Friday, May 23, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Rage and Devastation

Its official: Ryan Murphy is the new Barbra Streisand. I don’t know if Murphy can sing although, given his success with Glee, I expect he can at least carry a tune. But the producer-director has finally succeeded, where previous rights owner Streisand failed, in bringing Larry Kramer’s celebrated 1985 play, The Normal Heart, to the screen. It premieres this Sunday, May 25th, on HBO.

Kramer, in addition to being a playwright and screenwriter (including the derided 1973 musical version of Lost Horizon), became one of the loudest and angriest voices in New York City during the initial years of the AIDS crisis. While watching his gay friends die at an exponential rate, Kramer formed the pioneering Gay Men’s Health Crisis organization in 1982. He and his associates raised money for medical care, pushed for greater research into the then-mysterious virus, and agitated against local and national government leaders to have them recognize HIV/AIDS for the epidemic that it was.

The Normal Heart largely recounts Kramer’s experiences from 1981 to 1984. Lead character Ned Weeks (a superb Mark Ruffalo) essentially serves as Kramer’s surrogate and viewers’ tour guide through the devastation. The movie opens during a typically hedonistic holiday on Fire Island, where by weekend’s end AIDS has begun to rear its ugly head. More deaths follow and Ned is led to Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts, still in de-glammed but effective August: Osage County mode). The compassionate, polio-afflicted Brookner is seemingly the only doctor at the time to even care that gay men are suddenly dropping like flies, and she reserves a private wing for the stricken at a nearby hospital. Finding nurses and others willing to enter the quarantined wing and care for them, however, proves a battle.

Convinced by the good doctor that gay men are spreading the virus through unprotected sex, Ned sets out to “scare the shit” out of his friends in an effort to stop them from having sex until the disease’s transmission can be better understood. His pleas fall on deaf ears at first but, over time, abstinence and the newly-coined “safe sex” prove themselves to be life-saving precautions. Ned also gains the opportunity to practice what he preaches when he unexpectedly falls in love with Felix, a closeted newspaper editor (played by openly gay Matt Bomer). Sadly, however, the precautions prove to be too late for Felix. The stakes become personal for Ned as he watches his lover waste away, which only makes Ned angrier and more aggressive with his frequently alienating tactics.

Murphy apparently enlisted nearly every out gay actor of the modern era for his lovingly-realized version of The Normal Heart, which was adapted by Kramer himself. In addition to Bomer, parts are assumed by Jim Parsons, BD Wong, Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare and, in a thoughtful nod, Angels in America veterans Stephen Spinella and Joe Mantello. The only out performers conspicuously absent to my eye are Neil Patrick Harris and Richard Chamberlain. Straight actors Taylor Kitsch, survivor of the big-screen debacles John Carter and Battleship, and Alfred Molina are strong in other roles.

Kramer’s screenplay powerfully retains Ned’s anger but the scenes where Ned exhibits it tend to get repetitive on film. The script also adds some superfluous characters and moments that make the film a tad overlong at 135 minutes. It boasts great performances though and lovely directorial touches that make this Normal Heart movie well worth the nearly 30-year wait, even as more than 36 million people worldwide (most of them heterosexual) have died of AIDS. Kramer & Co.’s anger remains thoroughly justified.

Godzilla is back in a big way, no pun intended, and seems at once more wrathful than ever yet more zen-like in his latest incarnation. The ancient, radioactivity-charged beast is awakened by a pair of prehistoric parasites dubbed MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) by intrigued scientists and incredulous military leaders. Themselves roused from their hibernation by Filipino miners, the initially separated MUTOs set a course for San Francisco in order to mate. A military squadron, powerless against them, is tracking the creatures but so is the big G. A climactic, city-squashing smackdown becomes inevitable.

Young British director Gareth Edwards proves to have been a good choice to helm this “rebirth,” as he prefers to call it, given the similarly thoughtful treatment Edwards gave to the massive alien invaders in his last (and first) feature, Monsters. But relatively new screenwriter Max Borenstein wasn’t as inspired a pick to write the new Godzilla, given its protracted and largely disconnected first act involving a nuclear plant meltdown survivor turned conspiracy theorist played by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston. Cranston is great and becomes sorely missed once the bulk of the movie is handed over to hunky but dull Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays the long-alienated soldier son of Cranston’s character.

Of course, the real star here or in any Godzilla movie is its towering namesake. Once he appears in his entirety for the first time during an initial fight with one of the MUTOs at the Honolulu International Airport, the movie catches fire and hardly lets up. The special effects are stunning, especially in IMAX 3D, and the opening weekend audience I viewed the film with went wild and cheered when Godzilla first displays his famed radioactive breath as well as at the film’s conclusion. I also admired the film’s take on the title monster as “nature’s balance” who charges to the fore whenever that balance is disrupted. Despite his advanced age and what some Japanese fans are decrying as his “pudgy” appearance (although the new film hasn’t yet opened in Japan), Godzilla clearly has a lot of life left in him.

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Normal Heart (HBO): B+
Godzilla (2014): B

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Monster Mash

Godzilla may be the biggest monster on movie screens this weekend, both in terms of its title creature’s size and box office projections, but he won’t be alone among resurrected classics in Los Angeles. An even older movie monster is making a special appearance May 16th -22nd at LA’s Cinefamily, namely Nosferatu, aka Count Dracula in Werner Herzog’s well-regarded 1979 remake of F.W. Murnau’s silent horror film.

1979 marked a cinematic resurgence of vampire stories. In addition to Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (“Phantom of the Night”), that summer saw the release of John Badham’s sexed-up version of Dracula starring Frank Langella, the George Hamilton spoof Love at First Bite and, to a lesser extent, the bat-attack horror movie Nightwing. The Herzog production was easily the best received critically and, 35 years later, remains the best remembered.

Its limited run at the Cinefamily will spotlight a new 35 mm print of the German-language version of Nosferatu. Herzog shot two different films simultaneously, one in English and the other in his native German. Only the English-language cut was exhibited in the United States, so this weekend in LA presents a rare opportunity to see the version most personal to Herzog and many of the cast members on the big screen. Herzog will also be in attendance at Friday’s opening night screening.

Heading the cast is the great (if by most accounts eccentric and unpredictable) Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula. Despite a love-hate relationship between the two men, Kinski and Herzog made several films together including Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) and my personal favorite of all Herzog’s films, Fitzcarraldo (1982). Nosferatu marked their third collaboration. Kinski endured four hours of makeup application each day in order to resemble Murnau’s original, rat-like vision of the character, who was famously portrayed in the 1922 version by Max Schreck. While remaining strong and seductive (to both women and men), Kinski makes the king of vampires both more comical and more genuinely pathetic than in any other Dracula movie to date. Kinski’s world-weary take may evoke tears from viewers, especially when he says things like “Cruel is when you can’t die even when you want to.”

Bruno Ganz and Isabelle Adjani, who both went on to become big names, play hero Jonathan Harker and his beloved wife, Lucy. The lovely Adjani possesses a beauty that proves ultimately necessary to transfix and destroy the vampire. Other standouts in Herzog’s cast include Roland Topor as Dracula’s insane manservant, Renfield, and Walter Ladengast as Dr. Van Helsing, who is much more devoted to science here than in other film versions of the Bram Stoker’s story.

Herzog, cinematographer Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein and production designer Henning von Gierke conjure a near-endless stream of arresting images: bats flying in slo-mo and scaling draperies; Dracula’s rat-infested ship arriving in the city of Wismar (actually Delft and Schiedam, Netherlands); the amazing Czech mountains that fill in for Transylvania; processions of coffins through the city square; not to mention a fabulous wine glass and skeleton-laden cuckoo clock during Harker’s dinner at Castle Dracula.

The film’s ending will likely prove unexpected to viewers more accustomed to the classic Bela Lugosi Dracula or Francis Ford Coppola’s florid 1992 version. I also had difficulty with the at times confusing time frame or continuity in Herzog’s Nosferatu, possibly the result of his fairly limited budget. Given the option though of Nosferatu’s brief LA re-release or the new, sure to be around awhile Godzilla, I’d go with the first monster.

Reverend’s Rating:
Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht: B+

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Holding the (Spider) Man

Australia’s best-known gay coming of age/AIDS play has made it to America’s west coast. Holding the Man — dramatized in 2006 from Timothy Conigrave’s 1995, award-winning memoir — opened May 10th as the inaugural production of the Australian Theatre Company (ATC). It is running through June 29th at Los Angeles’ 99-seat Matrix Theatre.

Generally riveting if occasionally excessive, Tommy Murphy’s script recounts the 15-year love affair between aspiring actor Conigrave and star athlete John Caleo in fairly straightforward, chronological fashion. From Conigrave’s coming out and Catholic schoolboy crush on Caleo, through Caleo’s eventual reciprocation of Conigrave’s affections and gradual acceptance of his own homosexuality, to both men’s untimely deaths from AIDS, Holding the Man leaves few stones unturned. While frequently very funny, their story is heartbreaking in the end. A friend who accompanied me to opening night and who had nursed his partner prior to his cancer-related death several years ago was largely unable to speak after the performance, so deeply moved was he by the play’s emotional familiarity.

The LA production’s all-Australian cast is superb. Nate Jones (interviewed here earlier this month) effectively channels Conigrave’s widely reported but endearing mix of boyish enthusiasm, narcissism and tactlessness. As Caleo, handsome Adam J. Yeend stunningly approximates the ravages of AIDS through his fairly simple employment of oversized clothing, a halting gait, and the climactic revelation of a shaved head beneath the hairpiece he wears for most of the show. The remaining cast members — Cameron Daddo, Luke O’Sullivan, Adrienne Smith and Roxane Wilson — play a total of 47 characters of both genders with impressive, often comical virtuosity.

Under director Larry Moss, the production may be pitched too high in terms of both the actors’ energy and volume. Some lines were spoken too quickly to be understood, and the dialogue during even quiet moments was seemingly shouted out. This could have been unique to opening night and the cast members’ excitement but, if not, I believe it will benefit audiences and all concerned if the cast brings it down a notch in future performances. A second criticism is the production’s odd use of two puppets, a miniature Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and a full-size male AIDS patient. Whether the script calls for them or Moss introduced them here, they struck me as unnecessary. The use of the man-with-AIDS puppet during Caleo’s death scene could even be construed as insulting to Yeend, since he remains on stage and provides the puppet’s diminishing “respirations.” Couldn’t Yeend have remained in bed and acted his character’s decline to its bitter end? I don’t see how that would be in any way less effective than the puppet.

There were a number of Australians in the audience opening night and they were obviously, warmly familiar with Holding the Man as evidenced by their hearty laughter and proud ovations. It is by no means a play only for gay theatergoers. Despite this production’s perceived shortcomings, anyone who has experienced love and loss will find much to appreciate.

Love and loss also figure prominently in the current movie blockbuster, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In fact, they end up figuring too prominently and ultimately detract from what would otherwise be an enjoyable comic book romp. Spidey/Peter Parker, once again embodied by the sleek and sly Andrew Garfield, is still grappling with his mysterious abandonment as a youngster by his birth parents as well as the more recent death of his beloved Uncle Ben. He is also haunted, quite literally, by the specter of his girlfriend’s police chief father (Denis Leary), to whom Parker made a solemn promise to stay away from his daughter, Gwen (Emma Stone). Alas, Peter hasn’t exactly been keeping his promise.

The forces of evil, meanwhile, continue to grow in good old NYC. Whereas the seemingly omnipotent Oscorp increasingly serves as their umbrella organization, the individual baddies here are Electro (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx in misunderstood yet sinister mode); Aleksei Sytsevich (Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti), who will become Spidey’s classic nemesis The Rhino by film’s end; and the Green Goblin, a.k.a. Peter’s former bestie Harry Osborn, now played by Dane DeHaan instead of James Franco.

Despite the number of villains and conspiracies at work in the screenplay (which is credited to no less than four writers), they actually aren’t what makes this film an overlong and wearying 2 ½ hours. Rather, it is the script’s continuous stream of break up/make up/miscommunicate/don’t communicate moments between Peter and Gwen that pad the running time. And while Garfield and Stone have charisma to spare, both individually and when together (they are a couple in real life too), their dialogue here often seems improvised and too cutesy. A leaner script and/or more judicious editing in regard to their relationship would have made a better movie.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler at this point to say things don’t end well for Gwen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. While I’ll miss Emma Stone in the unavoidable sequel already set for 2016, unless she makes a cameo as a glaring ghost à la Leary, I pray part 3 won’t include a romance for Peter handled as over-indulgently as the one here. Yes, Mary Jane Watson (reportedly to be played by Divergent’s Shailene Woodley), I’m thinking of you.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Holding the Man: B
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: C+

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: VOD, DVD, OMG

As digital presentation of new movies is overtaking theaters, so too digital versions are gradually replacing costlier DVDs. The conversion to VOD (video on demand) is happening even more quickly for film critics, as we are more often than not being sent online screener links rather than DVDs for our review of films prior to their theatrical release. Some of us love the online option because it allows us to watch a movie whenever and wherever we like as long as we have an Internet connection. It also is a valuable effort in the fight against film piracy. However, others among us, myself included, are bemoaning the loss of theatrical screenings and the communal opportunity they have long provided to watch a new release together on the big screen.

Two current cases in point are the horror-comedies Stage Fright and All Cheerleaders Die. Both are now available to the general public via VOD and the first will play theaters in NYC and L.A. over the next two weeks. All Cheerleaders Die is set for release in major cities on Friday, June 13th. While their artistic achievements and flaws were still apparent watching them alone on my home computer, both films could potentially come across as more entertaining in the company of other moviegoers in an actual theater.

Either way, All Cheerleaders Die is the better of the two and a possible cult classic in the making. Written and directed by veteran horror filmmakers Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson, its plot can be likened to a cross between Bring It On and The Evil Dead. A carload of high school cheerleaders runs off the road while being pursued by several male, athlete “dogs” from their school. When the boys refuse to rescue them and flee the scene, the witchcraft practicing ex-girlfriend of one of the cheerleaders casts a spell on their deceased bodies and brings them back to life. Hungry for both revenge and blood, which they now have to consume for their strength, the girls return to school as if nothing happened… much to the dismay of the boys in the know.

It’s nice to see a movie, especially of the horror genre, where the ladies are the smart and strong characters. “I don’t need you to rescue me,” one of them declares to her would-be male savior during a fight with a super-powered adversary. The three lesbian protagonists in the film and the casual acceptance they encounter from most are also welcome. While the cute, frequently shirtless, multicultural mix of “dogs” will be pleasing to gay viewers’ eyes, All Cheerleaders Die is definitely a woman’s show. From a comedy perspective, the movie doesn’t reach the inspired “cheertator” heights of Bring It On but it packs in more than a few funny lines (“Cheerleading is more dangerous than paintball, bitch”) and sight gags.

Stage Fright, meanwhile, starts out promisingly as Friday the 13th meets Glee, complete with musical numbers. A funny card at the film’s start even assures audiences that “the musical numbers will be performed exactly as they occurred” in this allegedly fact-based story. Minnie Driver appears too briefly as the singing star of The Haunting of the Opera, an obvious Phantom ripoff, before she is murdered in gruesome fashion by a masked killer (Driver’s casting is a clever nod to her turn as the vain diva Carlotta in 2005’s Phantom of the Opera movie).

Ten years later, the scarred children of Driver’s character are running the Center Stage Performing Arts Summer Camp along with their late mother’s producer (well played by the now mature former rocker, Meat Loaf). A large scale production number, “We’re Here,” performed by the arriving campers during the opening credits is the film’s best and includes a funny “I’m Gay” interlude. It is soon announced that their summer production will be The Haunting of the Opera, nonsensically set “post-modern style” in feudal Japan. This does allow for an amusing kabuki vs. bukaki reference though.

Following this excellent opening, Stage Fright sadly becomes way too serious until the climactic performance of the musical, as well as excessively gory. Lead actress Allie MacDonald is bland but the supporting cast of approximately 50 kids and teens is genuinely talented and charismatic. Writer-director Jerome Sable, who also co-wrote the songs with Eli Batalion, previously made the horror-musical The Legend of Beaver Dam and is apparently trying to carve out a niche for himself. Hopefully, he’ll be better able to strike a balance between the horror and musical-comedy next time around.

Another new VOD/DVD release, Truth (available from Canteen Outlaws), is similarly too serious by at least a third. It is an initially engrossing but ultimately off-putting psychological thriller by gay filmmaker-actors Rob Moretti and Sean Paul Lockhart, both of whom also star. We are introduced to Lockhart’s Caleb as he is incarcerated, apparently for an unspecified murder, and being interrogated by a court-appointed psychologist (played by veteran actress Blanche Baker, who looks rather unsettlingly here like a blonde Michelle Bachman). Via flashbacks, Caleb recounts his recent love affair with an older man, Jeremy (Moretti), as well as his abusive upbringing by a mentally-ill mother. Caleb’s initially healing relationship with Jeremy takes a decided turn for the worse once Caleb learns his lover has been keeping a big secret from him. He ends up kidnapping Jeremy and exacting a nasty revenge.

The only real reason to watch Truth is Lockhart. A former gay porn performer (as Brent Corrigan) and still very good looking, Lockhart is maturing into a fine actor. He is especially good here during his character’s angry, unhinged moments. Lockhart makes Caleb sympathetic even when one is uncomfortable with Caleb’s actions, and that may be the best achievement of any actor in any production.

Last but not least, 2013’s entertaining Hot Guys with Guns is also now availableon both VOD and DVD from Wolfe. Written and directed by Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc), the gay-themed film spins an amusingly sordid mystery around Hollywood sex parties. Someone is drugging and robbing these parties’ A-list attendees, and it falls to a struggling actor-waiter and his ex-boyfriend to figure out whodunit. The screenplay, while not without its excesses, is generally a hoot and the film’s attractive, gay-list cast includes Spearman’s fellow Noah’s Arc alum Darryl Stephens, Jason Boegh, Kevin Held and Trey McCurley. Particularly good is the James Bond-ish opening credits sequence and theme song, which I highly recommend seeing/hearing on the big screen rather than one’s little laptop.

Reverend’s Ratings:
All Cheerleaders Die: B
Stage Fright: C
Truth: C+
Hot Guys with Guns: B

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reverend's Interview: Theatrical Thunder from Down Under

Australia has exported many great things to the USA: kangaroos, koalas, shrimp on the barbie, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and Hugh Jackman, to name a few. Now we can add the acclaimed play Holding the Man to the list. Based on a bestselling memoir by gay writer and activist Timothy Conigrave, it will be premiering in Los Angeles May 10th-June 29th as the inaugural production of the Australian Theatre Company (ATC).

Conigrave’s 1995 book relates his coming of age as a gay man while a student at an all-boys school in Melbourne in the 1970’s. He fell in love with the captain of the school’s football team, John Caleo, with whom Conigrave subsequently had a 15-year relationship. Sadly, AIDS claimed both their lives prematurely. The memoir was published posthumously but won the United Nations Human Rights Award for Non-Fiction.

Nate Jones, one of ATC’s founders and the Australian-born actor playing Conigrave in Holding the Man, discovered a personal connection to the book at an early age. “When I first read the book, I was 15 and in the bathtub,” he shared. “I started to cry — it’s the only book that’s ever made me cry — and my stepmother called me out of the tub. I had to quickly make it sound like I wasn’t crying.”

Playwright Tommy Murphy adapted the book for the stage in 2006. It smashed box office records, and what was supposed to be a six-week run became nearly two years. Holding the Man won several Australian theatre awards for Best Play and then enjoyed four sold-out seasons at the Sydney Opera House before moving to London’s West End.

“I saw the play in Australia in 2006,” Jones recalled. “I thought it was a phenomenal play and quite beautiful. I relocated permanently to the United States 2 ½ years ago and asked Tommy if we could do it in LA. It’s been very serendipitous how it’s all come about.” Jones lives in LA with his partner of 5 ½ years, Josh, who also hails from Australia.

While most Americans have not had the opportunity to see the play until now and the book is out of print in the US, Jones doesn’t see this as a marketing challenge. “It’s really a love story between two people and that resonates with everybody,” he said. “If someone has read the book, they will have that much more insight. But every gay man, every member of the LGBT community, will have a connection to this story. The love Timothy and John have is what we all hope to have.”

The LA production, directed by veteran Hollywood acting coach Larry Moss, is being described as highly theatrical in style and incorporates elements of absurdism, magical realism, farce and heartfelt drama. There are even puppets designed by Alex “Jurgen” Ferguson involved. All performances will take place at the Matrix Theatre, located at 7657 Melrose Ave. Tickets may be reserved by calling (323) 960-7735 or visiting the play's official website.

Jones finds it “really exciting and kind of surreal” that both Holding the Man and the launch of his and producing partner Nick Hardcastle’s Australian Theatre Company are “actually happening.” Jones and Hardcastle were at dinner one night when “we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s start a theatre company!’ We registered ATC the next day.” Their goal, according to Jones, “is really giving actors the opportunity to grow as actors and not just to tell Australian stories.”

Although the cast of Holding the Man is all-Australian, ATC intends to give all actors in the LA area a chance to participate. In addition to Jones as Conigrave, the current cast members are Adam J. Yeend (Lifetime’s Liz & Dick) as Caleo, Cameron Daddo, Luke O’Sullivan, Adrienne Smith and Roxane Wilson. The latter four actors play a combined total of 47 characters in the play.

Jones began performing when he was only 8 years old. “I started out in youth theatre and ballet from when I was 8 to 15. When I was 15, my mom unfortunately passed away and I quit everything for a year. Then I picked it back up and went to a performing arts school.” Since then, Jones has done plays and films as well as worked as an assistant to both a successful Australian film producer and “a big-name Australian actress” he wouldn’t identify.

Speaking with Jones, his sincere love of acting and actors comes through loud and clear. “A lot of people come to LA to chase fame and fortune, but at the end of the day it’s really not about that,” he said. “I really agree with what Meryl Streep said: I will be a student of acting until the day I die.” Jones also likens developing oneself as an actor to the rigorous, continuous preparation Olympic athletes undergo.

And he had strong words not only for actors but for the rest of us. Paraphrasing Moss, Holding the Man’s director, Jones exclaimed: “Stop sitting in front of the TV (or computer) and go see a play. Go read a book. Go educate yourself. There is so much more out there!”

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

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Cult Mentality

I was the impressionable age of 11 in 1978 when the shocking mass suicide of more than 900 people occurred in a religious commune known as Jonestown. Named for its leader, American expatriate Jim Jones, the self-described communist outpost in Guyana on the northern coast of South America was increasingly under US scrutiny due to abuse allegations by some former members. When a fact-finding delegation led by Congressman Leo Ryan arrived that November, Jones had Ryan and several of the other visitors killed and then ordered his obedient followers to drink cyanide-laced fruit punch in an act of “revolution.” There were only a handful of survivors. Jones shot himself in the head.

Many have pondered in the 35 years since what kind of power, manipulation and/or displaced loyalty could lead so many people to take their own lives at once. There have been other, similar but smaller-scale events post-Jonestown as well. Filmmakers have also grappled from time to time with Jonestown’s legacy and the continuing lure of religious cults. Writer-director Ti West is the latest, with his appropriately disturbing The Sacrament now available on VOD and scheduled to open in theaters on June 6th.

West updates the Jonestown scenario to a modern-day locale dubbed “Eden Parish.” About 200 people reside on the Christian, self-sustaining farm, including the long-lost sister of Patrick (Kentucker Audley). Sensing a story, Patrick’s friends at real-life Vice Media ask to tail him on his sibling reunion trip to Eden Parish. Writer Sam (AJ Bowen) and photojournalist Jake (indie filmmaker and actor Joe Swanberg, who receives top billing but remains behind the camera most of the time) begin to realize soon after their arrival that things aren’t quite right in the utopian community lorded over by the mysterious, Scripture-quoting Father (an excellent Gene Jones, who is presumably no relation to Jim). It isn’t long before the men are racing to escape and trying to take as many defecting commune members with them as they can.

Those who watch The Sacrament expecting a supernatural element in keeping with West’s previous films The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers will be disappointed, but the movie is no less chilling since it is thoroughly grounded in reality and history. The parallels are so strong between Jonestown and Eden Parish, however, that I ultimately question why West didn’t add some more original elements. I agree with philosopher George Santayana’s assertion that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and The Sacrament could potentially be educational for younger viewers who haven’t learned about the Jonestown tragedy. Those of us who lived through it, though, could find the movie a queasily unnecessary reminder.

While it isn’t religious in nature, one can argue that a cult has developed around the philosophical musings, films, theme parks, Broadway shows and all things related to the great Walt Disney. Heck, I’m a Disney devotee myself but strive to maintain at least a modicum of critical perspective. That high end D23 fan club hasn’t gotten me yet!

Over the last week, however, I have subjected myself to a couple of the Walt Disney Company’s new offerings. First was the latest touring Disney on Ice extravaganza, 100 Years of Magic. I hadn’t seen any of the prior ice shows, even though there have been four or five productions touring simultaneously across the country at any given time for the last 30 years. The celebratory subtitle of this one caught my attention, even if 80% of it is devoted to Disney-Pixar’s animated features of the last 25 years. A Pinocchio segment, the appearance of several “vintage” Disney princesses and a 50th anniversary tribute to It’s a Small World are the main exceptions. The skating and choreography are only so-so (although the female, Asian skater who appears as both Mulan and Pocahontas is a standout), but the set and costume designs are dazzling and occasionally ingenious. A 2-year old boy in the row in front of me was on the edge of his seat in wide-eyed wonder throughout the show’s family-friendly 120 minutes (including an intermission), while older kids and kids at heart (including more than a few gay adults) were loving it too.

More specifically geared toward adult (and gay) Disney fans is Dconstructed, a just-released compilation CDof classic Disney songs given the electronic dance music (EMD) treatment. Worry not: Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” from Frozen is included. While that tune, The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” and two selections from TRON: Legacy may seem obvious choices, some of the other ten tracks are less so. These would be “The Muppet Show Theme,” a very modern spin on the very retro “Hey Pluto!,” Dumbo’s ordinarily lullaby-paced “Baby Mine” and “Pineapple Princess,” sung by late former Mousketeer Annette Funicello. The best of the lot is probably Trion’s remix of “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty. The altogether hip and hoppin’ Dconstructed is available now from (what else?) Walt Disney Records.

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Sacrament - B
Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic - B-
Dconstructed - B+

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