Friday, January 31, 2014

Reverend's Preview: And the Oscar Goes To…

With gay producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan returning to oversee the show, out comedian/daytime TV goddess Ellen DeGeneres hosting, and the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club up for six awards in major categories (including Best Picture), this year’s Academy Awards may prove to be the most GLBT-relevant yet. The 86th annual star-studded extravaganza will be broadcast live on Sunday, March 2nd on ABC.

While there are no openly GLBT actors among this year’s nominees, several performers received nominations for playing characters belonging to or at least friendly toward our community. Leading the pack are Matthew McConaughey, as an AIDS-afflicted straight man who establishes a life-saving business relationship with a trans woman (played by fellow nominee Jared Leto) in the eye-opening Dallas Buyers Club. Leto and McConaughey are considered the front-runners in their categories, having won both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards as well as numerous critics’ group honors.

Upsets, though, are always possible at the Oscars and either old timer Bruce Dern (Nebraska) or younger favorite Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) could steal McConaughey’s thunder as Best Actor. Leto could similarly find himself beaten as Best Supporting Actor by Captain Phillips charismatic newcomer Barkhad Abdi or the popular Bradley Cooper from American Hustle. Still, I’m putting my money on McConaughey and Leto.

Jonah Hill was also nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his turn as DiCaprio’s literal partner in crime, a bisexual stock broker, in Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Wolf of Wall Street. Hill’s portrayal of a closeted member of our community is not a favorable one but it is frequently entertaining in a hedonistic sort of way. Finally, Dame Judi Dench received a nod as Best Actress for her moving performance as a mother searching for the gay son she was forced to give up for adoption in Philomena, which was inspired by a true story.

Philomena was directed by Stephen Frears who, while not gay himself, previously helmed the 1980’s gay classics My Beautiful Laundrette and Prick Up Your Ears. Frears was passed over by the Academy branch as a Best Director nominee this year but Philomena racked up several other nominations including Best Picture (a surprise), Adapted Screenplay and Original Music Score. The five men vying for Best Director are David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Scorsese. Cuarón is favored to win for his technologically groundbreaking, breathtaking work, but Russell and McQueen can’t be counted out entirely.

Other nominees beside Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club in the all-important Best Picture category are American Hustle, Captain Phillips (whose star, Tom Hanks, was a surprising snub in the Best Actor category), Gravity, Spike Jonze’s futuristic romance Her, Nebraska (this year’s most overrated contender, in my opinion), 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. As of now, there is a three-way race between Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years — all of which are very deserving — for the main prize.

Apart from the higher profile Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena, the most significant GLBT entry in this year’s Oscar race may be found among the Best Documentary Short nominees. Jason Cohen’s Facing Fear relates the powerful story of a gay man, Matthew Boger, who found himself unexpectedly reunited with a former neo-Nazi skinhead, Tim Zaal, who savagely beat Boger 25 years earlier. After a challenging process of reconciliation and forgiveness between the two, Boger and Zaal today consider each other friends and regularly give presentations together about their journey. Cohen does a terrific job and it would be great if Facing Fear won. Facing Fear and its fellow Documentary Short nominees, as well as all the Animated and Live Action short film nominees, will be screening at a theater near you starting today.

Gay favorites in other categories include Disney’s Frozen, up for both Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (“Let It Go”); Baz Luhrmann’s ravishing adaptation of The Great Gatsby, nominated for Art Direction and Costume Design; and Best Documentary Feature candidate 20 Feet from Stardom, which focuses on the backup singers behind several legendary performers (including Bette Midler, Sheryl Crow Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder).

Curiously absent among this year’s Best Foreign Language Film nominees is Blue is the Warmest Color, the scintillating lesbian drama that won the Cannes Film Festival’s grand prize and has swept critics’ group foreign film awards. It turned out to be not eligible this year due to a quirk in the Academy’s submission rules, even though it received a US theatrical release. The movie will reportedly be eligible for next year’s Oscars. Hopefully, it will still be remembered then.

Meron and Zadan, who are producing the show for the second year in a row, promise “no shortage of comedy with Ellen DeGeneres as our host.” DeGeneres MC’d the ceremony once before, in 2007, and was well received as the first openly lesbian or gay person to host the event. The producers also announced a special celebration of movie heroes that will anchor this year’s show. “People around the world go to the movies to be inspired by the characters they see on the screen,” Zadan and Meron said in a statement. “By celebrating the gamut of heroes who have enriched our movie-going experience, we hope to create an evening of fun and joy.” And for all us "friends of Dorothy", there will be a special tribute to The Wizard of Oz in honor of its 75th anniversary.

Prior to this year’s Academy Awards but on a related note will be the broadcast of a new documentary, And the Oscar Goes To…, by gay filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, Howl). It will premiere February 1st on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to kick off their annual "31 Days of Oscar" celebration, and will be repeated several times on TCM, as well as on CNN, throughout the month of February. The duo, who are themselves Oscar winners for 1988’s Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, will chronicle the nine-decade history of the world’s most popular awards show. It all sounds like must-see TV to me!

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Plummer, Porter & Perfect

There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than in the company of Oscar- and Tony-winning actor Christopher Plummer… although Julie Andrews and other former co-stars may beg to differ. Plummer’s tantrums on the set of 1965’s The Sound of Music as well as other films and plays in which he has appeared over the decades are well documented. Fortunately, he is a perfect gentleman in the current A Word or Two playing at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre through February 9th. The one-man show, which Plummer also wrote, celebrates his lifelong love of literature while indulging audiences with tidbits about Plummer’s upbringing and convictions.

Now an impossibly fit and mentally sharp 84 years old, Plummer reads from such time-honored authors as George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Vladimir Nabokov and, of course, William Shakespeare. More surprising are his admiration for Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne, the Bible (from which Plummer movingly delivers a lovely selection from the Song of Songs) and religio-ethical poet W.H. Auden. The Canadian actor gives an amusingly fey, inexplicably Southern-accented interpretation of King Herod from Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. Plummer also impresses with his comments, mostly derisive, on more contemporary subjects including Twitter, Botox, Governor Chris Christie, plastic surgery and, naturally, Justin Bieber.

With guidance from Tony-winning director Des McAnuff and the support of a massive staircase comprised entirely of books (beautifully designed by Robert Brill), Plummer unquestionably succeeds in his stated attempt to rescue classical language from what he perceives as its impending demise. I did find composer Michael Roth’s occasional bits of background music and ambient sound distracting and completely unnecessary. A Word or Two needs only Plummer’s command of literature to keep theatergoers riveted.

Running now through February 16th just a few miles south of LA at Long Beach’s acclaimed International City Theatre (ICT) is the California premiere of Let’s Misbehave: The Music and Lyrics of Cole Porter. The production also serves as the inaugural work in ICT’s 29th season. Cole Porter, the famous (and famously closeted) art deco-era composer, would surely be delighted by this extended revue despite the threadbare storyline devised by Karin Bowersock and Patrick Young to connect Porter’s classic tunes.

An economical three-hander set in the mid-1930’s, Let’s Misbehave features a trio of longtime, single friends — one male and two female — in the early morning hours following a “swelegant” party. Host Dorothy (the terrific, funny Lindsey Alley in her ICT debut) and the on-stage pianist (Brian Baker) she has employed cajole Marc Ginsburg’s Walter and elegant Jennifer Shelton’s Alice into renditions of more than 35 Porter songs in between rounds of old fashioneds. The buddies eventually make a sworn agreement that each will take a lover in time for the 4th of July, just a month away. Things quickly become complicated once Alice and Dorothy discover they both have a more than friendly interest in Walter, while Walter only has eyes for Alice.

Director/choreographer Todd Nielsen and his cast find a few effective, mostly unspoken moments of sorely needed dramatic tension in this piffle of a plot. Porter’s compositions, alternately humorous and wistful, would more than stand on their own in providing an evening of theatrical entertainment. Kicking off with “Well Did You Evah?” and culminating in “De-Lovely” (plus an encore or two), there are stops along the way at such well-known standards as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Anything Goes,” “Night and Day,” “Friendship” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” plus a number of lesser-known Porter songs. The cast members are fine with the vocals, and the three harmonize particularly well. Unfortunately, their dancing is more pedestrian but each gave Nielsen’s moves their all on opening night.

Porter’s life was given an underrated film treatment ten years ago in Irwin Winkler’s De-Lovely. Kevin Kline is typically charismatic as Porter, with Ashley Judd and out actor John Barrowman in supporting roles as Cole’s devoted wife Linda and one of his male lovers, respectively. At least it is an improvement on 1946’s Night and Day, a decidedly sanitized bio starring Cary Grant.

On a final theatrical note: Some readers probably wish, like me, that you could have caught The Perfect American, Phillip Glass’ operatic treatment (with libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer) of the life and death of Walt Disney, during its one and only performance to date last year at Madrid’s Teatro Real. Well, I recently learned that the world premiere was recorded and is now available on Blu-ray and DVDfrom Opus Arte. Guess what Reverend bought with one of the Amazon gift cards he received for Christmas?

One’s appreciation of the score will likely depend on one’s appreciation of Glass’ minimalist approach. As a longtime Disney devotee, though, I found its controversial depiction of the beloved artist/studio head/theme park builder fascinating. Disney is revealed as more megalomaniacal, neglectful and racist than Tom Hanks’ current turn as the icon in Saving Mr. Banks and, arguably, more so than the historical record. Walt’s brother Roy, wife Lillian and two daughters are characters in the opera, as are Andy Warhol and Abraham Lincoln from Disneyland’s famed Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln attraction, albeit a more malfunctioning version played by Zachary James (who originally played Lurch in The Addams Family Broadway musical and was previously interviewed here on Movie Dearest). Christopher Purves is excellent both dramatically and vocally as the smiling, scheming innovator.

Impressively staged by Phelim McDermott of Shockheaded Peter fame, The Perfect American is well worth renting/buying and watching/listening. Just don’t tell current Disney head honchos Bob Iger and John Lasseter.

Reverend’s Ratings:
A Word or Two: A-
Let’s Misbehave: B
The Perfect American: B+

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Gay in the Desert

Now that our annual nominating and voting process for the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (or GALECA, of which I am Vice President and co-ballot tabulator) is over and the cinematic year that was 2013 is closed out, I can finally review a handful of gay-themed movies that screened during the Palm Springs International Film Festival two weeks ago. Better late than never, especially when two of the films are very good and another good. The less said about the fourth movie I review below, probably the better.

Cupcakes is a suitably tasty confection from gay Israeli director Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger, Yossi), easily his lightest and most purely enjoyable film to date. Super cute Ofer Schechter plays a gay schoolteacher who, when not entertaining his class by lip-synching in drag, yearns to represent Israel on the world’s #1 televised singing competition, UniverSong. Each nation annually chooses a singer or group to compete, so Ofer (actor and character share the same name) enters himself and his five girlfriends in the Israeli selection process. Two complications arise once they are chosen: (1) the ladies didn’t know Ofer had entered them as a singing group and (2) Ofer’s closeted boyfriend is a member of the wealthy hummus-producing family that sponsors Israel’s team. Will their conflicts be worked out in time for UniverSong’s climactic Paris showdown? Is the pope Catholic?

Colorful art direction and costumes as well as a score chock-full of hits by Scissor Sisters, The Captain & Tennille (who sadly announced their divorce today after 39 years of “muskrat” marriage), Debbie Boone (!) and more serve as the sweet icing on this delectable treat. Sure, its lightweight but its also good to see Fox taking a break from heavier fare.

Another contemporary gay filmmaker, Bruce LaBruce, takes on a decidedly riskier tale in Gerontophilia but with impressive results. After a several years run of sexually explicit, frequently gory horror satires including L.A. Zombie and Otto; or, Up With Dead People, LaBruce (working with co-writer Daniel Allen Cox) gets downright cuddly with this still outré romance between a young man named Lake and a man, Melvyn Peabody, approximately 60 years his elder. They meet at a nursing home managed by Lake’s mother, where he works as an orderly and Mr. Peabody is a resident. While Lake has a genuine concern for the elderly and begins to question what he sees as their over-medication and abusive treatment, he also develops an increasingly erotic fascination with the older male bodies he is charged with washing and dressing. Melvyn, who is gay, begins to return Lake’s attentions once his sleep-inducing prescriptions are cut back. The pair begins playing strip poker (while shaking martinis no less) behind Melvyn’s closed door and things quickly escalate from there. It isn’t long before Lake “kidnaps” Melvyn for a romantic getaway, during which jealousies unexpectedly flare and other surprises await.

Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, who plays Lake, is photogenic but amateurish, at least initially. He grew on me, though, and his heartfelt reactions during the film’s second half are touching. Meanwhile, veteran black actor Walter Borden gives an excellent, graceful performance as Melvyn, who is alternately confused and delighted by Lake’s uncompromising interest in him at his advanced age. Gerontophilia is also beautifully shot, especially during its final scenes in a snowfall, by Nicolas Canniccioni. “You’re such a saint,” Lake’s feminist girlfriend, Desiree (a great Katie Boland), tells him at one point. Well, Bruce LaBruce is no saint but he gets credit here as always for his boldness and bravery. I’m very interested to see what reactions his latest film receives once it gets broader play.

In the new documentary Ignasi M., Spanish filmmaker Ventura Pons (probably best known in the US for 2002’s well-received, gay-themed Food of Love) turns his camera on fellow countryman Ignasi Nunez. Nunez has been acclaimed internationally as a museologist and art restorer. He is also flamboyantly gay, HIV+ and the proud parent of two young adult sons he fathered naturally with a disabled woman.

Nunez has a sharp intellect and quick wit, so Pons wisely sits back and lets his subject do most of the talking on a variety of topics including sexuality, religion, nature, the value of art and museums, parenthood, economics and class, and death. His fellow conversationalists include Nunez’s elderly parents (his father has attempted suicide as did his grandfather, the latter successfully), his sons, the mother of his sons and fellow museologists. As a viewer, it took me a little time to get into the film’s rhythm and approach, which struck me more often than not as free association. Some additional editing and tightening up wouldn’t hurt, but Nunez emerges as an impressive if eccentric figure.

Less than impressed, meanwhile, discreetly describes my reaction to the wanna-be gay satire Hidden Hills. Written by and starring the self-proclaimed “comedy duo” of Tim O’Leary and Ted Trent, its one of those movies that is trying so hard to be funny it turns out not to be funny at all. The plot has something to do with a 1960’s gay couple (O’Leary and Trent) who decide to get married, but my partner and I could not get through it. While some of the period fixtures and costumes are spot-on, once it is determined which period we’re supposed to be in, the film is woefully amateurish in writing, acting and its irritating music score. I’m trying to figure out how Hidden Hills made it into the Palm Springs fest. Clearly, the festival’s programmers, despite doing an otherwise terrific job this year in the GLBT department, are not infallible.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Cupcakes: B+
Gerontophilia: B+
Ignasi M.: B-
Hidden Hills: D

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

And the Dorian Awards Go To...

The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA), of which I and Movie Dearest contributor Chris Carpenter are members, have named Steve McQueen's epic period drama 12 Years a Slave as the 2013 Film of the Year in this year's Dorian Awards. Other big winners include Dallas Buyers Club's Matthew McConaughey and Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett in the film performance categories and the French lesbian romance Blue is the Warmest Color as both Foreign Language Film of the Year and LGBT Film of the Year.


Kill Your Darlings, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, and Short Term 12 tied as the Unsung Film of the Year, while the documentary Bridegroom, Pedro Almodóvar's campy I'm So Excited! and the "visually striking" Gravity round out the movie prizes.

The Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra and women-in-prison dramedy Orange is the New Black topped the television awards, tieing for TV Drama of the Year, with Orange also named LGBT TV Show of the Year. Candelabra's Michael Douglas took TV Actor of the Year and Orange's Laverne Cox was crowned the year's "rising star" with the "We're Wilde About You" Award. Jessica Lange won her third Dorian Award in a row for her role in the American Horror Story franchise, with AHS: Coven also named Campy TV Show of Year.

HBO's Girls and Getting On won TV Comedy and Unsung TV Show, respectively, while Dame Shirley Bassey's showstopping rendition of her iconic James Bond theme "Goldfinger" at the 82nd Academy Awards was named the TV Musical Performance of the Year.

Special Awards were also given to political pundit Rachel Maddow ("Wilde Wit of the Year"), eccentric Renaissance man James Franco ("Wilde Artist of the Year") and legendary actress and comedienne Lily Tomlin (The Timeless Award).

GALECA's annual toast of the winners will be held the afternoon of Sunday, March 9, in Hollywood (location to be announced). For more information on GALECA, visit their official website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The 2013 Dorian Award Nominations

The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, of which I and Movie Dearest contributor Chris Carpenter are members, has announced the nominations for the 5th Annual Dorian Awards honoring the best in film and television for 2013.

Recent Dearie Award winners Blue is the Warmest Color, Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity are joined by American Hustle, Her, Laurence Anyways and 12 Years a Slave as the nominees for the top film award, with Blue, Dallas and Laurence also nominated for LGBT Film of the Year along with Kill Your Darlings and Philomena.

HBO's Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra leads the nominations on the television side, and actress/comedienne Lily Tomlin was named this year's recipient of the Timeless Award, given to “an actor or performer whose exemplary career is marked by character, wisdom and wit.”

See the comments section below for the complete list of nominees. Winners will be announced January 21st.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The 7th Annual Movie Dearest Dearie Awards

For the seventh year in a row, Movie Dearest takes a look back and celebrates the year that was with a salute to the best in film, television and the stage with the 2013 Movie Dearest Awards, a.k.a. the "Dearies"! And the winners are...

Movie of the Year: Blue is the Warmest Color
Gay men, not to mention most straight viewers, wouldn’t normally get too excited about a three-hour, subtitled lesbian drama from France containing two lengthy, graphic sex scenes between its leading ladies. However, buzz around Tunisian writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color began growing stateside after it was awarded the top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, by a jury headed by Steven Spielberg no less. The film is a glorious if relentlessly, sometimes painfully, honest portrayal of infatuation, love and maturation that all adult moviegoers can relate to regardless of one’s sexual orientation. Stunningly acted by leads Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux as well as beautifully photographed (in frequent, appropriate shades of blue) by Sofian El Fani, Blue isn’t only the warmest color but our choice as the Movie Dearest Movie of the Year out of a pack of strong contenders. — CC

Men of the Year: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto
We here at Movie Dearest are frequently tempted to say, "So many men, so little time" (at least in our fantasy lives). Yet our selection of this year's Men of the Year, historically given to just one male, came all too easily. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto blew us, as well as most other critics, away with their superb performances in Jean-Marc Vallee's galvanizing Dallas Buyers Club as, respectively, a real-life AIDS crusader and his transgender compatriot. McConaughey is coming off a tremendous two years of work, with his potentially Oscar-winning turn as Ron Woodroof following similarly acclaimed roles in Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street, Magic Mike, The Paperboy and Bernie. Leto hasn't been seen much on the big screen since he played Hephaistion, lover to Colin Farrell's bisexual title conqueror, in 2004's ill-fated Alexander. The talented actor-musician has scored a historic comeback and is currently the front-winner to win this year's Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Now both Golden Globe winners, gentlemen, we salute you. — CC

Women of the Year: Sandra Bullock
Sandra Bullock has been a "woman we love" ever since her spunky breakout role in Speed almost twenty years(!) ago. Sandy specialized in "all-American girl" types in rom com froth like While You Were Sleeping and Miss Congeniality for years, and won the Oscar for her dramatic (yet still spunky) role in The Blind Side, but nobody was prepared for Sandra's visceral, gut-wrenching performance in this year's Gravity. On screen for virtually the entire running time of Alfonso Cuarón's peril-in-space epic, Bullock is absolutely mesmerizing, trading in on her movie star likability to become the ultimate viewer surrogate, leading audiences on a cathartic journey of fear, hope and, ultimately, rebirth. — KH

New Star of the Year: Henry Cavill
I suppose at this point in his multimedia career we should add "star-maker" to the list of Superman's super powers. Following in the red-booted footsteps of George Reeves, Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh, relatively unknown Brit hunk Henry Cavill soared to stardom this past year as the titular Man of Steel. And he brought something no other actor has to the role: chest hair! (Who knew Superman was a muscle bear?) Cavill, unlike his immediate predecessor Routh, will don the cape and the big red "S" a second time for the eagerly awaited big screen showdown Batman vs. Superman. We can't wait. — KH

TV Show of the Year: Downton Abbey
There's a reason why Julian Fellowes' amazingly addictive Downton Abbey has become such an unexpected runaway hit worldwide. Firmly set in the gorgeously-appointed English countryside of the early 20th century, this lush period drama (one could call it a soap opera and not be wrong) has, unlike most of its ilk, a uniquely contemporary attitude. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the character of conniving former footman Thomas Barrow (played by Rob James-Collier), who was outed this past season yet not only avoided Wildean imprisonment, he got a promotion. Sure, he's a bit of a rascal, but we all cheered Thomas when he proclaimed, "I might be different, but I am not vile". How thoroughly modern. — KH

Stage Show of the Year: Kinky Boots
A collective cry of delight went out from theatre queens everywhere when it was announced that the award winning triumvirate of author Harvey Fierstein, director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell and composer Cyndi Lauper had united to adapt the 2005 British film Kinky Boots for the stage. Based on the true story of a dying shoe factory that came back to life once it began producing oversized pumps for drag queens, the musical has been a huge hit on Broadway and pretty much swept the 2013 Tony Awards. Lauper, making her Broadway composing debut, proved herself a natural, and the heartwarming tale of an insecure straight man (played by the too cute Stark Sands) who finds direction with the help of cross-dressing entertainer Lola (Tony winner Billy Porter) has moved audiences of all persuasions. We can’t wait for Kinky Boots to go on tour starting in Las Vegas this September! And always remember: the sex is in the heel. — CC

Foreign Film of the Year: Yossi
With his bittersweet romance Yossi & Jagger, gay filmmaker Eytan Fox broke ground depicting an unexpected love affair between two male soldiers serving in the Israeli army. Fox revisited the surviving partner ten years later in Yossi, and it made for a warm reunion with viewers. Ohad Knoller reprised the title role, now a successful heart surgeon but still nursing a personal broken heart in the wake of Jagger's untimely death. An unexpected meeting with Jagger's wounded parents as well as a blossoming relationship with a younger soldier on leave (played by the gorgeous Oz Zehavi) prove to be just what the doctor ordered in aiding Yossi's long-delayed recovery. Fox and screenwriter Itay Segal explore the grief process with authenticity and sensitivity, and the beautiful seaside setting doesn't hurt either. A must see. — CC

The Neil V. Cohen Award for Campy Film of the Year: Austenland
Our longtime friend and fellow Movie Dearest contributor, Neil Cohen, passed away unexpectedly in December 2012. Neil was well known for his annual Neely Awards, named after pill-popping actress Neely O’Hara from the 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls. This year, we thought of carrying Neil’s torch by inaugurating this special annual award in his memory. Austenland, Jerusha Hess’ satire of all things Jane Austen-related (adapted from Shannon Hale’s novel), struck us as the 2013 release of which Neil would have most approved for its abundant, entertaining camp sensibility as well as its genuinely sweet, romantic edge. And we’re pretty sure he would have loved Jennifer Coolidge’s hilarious turn as the prim and proper title resort’s sauciest guest too. We sincerely congratulate all involved with the production of Austenland by bestowing this honor on the film out of our undying love and respect for the award’s namesake. — CC

Documentary of the Year: I Am Divine and DVD of the Year: Vito
The winners of our final two categories (the latter another new edition for 2013) have a lot in common: they are both top-notch documentaries about two icons of queer cinema who died too soon; they are as equally entertaining as they are informative; and they were both directed by the talented non-fiction filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz. Along with such other bio-docs about B-movie mogul William Castle, gay porn pioneer Jack Wrangler and his upcoming exposé of former Hollywood golden boy Tab Hunter, Schwarz has proven himself to be unafraid to tackle subjects from the outer fringes of show business. And you can't get more "out there" than Divine (née Harris Glenn Milstead), John Waters muse, cinematic coprophile and genderfuck superstar. In Vito, we learned that Vito Russo was more than just the author of The Celluloid Closet, but also an early gay rights and AIDS activist whose life story is as moving as any of his beloved movie melodramas. — KH

We hope you enjoyed this year's Dearies and thank you for visiting Movie Dearest in 2013!

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine, and Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reverend's Reviews: Black, Blue & Out — The Best and Worst Movies of 2013

Several of the best movies of the last year presented the American experience — especially the African-American experience — in all of its dramatic, sometimes harsh, but ultimately liberating beauty. GLBT stories, of which there were a higher than usual number of domestic and international releases, were definitely part of these cinematic history lessons. As usual, I was unable to screen a handful of last-minute holiday movies (August: Osage County, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Her) before press time. Also, I’ve linked together a few films of equal critical assessment and related themes, so you’ll find more than the traditional critic’s top ten on my list below.

  1. 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler (The Weinstein Company): Neither is a perfect film, with the former excessively graphic in spots and both overly dependent on sometimes distracting big-name actors in bit parts. That being said, each is a vibrant, engrossing and inspiring depiction of how far Black citizens have come in triumphing over the forces of oppression and exclusion. Powerful lead performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Forest Whitaker, respectively, ground both films.

  2. Gravity (Warner Bros.): The term “space race” takes on new meaning in Alfonso Cuaron’s gripping account of two astronauts, memorably portrayed by a wounded Sandra Bullock and an ever-cool George Clooney, stranded in space and struggling to get back to earth. 90 minutes of non-stop intensity and dazzling 3D visual effects.

  3. Captain Phillips (Sony Pictures): Harrowing true story of a modern-day pirate hijacking, with Tom Hanks giving one of his best performances as the title skipper trying to protect his crew. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) directs with his usual you-are-there flair, which works particularly well here in the isolated middle of the sea.

  4. American Hustle (Columbia/Sony Pictures): David O. Russell’s zesty, funny take on the 1970s Abscam scandal boasts a terrific cast, especially the two best younger actresses working today: Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. Factor in the groovy period fashions, hairstyles and an abundance of “sweet & sour” nail polish and it becomes an even more amusing yet often poignant survival story for the over-40 crowd.

  5. Blue is the Warmest Color (Sundance Selects) and Aftermath (Menemsha Films): The two best foreign language films of the year are these über-dramatic coming of age tales, the first a 3-hour take on a young French woman’s sexual awakening while the second is about grown brothers who uncover the horrific Nazi-era truth behind their Polish farming community. Both proved dramatic behind the scenes as well, once Blue’s lead actresses began feuding publicly with their director and Aftermath’s lead actor received death threats over his participation in the film. Apparently, historical truth is still too uncomfortable for some to accept.

  6. Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features): Matthew McConaughey is stunning as Ron Woodroof, a bigoted straight man infected with HIV in the early 1980’s who became Texas’s greatest crusader for life-saving medicare care of gay and straight patients alike. Jared Leto gives a similarly courageous performance as Woodroof’s transgender “partner in crime.”

  7. Call Me Kuchu (Cinedigm) and God Loves Uganda (Full Credit Productions/Variance): A pair of great, if disturbing, documentaries dealing with the destruction wrought by anti-gay American evangelists spreading their gospel of hate in Africa. God Loves Uganda is one of the final ten or so documentaries eligible for Academy Award consideration. It will send a strong message if the film is not only nominated but ultimately wins the Oscar.

  8. The Great Gatsby (Warner Bros.): Critics were divided over Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s typically flamboyant adaptation (in 3D no less) of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic. I found it to be both dramatically and visually engrossing, indeed the first accessible movie version of the book. Thanks to this and its Jay Z supervised soundtrack, high school English students will actually want to watch Luhrmann’s film for years to come.

  9. Austenland (Sony Pictures Classics): I adored this satire of all things Jane Austen-related and consider it the most purely pleasurable film I saw all year. I even paid to see it a second time, something I haven’t done in a long time. Besides, how can anyone not love a movie in which the always hilarious Jennifer Coolidge plays the prim and proper title resort’s sauciest guest?

  10. Out in the Dark (Breaking Glass Pictures): The best gay-themed film of 2013 out of a very strong pack of contenders. Here, the love between an Israeli lawyer and Palestinian student is tested by forces both familial and political. Dubbed “the Brokeback Mountain of Israeli film,” it is an impressive feature debut by director and co-writer Michael Mayer.

Honorable Mentions (movies that rated a B+ or higher in my critic’s log but in no particular order):
Yossi, Koch, The Square, Beyond the Hills, I Am Divine, Room 237, Iron Man 3, The Hot Flashes, Star Trek Into Darkness, Laurence Anyways, World War Z, Unfinished Song, This Is the End, Pacific Rim, Fruitvale Station, Drinking Buddies, Upstream Color, Sal, Thanks for Sharing, Prisoners, After Tiller, All is Lost, Short Term 12 and The Kings of Summer.

At the opposite, lesser end of my review scale may be found the following 2013 releases, also in no particular order of dishonor:
  • Stoker (Fox Searchlight): A dreary Southern Gothic tale, written by recently-out Wentworth Miller, that largely wastes a talented cast including Nicole Kidman.
  • Bridegroom (Virgil Films): The tragic death of a young gay man, Tom Bridegroom, is given a mawkishly sentimental, one-sided recounting by his surviving boyfriend and TV writer-producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.
  • Insidious: Chapter 2 (Film District): This unnecessary sequel to 2011’s superior ghost story should have been more accurately titled Insipid.
  • Adore (Gaumont): A gorgeous-looking movie about gorgeous longtime friends, played by Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, who improbably have lengthy romantic and sexual relationships with one another’s barely-adult sons. Just plain tacky.
  • To the Wonder (Magnolia Pictures): Auteur Terrence Malick’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Tree of Life is less focused, even more confounding and seemingly endless, with a wooden performance by male lead Ben Affleck.

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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reverend's Preview: The Stars Come Out in Palm Springs

During its first quarter century, the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) has grown from a fairly isolated event in the middle of the Southern California desert to one of the largest film festivals in North America. It has also become a must-appearance event for each year’s Academy Award hopefuls. The 2014, 25th anniversary fest will be held January 3rd-13th and boasts its most star-studded roster yet.

Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey and Julia Roberts, among others, will all be honored at the annual Awards Gala the evening of Saturday, January 4th at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Suitably enough, Streep will be presented the festival’s Icon Award for a body of work culminating in her current, scenery-chewing turn in August: Osage County, in which Roberts plays her estranged daughter.

“For almost 40 years, Meryl Streep has portrayed an astonishing array of characters in a career that has cut its own unique path from the theatre through film and television,” according to festival organizers. “In 2011, in a record that is unsurpassed, she earned her 17th Academy Award nomination for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (she also won).” Streep just completed production on Disney’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical Into the Woods, in which she plays the Witch role originated by Bernadette Peters.

Bullock and Hanks are being recognized for their star turns in, respectively, 2013’s Gravity and Captain Phillips, while McConaughey’s performance as an AIDS-afflicted activist in Dallas Buyers Club is being feted. Also, Steve McQueen will be honored as Director of the Year for his work on the Oscar front-runner 12 Years a Slave and the cast of writer-director David O. Russell’s American Hustle (which includes Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence) will share the Ensemble Performance Award.

PSIFF today attracts over 135,000 attendees with its mix of world and US premieres, celebrated international features and acclaimed documentaries. These include a number of films each year of GLBT interest and/or directed by GLBT filmmakers. The 2014 event will be no exception, with 16 GLBT productions set to be screened. While a few of them (Test, Reaching for the Moon, Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro, and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia) have previously appeared at other Southern California festivals, others are making their local premieres. Among these are:

  • Gerontophilia, in which longtime provocateur Bruce LaBruce trades in his traditional hardcore style for a more discreet, gentle look at a young man who falls in love with an 81-year old resident of the nursing home in which he works.
  • Tattoo, a Brazilian film set in 1978 about the forbidden romance between an 18-year old soldier in the country’s ruling military regime and an anarchist cabaret ringleader.
  • Cupcakes, the new movie by popular gay Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox (Yossi & Jagger, Yossi), is a musical-comedy focusing on six friends of different sexual persuasions who write a song as a joke only to see it chosen for a national song competition.
  • Two Mothers, a moving docudrama from Germany about a lesbian couple striving to have a child only to face opposition from their country’s political system.
  • Five Dances, a riveting look at the budding romance between two young, attractive male dancers working on a choreographer’s special project. Directed by the talented Alan Brown, who made a splash with his Private Romeo a couple of years back.

  • Continental, Malcolm Ingram’s documentary exposé of New York City’s legendary Continental Baths, also known as the gay hotspot where Bette Midler got her start as a performer in the early 1970’s.
  • Hidden Hills, a romantic comedy set in 1964 involving a handsome real estate agent’s decision to buck societal norms and marry his longtime partner. The film’s supporting cast includes Jane Wiedlin of The Go Go’s and the very funny Wendy Shapero (Robot Chicken).
  • It’s All So Quiet, from the Netherlands, follows a middle-aged farmer’s quest to come out of the closet after a lifetime of loneliness. The Hollywood Reporter praised the film as “a poignant reflection on solitude, homosexual repression and aging.”

Each year, the PSIFF highlights film submissions from a particular country. Canada is the organizers’ choice for 2014, and the “Spotlight on Canadian Cinema” section will include Gerontophilia in addition to two other lesbian-themed productions. One is Denis Côté’s hard-hitting drama Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, about an ex-con trying to get her life back on track with help from her girlfriend during her time in prison and her gay parole officer. The other is Sarah Prefers to Run, a debut feature by director Chloé Robichaud, in which a young female runner making the leap to a university team stumbles in the world of adult relationships and responsibilities.

A number of other foreign films being considered for this year’s Academy Awards will be screened as part of the fest’s “Awards Buzz” section. They include Australia’s The Rocket, Denmark’s The Hunt, France’s Renoir, Iceland’s Of Horses and Men, Israel’s Bethlehem and Italy’s The Great Beauty. A special jury of international film critics will determine winners of the annual FIPRESCI Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor and Best Actress out of the 45 features screened.

Finally, Variety magazine will spotlight “10 Directors to Watch” during the festival, honoring “the most exciting new talents in the field” and their new work. This year’s selection includes up and comers Amma Asante, Anthony Chen, Ben Falcone, Maya Forbes and Dome Karukoski. Past honorees have been the now-renowned Ben Affleck (Argo), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy) and Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom).

For more information about the 2014 festival, visit their website or call 1-800-898-7256.

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