Friday, February 27, 2015

Reverend's Reviews: Trans, Boys & a Queen


Now that Hollywood's award season is finally over after a lackluster Oscars presentation, there are some really interesting new movies opening theatrically this weekend in one city or another. Two of them now playing in Los Angeles, Boy Meets Girl (featuring breakout performances by Michelle Hendley and Z Nation's hot zombie slayer Michael Welch) and Drunktown's Finest (which boasts Robert Redford as executive producer), have strong transsexual characters at their hearts. Both deservedly won numerous awards on last year's film festival circuit and are must-sees for LGBTQ moviegoers.

Newly-minted Oscar winner Julianne Moore may well find herself nominated again next year for her raw but winking performance in veteran director David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, now playing in theaters as well as On Demand and iTunes. Moore was already named Best Actress at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal here of Havana Segrand, a former starlet desperate to make her comeback in the remake of a film that starred her now-deceased movie star mother.

Havana hires a new girl in town, Agatha (a trippy turn by Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska), to serve as her personal assistant. Little does Havana realize that Agatha is the long-exiled daughter of Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), self-help guru to the stars. She is also the older sister of Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), star of a Home Alone-like franchise and fresh out of rehab at the age of 13.

Maps to the Stars is a dark film to be sure, even for Cronenberg (1986's The Fly, Naked Lunch, A History of Violence). It is written by Bruce Wagner, who has long poked fun at/criticized the industry via such previous screenplays as Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills and I'm Losing You. While there are a few laugh out loud moments in Maps to the Stars, it emerges as an unpleasant, overly harsh critique that depicts virtually all Hollywood players as shallow, literally incestuous addicts of one stripe or another. The game cast's performances are great across the board, and Carrie Fisher has a fun running cameo, but only Julianne Moore's knowing take on the self-absorbed, washed-up actress can be called truly significant and worthy of further awards consideration.

Opening this weekend at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City is Eastern Boys, the new and very gay movie by French writer-director Robin Campillo (Les Revenants, the 2004 source of the more recent hit TV series The Returned, and 2008's Oscar-nominated The Class).

Set in Paris, Eastern Boys explores the plight of immigrant youths from Russia, the Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe. Many are forced to hustle for a living, which is how Ukrainian teenager Marek (sensitively played by Kirill Emelyanov) meets the wealthy, middle-aged Daniel (veteran actor Olivier Rabourdin from Taken 1 & 2, Midnight in Paris and Of Gods and Men). What Daniel expects to be a sex-for-pay encounter with Marek instead becomes a home invasion by members of Marek's gang who end up robbing Daniel of practically everything he owns.

It isn't long afterward before Marek makes amends and his relationship with Daniel gradually moves from sexual to romantic to more unexpectedly familial. Campillo's script takes several surprising turns before culminating in a showdown with the head of Marek's gang, who keeps him and the other boys subservient by holding their passports under lock and key. The film's denouement is quite touching. Eastern Boys manages to be both sexy and compassionate, which makes it all the more impressive.

Director John Boorman has had a long list of cinematic achievements — some great (Deliverance, Excalibur), some dubious (Zardoz, Exorcist II: The Heretic) — during his 50-year career. Most critics would probably call 1987's Hope and Glory his masterpiece. Inspired by his childhood in London during World War II, it was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay.

Queen and Country, Boorman's long-delayed sequel to Hope and Glory, is now playing in LA, NYC and San Francisco. It is a welcome, thoroughly enjoyable follow up that covers the further misadventures of Boorman's stand-in, Bill (Callum Turner), when he is drafted as a 19-year old into the British military during the Korean War. He falls into mischief with his funny but troubled new best friend, experiences first love for a lovely philosophy student who may have ties to the royal family, and butts heads with commanding officers played by the esteemed likes of David Thewlis, Brian F. O'Byrne and a hilarious Richard E. Grant.

While Queen and Country doesn't feature as large-scale a depiction of war and its aftereffects as Hope and Glory, possibly due to a more limited budget, the film still boasts exquisite period details thanks to its excellent, longtime production designer Anthony Pratt and gorgeous photography by Seamus Deasy of the English countryside. Most critically, the 82-year old Boorman hasn't lost his touch for finding humor and even wonder in the seemingly mundane experiences of life.

Reverend's Ratings:
Boy Meets Girl: B+
Drunktown's Finest: B
Maps to the Stars: C+
Eastern Boys: B+
Queen and Country: A-

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

Men on Film: If We Picked the Oscars 2014

Artwork by Olly Gibbs


Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert back in the good ol' days, Movie Dearest's very own Men on Film — Chris Carpenter and Kirby Holt — are presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars". These aren't predictions, but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy. We're also chiming in with our picks for the "egregiously overlooked" non-nominees as well as the "Worst Nominations of the Year"; plus: Oscar Trivia! So without further ado, the envelope please...

The nominees for Best Picture are: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash
And our winners would be:
CC: I must go with Boyhood, Richard Linklater's groundbreaking, 12-year exploration of family life that also serves as a stunning testament to its cast's and crew's dedication.
KH: It's about time a straight-up comedy took the top Oscar, and The Grand Budapest Hotel was a mirthful delight worthy of the gold.
Egregiously Overlooked: Edge of Tomorrow and Interstellar, two of the smartest and best-made science fiction films in several years. - CC
Oscar Trivia: You have to go all the way back to 1951's Decision Before Dawn to find another Best Picture nominee that, like Selma this year, received only one other nomination outside of the major categories.

The Grand Budapest Hotel by Malika Favre

The nominees for Best Actor are: Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
And our winners would be:
CC: I don't consider myself a "Cumberbitch," as his fans are known, but Benedict Cumberbatch's subtly heartbreaking performance as the persecuted gay genius Alan Turing stands out for me here.
KH: Up against a quartet of biopics, Michael Keaton gave a truly original, totally raw performance in Birdman as a washed-up movie star best known for a superhero franchise (how meta) desperately trying for a comeback while barely holding onto his sanity.
Egregiously Overlooked: Channing Tatum, going full out dramatically as Foxcatcher's neglected central character, deserved a nod, especially since both his co-stars were nominated. - CC
Oscar Trivia: This is Bradley Cooper's third nomination in a row. Other actors to achieve this feat include William Hurt, Russell Crowe and Marlon Brando, who was actually nominated four times in a row, from 1951 to 1954 (ending with his first win, for On the Waterfront).

The nominees for Best Actress are: Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore in Still Alice, Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl and Reese Witherspoon in Wild
And our winners would be:
CC: I love Julianne Moore but consider her sure-to-win turn in Still Alice overrated. I would go with first time nominee Rosamund Pike, deliciously twisted as the allegedly abused and murdered wife in Gone Girl.
KH: She really should have one (Far from Heaven) or two (Boogie Nights) of these already, so I say give it to Julianne Moore already!
Egregiously Overlooked: Jennifer Aniston gives a truly transformative performance in Cake that every other major awards group recognized. - CC

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Robert Duvall in The Judge, Ethan Hawke in Boyhood, Edward Norton in Birdman, Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher and J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
And our winners would be:
CC: Ethan Hawke's performance as the emotionally-maturing father is for me the glue that holds Boyhood's 12-year storytelling arc together.
KH: Oz's evil Nazi. Juno's befuddled dad. J. Jonah Jameson. The yellow M&M. J.K. Simmons is one of the most popular and talented character actors around, and it's his turn in the spotlight for his blistering turn in Whiplash.
Egregiously Overlooked: No matter how historically accurate the then-president's political stance may be in Selma, Tom Wilkinson's Lyndon B. Johnson offers a strong, believably conflicted portrayal. - CC
Oscar Trivia: At age 84, Robert Duvall is the oldest supporting actor nominee ever. He is also the most nominated male actor of this year's nominees, with seven career nominations.

Whiplash by Mike Lemanski

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, Laura Dern in Wild, Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, Emma Stone in Birdman and Meryl Streep in Into the Woods
And our winners would be:
CC: I haven't been a big fan of Kiera Knightley but I was blown away by her in The Imitation Game. It is a great part for any actress but Knightley invests in it fully and makes it her own. A revelation.
KH: Since her Emmy-winning days on Medium, I've been a big fan of Patricia Arquette, easily the best thing (for this non-fan) about Boyhood.
Egregiously Overlooked: Anna Kendrick is splendid as Sondheim's decidedly insecure but still singing Cinderella in Into the Woods. - CC
Oscar Trivia: Meryl Streep breaks her own record with this, her 19th career nomination. She is also the first actress nominated for playing a witch.

The nominees for Best Director are: Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman, Richard Linklater for Boyhood, Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher and Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game
And our winners would be:
CC: Richard Linklater is the standout for me and hopefully for the majority of Academy voters for his masterful cinematic odyssey.
KH: For crafting an incredibly unique world, Wes Anderson gets my vote.
Egregiously Overlooked: Ava DuVernay, who proves herself a talented and assured director with Selma, only her third narrative feature film. - CC
Oscar Trivia: Bennett Miller's nomination is unusual due to the fact that since the change in the Best Picture category in 2009 from five to up to ten nominees, it was expected that all the nominated Best Directors would be of Best Picture nominees.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash
And our winners would be:
CC: Damien Chazelle's Whiplash is a terrific screenplay (expanded from his earlier short), but I give a slight edge to Graham Moore's The Imitation Game for shining a light on its long neglected, real-life gay hero.
KH: The liberties taken regarding historical accuracy have somewhat tainted The Imitation Game for me, so I'll go with Whiplash.
Egregiously Overlooked: Edge of Tomorrow's clever, intricately-plotted and exciting screenplay, adapted from a Japanese graphic novel. - CC

The Theory of Everything by Malika Favre

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Nightcrawler
And our winners would be:
CC: Wes Anderson's fanciful and funny script for The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his best to date.
KH: I second that with another vote for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Egregiously Overlooked: I am partial to Patrick Tobin's Cake, not only because the screenwriter is a member of my church but because his script manages simultaneously to be unapologetically acerbic and wholeheartedly compassionate. - CC

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Mr. Turner and Unbroken
And our winners would be:
CC: This might be the toughest category to decide since all these films feature breathtaking camera work, but Unbroken remains for me the most hauntingly memorable.
KH: Ida features breathtakingly beautiful black and white images that are hard to forget as well.
Egregiously Overlooked: Into the Woods, another gorgeous movie. - CC
Oscar Trivia: Unbroken is Roger Deakins' twelfth nomination in this category, which he has yet to win.

The nominees for Best Production Design are: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods and Mr. Turner
And our winners would be:
CC: I love The Grand Budapest Hotel's overall visual tone and campy design flourishes, like its Pepto Bismol-colored lobby.
KH: Everyone who has seen it wants to check into this Grand Budapest Hotel.
Egregiously Overlooked: True, it is chiefly animated but no film last year impressed me for its artistic design as much as The Lego Movie did. - CC

The Imitation Game by Malika Favre

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Maleficent and Mr. Turner
And our winners would be:
CC: The Grand Budapest Hotel, natch.
KH: Although I love the fantasy drag of Maleficent, once again it is The Grand Budapest Hotel for me.
Egregiously Overlooked: I admired the futuristic "military chic" attire, especially on Effie, in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. - CC
Oscar Trivia: Into the Woods is Colleen Atwood's fourth collaboration with director Rob Marshall and the fourth to garner her a nomination here, following wins for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha and a nomination for Nine.

The nominees for Best Original Score are: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Mr. Turner and The Theory of Everything
And our winners would be:
CC: Relative newcomer (at least to English-language films) Johann Johannsson's music for The Theory of Everything is lovely.
KH: I agree, The Theory of Everything score really caught my ear.
Egregiously Overlooked: Perhaps it wasn't all original music and therefore excluded from consideration, but Whiplash's jazz- and drum-infused score adds that much more tension and excitement to the plot. - CC
Oscar Trivia: All the nominated composers this year are not American, a first for this category.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie, "Glory" from Selma, "Grateful" from Beyond the Lights, "I’m Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me and "Lost Stars" from Begin Again
And our winners would be:
CC: Its hard to resist the delightfully catchy "Everything is Awesome," especially since my year-old nephew loves it, but the soaring "Glory" is obviously more significant.
KH: Like Once's "Falling Slowly" before it, "Lost Stars" is an excellent example of modern movie songwriting, perfectly capturing the theme of its film while still being able to stand alone as one damn good song.
Egregiously Overlooked: Chris picks Lorde's trance hit "Yellow Flicker Beat" from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, whereas if I had my way, this category would be nothing but songs from the underrated gem Begin Again. But if I had to choose one, it would be "A Step You Can't Take Back", the simple tune that opens the film and sets the tone for all that follows. - KH
Oscar Trivia: "Lost Stars" co-composer Danielle Brisebois is a former child actress best known for playing Stephanie on All in the Family and its spin-off Archie Bunker's Place. She also originated the role of Molly in the original Broadway production of Annie.

Selma by Eve Lloyd Knight

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and Whiplash
And our winners would be:
CC: Whiplash, hands down.
KH: Make that two for Whiplash.
Egregiously Overlooked: Chris says Edge of Tomorrow, while I have to say it was a big shock not to see Birdman, with its celebrated "one single shot" effect, not among the final five. - KH

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: American Sniper, Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken and Whiplash
And our winners would be:
CC: Whiplash again.
KH: The entire soundscape of Birdman was a peek inside the fractured mind of its protagonist.
Egregiously Overlooked: The roaring, raging and aurally stunning Godzilla. - CC

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: American Sniper, Birdman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar and Unbroken
And our winners would be:
CC: For a sci-fi epic, I appreciated the more understated use of sound in Interstellar.
KH: Birdman again.
Egregiously Overlooked: The completely, underservedly shut out Snowpiercer or the nightmare-inducing "bumps in the dark" that filled The Babadook. - KH

Birdman by Malika Favre

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar and X-Men: Days of Future Past
And our winners would be:
CC: Interstellar's effects looked the most organic and least video gamey to me.
KH: With two of the five main characters convincingly visualized via digital effects, I gotta hand it to the super-fun Guardians of the Galaxy.
Egregiously Overlooked: Godzilla's massive monsters were amazing. They should go stomp on the Academy's Visual Effects branch for the snub. - CC
Oscar Trivia: Three of the five nominees — Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past — are based on Marvel Comics' characters.

The nominees for Best Makeup & Hairstyling are: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Guardians of the Galaxy
And our winners would be:
CC: The Grand Budapest Hotel, and not only for aging Tilda Swinton so decrepitly.
KH: Two of the other three main characters of Guardians of the Galaxy owe their far out looks to the film's expert makeup designers.
Egregiously Overlooked: Snowpiercer, says Chris, for another radical transformation of Swinton. I say Maleficent, for making the always stunning Angelina Jolie even more stunning. Those cheekbones! - KH

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya
And our winners would be:
CC: The Boxtrolls kinda grossed me out and I've only seen Big Hero 6 out of the other nominees, so Baymax, Hiro & friends are my pick.
KH: Time for Hiccup, Toothless and the makers of How to Train Your Dragon 2 to finally soar home with an Oscar.
Egregiously Overlooked: Chris wonders if  the infamous snub of The Lego Movie is because it wasn't 100% animated; like the also not-nominated The Simpsons Movie, I think it was too commercial for the more "art"-minded animation branch. - KH
Oscar Trivia: If How to Train Your Dragon 2 wins, it would be the first sequel to win without its nominated predecessor winning.

Foxcatcher by Matt Murphy

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: Ida (Poland), Leviathan (Russia), Tangerines (Estonia), Timbuktu (Mauritania) and Wild Tales (Argentina)
And our winners would be:
CC: Ida tells the most potent story and in gorgeous black & white.
KH: Hauntingly powerful, Ida it is.
Egregiously Overlooked: Xavier Dolan's emotional roller coaster ride Mommy.
Oscar Trivia: These are the first nominations for Estonia and Mauritania. Poland has the most previous nominations, with ten total.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Citizenfour, Finding Vivien Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth and Virunga
And our winners would be:
CC: Virunga for its important and sadly necessary save-the-gorillas plea.
KH: Sometimes the subject of a documentary seems to win the award more than the actual film (An Inconvenient Truth, any one?), so I heartily agree with Virunga, which not only has a compelling story to tell but does so in an engrossingly cinematic way.
Egregiously Overlooked: It doesn't strictly qualify as a documentary, which is likely why it wasn't nominated, but The Circle is illuminating and compelling. - CC

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Joanna, Our Curse, The Reaper (La Parka) and White Earth
And our winner would be:
KH: Our Curse, about a baby born with a life threatening condition, is heartbreaking, inspiring and unforgettable.

Boyhood by Malika Favre

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: The Bigger Picture, The Dam Keeper, Feast, Me and My Moulton and A Single Life
And our winners would be:
CC: Disney's sweet Feast.
KH: Feast it is, but I also really dug The Dam Keeper and Me and My Moulton.
Egregiously Overlooked: That Glen Keane, the legendary Disney animator behind such iconic characters as Ariel, the Beast and Aladdin, wasn't nominated for the absolutely lovely Duet is (to me at least) the biggest Oscar snub of the year. - KH
Oscar Trivia: Feast was released theatrically with Best Animated Feature nominee Big Hero 6.

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: Aya, Boogaloo and Graham, Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak), Parvaneh and The Phone Call
And our winners would be:
CC: Its rare for a film to be heartwarming while making a political statement, but Boogaloo and Graham is such a short.
KH: Funny and charming, I'm all for Boogaloo and Graham as well.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: I really can't single out a particular nomination or category this year, which is unusual, but I do feel there is excessive love for Birdman. From its pretentious subtitle — Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) — to its über-insider sense of humor and pretty baffling conclusion, I just don't get it. I will protest, or at least roll my eyes dramatically, if it wins Best Picture.
KH: For me, the most overrated film of the year is Boyhood. Yeah yeah yeah, it was filmed over 12 years. I get it. But you would think that Richard Linklater would have been able to craft a more compelling story during that dozen years instead of the string of coming-of-age clichés that comprise his script, an Original Screenplay nominee.

American Sniper by Orlando Arocena

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

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine, and Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Reverend’s Review: Judy, Judy, Judy

When the 2012 Broadway sensation End of the Rainbow made its Los Angeles premiere the following year, I was far from enamored of its no-holds-barred portrayal of musical great Judy Garland a few months prior to her sudden death from a drug overdose in 1969 at the age of 47. Despite a galvanizing, Tony-nominated performance by Tracie Bennett as Garland, Peter Quilter’s play struck me as demeaning and borderline-sensationalistic. It also seems to, strangely, credit Garland's gay fans for simultaneously keeping her career alive while hastening her decline. You can read my review of the LA production as well as my fuller critique of the play itself here.

End of the Rainbow has returned to the LA area in its first local production courtesy of International City Theatre (ICT). It is now playing through March 15th at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, which proves to be a more appropriate setting for the play and its four cast members than the cavernous Ahmanson Theatre. As directed by John Henry Davis, ICT’s is a smartly scaled-down production that naturally limits Quilter’s tendency to go over the top in his depiction of the booze- and drug-fueled former star of film, stage and TV.

Garland is played here by Gigi Bermingham, who won the LA theatre critics' Ovation Award two years ago for her turn as Maria Callas in ICT's production of Master Class. She is also recognizable as one of the broker-ish salesladies ("Let's close!") in a current AT&T television commercial. Bermingham is a studious and resourceful actor and her interpretation of the iconic Garland is difficult to fault, even if her east coast-accented voice occasionally reminded me more of Megan Mullally's Karen from Will & Grace than Garland during the dialogue scenes. When Bermingham sings, however, her voice and vocal stylings are uncannily similar and more authentic than Tracie Bennett's. This is especially evident during her showstopping performance of "Come Rain or Come Shine" during the play's second act.

Her three male supporting cast members offer fine support. Brent Schindele plays accompanist/confidante Anthony, an amalgamation of Garland's apparently numerous gay musical directors in various parts of the world. As Mickey Deans, the manager who would briefly become Garland's fifth husband, Michael Rubenstone embodies a potent mix of cocky hetero swagger, business know-how and genuine concern for his fiancée. Cute ICT newcomer Wallace Angus Bruce indelibly portrays a handful of brief other roles.

The technical aspects of the production are top notch, as is usually the case with ICT. Set designer Aaron Jackson supplies an elegant (if amusingly too small for Garland) hotel suite that transitions seamlessly into London's Talk of the Town cabaret. It also does so less bombastically than the earlier Broadway/LA production. Kim DeShazo, ICT's Resident Costume Designer, provides period-perfect outfits for all with additional, exquisite replicas of several of Garland's performance ensembles. Finally, lighting designer Donna Ruzika's work deserves mention, especially during the several musical numbers within the play.

In short, this is a fine production of a so-so biographical work. ICT just last season performed Glorious!, playwright Quilter’s comical take on real-life heiress turned tone-deaf but popular singer Florence Foster Jenkins (soon to be the subject of a motion picture starring Meryl Streep as Jenkins). It is nearly identical to End of the Rainbow in conceptualization and structure, complete with fawning gay accompanist. As this scenario is apparently Quilter's forte, one can only wonder who he will dramatize next. Perhaps Better Midler's early bathhouse years with Barry Manilow at the piano?

For End of the Rainbow tickets or more information, visit the ICT website.

Reverend’s Rating: B

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

GALECA's Top 10 Movies That Costar Oscar

The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, comprised of over 120 film and TV journalists and/or critics nationwide, has revealed its choices for the most interesting movies that involve the Academy Awards in their storylines. GALECA's Top 10 Movies That Costar Oscar, ranked from 1 to 10 below, marks the first in an occasional series of "GALECA Top Ten" lists that mean to entertain and enlighten as well as offer an LGBTQ perspective on film and TV history.

And the winners are...

1. The Oscar (1966): Poor sociopath Frank Fane (Stephen Boyd) wants that Best Actor trophy so bad, he'll almost kill for it — literally — in this temples-bulging melodrama with all the Tinseltown trimmings. Where does GALECA start? Fane's disillusioned lover: Elke Sommer! Disillusioned pal: Tony Bennett! Agent Kappy Kapstetter (Kappy Kapstetter?!): Milton Berle? Gossip queen Hedda Hopper, famed costumer Edith Head and Nancy Sinatra play themselves, adding a bit of glam reality, but the king of Academy Awards pics is to be enjoyed for its campy dialogue and deliciously over-the-top emotions (Harlan Eillison co-wrote). The final scene — our palm-sweaty hero sits on the edge of his velvet seat, waiting for Oscar host Bob Hope to shut up and just get to what he expects will be his magical moment — is stunning. Fun fact: Sanctioned by the AMPAS itself, The Oscar was nominated for two statuettes itself — and lost. Watch clip.

2. For Your Consideration (2006): A near-perfect poke at Hollywood puffery, written by (and featuring) satire gods Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy (Waiting for Guffman). Catherine O'Hara plays the appropriately named Marilyn Hack, the second-rate star of a decidedly random flick — Home for Purim, a highly emoted drama about a Jewish family in the 1940s South — that generates Oscar buzz. Watching the vain actress and her costars (played, sublimely, by the likes of Parker Posey, Harry Shearer and John Michael Higgins) act humble while jockeying for various nominations is painfully funny. As are Hack's suddenly giant, collagenated lips. Fun fact: Parker's ingenue character gets lots of praise for her bold performance in Purim as a lesbian who comes out to her dying mom pre-kreplach. Watch clip.

3. A Star is Born (1954): Yes, Janet Gaynor and Frederic March were touching in the 1937 version, which was, yes, based on the early talkie What Price Hollywood? (1932). But no one beats Judy Garland as sweet, loving Vicki Lester, the actress who rises from dork (real name: Esther Blodgett) to elegant, humble name-above-title. And no one trumps James Mason as her self-pitying husband Norman Maine, a suicidal alcoholic who sees his own acting career sink like a Klieg light. When Esther, er Vicki, glides to the stage for her Best Actress trophy, and a blitzed Norman ruins the moment for all to see, it's sad indeed. And don't get GALECA started about that final tear jerking scene. Fun fact: Esther's Oscar debacle was included on several of the movie's posters. Note: GALECA shant mention the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version of 1976, and not just because it was set in the music world instead of moviedom. It's simply not an evergreen. Watch clip.

4. California Suite (1978): In Neil Simon's '70s-chic comedy about various histrionic guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Maggie Smith steals the limelight as Diana, a British actress up for her first Academy Award. Her jitters are exacerbated by worries that her closeted husband and best friend (Michael Caine) is about to leave her. Fun fact: the cast and crew were granted access to the actual Oscars, so when Diana and her man walk the red carpet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, that's the real deal. Oh, and Smith won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role. Sweet! Watch clip.

5. Tropic Thunder (2008): The premise is thunderously funny: four pampered stars of a Vietnam War flick (played by Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Brandon T. Jackson and Jack Black) are thrown into the jungle for a big scene, guerilla-style, and think the real-life, deadly drug gang they encounter are just acting! Stiller, as Tugg Speedman, a faded action star à la Bruce Willis, chews up the scenery, almost literally, in this clever skewering of showbiz entitlement and grandiosity. Yet there's wish fulfillment too: naturally, the men's daring exploits are captured on film, leading to a monster hit and Tugg's first Oscar! Un-fun fact: Tugg's costar Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr.), an insufferable, Academy Award-laden method actor, dies his skin to play an African-American for his part, Tropic's dicey jab at tokenism that many moviegoers found painful instead of painfully funny. Downey Jr., nonetheless, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his spin as a white guy playing a black guy so he could snake another Oscar. What a meta-go-round! Watch clip.

6. In & Out (1997): It could happen this Sunday night! Thrilled over his Oscar win for playing a gay soldier, hipster movie star Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) gives thanks to his gay acting coach from his high school days. Trouble is, said teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is in the closet with an unwitting fiance (Joan Cusack)! Groundbreaking for its long man-on-man kissing scene (Howard sparks the interest of a showbiz reporter played by Tom Selleck), Out actually rings funnier and braver nearly 20 years after its debut. And not just because homophobia deserves tweaking more than ever — the showbiz humor shines too. Actor Cameron's fellow noms, revealed by presenter Glenn Close with perfectly wan smarm, include "Paul Newman for Coot". Fun fact: screenwriter Paul Rudnick's inspiration for Out came from an actual Oscar moment. In 1994, when Tom Hanks accepted his Best Actor award for his role as a man suffering AIDS in Philadelphia, he thanked his own high school drama coach and flagged him as gay — only in this case with the teacher's approval. Watch clip.

7. Mommie Dearest (1981): Intense Faye Dunaway as intense Joan Crawford accepting her Oscar for her comeback flick Mildred Pierce (1945) while sick in bed, with reporters and radio mics surrounding her? As tasty as cherry pie! Fun fact: the scene wasn't a case of "creative license" — Crawford milked the moment pretty much as depicted! Watch clip.

8. The Star (1952): Crawford's silver-screen rival, Bette Davis is admirably self-aware in this cautionary showbiz tale as Margaret, an aging movie queen desperate to regain her fame (and youth). The woman is so frustrated she can't land great parts, she gets trashed, grabs the Oscar she won in her salad days, and takes her tiny friend on a wild joyride in her car. Maggie got a DUI, while Davis herself landed an Oscar nomination. Watch clip.

9. The Bodyguard (1992): If Oscar were truly anthropomorphous, he'd be running for cover in the final scene of this chunk of cheese starring Whitney Houston in her singing and acting prime. Thanks to smitten bodyguard Frank (Kevin Costner), superstar Rachel Marron (Houston) is able to evade a psycho stalker through most of this romantic thriller. Somehow, the would-be assassin breaks into the Academy Awards pre-show, hides a gun in a TV camera, and starts shooting at Rachel just as she's about to accept her Oscar for Best Actress, live! Hmmm, wonder if the show enjoyed a ratings bump the following year. Fun fact: GALECA will always love-hate this shameless pleasure. Watch clip.

10. What's Cookin' Doc? (1944): "Who, who, will win the Oscar" intones the narrator in this fun, respectful spoof of awards races starring... Bugs Bunny! Filmdom's most animated rabbit one-ups the aforementioned Frank Fane of The Oscar as he begs for the prize even after losing to — spoiler alert — James Cagney. The snarky cartoon is mixed with clips of LA's then-hopping nightlife, with stops at the Trocadero, Hollywood Bowl, Coconut Grove and Chinese Theater. Don't miss the epilogue, in which Bugs winds up winning something in an exchange that's genuinely, surprisingly gay. Now that's a fun fact! Watch complete cartoon.

DISHONORABLE MENTION: The Lonely Lady (1983): Oh, Lonely Lady, why do you taunt GALECA? Jerilee Randall (Golden Globe winner Pia Zadora) is no Frank Fane. This scheming seducer — a screenwriter despite her Barbarella remake-worthy looks — actually scores the little gleaming guy, who here isn't called Oscar, but rather some sort of mumbled "Major Award"... an award that just happens to look like the Oscar and Emmy had one-night fling after a crazy night at L'Orangerie. And Jerilee is not a graceful winner. “I suppose I’m not the first woman here who had to [bleep] her way to the top!" she tells the quasi-Oscar audience. And then she pulls a Marlon Brando and rejects the prize . . . something none of the characters in the above cinematic treats would ever do. Watch clip.

Movie Dearest creator, head writer and editor Kirby Holt and critic and contributor Chris Carpenter are members of the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association.

Monday, February 16, 2015

MD Reviews: Short Cuts 2014, Part 3


Once again, ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel (a.k.a. ShortsTV) has theatrically released this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make our break your office Oscar pool. In the final of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Click here for Part 1, the Animated Short Film nominees, and Part 2, the Live Action Short Film nominees.

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry (USA, 40 minutes).
A behind-the-phones look at the Veterans Crisis Line, the service that fields over 22,000 calls a month from suicidal military personnel. On the surface, it looks like any other cubicled call center, but it's the harrowing cries for help (heard only from the operator's point of view) that make this a powerful indictment of the chronic horrors brought on by serving one's country in the name of war.
Watch trailer. Currently available to watch on HBO GO and HBO On Demand.
MD Rating: B+

Joanna, Aneta Kopacz (Poland, 40 minutes).
Wife and mother Joanna, stricken with terminal cancer, writes a blog in which she tries to leave a record of what she hopes to teach her young son. Artful to a fault, the whole blog aspect is hardly explored, leaving a long, frankly boring look into the everyday life of (to put it bluntly) a subject we have seen countless times before. It doesn't help that the son is precocious beyond words.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: C-

Our Curse (Nasza klatwa), Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki (Poland, 28 minutes).
New parents face daunting emotional and physical challenges when their son is diagnosed with a life-threatening congenital breathing disorder known colloquially as "Ondine's curse". Framed as a video memoir (director Sliwinski is the father of precious little Leo), this is a unflinching, intimate look at two parents' journey through fear, doubt and guilt to acceptance, normalcy and the unbroken bonds of love. Heartbreaking, inspiring and unforgettable.
Watch trailer. Watch in full at the New York Times website.
MD Rating: A

The Reaper (La Parka), Gabriel Serra (Mexico, 29 minutes).
Meet Efrain, a 25-year employee of a Mexican slaughterhouse known by his co-workers as "La Parka" ("The Reaper"), whose job it is to deal the final blow to countless heads of cattle on a daily basis. Filled with visually stunning imagery of decay and gore, this one is certainly not for the squeamish, yet if you can stomach it you will discover a fascinating exploration into institutionalized death.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: A-

White Earth, Christian Jensen (USA, 20 minutes).
Welcome to White Earth, North Dakota, where thousands have come to brave cruel winters seeking work in the oil fields. As seen through the eyes of three children and an immigrant mother, struggling to survive in broken down trailers while their fathers and husband are mostly absent, this one strives to be a modern day Grapes of Wrath but its overall lack of focus makes it just Michael Moore Lite.
Watch trailer. Currently available to watch on Vimeo.
MD Rating: C

Reviews by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reverend's Reviews: The Music of Love


'Tis the weekend for love on stage and screen, although I'm not sure whether the big movie release Fifty Shades of Grey qualifies since I haven't yet seen it or read the BDSM-infused book on which it is based.

Opera lovers throughout Southern California have the opportunity to quench their ardor via LA Opera's lavish production of The Ghosts of Versailles, now playing through March 1st at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  This complex but generally entertaining work by Oscar-winning composer John Corigliano (The Red Violin) and librettist William M. Hoffman made its New York debut way back in 1991 but is only now having its West Coast premiere.

Like virtually all operas, The Ghosts of Versailles has a love story at its heart.  As Marie Antoinette (a great performance by out soprano Patricia Racette) longs to return to life from her dull purgatorial prison, playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais — real-life author of the plays upon which the popular Figaro operas are based — pines for her.  To woo the late queen of France, Beaumarchais composes a new opera featuring his caddish hero that, he promises Marie, will free her.

This opera within the opera provides additional romances as well as most of the grand buffa laughs to be found, especially once sultry Egyptian entertainer Samira makes her entrance.  None other than Tony Award-winning diva Patti Lupone plays Samira in the LA production, and she succeeds in running off with Act One by virtue of her fairly brief but very funny appearance at its end.

As directed by Darko Tresnjak (a recent Tony winner himself for A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder) and splendidly designed by Alexander Dodge, The Ghosts of Versailles is a continuous feast for the senses.  Linda Cho's costumes, Aaron Rhyne's projections and several acrobatic sequences staged by 2 Ring Circus also deserve mention in this regard.  They help to camouflage, though not completely, the libretto's more convoluted moments as well as the excessive vocal challenges posed at times by Corigliano's music.  There are many lovely, skilled singers among this production's large cast but the score threatened to do some of them in on opening night.

The more familiar one is with both the Figaro canon (LA Opera will next be presenting both The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro to complement Ghosts) as well as the French Revolution, the more one will appreciate Hoffman's and Corigliano's central plot and their additional plots within the plot.  Be assured that love wins out as it should, especially around Valentine's Day.

Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years, on the other hand, offers a musical roller coaster ride of marital highs and lows.  The excellent film version of Brown's 2002 work, adapted and directed by Richard LaGravenese (who wrote the acclaimed Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra as well as 1990's classics The Fisher King and The Mirror Has Two Faces), is premiering in select theaters and on VOD this weekend courtesy of Radius/The Weinstein Company.

Anna Kendrick, most recently Cinderella in the Into the Woods movie, and Broadway Newsie Jeremy Jordan star as Cathy and Jamie, the show's idealistic but ultimately doomed couple.  One couldn't ask for a better pairing between their physical attractiveness, dramatic chops and — most important for a musical — their spectacular singing ability.

In addition to the sophistication of Brown's songs, The Last Five Years uses a sophisticated dramatic device: Jamie sings the story of his and Cathy's relationship from their first meeting to their divorce, while Cathy sings from the end of their relationship to its start.  They briefly meet in the middle, when he proposes to her.  It is a risky approach, both on stage and on film, but LaGravenese & company pull it off beautifully.  There is some brief but very good large-scale choreography by Michele Lynch (Camp, Joyful Noise), although I was disappointed by the frighteningly stereotypical gay dancers employed during the otherwise amusing "A Summer in Ohio" number.  Shaky hand-held cameras are also irritatingly utilized by cinematographer Steven Meizler during some scenes.

While not the most optimistic of love stories, this is an impressive and heartbreakingly truthful dissection of the rise and fall (or is it the fall and rise?) of a relationship.  I expect that it is at least more honest than Fifty Shades of Grey's bondage game.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Ghosts of Versailles: B
The Last Five Years: A-

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

MD Reviews: Short Cuts 2014, Part 2


Once again, ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel (a.k.a. ShortsTV) has theatrically released this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short.

Click here for Part 1, the Animated Short Film nominees.

Aya, Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis (France/Israel, 40 minutes).
A traveler mistakes a woman at the airport for his driver and she doesn't immediately correct him in this offbeat tale of a chance encounter that goes too far. Along with a big dose of voyeurism, there's a slow build up of tension in this, the longest of the nominees. However, the aloofness of the characters makes the ultimate payoff hollow.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: C-

Boogaloo and Graham, Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney (UK, 14 minutes).
When a dad gives his two adorable young sons two equally adorable chicks to raise problems arise with mum when the title duo grow up. Already a BAFTA Award winner, this heartwarming charmer will easily garner the sentimental vote that often triumphs in this category. It's certainly a winner in my book.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: A

Butter Lamp (La lampe au beurre de yak), Wei Hu and Julien Féret (France/China, 15 minutes).
A traveling photographer takes several family portraits of the people of Tibet posed in front of a series of absurd backdrops in this odd entry. The point of it all is elusive until the very end, but it's not one we haven't heard many times before. But the short does possess a quirky allure.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: C

Parvaneh, Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger (Switzerland, 25 minutes).
A young Afghani girl working abroad to help her family back home runs into a roadblock when she attempts to send them money via Western Union. The main conflict is, eventually, easily resolved, yet this is ultimately a depiction of a social and culture divide bridged by friendship, buoyed by a winning lead performance by Nissa Kashani.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B

The Phone Call, Mat Kirkby and James Lucas (UK, 20 minutes).
A hotline operator tries to talk a grieving widower out of suicide in (obviously) the most dramatic of the year's nominees. Sally Hawkins (an Oscar nominee last year) and Jim Broadbent (an Oscar winner 13 years ago) heightens this one's profile, yet the climax is drastically undercut by one of the drippiest pop ballads this side of the 1980s.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B-

Coming soon: Part 3 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

Monday, February 9, 2015

MD Reviews: Short Cuts 2014, Part 1


Once again, ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel (a.k.a. ShortsTV) has theatrically released this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the first of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Animated Short.


The Bigger Picture, Daisy Jacobs (UK, 8 minutes).
Two adult brothers clash over the care of their aged, infirm mother in this year's "artsy" entry. As seen in this making of, director Jacobs hand painted the characters directly onto the walls of a full-size set, with hand-crafted projections and props to create a 3D effect. Like Best Picture nominee Boyhood, the filmmaking gimmick here (which on first viewing isn't even entirely apparent) seems to be the magnet for praise (including a BAFTA) despite the stale story.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: C-

The Dam Keeper, Robert Kondo (USA, 18 minutes).
A practical piglet oversees the dam that keeps an unnamed "darkness" out of the anthropomorphic animal village he lives in, yet he's still a bullied outcast at his school. Like its adorable porcine protagonist, the pastel animation is smudged yet winning in this heartbreaking-then-heartwarming fable (narrated by Sherlock baddie Lars Mikkelsen) of friendship and responsibility.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B+

Feast, Patrick Osborne (USA, 6 minutes).
The most high profile nominee thanks to its theatrical pairing with Disney's Best Animated Feature nominee Big Hero 6, this charming tale takes a "dog's eye view" of a pup's owner's love life and how it effects the pup's love life... with food. Familiar territory for a Disney cartoon yes, but its the most accomplished of the five contenders (it has already won the Annie Award) and offers the most satisfying denouement.
Watch trailer. Feast will be included as a bonus feature on the DVD and Blu-ray of Big Hero 6, available February 24.
MD Rating: A-

Me and My Moulton, Torill Kove (Canada, 14 minutes).
The middle daughter of a happy family of five is nonetheless embarrassed by her parents' bohemian nonconformity. Kove's autobiographical follow up to her earlier Academy Award winning short The Danish Poet is simply animated, universally familiar (we have all been mortified by our own mothers and fathers at some point in our lives) and unexpectedly, consistently hilarious.
Watch trailer. Watch in full at the National Film Board of Canada website.
MD Rating: B+

A Single Life, Joris Oprins (The Netherlands, 3 minutes).
A woman discovers a magical 45 record can propel her backwards and forwards to different points in her life, from childhood to old age. Cute but easily the slightest of this year's batch; how this got in over legendary Disney animator Glen Keane's joyous, lovely Duet boggles the mind even more than the much-discussed omission of The Lego Movie in the Best Animated Feature category.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: C

Coming soon: Part 2 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.