Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monthly Wallpaper: May 2014 - Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Feel the "girl power" this May when Movie Dearest says "Thank Heaven for Little Girls".

From Hermione to Hushpuppy, Wednesday to Wee Willie Winkie, and Gertie to Tootie, our favorite young actresses and the heroines they played are celebrated in this month's Calendar Wallpaper.

All you have to do is click on the picture above to enlarge it, then simply right click your mouse and select "Set as Background". (You can also save it to your computer and set it up from there if you prefer.) The size is 1024 x 768, but you can modify it if needed in your own photo-editing program.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reverend's Interview: From Rocky Horror to Dragula

Actor Barry Bostwick’s 45-year career has spanned theatre, film and television. He was the first to play T-Bird Danny Zuko in Broadway’s Grease and earned a Tony Award nomination in the process. He next starred on the big screen in the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show as Brad Majors, a naïve young man who with his fiancée Janet (an early performance by Susan Sarandon) crosses paths with a transsexual Transylvanian played by Tim Curry. Hundreds of movies and roles later, Bostwick is still going strong with recurring roles on TV’s Scandal, Cougar Town and Research.

He also steals the show in the delightful short film Dragula, which will premiere at this month’s Newport Beach Film Festival. As the title character, Bostwick appears in full drag, sings, dances and serves as mentor to an insecure teenager, Charlie (cute newcomer August Roads), struggling to find himself. Other big-name cast members are Cheyenne Jackson, Missi Pyle and Carmen Electra. The 69-year old Bostwick, a native of northern California, recently spoke with me from an appearance he was making on the east coast.

CC: Thanks so much for your time. Where are you now?
BB: I’m in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Mad Monster Convention with other cast members from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s coming up on its 40th anniversary so they flew me here along with Little Nell (Columbia in the film) from Australia and Patricia Quinn (Magenta) from England. It’s been great.

CC: How did you get involved with Dragula?
BB: (Producer and choreographer) Adam Shankman called me. I had done the Rocky Horror episode of Glee with him. I had fun with that and he thought of me for this. Adam is so talented, lively and fun to be around. (Dragula) is probably the last time anyone will want to see me in drag (laughter). It’s also the last time I will wear high heels. We couldn’t find a pair that fit me right, not even in the hooker shops on Hollywood Boulevard. Did my song (in the film) come out good?

CC: It’s great! You still have a great voice and you’ve still got legs.
BB: (Laughs) Well, thank you.

CC: Who is Dragula, exactly?
BB: He’s a guy who has been (performing in drag) his whole life and is still enthusiastic about his work but has kind of settled. He’s a very positive role model that I wanted to play. That’s really why I got involved. And I like that there’s no sexual tension between the kid and I. It’s much more universal, a bigger picture.

CC: How long did it take to make you up and shoot your part?
BB: I think I was only there two days and the makeup took the first 2 ½ hours. The makeup guy worked on the RuPaul show so he really knew his stuff. The wig I wore was huge! The costume was thrown together the night before, but by people who know how to throw things together.

CC: You have had a long and storied career. What do you consider some of the highlights so far?
BB: The original Danny Zuko in Grease was the first big hit I was in. It was really the first reflection of the time period (the 1950’s) and became the longest-running show on Broadway at the time. Probably Rocky Horror. It was groundbreaking in its gender-bending. The George Washington miniseries (1984), which confused people who only knew me as Brad Majors. And playing the mayor of Spin City for six years (1996-2002) and working with Michael (J. Fox) and Charlie (Sheen).

CC: Movie-going gay men of my age may have first noticed you in 1982’s Megaforce. Any thoughts you’d like to share about that?
BB: Because of that costume? (Laughter) It was gold lame’ or something. It’s funny, people at this convention come up to me either because of Rocky Horror or Megaforce. There’s even a big poster of Megaforce behind me. It was a long, big, jokey movie and I loved doing it. I wore a headband because (director) Hal Needham’s wife saw me in The Pirates of Penzance at the Ahmanson and I wore a headband that I tossed into the audience each night. She recommended me for the part of Ace Hunter.

CC: How do you feel about the Rocky Horror phenomenon nearly 40 years after the film premiered?
BB: I have such love for that movie, the people involved with it and the fans. I love the multi-generational aspect of it. Ten-year old kids come up to me and say “I just watched (Rocky Horror)” and I think, “My god, it’s on its third generation now!” I’m very proud of that movie and what it’s done in the gay community. It’s been life-saving in many aspects. (Bostwick contributed an interview to a new documentary, Rocky Horror Saved My Life, which will be released later this year.) Fans of the movie are so appreciative, so generous and so brave.

CC: That’s wonderful. Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
BB: Let’s see. I have a film coming out this summer, The Scorpion King: The Lost Throne. I hope to keep working because it gets me out of the house for a few hours each day. I love my life and my avocation in life is as a potter. I have a studio at home and make these little Buddhas you can buy in Malibu and Topanga Canyon. It’s my little escape from Hollywood.

The 2014 Newport Beach Film Festival, celebrating “15 Years Under the Influence,” will run April 24th-May 1st. Full details and ticket sales can be found online here. In addition to Dragula, a number of LGBT-themed short films will be screened:

  • Gaysian. An attractive, young, single gay man in Toronto encounters discrimination as a result of his Asian heritage.
  • Next Door Letters. Inspired by a true story, in which a prank two girls play on a friend proves a critical turning point in one of their lives.
  • Out. In less than 20 minutes, a down-on-his-luck everyman faces the prospect of losing his mother, his home and his closest personal secret.
  • Spooners. While shopping for a new mattress for himself and his husband, a man is forced to come out in a spectacular way at their local mattress showroom.
  • Alfredo’s Fire. A writer ignites troubling questions about the clash between faith and sexuality when he sets himself on fire in St. Peter’s Square.
  • A Last Farewell. In the wake of his husband’s death, an aging author must renew ties with his estranged daughter in order to find peace and move on.
  • Performing Girl. An autobiographical exploration of the life of queer, transgender, Sri Lankan-American actor-writer-director-comic D’lo Sri. That’s a lot of hyphens!

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Privates on Parade

Easter weekend is a time to celebrate new life and the fecundity of spring, and what better way to do that than with penises (other than going to church, of course). The Final Member, an odd but interesting documentary opening today in New York and other cities and next Friday in New York, provides a perfectly-timed opportunity.

Its subject is the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Opened in 1999, it currently serves as the world’s only collection of actual penises collected from throughout the animal kingdom and phallus-inspired art. My personal favorite among the art works is a hand-carved wooden, travel-size mini bar shaped like a penis! The museum’s founder and curator is Sigurdur “Siggi” Hjartarson, who discovered his first animal penis 40 years ago when he was 17. “My dad has been collecting penises for as long as I can remember,” notes Siggi’s daughter in the film. Today, his largest specimen is a 3-foot long portion of a sperm whale’s genitalia, while the smallest is from a hamster.

The main focus of The Final Member, and rationale for its title, is Siggi’s effort to secure one last, elusive piece: a human penis. He finds two potential donors. One is a 93-year old local man nearing the end of his life, Pall Arason, whose member meets the 5” minimal “legal length.” The other is a 60-year old American named Tom Mitchell. Mitchell is so eager to see his 7” penis (nicknamed “Elmo” and the subject of a comic book) on display that he is willing to have it surgically removed prior to his death. However, finding a doctor who is willing to do such a procedure for non-medically necessary purposes proves difficult. Even renowned gender-reassignment surgeon Marci Bowers, who is trans herself, is reluctant to remove Mitchell’s genitalia.

Producer-directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math take a somewhat tongue-in-cheek yet objective and sensitive approach to their film’s unusual subject matter. More than anything to do with biology or sexuality, The Final Member is most revealing of our human desire for immortality. For some men, it is apparently deeply satisfying to know that at least one small (or, in some cases, large) part of them will be preserved for posterity.

While we’re on the topic of male sexual organs, I couldn’t help but notice actor Pierre Perrier’s while recently watching the creepy-cool French miniseries The Returned (Les Revenants). The beautifully brooding, 30-year old Perrier plays one of several deceased townspeople who have been inexplicably resurrected and end up wreaking existential havoc for their still-breathing neighbors. It is much more complex and interesting (not to mention sexier) than ABC’s current, virtually identical Resurrection.

I remembered I had seen Perrier’s face (at least) somewhere before and ended up digging 2011’s American Translation out from my DVD pile. Available for a year or so now from TLA Releasing, Perrier stars in it as a homicidal, bisexual man who enlists his new American girlfriend (the similarly pretty Lizzie Brochere) as an accomplice. Like a more sexually-twisted Bonnie and Clyde, they roam the French countryside looking for male hustlers to serve as fresh victims.

Perrier is on full-frontal display at several points and engages in vigorous sex scenes with both Brochere and some of the men they meet. Written by Pascal Arnold (One to Another) and directed by Arnold with Jean-Marc Barr (perhaps best remembered as the star of Luc Besson’s 1988 underwater drama The Big Blue), the movie doesn’t really offer anything new or original in terms of plot. Watching Perrier, though, is well worth the price of a rental or purchase.

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Final Member: B
The Returned (Les Revenants): A-
American Translation: C+

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reverend’s Report: Godzilla, Gatsby & Greatness at TCM Fest 2014

The 5th annual TCM Classic Film Festival, which just concluded April 13th in Hollywood, also marked the 20th anniversary of cineastes’ cable channel of choice. True to form, the four-day event celebrated blockbusters and little-seen treasures as well as actors and filmmakers from the silent era through the 1960’s. Increasingly, though, a number of post-1970 movies are being showcased during each year’s fest, with 1995’s downright contemporary Mr. Holland’s Opus shown this year as part of a tribute to actor Richard Dreyfuss.

This year’s festival opened the night of April 10th with a stunningly restored digital transfer of 1955’s Oklahoma! All the more impressive on the Chinese Theater’s new IMAX screen, the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical stars a still-dreamy Gordon MacRae and served as a then-20 year old Shirley Jones’ film debut. Jones, who just turned 80 and looks great, was on hand to discuss the production as well as its follow up, Carousel. She revealed to the scandalized delight of the crowd that Frank Sinatra was initially cast as Billy Bigelow in Carousel but bowed out at the last minute and flew to Africa, where his wife at the time, Ava Gardner, was allegedly having an affair with Clark Gable on a movie set. Jones subsequently called MacRae and asked him to fill in for Sinatra. MacRae reportedly responded with “Give me three days; I’ve got to lose ten pounds!”

I devoted myself to screenings of a handful of films rarely shown on the big screen. One of them, the Alan Ladd-starring 1949 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, hasn’t been shown in any format anywhere since 1974. Paramount pulled all exhibition rights to the movie that year in light of their pricey, soon-to-be-released remake starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Ladd’s version is an interesting, film noir-ish take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age novel. Of particular note, It was produced and the screenplay co-written by Richard Maibaum, who would go on to write many of the James Bond movies. Maibaum and company take some liberties with the source material but Ladd, best remembered today in the title role of 1953’s Shane, gives an exceptionally sensitive performance as the lovelorn millionaire. Ladd was also in his physical prime at the time of Gatsby’s filming and sports a form-fitting period swimsuit in two scenes. The excellent supporting cast includes Shelley Winters in one of her first screen roles, the great Howard Da Silva and a delightfully sardonic Ruth Hussey. Now that Paramount is allowing this version to be shown again after 40 years in the vault, watch for it to be broadcast on TCM in the not too distant future. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as last year’s over-the-top Baz Luhrmann production, it is certainly better than the dreadfully dull 1974 adaptation.

Having only ever seen the heavily edited, Americanized version of Japan’s 1954 monster classic Godzilla (a.k.a. Gojira) and its numerous campy sequels/remakes, I couldn’t miss the world premiere on April 12th of a beautifully restored Godzilla: The Japanese Original. This deadly serious depiction of a rampaging behemoth awakened by post-World War II nuclear testing in the Pacific obviously served at the time of its release as a metaphor for the unexpected damage endured by Hiroshima and Nagasaki nine years prior. Despite the film’s obvious and dated special effects, Godzilla remains potent in this regard as well as in light of more recent, tsunami-caused destruction in Japan and other parts of the world. In an inspired nod to the 60-year reign of the “King of the Monsters”, young director Gareth Edwards was invited to speak before the premiere about the character’s history and the big-screen “rebirth” he helmed that will be released next month. Wittily taking note that he was seated before an audience not exactly friendly to remakes, he assured attendees his version is a similarly serious take and that Godzilla “will not be doing any highland kicks” before adding jokingly “he does more of a can-can.”

Another rarely-shown movie I had never seen was 1947’s A Matter of Life and Death, conceived by fantasists Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger of The Red Shoes fame. Released and better known in the US as Stairway to Heaven, it stars David Niven as a World War II fighter pilot who bails out of his crashing plane without a parachute and miraculously washes up on a beach alive. But should he be? That is the question debated in Heaven by a celestial tribunal and a number of the pilot’s fallen comrades when Heaven’s projected number of new arrivals comes up one short. Niven, his new girlfriend (Kim Hunter) and a kindly doctor initially doubt the pilot’s sanity when he begins to report visits from a mysterious Frenchman who claims to be Heaven-sent (the campily marvelous Marius Goring, so memorable as the creepy shoemaker in The Red Shoes). Eventually, Niven’s physical health and potentially-premature salvation are put on trial. Powell’s widow, the Oscar-winning film editor and regular Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker, introduced the fest screening and noted this was her husband’s favorite out of all his acclaimed films. Beautifully directed, designed (especially the massive, working escalator that links Heaven and Earth), photographed and acted, A Matter of Life and Death is a must-see for both classic and contemporary film buffs.

As is the case every year at the TCM Classic Film Festival, more great movies are shown (and often simultaneously) over four days than any one person can take in. Thankfully, we have the TCM channel and a growing number of restored classic films on home video to help make up for what fest-goers and those unable to attend missed. Here’s to another twenty years — at least — of TCM!

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Great Gatsby (1949): B
Godzilla: The Japanese Original: B
A Matter of Life and Death: A-

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reverend's Preview: 25 Years to Be GLAAD

For a quarter of a century, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has recognized and honored each year's media achievements in presenting fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the LGBT community and the issues that affect our lives. Having grown to 20 English-language categories and 9 Spanish-language categories, the annual GLAAD Media Awards are today celebrated bi-coastally each spring in both Los Angeles and New York City.

This year's LA edition will be held tomorrow at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Singer-actress Jennifer Lopez will be honored with GLAAD's Vanguard Award, which is presented to artists "who, through their work, have increased the visibility and understanding of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community." Lopez currently serves as an Executive Producer on The Fosters, a GLAAD Media Award-nominated TV series that focuses on a lesbian couple and their children, as well as a judge on American Idol.

Among other honorees and special guests at the April 12th event will be cast members of The Fosters, Kelly Osbourne and GLAAD National Spokespersons Wilson Cruz and Omar Sharif, Jr. The director and subject of one of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2013, Bridegroom, will also be in attendance. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who in addition to Bridegroom created the classic TV series Designing Women, is to be joined by Shane Bitney Crone. The documentary depicts the numerous hardships Crone faced following the untimely death of his boyfriend, Tom Bridegroom.

Crone chatted with Reverend via e-mail about his and Bridegroom's growing recognition.

REV: How were you first approached about making your video journal into a documentary movie?
SBC: About a month after I posted my YouTube video, which went viral, I was approached by writer/director Linda Bloodworth Thomason. She convinced me that my story needed to be told and that she wanted to be the one to turn it into a feature length documentary. We both agreed that personal stories are the most effective way of opening hearts and minds. She wanted people to come face to face with who and what they are opposing, which essentially is love.

REV: What was the experience of making Bridegroom like for you personally?
SBC: Working on the documentary was hard at times. I was forced to revisit the darkest period of my life and, although it definitely opened up some wounds, overall it was a very cathartic and healing experience for me. I'm grateful to Linda for encouraging me to take an active role in making the film. I’m so proud of it and am beyond thankful that I will have a permanent, tangible testament to Tom and the love we shared.

REV: Did you expect the movie to become so well-received, even winning honors from critics groups and GLAAD?
SBC: Linda and I definitely did not anticipate as much success as we have had. With a limited budget we set out to make a simple, relatable, moving film that focused on the love story and not the politics. We were beyond thrilled and honored to have Bridegroom premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, where we won the Audience Award for best documentary. Bridegroom won the Audience Award at nearly every festival at which it screened, received amazing reviews from most of the major trade magazines, and was named Best Documentary at the 2013 Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics' Dorian Awards. We are also very humbled by our recent GLAAD nomination. Accolades aside, Bridegroom has achieved the greatest accomplishment of all: opening people’s hearts and minds and inspiring others to fight for equal rights.

REV: Have you gotten any negative feedback from viewers or from Tom's family? If so, what has been your response to them?
SBC: Marriage equality and LGBT rights are such polarizing social issues, so we knew that the film would not impress or receive great reviews from everyone. We got many hateful messages and comments from people, but that feedback was minimal compared to all of the positive and warm responses. People have said that the film gave them hope and literally stopped them from taking their own life. As cliché as it sounds, the fact that we were able to reach even just one person is rewarding and makes it easy to ignore the opposition. We wanted Tom’s family to participate in the documentary but his parents never responded. Dozen of Tom's relatives have seen the film though and have told me that they are proud of it and support me, for which I'm tremendously grateful.

REV: I understand you have been traveling quite a bit, showing and discussing the film with students and other audiences. How has that experience been?
SBC: I recently started a college screening tour, which has truly been an amazing experience. I’ve been given the opportunity to travel all over the country, meeting people and hearing other young people’s personal stories. I’m so inspired by these organizations and students; they are working hard to promote equal rights and celebrate diversity on their respective campuses. It gives me great hope that future generations will live in a world filled with more love and tolerance.

REV: More personally, have you had a romantic relationship with anyone since Tom's passing? If not, do you envision yourself in one in the future, or is it still too soon for you to even think about it?
SBC: For a long period of time following Tom's passing, the thought of falling in love again made me sick. As I’ve healed over the years though, I’ve come to realize that I am still so young and the probability of falling in love again is likely. If it’s meant to happen, it will. I hope I will love again, but right now I'm focused on sharing my story, spreading awareness, and learning to love myself.

REV: What are your future plans for Bridegroom? Will it be available on DVD or online streaming? You've also mentioned it may be adapted into a stage play.
SBC: Bridegroom premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) last October and since then has become available on Netflix, iTunes, and at Redbox kiosks. A lot of people have encouraged me to write a book and I have been approached by a handful of people who believe that the story should be adapted into a play. I can’t say for sure where or how the story of Bridegroom will end but I plan on doing whatever it takes to continue opening people’s hearts and minds. Part of that includes exploring alternative avenues and mediums that could potentially reach more people.

REV: With your newfound Bridegroom fame, do you see yourself pursuing a future in show business or do you have other career plans?
SBC: I definitely don't consider myself famous, but I am aware that I have an invaluable opportunity and an unexpected platform to reach a lot of people. I have no intentions of pursuing a career in show business but I am open to producing more documentaries about issues that inspire me. I also hope I can continue traveling and speaking to young people.

REV: Any advice for readers who may have suffered a similar loss or experience as you have since Tom's death and his family's reaction to you?
SBC: Losing my partner Tom showed me that life is fragile and you never know when it might be your last day. We owe it to all of the friends, family members and strangers who are no longer with us to live our lives proudly and shamelessly. I've spent most of my life living in fear and holding myself back from truly being free. Don't do what I did; don’t give power to your unfortunate circumstances or to people who try to minimize or degrade you. Stand up for what you believe in, be proud of who you are and do what makes you happy, because tomorrow isn't promised.

For more information about the GLAAD Media Awards, visit the GLAAD website.

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: HUMP Day

Spring has sprung and, in the greater Los Angeles area, film festivals are in full bloom. Not only will this weekend bring both the 5th edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival and the 12th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) to Hollywood, but Dan Savage’s HUMP! Film Festival spotlighting amateur pornographic short films will make a stop on its inaugural national tour this Saturday, April 12th, at the historic Art Theater in Long Beach.

I’m not in the habit of reviewing porn but HUMP! caught my attention for several reasons. First, founder and sponsor Savage is a reputable, openly gay author and sex advice columnist whose writings are well regarded. Second, the Art Theater is two blocks from my apartment. If that wasn’t convenient enough (and the third reason the fest caught my attention), the HUMP! rep was kind enough to reach out to me personally and send me the film lineup for online viewing in advance. In keeping with the festival’s requirements, all of the films are no more than five minutes in length and all were made by amateur filmmakers living in the Pacific Northwest. I am forbidden, however, from putting any of the filmmakers’ or cast members’ names in print.

Although the technical quality of the shorts understandably varies, they are almost uniformly smarter, funnier and more genuinely revealing of human sexuality than commercial pornography. Their subjects and participants run the gamut from hetero to gay and lesbian, trans, a disabled woman and even a randy animated centaur! Few kinks are left unexplored, including bondage, dildos and toys, Dungeons & Dragons, food fetishes and fire play (ouch). A few of my personal favorites:

  • The Legend of Gabe Harding, a very funny mockumentary about the late, master “fluffer” behind (or, more accurately, in front of) the success of virtually every male porn performer, gay and straight.
  • Edged, an intense, sexy depiction of one man’s control over another that somehow ends up dedicated to the memory of Golden Girl Estelle Getty.
  • Mythical Proportions: Centaur Love in Contemporary America, in which three women hilariously discuss their sexual attraction to the title creature.
  • Krutch, which is little more than a very well-shot exposé of a physically-disabled woman as she makes her way around town and masturbates at home but serves as an important reminder that disabled people, so often overlooked, have sexual feelings and desires too.
  • Music for 2 Humans, wherein a beautiful straight couple has vigorous sex accompanied by a lovely piano score.
  • Go F--- Yourself, a gay-ish, Terminator-esque time travel spoof.
  • E.T. 2: Dark Territory, an animated trailer to a faux sequel about the X-rated reunion of everyone’s favorite alien with his all-grown-up friend, Elliot. Spielberg would not approve but would probably still laugh heartily.

The HUMP! program will be traveling to other US cities throughout this summer. Visit their website for other tour dates and details.

Many film festivals and LGBT filmmakers lost a good friend on March 31st with the sudden, unexpected death of longtime publicist Lewis Tice at the age of 44. Most recently affiliated with TLA Releasing, Lewis championed a vast number of indie directors and their work as well as those of us journalists who covered them. I never had the pleasure of meeting Lewis in person but we enjoyed a friendly online correspondence over the last eight years and he was very supportive of my writing, for which I will always be appreciative.

I figured the best way Movie Dearest and I could pay tribute to Lewis would be by reviewing the new Blu-rayof out director Gregg Araki’s acclaimed Mysterious Skin, which Lewis helped rep during its Sundance premiere ten years ago, as well as several of TLA’s more recent home video releases.

Based on the novel by Scott Heim, Mysterious Skin details the disturbing travails of two young men struggling to come to terms with the sexual abuse inflicted on them as boys by their little league coach. Brian (played by Brady Corbet) believes he was abducted by aliens whereas Neil (a pre-stardom Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has become a prostitute. Araki masterfully shows the initial denial and eventual connecting of dots that many real-life abuse victims experience, alternating between mesmerizing, appropriately dream-like moments and scenes of brutally harsh reality. The 10th anniversary Blu-ray transfer's high definition heightens these qualities. The film pulls no punches but builds to a beautiful, Christmas Eve scene of reconciliation and healing. Gordon-Levitt and Corbet are both excellent.

Tell No One, now on DVDfrom TLA, is an amusing if occasionally overwrought comedy from Italy about a young gay man's inability to come out to his family even as a visit from his Spanish boyfriend looms. The boys are cute, the in-the-know supporting characters are funny, and the family members are ultimately (as usual) more understanding than expected. Tell No One doesn't offer much that is new but provides a pleasant 97 minutes.

Meanwhile, gay filmmaker Todd Verow returns with the new DVDTumbledown. Taking a cue from the Japanese classic Rashomon, Verow explores an ill-fated gay love triangle from the differing perspectives of its three participants (one of whom is played by Verow). The attractive cast members aren't the best actors, unfortunately, which undermines the film's attempts to build tension. Also, the climax is thoroughly underwhelming.

The best new DVDfrom TLA is the Australian drama Monster Pies. Written and directed by Lee Galea and seemingly set in the early 1990's (movies are still on VHS and there isn't a cell phone in sight), it focuses on two high school boys who are paired up by their English teacher and charged with creating a modern-day interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Mike (Tristan Barr) and Will (Lucas Linehan) hit on the idea of telling the classic story as a black & white horror film, with the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster as the star-crossed lovers. Life gradually imitates art and finds the boys falling in love with each other. Despite some weepy teen angst trappings and a bittersweet ending, Monster Pies is worth checking out.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Mysterious Skin: A-
Tell No One: B
Tumbledown: C
Monster Pies: B

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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Of Muppets and Myths

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, now playing worldwide, received quite the pre-release beating by Bible thumpers (most of whom hadn’t actually seen the movie, of course) concerned that it took liberties with the source material. Little do they know, I suspect, that the classic account of a noble man and his family saving the birds and beasts from a cataclysmic flood designed to wipe out the dregs of humanity actually predates the Bible. Other, non-Judeo-Christian traditions record the story, notably the Mesopotamians and even the Mayans of Central America. It ultimately, therefore, must be considered a myth even in light of some historical evidence indicating a massive flood did occur between 7,000-10,000 years ago in what is today the area between eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The talented Aronofsky clearly understands the power of myth and its relation to religious belief systems. All myths contain or reflect truthful elements on which many scriptural, cultural and political stories rely; George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, anyone? This brings me to the needlessly controversial but happily successful Noah, which has earned nearly $150 million at the global box office in little over a week. While incorporating all that is contained in a relatively brief chapter of the Old Testament’s book of Genesis, the screenplay by Aronofsky and Ari Handel, necessarily draws from non-biblical sources and even hypothesizes a thing or two.

An impressive, Oscar-winning trio heads the film’s cast. Russell Crowe portrays the title prophet as faithful to a fault in his adherence to what he understands to be God’s will. Charged with building a massive ark in which to shelter “the innocents” of creation, i.e. anything not human, Noah also believes he and his family are destined to die out once their mission is complete. This seems assured by the fact that the sole female on the ark apart from Noah’s wife (Jennifer Connelly, reunited with her co-star from A Beautiful Mind) is barren. Noah is understandably baffled at first but becomes disturbingly righteous once he learns his adopted daughter (Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, very good) has conceived a child with Noah’s oldest son thanks to a pre-flood intervention by his blessed grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, completing the Academy Award-pedigreed triumvirate).

Noah’s first half is visionary and highly entertaining, enhanced by impressive CGI effects of rising floodwaters, stone-encrusted fallen angels turned ship-building allies, and all manner of critters (although the rendering of a famous dove who ultimately discovers dry land reminded me of the Aflac duck). I was also struck by Michael Wilkinson’s “Old Testament chic” costumes. The plot becomes pure soap opera once the ark is underway, thanks especially to the inclusion of a fabricated stowaway: Tubal-cain (effectively played by Ray Winstone), no-good son of the brother-slaying Cain. His conniving presence and efforts to turn Noah’s disgruntled middle son against his father smack of nothing so much as Dr. Smith from Lost in Space and carry about as much weight. Fortunately, the script rebounds once the flood has ended and everyone is on dry land again.

In addition to recognition of his latest film’s technical achievements, Aronofsky deserves more credit than he has received from believers thus far for making a serious, unabashedly religious epic. He has dealt with spiritual-religious themes before in Pi and his underrated The Fountain, so Aronofsky’s interest in the Noah story seems refreshingly consistent and organic rather than some self-indulgent fluke. Naysayers should take heed, lest an angry deity dump a bucket of water on your head.

Curiously, Noah and another, decidedly less reverent current movie share an actor. Frank Langella voices the lead fallen-angel Watcher in the former while also appearing as the Archbishop of Canterbury in Muppets Most Wanted. Langella is one of a slew of big-name cameos in this enjoyable sequel, following in the tradition of 1979’s original The Muppet Movie and immediate predecessor The Muppets.

Muppets Most Wanted picks up right where the last film ended, finding Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear & Co. already in production on their follow up. Following a terrific opening song/production number — appropriately titled “We’re Doing a Sequel” — the gang runs afoul of Constantine, a criminal mastermind recently escaped from a Siberian gulag who bears an uncanny resemblance to Kermit. Constantine’s Number 2 (a genuinely amusing Ricky Gervais) conspires to become manager of the Muppets’ world tour while Kermit is replaced by Constantine and shipped off to the gulag. The world tour serves as a front for the villains to collect hidden artifacts they need from various museums in order to steal London’s fabled Crown Jewels.

Like many critics and Muppets fans of a certain age, I appreciated 2011’s The Muppets as both a nostalgic throwback and a hopeful reboot for a new generation. However, it struck me at times as heavy-handed in its treatment of the felt-covered protagonists’ past as well as its focus on excessive human characters played by Jason Segel and Amy Adams. Muppets Most Wanted takes a welcome, lighter approach and wisely puts the Muppets front and center again. Kermit still seems more morose than he has been historically but it is fun to see him with Tina Fey, as the gulag’s warden, and a chorus of hardened criminals that includes Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo, Stanley Tucci and… Josh Groban?!?

Bret McKenzie, who deservedly won a Best Song Oscar for the last film’s “Man or Muppet,” returns with more and frequently better compositions. Highlights in addition to the opening number are Miss Piggy’s “Something So Right,” which ends up being a hilarious duet with Celine Dion; Constantine’s “I’m Number One” (performed with Mr. Gervais) and disco-flavored “I’ll Get You What You Want”; “Interrogation Song,” performed by Ty Burrell in a very funny turn as a French Interpol agent; and the “Together Again” finale, which includes every Muppet and human star featured in the film. Yes, even Frank Langella. Muppets Most Wanted is a superior sequel.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Noah: B
Muppets Most Wanted: B+

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