily-made, too; it is hard to tell at times whose house we are in and whether it is day or night. The movie does improve in its final half hour, when it plays more directly and cleverly off of events in the first film, but not well enough for me to recommend it. GLBT viewers should also be warned that there is a sensationalized subplot involving gender identity issues that left a bad taste in my mouth. Insidious: Chapter 2 is one of the year's biggest cinematic disappointments. It would have been more appropriately titled Insipid.

Character actor Harry Dean Stanton faced off against one of the most terrifying monsters to ever grace the silver screen in 1979's Alien. He's appeared in other horror movies during his 250-film career (or as Stanton puts it, "fifty fucking years" on camera) and held his own alongside the domineering likes of Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, both of whom Stanton considers his best friends. For my money, one of Stanton's liveliest yet most nuanced performances is as the evangelist Paul in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, wherein he has a riveting conversation with Willem Dafoe's Jesus about how the saint-to-be may have made up Jesus' salvific mission in order to sell books.

Sophie Huber's new documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (opening this weekend in LA and New York), is an insightful, well-constructed exploration of the sad-eyed actor's life and career. Stanton isn't the most open subject, but his former directors David Lynch and Wim Wenders as well as Kris Kristofferson, Sam Shepard and Debbie Harry (!) provide details, occasionally with Stanton in the same room. Lynch calls Stanton "an expert at reading between the lines," then shows a lovely scene from his 1999 film The Straight Story that perfectly illustrates his point. I also love that the denizens of the West Hollywood bar where Stanton has hung out for the last 42 years look like they stepped right out of one of Lynch's stranger productions.

In addition to his acting achievements, Stanton has been noted for his singing voice. While it can be heard onscreen in Cool Hand Luke and a few other films, he has largely sung in private or for small groups of friends. He sings several hymns and folk songs in the documentary, crediting his late mother for encouraging his voice. In between film clips and philosophical ruminations, Stanton offers much advice for young actors with his chief suggestion being the decidedly non-technical "Play yourself." Good stuff.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Insidious: Chapter 2: C-
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction: B+

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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reverend's Preview: Long Beach QFilm Festival

In 1993, Long Beach’s first GLBTQ film festival was held on the California State University Long Beach campus. This month, the 20th anniversary Long Beach QFilm Festival will take place September 6th-8th at the historic Art Theatre located at 2025 East 4th St. and the neighboring Center Long Beach.

The festival annually presents narrative features, documentaries and short films that embody the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Last year’s event was the most successful yet with over 1,200 attendees, a 20% increase over the previous year, and featured several area premieres as well some of the most acclaimed features on the 2012 film festival circuit. Submissions are received each year from both student and professional filmmakers from around the world. Many filmmakers and cast members of the films to be shown will be present for audience discussions after each screening. Festival events will feature nightly parties and opportunities for attendees to meet and mingle with filmmakers, actors, critics and fellow GLBTQ film lovers.


Actress Lee Meriwether will be a special guest of this year’s festival on Saturday, September 7th (see interview). Three new and unique short film programs focusing on Drag, Queer and People of Color experiences and perspectives will also be included this year. Passes and tickets may be purchased in advance at the official festival website as well as at the door while they last. The complete 2013 schedule is as follows:

7:00pm - Reaching for the Moon (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre followed by Q&A with screenwriter Matthew Chapman.
8:00pm -10:30pm - Opening Night Party at the Center.
9:30pm - G.B.F. (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre followed by Q&A with director Darren Stein and cast members.
11:30pm - 1:00am - After Party at the Center.

Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption

12:30pm - Birthday Cake (West Coast premiere) at the Art Theatre followed by a special appearance by Lee Meriwether and Q&A with filmmakers and other cast members.
1:30pm - Dragtastic! Short Films Program at the Center, featuring Get Down Glenda, Alaska is a Drag, Jollie B. Fierce, Heklina and Silver Stiletto. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
2:30pm - Women in Shorts Short Films Program at the Art Theatre, featuring Darkness, Bunny Girl, Bombshell, Lez Be Honest, La Santa, Dos Almas, Vecinas and Remember to Breathe. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
3:30pm - Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption (Advance Sneak Preview) at the Center followed by audience discussion.


4:45pm - Men in Briefs Short Films Program at the Art Theatre, featuring Barry’s Bespoke Bakery, The Commitment, Straight With You, Barbie Boy, 24 Hitchhikers, Grotto, P.D.A. and Silver Stiletto. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
7:00pm - The Punk Singer (California premiere) at the Art Theatre.
8:00pm -10:30pm - Saturday Night Party at the Center.
9:00pm - I Am Divine (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre followed by Q&A with director Jeffrey Schwarz.
11:00pm - 1:00am - After Party at the Center

Interior. Leather Bar.

11:30am - 1:00pm - Brunch at the Center.
1:00pm - Homeboy (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre preceded by short film Kiss Me and followed by Q&A with filmmakers and participants.
1:30pm - Heterosexual Jill (Long Beach premiere) at the Center followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
3:00pm - First Period (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
3:30pm - People of Color Short Films Program at the Center, featuring Darkness, A World for Raul, O Pacote, Kiss Me, Dos Almas, La Santa and Jollie B. Fierce. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.

Getting Go, the Go Doc Project

5:00pm - Interior. Leather Bar. (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre preceded by short film Adults Only and followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members. (Due to explicit content, no one under 18 years of age will be admitted.)
5:30pm - Queer Shorts Short Films Program at the Center, featuring Happy, What I Love About Being Queer, Claudio, Maura y Yo, Rough Trade, A Night in the Woods, Who Am I Happy and Deflated. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
7:00pm - Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre followed by Q&A with cast members Guinevere Turner and Drew Droege.
8:00pm -10:30pm - Closing Night Party at the Center.
9:00pm - Getting Go, the Go Doc Project (Long Beach premiere) at the Art Theatre.

UPDATE: See the comments section below for the complete list of winners of the Long Beach QFilm Festival. 

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reverend's Interview: The Nine Lives of Lee Meriwether

Like the wily villainess Catwoman, whom she memorably portrayed in the 1966 Batman movie, actress Lee Meriwether’s beauty and popularity have endured through decades. Since being crowned Miss America in 1954, Meriwether has appeared in countless television series, movies and stage productions. Her TV credits alone entail some of the most iconic shows of all time, including Leave It to Beaver, Dragnet, Star Trek, Dr. Kildare, Mission: Impossible and The Love Boat. She also co-starred with Buddy Ebsen during eight seasons of Barnaby Jones, for which she received Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations.

Meriwether is now back on the big screen in not one but two GLBT-themed movies that will be screened in Long Beach, California on Saturday, September 7th as part of the 20th-anniversary Q Film Festival. In Chad Darnell’s dramedy Birthday Cake, Meriwether plays the Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother of one of the lead gay characters. She will be present at the 12:30 PM screening as a special guest and will answer audience members’ questions afterward. Next, Meriwether gives a tour de force performance as a lesbian former opera diva in Marc Saltarelli’s Remember to Breathe, which will screen at 2:35 PM as part of the fest’s Women in Shorts program.

As was clear during a recent phone interview, the gracious Meriwether is still going strong.

CC: Congratulations on your extensive career! Do you have a theory or secret as to your longevity in “the biz”?
LM: Thank you! I’m very lucky. I know my daughter has kept me active and I have a trainer at the gym. I’m very regulated and being well taken care of. I don’t want to have a fall so I am trying to stay strong.

CC: To men of my generation — straight and gay — you are best remembered as Catwoman, even though you only played her once (in the 1966 movie inspired by the hit TV series, filling in for an unavailable Julie Newmar). Has that role been more of a blessing or a curse for you?
LM: Oh, definitely a blessing. I think I was the most fortunate of all the gals who played her because I got to work with three great, classically-trained actors all at once: Burgess Meredith (as the Penguin), Cesar Romero (as the Joker) and Frank Gorshin (as the Riddler). I also got to work with Adam West (Batman) and Burt Ward (Robin), which was fun, and it has contributed to much work for me. I was also in a couple episodes of the series later but in a different role. It was a wonderful experience. I love signing autographs and pictures for the kids too at the various comic book conventions.

CC: You obviously have devoted gay and lesbian fans who are now giving you roles in movies like Birthday Cake and Remember to Breathe. What has been your relationship to the gay and lesbian community or individuals over the years?
LM: It’s interesting because I didn’t realize until after that I have such a following. It doesn’t matter to me and I don’t think of people that way (in terms of their sexuality). When someone says to me, “You know, I’m gay,” I always respond, “Really?” (Laughs). All the gay and lesbian filmmakers I know are doing such good work and are so talented. I just did another movie by a gay filmmaker, Jeffrey Johns, called Waiting in the Wings. I think it’s wonderful that there are now (GLBT) festivals all over the country where their work can be seen.

CC: How did your roles in Birthday Cake and Remember to Breathe come to you initially?
LM: The directors tracked me down and gave me a call. I had worked with Chad before on his science-fiction internet series, Project: Phoenix, which I haven’t seen yet but am really looking forward to. Then he called me and asked me to play this loony grandma in his new movie and I said, “Well, that won’t be a stretch at all” (laughs). Marc contacted me about Remember to Breathe and I asked him to send me the script. I was so moved by it. It’s one of those roles you wait for and hope comes along.

CC: Susan Blakely (The Towering Inferno, The Way We Were) plays your former lover in Remember to Breathe. Had you worked with her previously? What was it like working with her on this film?
LM: No, I hadn’t worked with her before. We looked at each other our first day on set and asked “Why haven’t we worked together before?,” especially since I had worked with so many other actresses over 7 ½ years on Barnaby Jones. It’s a dream come true to work with an actress like Susan who is so giving, so open to sharing.

CC: Is there a particular role or project you’ve worked on that stands out for you as a personal favorite?
LM: The roles I’m working on at the time are always my favorite. Mine right now is the play I’m working on. It’s a beautifully-written script by Bill Blinn, who wrote Brian’s Song, and he’s a dear soul. It’s called A Short Stay at Carranor and it’s playing through September 29th at Theatre West in Hollywood. I play Irene, who at 17 fell in love with a soldier boy and her parents won’t let her continue the relationship. Late in life, they are together again with a chance to make it work. It’s very poignant. (Meriwether won’t be appearing in the play September 13th-15th or 27th-29th.)

CC: When you were crowned Miss America, did you have any idea you would go on to have a successful, 50-year-plus acting career?
LM: I was in such a state of shock, I never even thought about the possibility of winning let alone having a career out of it. By the way, the pageant is moving back to New Jersey this year and all the former Miss Americas are invited back. I’ll be there, which is the reason I have to miss one weekend of the play. It’s all been wonderful.

For more information about A Short Stay at Carranor or to purchase tickets, visit the Theatre West website or call (323) 851-7977.

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

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Monthly Wallpaper - September 2013: Meryl Streep

This September, we are celebrating the cinematic career of one Mary Louise Streep, the three-time Academy Award winner and Oscar nomination acting champion better known as Meryl Streep.

Her career has included such iconic characters as Madeline Ashton, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, Julia Child, Joanna Kramer, Miranda Priestly, Karen Silkwood, Margaret Thatcher and Sophie Zawistowski (not to mention all those accents and wigs), and it will only get better with her next two upcoming films, the screen adaptations of the Broadway hits August: Osage County and Into the Woods.

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.