Friday, March 21, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Dune-Buggy

When I read Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune back in 1980 while I was in the 7th grade, it was the most epic text yet to pass my eyes. Herbert’s sci-fi saga of royal families battling over a desert planet’s supply of a precious, space-expanding spice is complex in its political and religious dimensions as well as its unique terminology. In the time since its publication, the book has inspired numerous other authors, artists and filmmakers including George Lucas, who partly based the Star Wars saga’s Tatooine on Herbert’s dry, barren landscape.

Dune didn’t become the basis of a movie itself until 1984 (more on that later). However, outré Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky of El Topo and Santa Sangre fame/infamy was nearly the first to adapt Dune for the big screen in the mid-1970’s. His strenuous efforts to produce “the greatest movie never made” are recounted in Frank Pavich’s fascinating new documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which is now playing theatrically in Los Angeles and New York City and opening in other cities next month.

Look familiar?

“For me, Dune will be the coming of a god,” the 80-year old but still vibrant Jodorowsky proclaims during the three-year conversation Pavich had with him on the subject. “I wanted to make something sacred, free, with new perspective.” The filmmaker also reveals that he wanted to “fabricate the effects of LSD” with his vision, which would have run approximately 17 hours and cost nearly half a billion of today’s dollars. Jodorowsky and the ambitious artists he recruited (whom he dubbed “spiritual warriors”) storyboarded the entire film and shopped it around to every major studio, but all balked at the price tag. Interestingly, his key team members Dan O’Bannon, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss moved on together to develop 1979’s now classic Alien when Dune fell apart.

Most tantalizing, though, was the big-name cast Jodorowsky had secured. David Carradine, then popular as the star of TV’s Kung Fu, would have played the heroic but doomed Duke Leto Atreides, father to Dune’s messiah-in-training Paul (to have been played by Jodorowsky’s then 12-year old son, Brontis). The eccentric, surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was cast as the calculating Padishah Emperor, and surely would have been a sight to behold. Actor-director Orson Welles would have appeared as “that floating fat man” (one of the most memorable lines from the 1984 Dune), the ruthless — and homosexual — Baron Harkonnen, with Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger playing Feyd, the Baron’s vicious nephew. Jodorowsky’s recollections of how he got his eclectic actors to commit to the film are very funny.

Jodorowsky’s Dune helps to illuminate the tension-fraught dance between ambition and commerce that endures in Hollywood to this day. And while the documentary is effective at revealing what might have been, it also invariably leads one to reflect on what has since been accomplished in terms of film versions of Dune. Producer Dino De Laurentiis gained the rights to the book soon after Jodorowsky’s long-planned adaptation hit the skids. De Laurentiis, coming off such late-1970’s schlock as Orca and Flash Gordon in addition to his poorly-received remakes of King Kong and Hurricane, was looking to literary adaptations to help salvage his respectability (his Oscar-nominated 1981 film of E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime was the most successful in this regard). Dune fit the bill, but DeLaurentiis took a significant risk when he hired oddball director David Lynch to helm it.

Lynch only had two previous feature films under his belt, the bizarro cult classic Eraserhead and the more mainstream but fairly small-scale The Elephant Man. At a then-astronomical budget of $40 million, with an all-star cast and hundreds of extras, Dune was a massive undertaking. The film was a critical and financial disappointment upon its release in late 1984 but I consider it underrated, especially for devotees of the book. It is an impressively faithful if necessarily streamlined adaptation, though heavy on industrial-looking art direction and grotesque make-up effects. In hindsight, the DeLaurentiis-Lynch version also seems to pay homage to Jodorowsky’s in several key ways: the casting of more contemporary rock star Sting as Feyd; the not-bad choice of pop band Toto to compose and perform the music score in lieu of Pink Floyd, which Jodorowsky had wanted; and a number of visual flourishes, including “in vitro” shots of Paul’s developing, super-powered sister.

Cable TV’s SyFy Channel (then known as the SciFi Channel) and writer-director John Harrison took on the task of creating a more complete version of Dune in the year 2000 via a 4½ hour miniseries. It is faithful almost to a fault, and one realizes how smart Lynch was to synopsize much of the political-religious intrigue and simplify Herbert’s dense dialogue as best he could. The miniseries is certainly a more colorful affair than the often dreary-looking ’84 movie, while British actor Ian McNeice has a gay old time playing Baron Harkonnen (especially whenever he speaks in verse) and the frequently shirtless Matt Keeslar makes a fetching Feyd.

According to Michel Seydoux, who would have produced Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune, “You can’t make a masterpiece without madness.” If that is true, the best cinematic version of Dune may be yet to come.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Jodorowsky’s Dune: B+
Dune (1984): B-
Dune (2000 miniseries): B

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reverend's Interview: A Conversation with Coco

The indomitable drag legend Miss Coco Peru has been all over Southern California this month, culminating in the eighth installment of her ongoing Conversations With Coco tonight at the LA Gay & Lesbian Center’s Renberg Theatre.

Liza Minnelli will be Coco’s very special guest at the Renberg. Minnelli, in addition to being Judy Garland’s oldest daughter, has had her own Oscar-, Tony-, Emmy-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning career. The legendary actress-singer will also be making her Disney Hall debut while in Los Angeles on March 25th. Coco’s past celebrity guests have included Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Charles Busch and the late Karen Black. “Conversations With Coco,” she said, “is sort of like Inside the Actors Studio, only it’s much more fun and I’m prettier than James Lipton—sort of.”

The divine Miss CP recently spoke with Reverend during her weeklong run in Puerto Vallarta.

CC: You are a busy lady! How do you maintain your energy and figure?
CP: My figure is up for discussion. I’ll probably return from Mexico with a giant burrito around my waist. (Laughs) The food here is incredible. I exercise as much as I can and I don’t drink booze. I try to get eight hours of sleep. Oh, and I’m a big fan of naps.

CC: What can people expect at your San Diego and Palm Springs shows?
CP: In San Diego, I’m doing a best of show with both old and new material, and in Palm Springs I’m doing my “She’s Got Balls” tour. It’s the first time I’ll be performing “She’s Got Balls” in Palm Springs so I’m excited. I understand both Palm Springs shows are nearly sold out, which is wonderful.

CC: Do you ever tired of performing or of the “social whirl”?
CP: I have my moments when I think retirement’s going to be great, but then I have moments when I connect with an audience like I am doing here in Puerto and it’s magical. I get tired of the marketing, even though it’s much easier with the Internet; I don’t have to stand on a corner handing out fliers anymore. But with the Internet people are also more distracted.

CC: You are also going to be interviewing the one and only Liza Minnelli this month. Is there a particular question you are burning to ask her?
CP: When’s the last time you rode the subway? (Laughs) I really want to ride the subway with Liza. I rode in a helicopter with her years ago. We were over New York City together, now I want to be under it. We’ll do the city from both ends. (Laughs) Liza was really kind to me when I was just starting out. It made a huge impact.

CC: How do you get such fabulous stars for Conversations with Coco?
CP: The first one was Bea Arthur and she was a friend of mine, so she did it as a favor to me. That got me a bit of cache. Jane Fonda is a close friend of Lily’s so Lily got her. Some celebs are scared because it’s with a drag queen and they think I’m going to attack them, you know, but each conversation is a celebration of that person and what they mean to me.

CC: Is there anyone who you haven’t yet interviewed but hope to in the future?
CP: Dolly Parton, to complete the 9 to 5 trifecta. (Laughs) I’d also love to interview Shirley MacLaine. She turned me down once but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. You should never say no to a drag queen. (Laughs)

CC: Is there a past celebrity interview or moment during an interview that is especially memorable for you?
CP: One of the most memorable moments for me is when I see the celebrity, about 15 minutes into it, “get” the love for them that is in the room. They realize it is safe and then they really open up. Another is Lily Tomlin. Lily was out there fighting for gay rights in the 1960’s, decades ago. It was a very emotional interview for me and for her partner (now spouse) Jane Wagner, who was in the audience.

CC: Beyond March, what are you looking forward to? Where else can you be found this year?
CP: I’m looking forward to my summer in Spain on vacation and then I go to P-Town, which is always crazy but wonderful. Oh, and I’ll be in New York in May at Birdland, which is a new venue for me so I’m very excited.

CC: Anything else you’d like to say?
CP: Big thanks for all the support!

To keep up with Coco and for more information about all her upcoming appearances, visit her website. She can also be followed on Twitter @themisscocoperu.

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reverend’s Review: Barry’s Baby

When not writing songs that make the whole world sing over the past 40 years, to the tune of 80 million records sold, Barry Manilow has spent a lot of time developing a stage musical with longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman. The pair’s Harmony is a theatrical bio of the Comedian Harmonists, an international singing sensation in the late 1920’s-mid 1930’s. Harmony received an initial production at the La Jolla Playhouse back in the 1990’s and a second last year at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre. Now, the re-tooled and seemingly Broadway-bound show is having a tryout run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through April 13th.

The musical’s subject is little known but compelling. The Comedian Harmonists were six young German men from diverse religious and class backgrounds, including a former rabbi, an operatically-trained bass, a medical student and a singing waiter. Recruited in 1927, prior to the Nazis’ rise to power, the troupe became known for their musical prowess as well as forays into comedy and dance. They were a near-instant hit in their homeland and eventually played packed houses throughout Europe and the United States. Upon their return to Germany, they were startled by the new Hitler regime’s oppression and criticized it during their performances. The Comedian Harmonists soon found their passports revoked and were ultimately prohibited from performing altogether.

Prior to Harmony’s opening night in LA, I was jokingly referring to it as “Cabaret Lite” and “Cabaret meets Copacabana,” the latter referencing another, poorly-received Manilow musical. I am happy to report the show did not meet my somewhat dubious expectations but is instead a serious, commendable effort in its own right. Musical-theatre fans may perceive likely-unintentional nods to Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story (primarily during a “Gee, Officer Krupke”-esque number titled “Your Son is Becoming a Singer”), The Sound of Music (marionettes!) and, yes, Cabaret. While several of the songs have an undeniable Manilow pop sound to them, especially the title number, others reveal the composer’s impressive attempt to stretch himself. Notable in this regard are “Lost in the Shadows” (featuring a hilariously dead-on Marlene Dietrich impersonation by Lauren Elaine Taylor), the satiric but biting “Come to the Fatherland” and the climactic, gut-wrenching “Threnody.” Manilow also created some lovely wedding music for one scene that could become a staple at real-life Jewish weddings.

At nearly three hours, including intermission, Harmony could use some tightening up by the writers and director Tony Speciale before it hits New York. I would start with the establishing, opening number that goes on far too long with at least three reprises of the title song. Some of the troupe’s extensive globe-trotting can be suggested rather than shown, and several scenes involving the musical’s chief, rather one-note female characters/love interests (although both are very well-played by Hannah Corneau and Leigh Ann Larkin) could benefit from a tighter focus that may also result in a more streamlined approach.

From a technical perspective, the show is beyond reproach. Tobin Ost’s sets, utilizing flying platforms along with video backdrops designed by Darrel Maloney, and vivid period costumes are frequently stunning. JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography for the Comedian Harmonists is appropriately witty, and the lighting and sound designs are exemplary. Harmony’s current trump card, however, is the superb sextet portraying the Harmonists: Matt Bailey, Will Blum (who recently appeared on Broadway as The Book of Mormon’s goofy Elder Cunningham), Chris Dwan, Shayne Kennon, Will Taylor and Douglas Williams. Their vocal chemistry and physical comedy are superb, not to be outdone by the palpable respect they have for the men they are representing.

The opening night crowd was very receptive to Harmony, some critics might say excessively so. I think it bodes well for the show’s Broadway chances after just a little pruning or sharpening here and there. Already, Manilow considers it “the most rewarding creative experience of his career,” according to his program bio. At minimum, Harmony rises heads and shoulders above Copacabana: The Musical.

Reverend’s Rating: B

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Bad & Queer

The always likable Jason Bateman has progressed nicely from a child and teen actor on such TV series as Little House on the Prairie and Silver Spoons to the adult star of TV’s Arrested Development and such hit movies as Juno, Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief. Now, he is making his feature film directorial debut with the raunchy comedy Bad Words, opening today in Los Angeles and New York and nationally on March 28th.

Like many an actor turned director before him, Bateman also takes on the lead role of Guy Trilby, a 40-year old with a sizeable chip on his shoulder who has taken to crashing — and winning — grade school spelling competitions. Trilby exploits a lack of specification regarding participants’ age in the rules of the Golden Quill national spelling bee, much to the dismay of parents, teachers and a curmudgeonly pair of Golden Quill executives played by Philip Baker Hall and gay fave Allison Janney.

Alternately aided and stymied by an oversexed reporter out to uncover his mysterious past (Kathryn Hahn from We’re the Millers, in this film’s least developed role), Trilby also finds himself the fixation of a 10-year old fellow competitor, Chaitanya Chopra (a great, star-making turn by Rohan Chand of Homeland and Lone Survivor). Trilby surprisingly and possibly unwisely begins to lower his defenses in the company of his young fan. As Jenny, the reporter, asks Trilby via one of the film’s funnier lines, “Has the Grinch found his little Cindy Lou Who?”

Bad Words is a bit rough around the edges directorially/technically and the screenplay’s crudeness is strained at times, but I enjoyed the story and performances. Other welcome, veteran faces in this film’s cast are Steve Witting (Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street) as the Golden Quill’s put-upon proctor and Beth Grant of The Mindy Project and Sordid Lives fame. Despite the inclusion of Chand and a number of smart moppets, though, Bad Words is definitely not a family film. Parents need to take its R rating seriously.

Also opening this weekend in LA is the gay-themed Tennessee Queer, a somewhat dated and preachy but well-intentioned dramedy. Written and co-directed by Mark Gorshon Jones — who is a real-life, openly-gay Presbyterian deacon — it centers on Jason Potts (played by Christian Walker), a successful young librarian living with his devoted partner in NYC but contemplating a move to London. Jason’s living in either New York or the UK doesn’t sit well with his mother and siblings, who reside in the family’s hometown of Smythe, Tennessee and yearn for Jason to return there permanently. The irony is that while they are accepting of Jason’s homosexuality and relationship, the rest of the town is pretty much stuck in the conservative 1950’s when it comes to GLBT acceptance… or the lack thereof.

Jason strikes a deal with his family: if Smythe’s leadership will permit him to organize their first-ever Pride parade, he will stay. Figuring his proposal will never fly with the city council, Jason is shocked when they approve it but for ulterior motives. The anti-gay mayoral candidate, in league with local right-wing religious leaders, sees the parade as a perfect opportunity to identify the town’s GLBT members so they can run them out or, if they are teenagers, send them off to a fundamentalist camp that specializes in converting those “suffering” from same-sex attraction.

Tennessee Queer is burdened with performances of mixed quality, moments of forced conflict and/or humor, some GLBT and AIDS stereotypes, and an irritatingly cartoonish music score. On the plus side are Ryan Parker’s excellent cinematography, a nice sense of location, and the film’s ultimate illustration of the truth that embracing diversity brings communities (and churches) together. That Tennessee Queer, shot in 2012, strikes me as dated at times is actually a very good thing. It proves the US has come a long way toward GLBT acceptance and equality in a mere two years, thanks be to God.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Bad Words: B
Tennessee Queer: C+

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reverend's Preview: A Fusion of Films

The acceptance of GLBT people in Black, Latino and Asian cultures has been especially daunting but progress has been made. Contributing to this over the last decade is the proliferation of movies depicting the experience of being GLBT in these different ethnic groups. Los Angeles’s Outfest Fusion GLBT People of Color Film Festival has annually highlighted such works for the past 11 years. Its 2014 edition, presented by HBO, will take place March 14th-16th at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. 

“The films this year are about our sense of humor, our courage and vitality, our faith and resilience, whether we’re gay dads, women in Morocco or teens in our own backyard,” said Tajmika Paxton, Outfest Fusion programmer. “Fusion means great films and diversity at its best.”

Blackbird, the eagerly awaited new film by Patrik-Ian Polk (Noah’s Arc), will open the fest on Friday, March 14th. Based on the 1986 novel by Larry Duplechan, it is about a young gay man’s coming of age in his small southern community. The movie’s impressive cast includes Academy Award winner Mo’Nique (Precious), Isaiah Washington (perhaps seeking to atone for his anti-gay remarks in 2007 on the set of Grey’s Anatomy) and, in the leading role, newcomer Julian Walker.

Actor-comedian Alec Mapa, known as “America’s Gaysian Sweetheart,” will be honored with the 2014 Fusion Achievement Award on Saturday, March 15th. Mapa has turned in memorable performances in Broadway’s M. Butterfly as well as on TV’s Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty, among many other roles.

“Alec’s performances and comedy have made us laugh, think and, most importantly, they have inspired us,” states Outfest’s Executive Director, Kirsten Schaffer. “He has contributed so much to GLBT arts and media visibility, and we are incredibly excited and happy to honor him with this award.” The award will be presented to Mapa by Golden Globe-winning actress Sandra Oh (Sideways, Grey’s Anatomy) just prior to the world premiere screening of his one-man concert film, Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy.

Additional world premieres during this year’s Fusion will be out director Quentin Lee’s Secrets & Toys, about a mother and daughter who discover each other’s secrets through a comedy of errors, and You Are Dead to Me, a dramatic short film starring trans actress Harmony Santana (Gun Hill Road).

Outfest Fusion 2014 will also feature the US debut of Korean filmmaker Leesong Hee-il’s White Night and the LA premiere of the lesbian feature What It Was, by Daniel Armando. Jonathan Menendez’s enlightening documentary Gay Latino LA: Coming of Age will also be screened.

Complete information and ticket sales can be accessed at the Outfest Fusion website.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Reverend's Preview: Have a Margarita at Cine Gay 2014

The acceptance of GLBT people in Latino culture has been especially daunting but progress has been made. Contributing to this over the last decade is the proliferation of movies depicting the experience of being Latino/Latina and GLBT. The San Diego Latino Film Festival has annually highlighted such works among its overall programming through a special showcase series, Cine Gay. The 9th annual edition will take place March 13th-23rd at the UltraStar Mission Valley Cinemas and Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.

Among this year’s offerings is one narrative feature I’ve seen and can highly recommend: Margarita. The title character (a nice performance by Nicole Correia Damude) works as a live-in maid for power couple Ben and Gail and their teenage daughter, Mali. Margarita is dating a beautiful female medical student and is happy taking the lead on the family’s domestic routine. This all changes when a series of bad investments threaten to bankrupt the family permanently. To cut costs, Ben and Gail fire Margarita, an action that completely uproots all sense of cohesion in the household. Co-directors Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert’s tender drama gets at the heart of unlikely friendships and the rash actions that can potentially taint them forever.

Also being screened is a rare gay-themed film from Cuba, La Partida (The Last Match), in which two soccer-playing young men fall passionately in love with one another in the slums of Havana. Described as “super sexy and romantic,” it’s a must see on my list.

Several documentaries hailing from Mexico, El Salvador and Venezuela will also be shown. Quebranto, by director Roberto Fiesco, relates the life of Fernando Garcia Ortega. The actor was in some of the most popular Mexican films of the 1970’s, including El hijo de los pobres (1975) and Los hermanos del viento (1977). Ortega was the ultimate child star, but he came out as a transvestite some years ago and now calls himself Coral Bonelli. The documentary tells both Fernando’s story and his mother’s, Lilia Ortega, who was also an actress in the 1970’s. They live together and still perform today while yearning for their past in the movies, while Coral bravely comes to terms with her gender identity.

El Cańaveral is about Joaquín, an HIV+ gay Salvadorian political activist. He is seeking asylum in Canada but the outcome of his refugee claim looks bleak. Fearing for his life, Joaquin is summoned to the Border Agency where he will receive the response to his refugee claim. Brutally frank and perceptive, Samuel Lopez’s documentary looks closely at how identity and ideology converge in one man’s pursuit of safe sanctuary.

Yo, Indocumentada focuses on three Venezuelan women — Tamara, Desiree and Victoria — from different walks of life. At first glance, this lawyer, stylist and art student have very little in common. However, each carries an identification card that bears a different name. Each is a transsexual woman who has changed her gender but the Venezuelan government does not recognize their transition. In fact, the country still suffers from rampant homophobia and prejudice. The film is protest art at its finest, giving its subjects a voice in order to effect change, both personally and nationally.

The Cine Gay Showcase also boasts an GLBT shorts program, and the larger San Diego Latino Film Festival will feature a special “Latinos on TV” panel to include actor Frankie J. Alvarez from the new gay-themed HBO series Looking. It all promises a muy caliente time at the movies this month!

Complete information and ticket sales can be accessed at the Cine Gay Showcase website.

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Ashes to Ashes

As awards season comes to an end (finally) and Christians prepare for Lent to begin, many are focusing on ashes, specifically those that will be smudged on their foreheads this Ash Wednesday by penitence-prescribing clergy. More religious moviegoers may feel inspired to see Son of God, the new theatrical feature whittled down from TV’s ratings-busting The Bible last season. When I think of ashes and current movies, though, I can’t help but mention Pompeii... even if I can’t recommend it very strongly.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (best known for the Resident Evil series) with some style but no particular flair, Pompeii has at its heart an overly-familiar story about a poor, enslaved gladiator named Milo (played by Kit Harington, who is blessed with abs to spare but little aptitude for facial expressions) and the privileged but reform-minded daughter (Sucker Punch’s Emily Browning) of the coastal title city’s leading citizens. Things heat up dramatically when the vicious Roman senator responsible for the death of Milo’s parents shows up, and they heat up literally once Mount Vesuvius begins to smolder and belch.

As the villainous Senator Corvus, Kiefer Sutherland seems to be having fun doing his best Laurence Olivier impression. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, so memorable from TV’s Oz and Lost, gives the most credible performance in the film as a fellow fighter who serves initially as Milo’s adversary but eventually becomes his best bud. However, Pompeii is a slog until Vesuvius blows its top in the second half, but then the digital mayhem quickly becomes routine and boring. Continuity problems also abound, i.e. one shot of the volcano with lava flowing down its slopes is followed a short time later by a lava-free shot, and when Corvus’ right-hand man Proculus (played by the hot Sasha Roiz, who played gay Sam Adama on Caprica) is seemingly left to die at the hands of enraged gladiators only to appear in the next scene without a scratch on him. Hardcore fans of Spartacus may find Pompeii enjoyable but few others will.

A much better new release dabbling in Lenten themes of death, sacrifice, sin and redemption is Stephen Sommers’ lively adaptation of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas. Koontz hasn’t had much success on the big screen, unlike fellow suspense novelist Stephen King. This film could change Koontz’s cinematic prospects if it gets a wider release.

Anton Yelchin, best known as Chekov in the new Star Trek movies, stars as a young man who can see ghosts and subsequently helps the police in his suburban California town solve the deceased’s previously-unsolved deaths. Thomas, understandably viewed as odd by his neighbors (hence the book and film’s title), begins to notice an increase in the local number of creepy, mostly invisible demons drawn to death known as Bodaks and soon deduces that a terrorist attack by a secretive satanic cult is in the works. “I may see dead people,” OT declares, “but then, by God, I do something about it.”

With his devoted girlfriend, Stormy (the pretty and engaging Addison Timlin), and sympathetic police chief (a nice turn by Willem Dafoe) on his side, Thomas hunts the would-be assassins down. In the process, though, he has to battle a zombie dubbed “Fungus Bob” (played by Broadway musical vet Shuler Hensley) as well as those hordes of Bodaks.

Director Sommers is best known for The Mummy franchise and, more recently, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. He is a master of special FX mayhem but here his style is, to the film’s ultimate advantage, up against a more limited budget. Pierre Buffin’s visual effects are still very impressive and I only detected a few instances of sloppy editing worthy of criticism. Odd Thomas features the best combination of scares, comedy, romance, eye-popping special effects and good ol’ sass since 1990’s Ghost. At any rate, it’s a lot better than 1996's The Frighteners. See it and enjoy.

The movie version of playwright Del Shores’ religion-tinged classic (at least in gay circles) Southern Baptist Sissies is also hitting theaters in Los Angeles and other US cities this week as Lent gets underway. To call it stagey is an understatement, since it is simply a filmed version of a performance of the play. As such, it is also overlong at 138 minutes without the benefit of an intermission and comes across as preachy and pedantic, the very things Shores is criticizing.

His semi-autobiographical plot centers on four young men growing up gay in their conservative, Southern Baptist church and their struggles to reconcile their sexuality with the church’s anti-gay teachings. Leslie Jordan and Ann Walker, veterans of Shores’ previous play and movie Sordid Lives, are on hand occasionally in funny but also extraneous scenes set in a gay bar.

Southern Baptist Sissies, the movie, has won a fair number of audience awards to date at various film festivals so I may be in the minority in terms of my less than enthusiastic opinion of it. I think I would actually prefer to attend a traditional Southern Baptist church service than have to sit through the film again. Consider it my penance.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Pompeii: C
Odd Thomas: A-
Southern Baptist Sissies: C-

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

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Men on Film: If We Picked the Oscars 2013

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

So without further ado, the envelope please...

The nominees for Best Picture are: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street.
And our winners would be:
CC: Out of all the Best Picture candidates, I most enjoyed the smart, sexy and zesty American Hustle and in any other year would probably vote for it. 12 Years a Slave though demands my vote as well as all Academy members’ votes, I feel, for its necessarily painful yet purgative and maybe even redemptive depiction of the darkest chapter in our nation’s history.
KH: No other film last year (actually, for many years) has been as viscerally powerful as the majestic, awe-inspiring Gravity. Emotionally draining and edge-of-your-seat thrilling, the box office sensation and instant classic is a filmmaking triumph on all levels (in other words, expect to see me name it a lot in the categories to follow).
Egregiously Overlooked: Prisoners.

The nominees for Best Actor are: Christian Bale in American Hustle, Bruce Dern in Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club.
And our winners would be:
CC: This is for me the strongest category this year, even if I wasn’t enamored by Dern’s turn in Nebraska. The other nominees turned in exceptional, risk-taking performances but none so much as Matthew McConaughey as a real-life straight Texan battling AIDS and his own homophobia in the riveting Dallas Buyers Club. His weight loss, though striking and much discussed, was the least of McConaughey’s dramatic achievements here. He’d get my vote.
KH: Surmounting a factually-questionable script, Matthew McConaughey is near unrecognizable, not just as his character (a desperate, dying man stubbornly hanging on to his life), but as the erstwhile Hollywood hunk of rom com fame.
Egregiously Overlooked: Terence Stamp in Unfinished Song.

The nominees for Best Actress are: Amy Adams in American Hustle, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Judi Dench in Philomena and Meryl Streep in August: Osage County.
And our winners would be:
CC: Cate Blanchett will be a deserved winner for her wrenching turn as a self-delusional southern belle in Blue Jasmine but I would be inclined to vote for Amy Adams, who shows her vast range as an actress in American Hustle. Whether hilarious, hostile, seductive, vulnerable, at the top of her con woman character’s game or on the losing end, Adams impresses more in 135 minutes than in all her previous films combined (with the exception of displaying her musical chops in Enchanted).
KH: Although it's hard to ignore Sandra Bullock's career best work, Cate Blanchett's role of a lifetime — a woman literally on the verge of a nervous breakdown — demands she get her inevitable (yet inarguably wholly-deserved) lead actress prize.
Egregiously Overlooked: Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks.
Oscar Trivia: Meryl Streep continues her reign as the most nominated actor in Oscar history with this, her 18th nomination. 

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper in American Hustle, Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave, Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.
And our winners would be:
CC: No discussion or, I feel, justification needed: Jared Leto, revelatory as Dallas Buyers Club’s unforgettable, heartbreaking Rayon.
KH: Jared Leto brings a tender humanity to his haunted, haunting performance as one of society's lost souls who just can't escape her own demons.
Egregiously Overlooked: Hugh Jackman in Prisoners.
Oscar Trivia: As opposed to last year, when each of the nominees in this category was a previous winner, this year's batch is comprised of actors all awaiting their first win.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave, Julia Roberts in August: Osage County and June Squibb in Nebraska.
And our winners would be:
CC: Like most of America, I loves me some J. Law and would vote for her neglected housewife with claws in American Hustle… if she hadn’t won the Best Actress Oscar just last year. But as I ponder the nominees in this category, I feel inclined to vote for Sally Hawkins, who did exceptional work as the less privileged but more resilient of the two sisters in Blue Jasmine.
KH: Heartbreakingly raw, newcomer Lupita Nyong'o quietly but powerfully stands out in the otherwise all-star cast of 12 Years a Slave.
Egregiously Overlooked: Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

The nominees for Best Director are: Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity, Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave, Alexander Payne for Nebraska, David O. Russell for American Hustle and Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street.
And our winners would be:
CC: I could be inclined to vote for David O. Russell’s terrific work on American Hustle but ultimately must go for Alfonso Cuarón’s technically and visually groundbreaking direction of Gravity, which still wisely kept the focus on Sandra Bullock’s very human reluctant cosmonaut.
KH: Alfonso Cuarón brilliantly crafted something truly unique: an intimate epic.
Egregiously Overlooked: Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips.
Oscar Trivia: History will be made in this category if either of the front-runners wins: Cuarón would be the first Latino winner, while McQueen would be the first black winner.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street.
And our winners would be:
CC: John Ridley brings Solomon Northup’s long-forgotten memoir 12 Years a Slave to frighteningly vivid life.
KH: Although I found the florid period language off-putting at times, there's no denying the harrowing potency of 12 Years a Slave.
Egregiously Overlooked: Blue is the Warmest Color.

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Nebraska.
And our winners would be:
CC: Written somewhat like an updated, racier version of Oscar winner The Sting, American Hustle is endlessly entertaining yet has some timely things to say about integrity, trust and survival.
Egregiously Overlooked: Gravity.
Oscar Trivia: With 16 nominations in this category, Woody Allen is the most nominated screenwriter in Oscar history. 

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and Prisoners.
And our winners would be:
CC: Gravity made one feel they were floating in space right alongside Sandra Bullock and George Clooney thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s breathtaking 3D achievement.
KH: Emmanuel Lubezki, previously nominated for such films as Children of Men and The Tree of Life, is long past due for the gold, and his stellar work on Gravity will finally bring it home for him.
Egregiously Overlooked: 12 Years a Slave.

The nominees for Best Production Design are: American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her and 12 Years a Slave.
And our winners would be:
CC: There is much to appreciate in Baz Luhrmann’s underrated adaptation of The Great Gatsby but Catherine Martin’s gorgeous sets are obviously and deservedly award-worthy.
KH: The title character's sprawling, party-filled mansion was practically a character itself in the gloriously gaudy The Great Gatsby.
Egregiously Overlooked: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby, The Invisible Woman and 12 Years a Slave.
And our winners would be:
CC: American Hustle took me right back to the late 1970’s thanks in large part to its characters’ groovy attire.
KH: Catherine Martin's frenzied flapper frocks and dapper dan duds were sartorial triumphs in The Great Gatsby.
Egregiously Overlooked: Oz the Great and Powerful.
Oscar Trivia: Catherine Martin previously won in these two categories for Moulin Rouge!, also directed by her husband Baz Luhrmann.  

The nominees for Best Original Score are: The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Philomena and Saving Mr. Banks.
And our winners would be:
CC: Alexandre Desplat’s resonant score was for me one of the few award-worthy aspects of Philomena.
KH: Relative newcomer Steven Price shows great promise with his atmospheric, evocative Gravity music.
Egregiously Overlooked: 12 Years a Slave.
Oscar Trivia: With 49 Oscar nominations, including this year's The Book Thief, John Williams is the second most-nominated person in Academy Award history, after Walt Disney (ironically, a character in competing film Saving Mr. Banks).

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Happy" from Despicable Me 2, "Let It Go" from Frozen, "The Moon Song" from Her and "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
And our winners would be:
CC: All of the nominees in this category are worthy, even the later disqualified “Alone Yet Not Alone,” and I love Pharrell Williams’ catchy “Happy” despite its rather repetitive refrain. But Frozen’s “Let It Go” is truly masterful and signals a great crossover from theatre to film for married composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon).
KH: Not since "Hakuna Matata" has a toon tune broken out as big as "Let It Go"... see all the YouTube covers and parodies to prove it. A stirring "coming out" anthem (think about it) with show-stopping vocals by Idina Menzel that has us in "can't wait" mode for her live performance on Oscar night.
Egregiously Overlooked: "Love is an Open Door" from Frozen.
Oscar Trivia: With three Tonys, two Emmys and a Grammy already, Robert Lopez is poised to be the newest (and youngest) EGOT.

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave.
And our winners would be:
CC: Captain Phillips was one of the most intense films of the year, second only to Gravity, largely due to its superior editing.
KH: I won't be defying Gravity of this one.
Egregiously Overlooked: Prisoners.

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis and Lone Survivor.
And our winners would be:
CC: I would vote for the cosmic orchestration of heavenly and earthly sounds employed in Gravity.
KH: We all know that in space, no one can hear you scream, so all we did and did not hear in Gravity is thanks to the expert sound crew.
Egregiously Overlooked: Frozen.

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Lone Survivor.
And our winners would be:
CC: I’m inclined to go with All is Lost because it is the only nomination this otherwise under-appreciated drama received.
KH: Got to go with Gravity again.
Egregiously Overlooked: Evil Dead.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger and Star Trek Into Darkness.
And our winners would be:
CC: As much as I admire the villainous dragon Smaug and many of the effects in The Hobbit chapter 2, I gotta go with the spectacular Gravity.
KH: From Méliès' A Trip to the Moon to Kubrick's 2001 to the Star Wars saga, there has been a long history of cinematic space spectacles; you can now add Gravity to that list of watershed events in visual effects.
Egregiously Overlooked: Man of Steel.

The nominees for Best Makeup & Hairstyling are: Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger.
And our winners would be:
CC: While my vote is deserved, I would have to vote here for Dallas Buyers Club no matter what since I haven’t seen the other nominees...
KH: ... but I have (thanks, Makeup Branch; and while I have your attention, how about upping the nominees to five already?). Frankly, the makeup in DBC is a bit too subtle, so I'm left with the one of the two Johnny's. I'll go with Depp's Old Tonto in Lone Ranger over Knoxville's saggy scrotum in Bad Grandpa.
Egregiously Overlooked: American Hustle.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Célestine, Frozen and The Wind Rises.
And our winners would be:
CC: While I wasn’t as enamored of it as many, Frozen would get my vote since it is the most visually ravishing and tuneful candidate.
KH: Well, count me among those completely enamored with Frozen, the only computer animation from the Mouse House to match their traditional classics such as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid.
Egregiously Overlooked: Monsters University.
Oscar Trivia: A Frozen victory would, amazingly, be the first win for a Disney-made film in this category.

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark), The Missing Picture (Cambodia) and Omar (Palestine).
And our winners would be:
CC/KH: We'd have to vote for The Hunt in this category since the other foreign nominees have somehow eluded us.
Egregiously Overlooked: Blue is the Warmest Color.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square and 20 Feet from Stardom.
And our winners would be:
CC: I was most impressed by the you-are-there immediacy of The Square, which chronicles first-hand the recent “Egyptian spring” uprisings.
KH: I'd be tempted to cast my vote for the vibrant 20 Feet from Stardom in the hopes that more entertaining, less somber nonfiction films would get some more love in this category in the future. Come on, Doc Branch, lighten up!
Egregiously Overlooked: God Loves Uganda.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short are: CaveDigger, Facing Fear, Karama Has No Walls, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life and Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall.
And our winners would be:
CC: Facing Fear, a powerfully moving depiction of the accidental reunion of and eventual reconciliation between a gay man and the former neo-Nazi skinhead who beat him nearly to death decades earlier.
KH: It's a (somewhat indelicate) cliché that Holocaust stories always win in the documentary categories. Nevertheless, the uplifting The Lady in Number 6 stands out for me.

The nominees for Best Animated Short are: Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Possessions and Room on the Broom.
And our winners would be:
CC: Disney’s stylistic mash-up Get a Horse! is a clever and very funny delight.
KH: In a year that includes an anime fable (Possessions), a hand drawn allegory (Feral) and the seemingly requisite annual steampunk entry (Mr. Hublot), it is nevertheless the most widely-seen (thanks to a theatrical pairing with Frozen) nominee, the entertainingly retro Get a Horse! that gets my vote.
Oscar Trivia: Although Walt Disney won a special Academy Award for the creation of Mickey in 1934, a cartoon starring the iconic mouse has never won an Oscar.

The nominees for Best Live Action Short are: Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me), Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Helium, Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) and The Voorman Problem.
And our winners would be:
CC: The unbearably but deliciously intense Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), in which a mother and her children hide out from their abusive husband and father.
KH: It's a very strong field this year, yet I'm a sucker for bittersweet tales like the lovely, winsome Helium, which would easily get my vote.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: In a performance that is borderline camp, Best Actress nominee Meryl Streep embarrassingly chews the scenery in August: Osage County.
KH: U2's Mandela them "Ordinary Love" is just that: ordinary. I'd take the nominated-yet-not nominated "Alone Yet Not Alone" any day over this irrelevant mediocrity.

And so the final march to Oscar glory begins. Tune in to the Big Show, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, on ABC this Sunday to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, most attractive escorts and most heartfelt acceptance speeches.