Friday, June 27, 2014

Reverend’s Review: French Connections

French director Martin Provost is fast becoming the go-to guy for films titled after their female protagonists. He previously made Le ventre de Juliette (2003) and the acclaimed Seraphine (2008). Now he’s back with Violette, a chilly but not uninteresting biography of the tortured, bisexual writer Violette Leduc. It recently had its US premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival and is now playing theatrically in both LA and New York.

Provost first introduces us to Violette (played by a fully committed Emmanuelle Devos, probably best known on these shores for 2009’s Coco Before Chanel) in the 1920’s. She and her equally bisexual husband, Maurice Sachs, are eking out a living selling black market goods during the war in St-Germain-des-Pres. Violette leaves him to his eventual death and makes her way to Paris, where she meets and becomes enamored with existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (the lovely Sandrine Kiberlain). The two begin a tempestuous relationship that is equal parts professional and romantic. Violette meets Simone’s prominent circle of friends including Albert Camus, gay writer Jean Genet (who describes Violette as “a drama queen”) and wealthy gay perfumer Jacques Guerin.

Soon after, Violette’s estranged mother Berthe comes calling. Her reappearance awakens old hurts in her daughter, whose father abandoned them shortly after Violette’s birth. “I’m a bastard and nobody wants me,” bemoans Violette, a refrain that gets tiresome to both her friends and the film’s viewers. Simone encourages Violette to channel all her hurts, anger and life story into her writing, which she does. Her first few books don’t light up the bestseller charts, mainly due to their uncompromising, uncomfortable content. “You can’t bear a woman talking openly about her sexuality,” Simone argues on Violette’s behalf to hesitant marketers. By the film’s end, though, Violette becomes recognized as a talented and successful author.

Despite its cast’s occasional emotional outbursts, Violette is a solemn, largely humorless and — perhaps most surprising/disappointing — a largely sexless affair. I was reminded while watching it of Henry & June, Philip Kaufman’s superior 1990 film set in bohemian, 1930’s Paris about the erotic and literary awakening of Anais Nin. I wish Violette had more of that earlier movie’s sensual fire.

Provost’s direction seems more workmanlike here than on his excellent predecessor Seraphine, but Yves Cape’s lovely cinematography literally illuminates some of the film’s duller moments. Students of French literature and/or philosophy will find much of interest in Violette and, if they haven’t seen Henry & June, should watch it in conjunction. Otherwise, only the most esoteric-leaning can probably appreciate it fully.

Violette will open at Laemmle's Royal in West LA, Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, Laemmle's Town Center 5 in Encino, Laemmle's Claremont 5, Sundance Sunset in West Hollywood and Edwards Westpark 8 in Irvine.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Violette: B-
Henry & June: A-

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Tomorrow Men

Although little known today beyond his native Scandinavia, Torgny Segerstedt became one of the strongest voices of resistance against the Nazis prior to and throughout World War II. Jan Troell’s new film The Last Sentence, opening today at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and Lincoln Plaza in New York, will hopefully inspire a 21st century appreciation of the man.

The movie opens with a quote intended to serve as a warning to viewers: “No human being can withstand close scrutiny.” Despite being Segerstedt’s fellow countryman, Troell does not shy from depicting his main subject warts and all. Segerstedt began his professional life as a controversial but popular theologian and professor of comparative religion. He would later claim to some that he lost his faith and, in 1917, became editor in chief of Sweden’s leading liberal newspaper, Handelstidningen. It was in this journalistic capacity in 1933 that he began denouncing the Nazi party and their concept of National Socialism. Segerstedt’s infamous claim in print that “Herr Hitler is a loudmouth and an insult” drew the wrath of Hitler’s chief Reich minister, Hermann Goering. It marked the start of a 12-year war of words between Segerstedt and the Nazis, although it at times entailed the threat of physical peril to the editor. He also accurately predicted that the Nazis’ rise in Europe would lead to a new world war.

Segerstedt’s stands on behalf of the Jews, freedom of the press, human liberty and conscientious objection are admirable. The film also depicts Segerstedt’s well-attested to love of dogs and animals. However, Troell also shines a light on darker aspects of the man’s life, chiefly his decades-long adulterous relationship with his wife’s sister, Maja, who also happened to own the newspaper and was herself married to its publisher. “He has a moral view of immorality,” the long-suffering Mrs. Segerstedt confides to a friend. The result is an unusually balanced, seemingly unbiased biopic by the writer-director of such international hits as The Emigrants (1971), Flight of the Eagle (1982) and Everlasting Moments (2008). Troell also traditionally shoots his own films, as he does here with an assist from Mischa Gavrjusjov in a gorgeous black and white that complements the frequent, potent use of Hitler-era footage. What doesn’t work as well is the inclusion of several ghosts — including those of Segerstedt’s mother and, eventually, his wife and mistress — who tend to distract from the otherwise non-fanciful screenplay co-authored by Troell and Klaus Rifbjerg.

The Last Sentence’s cast can’t be faulted in any way. Danish actor Jesper Christensen (best known to American audiences as villainous Mr. White in the more recent Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) plays Segerstedt as appropriately intellectual and prideful yet doing the best he knows how to do to keep the key people in his life happy. Despite her character’s cuckolded status, Ulla Skoog is luminous as Puste, Segerstedt’s wife, while Pernilla August (aka Anakin Skywalker’s mother, Shmi, in Star Wars: Episodes I and II) stuns as the socially powerful but not invulnerable Maja. Adults looking for intelligent viewing in the summer haze of wannabe blockbusters will be hard-pressed to find anything better than The Last Sentence.

One of those struggling wannabes, though, should not be discounted. Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise as an accidentally time-tripping soldier up against a vicious alien invasion, is one of the best, most intelligent, most exciting and surprisingly funny special effects-laden epics I have seen in several summers. Cruise capitalizes on his cockiness, athletic physicality (it is hard to believe he is now in his 50’s) and emotional reserves, resulting in a terrific performance. Emily Blunt nearly matches him as a heroine of the war against the aliens who understands the phenomenon that Cruise’s character is experiencing, and by helping him master it hopes to turn the tide against the crafty marauders. As adapted by a trio of ace screenwriters from a Japanese graphic novel and directed by Hollywood maverick Doug Liman, Edge of Tomorrow is completely engaging and a model of cinematic craftsmanship from page to screen. It absolutely deserves to do better at the American box office (its doing well internationally) than it has thus far. Maybe it will, starting tomorrow.

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Last Sentence: B+
Edge of Tomorrow: A

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Keeping It in the Family

Every family has its little secrets, and this fact has provided fodder for dramatists since Sophocles wrote Oedipus Rex, at least. One of the most acclaimed plays of recent years, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, is a current example and is having a superior production at International City Theatre (ICT) in Long Beach now through June 29th. Other Desert Cities was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play (which it lost to the equally acclaimed Clybourne Park) and was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

It is the morning of Christmas Eve, 2004 at the upscale Wyeth home in perpetually sunny Palm Springs, California (Baitz named his play after a real-life freeway sign nearby). Daughter Brooke (Ann Noble) is visiting from New York City for the first time in six years. While she initially denies having an agenda for her holiday visit, Brooke soon informs her parents Lyman and Polly, younger brother Trip and her Aunt Silda that the “novel” she has written and due to be published in the new year is actually an autobiographical tome centered on the mysterious circumstances around her older brother’s death years before. Brooke’s conservative parents — Lyman once worked for Ronald Reagan — are upset by her allegation that they are ultimately to blame.

While what actually happened to their first-born son is eventually revealed in a rewarding twist, the dramatic journey as usual is in the getting there. Long-simmering family tensions are exposed, as are issues related to class, politics and religion. However, Other Desert Cities is a comedy at heart and Baitz wrings some major laughs out of his scenario. A number of them come courtesy of the dotty Silda, hilariously portrayed by ICT regular Eileen T’Kaye. Remaining cast members Suzanne Ford (Polly), Nicholas Hormann (Lyman) and Blake Anthony Edwards (Trip) are all great and obviously invested emotionally in the material. ICT’s Artistic Director, caryn desai, stages this production with her effective, characteristic combination of sensitivity and aplomb. Special mention must also be made of resident costume designer Kim DeShazo’s inspired yet authentic Palm Springs fashions, especially for Polly.

This is only the Los Angeles area’s second presentation of Other Desert Cities, and those who haven’t yet seen it shouldn’t miss it. Tickets may be purchased by calling 562-436-4610 or visiting their website.

The Catholic Church often refers to itself as a family in official texts and papal pronouncements. Now numbering over one billion baptized members, nothing gets church family members’ tongues wagging like intrigue at the top. One of the greatest, enduring controversies in the church is over the sudden death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, a mere 33 days after his election. More liberal and apparently bent on reform, many continue to suspect he was the victim of foul play on the part of conservative bishops. An autopsy, which has long been considered essentially taboo for a pope’s body, was not performed.

The Last Confession, a 2007 play by Roger Crane focusing on John Paul I’s brief reign, is having its stateside premiere and only US appearance on its current world tour at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through July 6th. A superb, mostly British cast headed by David Suchet and director Jonathan Church wring maximum dramatic effect out of Crane’s text, yet unfortunately go overboard at times.

Suchet headlines as Giovanni Benelli, a bishop and member of the Vatican’s administrative curia who was named a cardinal by Pope Paul VI shortly before the latter’s death. Although he harbors a desire to become pope himself, Benelli instead proposes the humble Archbishop of Venice, Albino Luciani, as a “compromise candidate.” No one is more surprised than Luciani when he is elected by his fellow cardinals and takes his papal name after his two predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI.

One of John Paul I’s most critical initial tasks was to investigate charges of corruption inside the Vatican Bank (not unlike the recently elected Pope Francis, still dealing with such allegations 36 years later). To that end, John Paul confronts American-born bishop Paul Marcinkus, the bank’s then-head. I can attest that Stuart Milligan’s performance as Marcinkus is one of this production’s most authentic elements, as I knew the man in his later years while he was retired in my home diocese of Phoenix. Although John Paul I apparently tried to remove Marcinkus from his position, it was John Paul II who finally did so… although not before promoting Marcinkus to the rank of archbishop.

It isn’t long in The Last Confession before John Paul I is discovered dead in bed one morning and speculation as to the true cause of his demise begins. While I was most looking forward to this “whodunit” aspect of Crane’s play, its real strength is in the depiction of Luciani’s rise to power through Benelli’s authentic admiration of and concern for the man. Suchet snarls excessively at times and Richard O’Callaghan risks making Luciani/John Paul I seem too flaky to ever be elected head of anything. One can’t help but respect their impersonations, though, in light of the ideals they are striving to live up to.

The production’s technical aspects are all first-rate with the exception of Dominic Muldowney’s excessive, Law & Order: SVU-esque musical cues during scene changes. As a member of the Catholic clergy and longtime Vatican-watcher, I also took exception to some inaccurate costume choices and sacramental gestures on the part of the director and cast, although these will be lost on most viewers. While it isn’t quite a heavenly night at the theatre, The Last Confession is, like its setting, undeniably absorbing. For more information and tickets, visit the Center Theatre website.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Other Desert Cities (ICT): A-
The Last Confession (CTG): B

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reverend's Reviews: Time Warps

The naivete of youth and the fears of the elderly are on cinematic display this weekend, albeit in two very different vehicles. Now in release from Focus Features, The Signal is a sci-fi head-scratcher that combines elements of The Blair Witch Project, District 9 and The Andromeda Strain. Three college students played by Brenton Thwaites (who can also currently be seen as the Prince in Maleficent), Beau Knapp (Super 8) and Olivia Cooke (Emma on TV's Bates Motel) are determined to uncover the identity of a hacker who has broken into the MIT computer system as well as their own personal laptops. Their trail leads to a seemingly abandoned house in a remote part of Nevada where, predictably, something is laying in wait.

Group ringleader Nic (Thwaites) awakens, alone and unable to walk, in a mysterious medical facility. He is introduced to Dr. Damon (a congenial Laurence Fishburne), who provides Nic with more questions than answers as to his condition and the whereabouts of his friends. Eventually making a break for it, Nic discovers even more unusual aspects of his situation.

In the hands of director and co-writer William Eubank, who made his debut a few years back with the space station-set Love, The Signal is captivating and engrossing. The film's 97 minutes run by quickly. What begins, though, as a clever rumination on found-footage and other movie tropes (as well as on "the aesthetic of antiquated methodologies") becomes too derivative by the end. The finale also left a few notable fellow critics and I in attendance at an advance screening wondering exactly what the ---- had transpired. I can recommend The Signal to die-hard genre fans but most other viewers will be as baffled as its lead character.

PJ Raval's latest documentary, Before You Know It, examines three gay men's perspectives on aging. It is now playing in Los Angeles and other US cities. The director, who previously explored the transgender experience in the fascinating Trinidad, succeeds in showing that growing old (as difficult as it is for straight people) is even more challenging for LGBT people who haven't historically had the same opportunities for support, including housing.

We are first introduced to 78 year-old Dennis, who proves to be Raval's most compelling and affecting subject. A Star Trek fan married to a woman for 30 years but more recently widowed, the lonely Florida resident indulges his long-suppressed fondness for cross-dressing and begins to spend summers at a rare LGBT retirement community in Oregon. "I didn't feel like I was living up to society's goals" for the better part of his life, Dennis says. It is wonderful to watch him become more comfortable in his own skin and gradually spread his wings during the course of the film, even if a gay cruise he goes on doesn't end very successfully.

The two other men featured, outreach-oriented New Yorker Ty and Texas gay bar owner Robert, aren't quite as interesting but share their own legitimate concerns about enduring homophobia, the new option of same-sex marriage, declining health, financial limitations and personal legacies. Before You Know It is naturally well-intentioned but morose at times, and some scenes (especially while Dennis is on his uncomfortable cruise) seem potentially staged or manipulated in the editing room for maximum effect. The documentary doesn't make growing old something to look forward to exactly, but it goes a way in helping to demystify or de-stigmatize it.

Two other worthwhile movies of LGBT interest previously reviewed here are opening in LA theaters this weekend. Test is a potent and sexy drama set in mid-1980's San Francisco about the impact of AIDS on a modern dance company. The film's period soundtrack consisting of songs by Jimmy Somerville, Laurie Anderson, Cocteau Twins and others offers a great nostalgia fix. Test will also be available on DVDstarting June 17th.

Also now playing is the amusing horror-comedy All Cheerleaders Die, in which a pack of vengeful undead hollaback girls get back at the high school boys who did them wrong. It is especially noteworthy in having two nonchalant lesbian characters front and center, and could be a cult classic in the making.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Signal: B-
Before You Know It: B
Test: B+
All Cheerleaders Die: B

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reverend’s Preview: Love at LAFF

What is shaping up as this year’s most critically acclaimed gay-themed film will have its gala Southern California premiere during the 20th Los Angeles Film Festival, presented by Film Independent. The fest runs June 11th-19th at LA Live and various adjoining screening sites.

Love Is Strange will screen this Thursday, June 12th at 7:30 pm. It is writer-director Ira Sachs’ follow up to Keep the Lights On (2012), one of the best gay movies of recent years. Award-winning actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina headline the cast of Love Is Strange as a New York City gay couple who decide to get married after 39 years together. Soon after the wedding, Molina’s George is fired from the Catholic school where he has taught music for over a decade. Ben (Lithgow) is already retired and living on a fixed income, so the two find themselves no longer able to afford their longtime apartment. No one is able to take them in together, so George moves in with a gay neighbor (played by out actor-singer Cheyenne Jackson) while Ben goes to live with his nephew’s family.

With stories all over the news of recently-married gay men and lesbian women terminated by their Catholic former employers, the central premise of Love Is Strange is nothing if not timely. The heterosexual Molina and Lithgow are both excellent and seem very relaxed in their roles as loving gay partners. Sachs’ no nonsense, naturalistic style of directing also serves the film well. In short, this movie should not be missed (it is scheduled for national theatrical release in August).

LAFF seemed light on LGBT-interest offerings last year, but the 2014 fest is definitely making up for it. Other gotta-see films to be shown include:

  • Eat With Me, in which a mother separated from her husband moves in with their gay son. While she initially disapproves of her son’s lifestyle, they gradually bond over their experiences of men and food. This world premiere is David Au’s accomplished, feature-length expansion of his 2003 short Fresh Like Strawberries. MADtv’s Nicole Sullivan is a lot of fun as the kooky next-door neighbor and George Takei makes a cameo appearance as himself.

  • Jersey Boys. I haven’t yet seen this adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and don’t know if it has any gay content, but it is a musical after all. Clint Eastwood directs the biographical saga of 1960’s singing sensations Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with John Lloyd Young reprising his acclaimed performance as Valli.

  • Limited Partnership. This eye-opening, world premiere documentary will be a free screening at the festival on Saturday, June 14th. It relates the little-known story of Tony Sullivan and Richard Adams, whose 1975 wedding in Boulder, Colorado became one of the first highly-publicized gay marriages in the US. They also subsequently became one of the first gay couples to confront immigration and residency issues (Tony was an Australian citizen). Shockingly, the couple received a denial letter from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service stating: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.” A subsequent, somewhat more sympathetic letter from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied their request to stay together on the basis that “neither partner can fulfill the female functions in marriage.” Thomas G. Miller’s film powerfully illustrates both how far we have come as citizens in the last 40 years and how far we have left to go.

  • Out in the Night, another world premiere documentary about four African-American lesbian women in New York City who suffered a tragic miscarriage of justice in the wake of an attempted sexual assault against them in 2006. The movie poses the troubling question: How would this have unfolded if it had been four straight, white women instead?

  • Violette. From Martin Provost, director of the great 2008 film Seraphine, comes this French biography of volatile, bisexual writer Violette Leduc. It recounts the early feminist’s encounters with such literary luminaries as Albert Camus, the gay Jean Genet, and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

  • Dear White People, which along with Love Is Strange was a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is a provocative satire by Justin Simien about racial, gender and sexual politics at a prestigious university boasting an ensemble cast of young, rising talents.

  • I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. While light on gay content (although its subject admits on camera to being accused of being gay by cruel fellow grade-school students), this Los Angeles premiere relates the endearing life story of the man behind one of our greatest pop-culture icons. Spinney has not only played Big Bird but Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street and in feature films since 1969. Now 80 years old, Spinney has had more than his share of ups and downs. The new documentary by Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker is wonderfully nostalgic but also heart-wrenching at times for anyone who grew up with the support of PBS’s Children’s Television Workshop. We will always love you, Jim Henson.

And for those of us with shorter attention spans, be sure to check out the gay-themed short films Adjust-A-Dream, in which a gay couple evaluates a new mattress in a department store, as well as Drew Lint’s kinky Rough Trade.

To purchase passes or tickets and for full festival details, visit the LA Film Fest website.

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Reverend's Interview: Flying High

Most of us probably think of 1986’s Top Gun as the quintessential big-screen depiction of gay men in the military. The funny thing, though, is that there isn’t a single gay character in it. While the Tom Cruise-starring adventure is undeniably homoerotic, we’ve had to wait another 28 years for a major studio (Lionsgate) to back a military-set story featuring a gay soldier at its center. Burning Blue, opening in select theaters and available on Video on Demand beginning today, is that long overdue movie.

Lieutenant Dan Lynch (played by Trent Ford) is a Navy pilot aiming to become an elite fighter alongside his best friend, Lt. Will Stephensen (Morgan Spector, seen as Al Capone’s brother, Frank, in several episodes of Boardwalk Empire last season). Their relationship and ambitions are challenged when Dan, who is engaged to a woman, finds himself falling in love with a fellow closeted airman (Rob Mayes). Complicating matters even more is that the story takes place between 1995 and 2000, at the height of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.

“It’s very personal but it is a work of fiction,” the film’s co-writer and director, DMW “David” Greer, recently told me. “I was in the military and came from that world, so it is drawn from personal experience.” Greer reported that he flew helicopters, not the F-16s depicted in Burning Blue, and that he was stationed in San Diego for a time. “Many of the situations in the film happened to me and many of the characters are based on people I know.”

A successful playwright, Greer is making his motion picture debut with this adaptation of his hit 2002 play. “It was challenging,” he said of the process of transferring Burning Blue from the stage to the screen. “I felt like I had cracked the code on writing a play years ago but I’m still not so sure about writing a screenplay. When I first thought of telling this story, though, I saw it very cinematically.”

The resulting movie is emotionally gripping and features some stunning shots of Navy jets in action, for which I assumed Greer had the Navy’s cooperation. “We had zero cooperation, less than zero,” he replied. Those impressive sequences in the film resulted from, according to Greer, “the marrying of really great B-roll stock footage and individuals’ digital footage; it was a challenge to convince investors that I could pull it off.”

In the film, a Naval safety specialist arrives to investigate a pair of flight mishaps. As he becomes suspicious of Dan’s sexuality, a witch hunt is launched against Dan and other potentially gay personnel. I asked Greer whether, based on what he has observed or heard, the acceptance of gay men and lesbian women in the ranks has improved since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was abolished in 2011.

“I think it has,” he answered. “I haven’t been at the heart of it for a long time but I have friends still in the service, and it really has improved.” Greer cautioned, however, “there is still homo-ignorance or homophobia and there are still people I know in the military who have not been completely forthright. But things definitely have improved.” He noted that there hadn’t yet been any screenings of Burning Blue specifically for military personnel but that he would love for one to be arranged.

Greer has called New York City home since 1983 but has split his time between New York and London for the last 20 years. “My husband is English,” he reported. If Greer was ever subject to military condemnation of his homosexuality, he has happily grown beyond it.

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Reality Bites

Maverick Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky is back with his first movie in 20 years, The Dance of Reality. While he was recently seen on the silver screen as the subject of Jodorowsky’s Dune, about his failed attempt to film Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel in the mid-1970’s, it has been too long not having him behind the camera. His avant-garde, hallucinogenic, graphically violent and even scatological works such as The Holy Mountain, Santa Sangre and El Topo are definitely not for all tastes but they are also characterized by moments of profound beauty. Jodorowsky’s latest is his most autobiographical work but from all reports doesn’t lack his trademark, bizarre perspective. It is now in limited theatrical release across the US.

Several other new releases, most on DVD/VOD, offer biographical glimpses into some unique lives. The Jewish Cardinal (now availablefrom Film Movement) will be of particular interest to Catholic viewers, as it explores the rise of the late Jean-Marie Lustiger from parish priest to bishop and ultimately to serving as cardinal-archbishop of Paris. He also became one of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II’s closest friends and confidantes, and was considered one of the leading candidates to become pope following John Paul’s death in 2005.

Before all that, though, Lustiger was named Aaron at the time of his birth to Jewish parents. He converted to Catholicism in 1940 when he was 14 years old and took the name Jean-Marie for himself (although he kept Aaron as his middle name). His mother, who was arrested by the Nazis when she remained in Paris and soon after perished at Auschwitz, was tolerant of her son’s decision but Lustiger’s father later tried to have his baptism declared invalid. As a priest and bishop, Lustiger proudly proclaimed he was both Jewish and Christian, which didn’t go over well with either Jews or conservative Catholics. “I am God’s mixed child,” he declares in the film.

The Jewish Cardinal, which is very well-written by Ilan Duran Cohen (who also directs) and Chantal Derudder, primarily covers Lustiger’s episcopal period from 1979 to his death in 2007 but features occasional flashbacks to his youth. Laurent Lucas gives a powerhouse performance as the notoriously headstrong and temperamental cleric (Lustiger’s nicknames were “The Bulldozer” and the decidedly less fearsome “Lulu”), even if his later-years makeup is far from convincing. Also excellent is Aurelien Recoing, last seen in the lesbian-themed Blue is the Warmest Color, as John Paul II. Recoing is slyly nuanced as the beloved pontiff-turned-saint, and his scenes with Lucas are the highlights of the film. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in church history or Jewish-Catholic relations.

No less impressive and frequently heroic are the numerous, out LGBT politicians spotlighted in Cindy L. Abel’s Breaking Through. It is newly available on DVDand VOD courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures/QC Cinema. Subtitled The Struggle for Equality in the Nation’s Capital, the documentary was an Official Selection at several 2013 film festivals and won the Audience Award at QFest Fort Worth in Texas.

Abel interviews culture war veterans Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Alex Wan and Kathy Webb as well as political rising stars including California’s John Perez, Todd Gloria and Toni Atkins about their personal and professional journeys. Also winningly featured is Texas judge Phyllis Frye, the first trans person to reach such legal heights. As San Diego City Councilmember Gloria states happily, “The American dream is alive and well,” and the film proves it hard to disagree with him while it reveals so clearly how far LGBT Americans have come since the 1970’s.

I feel Kansas’s publicity-seeking Westboro Baptist Church is featured too prominently and repeatedly in the movie as the epitome of anti-gay sentiment in the US. More effective at depicting the opposition are several of the politicos’ recollections of being condemned by some of their “normal,” everyday constituents. Even the pro-LGBT content in Breaking Through gets a little repetitious in the extended director’s cut on the DVD (the original theatrical version is also included and may be more effective). The tried and true Frank sums the film’s thesis up best when he says, “You can’t live half in and half out” of the closet. Good advice for not only politicians but all of us.

The most unique, even downright odd, life on display in new movies is surely that of Walter Potter. He is described in Ronni Thomas’s documentary short Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens as “an unexceptional country taxidermist” who lived in 19th century England. The film will have its world premiere in Brooklyn, New York this Friday, June 6th at the city’s new Morbid Anatomy Library & Museum. I kid you not.

Potter devoted much of his adult life to the creation of anthropomorphic tableaux featuring stuffed toads, dogs, rats, monkeys, birds and, yes, kittens. He eventually opened the Bramber Museum in his home village to house his works, the most elaborate of which was a posed wedding involving 20 kittens in elaborate garb (hence the short’s title). Viewed as both an extension of “Victorian whimsy” and an abuse of God’s creation, Potter’s collection was eventually auctioned off to various buyers in 2003.

If anything, The Man Who Married Kittens is too short at 20 minutes and gives only the briefest overview of Potter and his unusual art. Within its exhibition context this weekend, though, it will probably serve very well. I thought the short was fascinating and I would sincerely like to know more about the subject, so maybe Thomas or another director can yet develop a feature film. Is it charming or disgusting? If you’ll be in the Brooklyn vicinity, check the short out and decide for your self.

Reverend’s Ratings:
The Jewish Cardinal: A-
Breaking Through: B
Walter Potter: The Man Who Married Kittens: B+

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

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Monthly Wallpaper: June 2014 - Queer Cinema, International Edition

For the seventh year, Movie Dearest salutes Pride Month with a celebration of Queer Cinema. And this June, we're going global with an International Edition.

Dust off your passport and join us on a journey from the Far East to Down Under with such talented filmmakers as Almodóvar, Fox, Visconti and Wong as we revisit some of our favorite GLBT-themed movies from around the world.

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.