Thursday, April 30, 2015

Monthly Wallpaper: May 2015 - New York, New York

Start spreading the news: the Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper for May is all about New York, New York. After all, it's a helluva town!

From the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty to the Queensboro Bridge and the Great White Way, the Big Apple has served as the backdrop to many a classic movie across all genres, from gritty dramas to splashy musicals. So lace up those vagabond shoes, take a ride in a hole in the ground and remember: if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere!

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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

MD Reviews: Johnny, Dangerously

"Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"

"What do you got?"

That memorable quote is the second most famous thing about The Wild One, the 1953 minor classic that recently made its debut on Blu-ray. Of course, the most famous thing about The Wild One is the iconic image (see above) of a young, virile Marlon Brando, clad in leather motorcycle jacket, blue jeans and biker's hat (helmets are for squares), his manly sex appeal radiating off the screen like the supernova of a star he was fast becoming at the time.

As Johnny Strabler, Brando was the original, true "rebel without a cause", and his Wild One look went on to influence everything from the Fonz to the gay leather scene (see Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising for solid proof of that). Not quite as timeless is the film itself, which is mostly dated and often comical in its over-earnest depictions of "untamed youth" terrorizing a small town. A biker gang that includes Jerry Parks (best known as Rob Petrie's neighbor on the old Dick Van Dyke Show) as one of its members isn't particularly threatening, although Lee Marvin certainly adds the crazy.

Situated on Brando's filmography between his breakout Stanley Kowalski and his Oscar winning Terry Malloy, Johnny isn't exactly wild, spending most of the film mooning over the good girl daughter of the local sheriff. But even with Brando's method approach curiously muted, you can't take your eyes off of him.

MD Rating: B

The Wild One is now available on Blu-ray:

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Reverend’s Reviews: Mothers’ Day

Nia Vardalos doesn’t appear in enough movies. The Oscar-nominated screenwriter and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and gay fave Connie and Carla is consistently one of the best actresses around whether in comedies or dramas. She has worked more frequently on television over the past decade, which is good for her but not for those of us averse to Law & Order: SVU.

Well, Vardalos’ fans can rejoice this weekend as she returns to the big screen in Helicopter Mom (it is also available starting today on VOD). In this very funny and somewhat groundbreaking comedy, Vardalos plays Maggie, the suffocating single mother of an NYU-bound son, Lloyd (talented former child actor Jason Dolley). She begins to believe that Lloyd is gay, despite his assertion that his sexual orientation is thus far “undeclared” and his new attraction to a pretty female classmate. In a schizophrenic bid to keep him closer to home while trying to win him a scholarship designated for an LGBT student, Maggie outs Lloyd as gay to his school as well as online. The film’s breezy 80 minutes take various twists and turns from there.

Screenwriter Duke Tran defiantly refuses to force Lloyd to “pick a team” in terms of his sexuality even as the film comes to a close. This is refreshing and likely contrary to most viewers’ expectations. Vardalos and the mostly no-name supporting cast (with the exception of late 1980’s-90’s pop singer Lisa Loeb) are uniformly excellent. Helicopter Mom is a little under the radar but I encourage everyone to seek it out.

Also opening this weekend at the Arena Theatre in Los Angeles is The Harvest, a modern-day gothic melodrama that emerges as little more than schlock despite the participation of Academy Award nominees Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon and Peter Fonda. It is also available on VOD. Mary Ann, a somewhat nosy girl, moves in with her grandparents (Fonda plays grandpa) in the wake of her father’s/their son’s death. While investigating their neighbors, she comes across Andy, a bed-bound boy reported to be terminally ill. His over-protective and controlling mother (Morton) is a respected surgeon at the local hospital but she doesn’t take kindly to strangers in her home. Andy’s father (Shannon), meanwhile, is a househusband who is also having an affair with a townswoman.

Mary Ann and Andy become friends and she sneaks into his room whenever his parents are away. In the process, though, she discovers another seriously-ill boy who is being kept in the basement. Andy isn’t even aware of this. Dark secrets begin to be revealed and Mary Ann has to serve as Andy’s protector while mama Morton (whose performance is easily the best thing in this movie) becomes increasingly unhinged.

Under John McNaughton’s direction, the hard-to-swallow scenario becomes somewhat affecting but it is mostly too little, too late. Like Andy, you may prefer to watch corn grow.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Helicopter Mom: B+
The Harvest: C

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reverend's Interviews: Singing from the Heart


There aren't many performers who are a household name at 13 and have won two Grammy Awards before their 15th birthday. In fact, LeAnn Rimes became the youngest country music star in 1996 since Tanya Tucker 24 years earlier. She has long since crossed over into other musical genres, appeared in movies and TV series, and written four books.

Rimes, who is now 32, is also one of the few country-western singers who has spoken out in support of the LGBT community. She performed with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles in 2010 and soon after wrote: "I believe in equality for everyone. I believe everyone should have the right to love and commit to whomever they want. In God's eyes, we are all the same."

Her appearance at White Party Palm Springs on Sunday, April 26th will serve as her latest step in supporting our community. Rimes graciously chatted with me about her life and achievements thus far.

CC: How do you feel to be making your White Party debut? How did it come about?
LR: I am so excited to be a part of this year’s White Party! It is a chance for me to get to sing in front of the most loving crowds I could ever play in front of. I love all my gay fans. How could I say no?

CC: Can you share a sneak peek of your performance with our readers?
LR: I love surprises so you’ll just have to wait and see! I can guarantee though that we’ll be playing some of my older hits, some of my remixes that make you want to get up and dance, and some covers of my favorite artists as well.

CC: You've been a vocal and visible supporter of LGBT equality for several years, for which we thank you. What led or inspired you to become a supporter?
LR: I strongly believe that everyone should have the right to love whomever they choose and that was something I knew very early on in life. I was luckily given a platform at a very young age to try and help promote equality for the LGBT community. The LGBT community has been some of my biggest supporters throughout my career and they are a dedicated fan base!

CC: I assume (and please correct me if I'm wrong) that you were raised in a fairly conservative environment given your upbringing in Mississippi and Texas. Have you encountered any opposition from family or friends given your pro-LGBT stance? If so, how have you dealt with it?
LR: The opposition I have found in my life has had nothing to do with the LGBT community! (Laughs). I spent most of my upbringing on the road so, thankfully, I was able to meet a lot of different people and be exposed to a number of different ways of thinking. It is because of that life that I have been able to be such an avid supporter of the LGBT community. My uncle was gay. He passed away from AIDS when I was young. I was very close to him and feel our relationship drove me to be very vocal about my passion for equality.

CC: I really admire your ability to move easily between country, pop, rock, inspirational and religious songs, and even Broadway show tunes. Have you received any criticism from your early fans for "crossing over" from your country-western roots?
LR: All great artists evolve and challenge themselves throughout their careers and I take pride in finding inspiration from all genres of music. I think it may have been a surprise for some of my earlier fans to see my music on the Top 40 charts but, overall, my fans have been amazing in that they continue to follow me wherever I go!

CC: You have often mentioned Patsy Cline as a musical influence as well as gay faves Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. Who have been some others? Are there any current performers you particularly like or admire?
LR: I adore Adele. I’m a massive David Gray fan, with whom I just recorded a duet, “Snow In Vegas.” I’m just a fan of great music, an emotional point of view and gut-wrenching performances.

CC: What do you think of the recent trend of gay and lesbian country singers coming out publicly (for example Ty Herndon, Billy Gilman, Chely Wright, Steve Grand and Brandy Clark)? Were you aware any of them were gay before they announced it?
LR: I am so unbelievably proud of anyone who is brave enough to accept their true selves and I am lucky to call so many of these amazing people friends. It is funny to hear that question like I should be shocked when I heard of them ‘coming out’ but, for example, I have been friends with Ty for a number of years and I already knew he was gay! I am just ecstatic that he felt comfortable enough to come out to the masses!

CC: You have released a couple of albums of songs you've found personally inspiring. Are there other, more recent songs in this vein that you one day hope to record?
LR: In a good way, I kind of opened up a can of worms on my last album “Spitfire.” Starting with the album “Family,” I began to really open up my soul as a songwriter with songs like “What I Cannot Change” and “Family.” With “Spitfire,” I went so much further with the gut-wrenching honesty. Life happened and I think I had two choices, bare it all or hide it. There was no hiding it for me. I wear everything on my sleeve, so I would have been beyond lying if I didn’t let myself just go there. Writing a song like “Borrowed” changed my life. It forever changed the way I approach songwriting. Everything that comes out of me now as an artist is authentic and as honest as you can get. It’s a beautiful, cathartic place to write and live from.

CC: This past Christmas, you released the first part of an intended three-part holiday EP. How are those coming along? What are some of the songs you plan to include in future installments?
LR: We just started recording the new Christmas record. Christmas in March is a bit strange. (laughs) There are a few original songs I have co-written and some classics too. I love to mess with the arrangements a bit and make them mine. I’m collaborating with a couple of great artists too. You’ll have to wait a bit longer for me to reveal anything else, but it’s going to be great.

CC: Like most artists today, it seems, you've had your share of professional and personal controversies in the past. Is there anything that has proven particularly helpful to you in navigating those that could benefit other artists or people in general?
LR: Don’t read any comment section of any website/social media feed ever! (Laughs) I think it is important to be confident in and proud of who you are, and to remember that a lot of the negativity that can surround you doesn’t have anything to do with you. It is about the person at the other end of the hate. I try and remember that every time someone says or writes something that may hurt my feelings. Maybe these people are going through something in their lives personally and you are just an easy target. It helps to put these types of comments in perspective.

CC: In closing, is there anything special you would like to say to your LGBT fans or want them to know?
LR: Just that I am so thankful for your continued love and support and if you are able to make it to the White Party on Sunday I cannot wait to give you one hell of a good show!

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Reverend's Preview: Celebrate Your Lifestyle at the Newport Beach Film Festival

There is no shortage of unique lifestyles in Southern California. There is also no shortage of film festivals but only one, the Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF), has a stated dedication to reflecting as much diversity as possible. Its 16th annual edition will take place April 23rd-30th at multiple venues in and around its host city.

More than 53,000 people attended one or more screenings during last year’s event. Past festivals have drawn such filmmakers and celebrities as John Waters, Alan Arkin, Aaron Sorkin, Penelope Spheeris and Michael C. Hall to Orange County. Founded in 1999, NBFF “seeks to bring to Orange County the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world.” It is also committed to “enlightening the public with a first-class international film program, a forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities.” Tickets for this year’s fest offerings may be purchased by visiting their website or calling 949-253-2880.

In addition to films targeting youth, seniors, various ethnic groups, nature lovers and more, the fest annually incorporates features and shorts appealing to LGBT viewers. Here’s a rundown of the LGBT offerings on tap this year:

Barrio Boy (Directed by Dennis Shinners, USA):
A Latino barber secretly falls in love with a handsome Irish stranger over the course of a haircut during a hot summer afternoon in a macho Brooklyn neighborhood. Shinners won the Best Director - Short Film award for this at last fall’s Long Beach Qfilm Festival.

Ma/ddy (Directed by Devon Kirkpatrick, USA):
A genderqueer widow carries a child using her late wife's embryo, creating a family that will forever link her to the love of her life. Starring Mel Shimkovitz (Transparent) and Clea Duvall (Argo).

Like Breathing (Directed by Liz Cooper, Australia):
Max, a mechanic for her father and caretaker for her disabled sister, feels stuck and doesn't have the courage to say anything until one day when she meets Bel.

Elder (Directed by Genéa Gaudet, USA):
A young gay man stands at a crossroad between who he is and who he is expected to be in this documentary chronicling a forbidden love affair between a Mormon missionary and an Italian Communist.

Stealth (Directed by Bennett Lasseter, USA):
Born a boy, 11-year old Sammy knows she's a girl and is determined to live her life as one, even as pressures build from the other kids at school.

The Future Perfect (Directed by Nicolas Citton, Canada):
One man is hired to do a job that makes him question every impulse in his body, until he sees a future he cannot unlearn in this time travel tale starring out actor Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) and Robert Baker (True Blood).

Lady of the Night (Directed by Laurent Boileau, France):
The anniversary of the death of his lover, Cornelius, revives Samuel's memories. Desperate, he retires to his room and seeks refuge in his night life. He becomes a Queen of the Night, in tribute to his lost love.

First Love (Céad Ghrá) (Directed by Brian Deane, Ireland):
A nostalgic coming of age story about two best friends who set out on a quest in pursuit of their first crush.

TRIPTYCH: 3 Women Making Art (Directed by Pam Walton, USA):
The unique stories of three female artists who have remained vibrant and creative well into their 70’s.

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

MD Reviews: CockTale

Not that I'm complaining, but there sure are a lot of penis documentaries popping up lately. From 2013's Unhung Hero and Dick: The Documentary to last year's The Final Member and The Dickumentary, one could safely assume that a certain subset of modern documentarians are obsessed with the male sexual organ. From their nudge-nudge-wink-wink(ie) titles and implied full montys, these dick docs lure you in with your lurid assumptions but before you know it, you've learned a thing or two about our friend John Thomas.

But just how much is there to know? Apparently a limited amount, for there's a lot of information overlap among these recent examples of this oddly specific new sub-genre of nonfiction films. The latest, writer/director Sofian Khan's The Dickumentary, follows a very familiar path for anyone who has already watched its pecker-centric predecessors. Visit to the the Icelandic Phallological Museum? Check. Take a stroll through a Las Vegas adult entertainment convention to get the (presumably expert) opinions of various porn starlets? Check. Land an interview with Jonah Falcon, the self-annointed "Man with the World's Largest Penis"? Double check (he needs the work).

What makes this Dickumentary stand out in the crowd is its breadth (girth?) in its take on the seminal (ahem) subject. Dozens of talking heads (who do know dick) chime in on all things schlong-ish, from the evolution of the penis to its place of reverence in ancient cultures to such modern, oft-controversial matters as circumcision and enlargement surgeries, not to mention the amazing/horrifying site of the corkscrew penis of the Argentine lake duck in action. Khan also employs what is seemingly a requirement of dong-umentaries: lots and lots of phallic symbols (i.e.: rockets launching, Big Ben, obelisk after obelisk after obelisk...). Cheekiness aside, The Dickumentary is the most focused and well, well-endowed, informatively, of its ilk; aside from a few brief shots of actual unerect penises (sorry boys), this could actually air on the Discovery Channel. Heck, they could run a marathon of all these dickumentaries and they'd have a bigger hit on their hands than "Shark Week". Who wouldn't want to watch "Cock Week"?

Side note: although it is subtitled "A Short History of the Penis", the film is actually a not-that-short 70 minutes long, proving that even a documentary about dicks knows to fib a little about its size.

MD Rating: B

The Dickumentary is now available on DVD and Instant Video:

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

MD Reviews: The Two Jakes


Thanks to a little movie called Brokeback Mountain (not to mention beefcake roles in Jarhead and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), Jake Gyllenhaal will always be a favorite of gay audiences. But as his performances in Zodiac and Prisoners further proved, our Jake is also one of his generation's finest actors, able to create complex and compelling characters regardless of his matinee idol looks. In his two latest movies, the moody morality tale Nightcrawler and the psychological thriller Enemy, Gyllenhaal adds two (or is it three?) fascinating portrayals to his growing filmography.

In the former, set in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a small time thief who becomes a "nightcrawler", a freelance videographer who prowls the streets nightly, filming grisly accidents and crime scenes and selling the footage to the highest paying local TV news show hungry for exclusives. Lou is especially well-qualified for this new entrepreneurial venture, as he excels at manipulation, revels in the attention and, oh yeah, has absolutely no moral code. With his steely ambition, Lou will do anything to get ahead, from repositioning a dead body to get a better shot to exploiting a ratings-obsessed news producer (an electric Rene Russo, who, along with Gyllenhaal, should have been Oscar nominated for their performances here) into a sexual relationship. The stakes are raised considerably when Lou stumbles into a bloody home invasion and all bets, ethically and emphatically, are off.

Greasy haired and dorkily attired, Gyllenhaal creepily recalls another cinematic psychopath; he's the Norman Bates of the digital age. First time director Dan Gilroy (who also penned the film's Academy Award nominated screenplay) delivers a smart, tight, atmospheric trek into the dark side of humanity, populated by nightcrawlers and their unwitting prey.

Reteaming with his Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve, Gyllenhaal steps into a dual role in Enemy, a freaky mind fuck of a film with a twist ending so perplexingly polarizing you will either hail it as a brilliant, thought-provoking masterpiece or revile it as a convoluted, nonsensical "WTF" waste of time.

One on hand, Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a rumpled college history teacher stuck in a rut, with his career, his girlfriend, his life. On the other hand, Gyllenhaal plays Anthony Claire, a scruffy wannabe actor with a history of cheating on his pregnant wife. By chance, Adam spots Anthony in a bit role in a movie and, struck by their amazing resemblance to each other, tracks him down. Their meeting only raises more questions: are they twins separated at birth? Two fractured personas of the same mentally ill person? And what's up with all the spiders?

Alas, there are no easy answers, although there are plenty of theories out there (this one is the most popular). And while I appreciate a movie that makes you think, and Gyllenhaal acts the hell out of his "two-sides of the same coin" role(s), Enemy never adds up. The only way what we see makes any sense is if you employ the "it's a dream" trope that hasn't worked since The Wizard of Oz. As other mind-binders like The Sixth Sense and Inception have proven, audiences are more than willing to play the game of Cinematic Twister, but not if the filmmakers make up the rules as they go along.

MD Ratings:
Nightcrawler: A-
Enemy: C

Nightcrawler and Enemy are now available on DVD and Blu-ray:

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Reverend's Reviews: Treats in My Basket


Another Easter has come and gone, but the bunny left a few new and recommended movies, videos and even an album in his wake!

Sagrada - The Mystery of Creation (now playing at Laemmle's Playhouse in Pasadena):
This spiritually-leaning documentary by Stefan Haupt, director of last year's acclaimed The Circle (see below), explores the ongoing construction of La Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona, Spain. Fascinatingly, it has been under construction for well over a century. Originally conceived as "the poor people's cathedral," the structure was dramatically redesigned by architect Antoni Gaudi, who passed away in 1926. Thousands of subsequent laborers and artisans have contributed to the project ever since. Haupt and his camera traverse La Sagrada Familia (which means "The Holy Family" in English) inside and out while interviewing a number of designers currently working on it. Anyone with an interest in architecture, history or religion/spirituality will find much to appreciate in the film.

The Circle (now available on DVD and VOD from Wolfe Video):
A unique hybrid of documentary and narrative filmmaking, reportedly the result of money running out before the originally-intended narrative version could be finished. Here, Haupt tells the amazing life story of Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp, a longtime gay couple who met in 1958 and through their political activism helped secure greater rights for LGBT citizens in post-war Switzerland. Both men are still alive and contribute their first-hand accounts to the film while actors Matthias Hungerbuhler and Sven Schelker play them in the dramatized sequences. Inspiring and timely, The Circle was Switzerland's official entry in last year's Academy Awards but was sadly not nominated.

Three in a Bed (now available on DVD from TLA):
Continuing the current trend in romantic stories between ordinary looking, "real" gay guys a la Weekend and Looking is this dramedy by British writer-director Lloyd Eyre-Morgan. Closeted Nate (Brennan Reece) is an aspiring musician who has lived with his two needy sisters ever since their mother died. Things start to get complicated when he meets an out neighbor, Jonny (Darren Bransford), and they develop feelings for one another. While some situations in the script are exaggerated and predictable, Three in a Bed is generally warm and wise and also benefits from good performances by its cast.

Boy Meets Girl (now available on VOD from Wolfe, on DVD April 28th):
One of the more memorable, award-winning offerings on last year's LGBT film fest circuit was this trans-centric drama. Trans actress Michelle Hendley makes a very impressive debut as Ricky, the only male to female (or female to male, for that matter) resident of her rural community. As her accepting best friend since childhood, Michael Welch (The Twilight Saga, SyFy's Z Nation) also gives a breakout performance. The film is sensitively written and directed by Eric Schaeffer (If Lucy Fell, Never Again) and his best work to date.

The Last Straight Man (now available on DVD from TLA):
A somewhat forced, at times unbelievable but still affecting chronicle of two buddies — one gay, one straight and married — who pledge to spend one night together each year and do so for over a decade. Mark Cirillo (The Seminarian) and Scott Sell (Out to Kill) play the sexy but conflicted pair and have good chemistry, even if they don't age convincingly during the course of the story. Although it has its shortcomings, this film is a marked improvement over writer-director Mark Bessenger's last project, the awful Bite Marks.

Derek Bishop's Bicycling in Quicksand (now available on CD and for download):
I was unfamiliar with this out singer-songwriter before receiving his new, sophomore release. In addition to his penchant for leather, Bishop has a knack for channeling 1970's disco as well as the sound of such early 80's bands as Queen and Pet Shop Boys. His lyrics are smart and the song stylings enjoyable, but he doesn't have the strongest voice and the recording's sound mix drowns him out at times. Still, Bishop is an artist worth discovering and keeping an eye/ear on.

Reverend's Ratings:
Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation: A-
The Circle: A-
Three in a Bed: B
Boy Meets Girl: B+
The Last Straight Man: B-
Bicycling in Quicksand: B

The Circle, Three in a Bed, Boy Meets Girl and The Last Straight Man are available on DVD, and Bicycling in Quicksand is available on CD:

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

Friday, April 3, 2015

Reverend's Report: Everything Old is New Again


Now in its super-successful 6th year, the TCM Classic Film Festival continues to draw approximately 25,000 fans of older movies to Hollywood from far and wide. The just-concluded 2015 edition, which ran March 26th-29th, entailed a pair of controversial yet necessary developments that will likely continue in future fests. These were in addition to the absence of beloved TCM host Robert Osborne, who had to bow out of this year's event due to a long-delayed medical procedure. Hopefully, the 82-year old will return in 2016.

First, several films screened (albeit in new editions or restorations) that had been shown during the inaugural fest in 2010. This was likely lost on anyone who didn't attend then but more movies are sure to be repeated in the future as the list of available, previously unscreened classics gets smaller. Second, the fest's definition of a classic has gotten broader (as exemplified this year by such camp landmarks as Boom!, Earthquake and The Loved One) or at least more recent, with a handful of 90's films (Malcolm X, Apollo 13 and Out of Sight) shown this year. The inclusion of 1998's Out of Sight was particularly disconcerting to some based on pre-fest debate on several online forums but it was reportedly requested by festival honoree Anne V. Coates, who edited it as well as Lawrence of Arabia (for which she won an Academy Award) and a number of other great films including one of my all time faves, 1983's The Pirates of Penzance.

This year's TCM fest opened with a 50th anniversary restoration of The Sound of Music, a sold-out event that largely eschewed the campy sing-along/dress-along following the film has enjoyed more recently. Stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer were in attendance, both looking radiant and Plummer finally admitting his admiration for the Oscar-winning musical he has frequently dissed over the last five decades as "The Sound of Mucus." Other celebs present whose work was spotlighted during the weekend were the still gorgeous Sophia Loren (see my comments below about her appearance in 1972's Man of La Mancha); Shirley MacLaine, who selected her 1961 lesbian-themed The Children's Hour to be shown in addition to The Apartment; actor Norman Lloyd, whose career has spanned eight decades and includes such classics as Hitchcock's Spellbound and Chaplin's Limelight as well as TV's St. Elsewhere; and renowned stuntman Terry Leonard, repped at the fest by Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Wind and the Lion.

Regretfully, I was only able to take in Saturday's offerings this year since it was Palm Sunday weekend and church duty called, but I caught some genuine goodies. First up was a rare screening of one of the few Disney films I've never seen, 1949's So Dear to My Heart. This lovely and surprisingly religious story about a farm boy (adorable Bobby Driscoll) who adopts a black lamb rejected by its mother was introduced by critic Leonard Maltin as the most personal of Walt's productions. It was also intended to be his first feature completely in live-action but the nervous distributor, RKO, pressured Disney to add several animated segments to draw fans of his cartoons. He reluctantly did so and, to Walt's credit, they and the songs written for them are charming. So Dear to My Heart has a number of other things to recommend it including singer-actor Burl Ives in one of his first movies, the great Beulah Bondi as the boy's God-fearing grandmother, Winton C. Hoch's beautiful cinematography and the precocious star sheep, Danny. The film has not been restored but the 35mm print shown was in excellent condition, proving those Disney folks take great care of the classics in its storied vault.

Incidentally, I had a conversation after this screening with a few other attendees about the ridiculous, ongoing "blackballing" of Disney's Song of the South by festivals and even the Disney studio itself. The 1946, live-action/animation combo inspired by Joel Chandler Harris' "Tales of Uncle Remus", set in the post-Civil War deep South, has been condemned the last few decades for allegedly racist content despite its having won two Academy Awards. And also despite the fact that one of the most popular and more recent attractions at Disney parks around the world, Splash Mountain, owes its raison d'etre to Song of the South. I have re-watched the film more recently, thanks to a DVD of it available in Europe, and it is no more racist in light of the story's setting and the era in which the movie was produced than Gone With the Wind. In fact, its probably less offensive than GWTW. We all agreed a serious re-appraisal is needed. How is the modern Disney Studios' continued caving to pressure by certain groups demanding that they never allow the film to be shown again any different from North Korea threatening Sony over The Interview? Re-release Song of the South or put it out on home video and let people decide for themselves whether or not to view it.

Such traditional American freedoms were celebrated at this year's TCM fest via 1776, Jack L. Warner's 1972 adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical. As Ben Mankiewicz joked while introducing this restoration, which screened in the recently renovated TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, "it is a fine example of the grand genre of Revolutionary War musicals." Director Peter H. Hunt as well as cast members Ken Howard and William Daniels were on hand, and spoke of their surprise that the stage version was so well-received at the height of the Vietnam War. Alas, the movie wasn't as successful, in part due to wrangling over its final cut between Warner and none other than sitting president Richard Nixon. Of particular dispute was the Republican-skewering number, "Cool Considerate Men." The song was cut but restored with other previously cut material to the film for its DVD release in 2002. The latest version which premiered Saturday was 20 minutes lighter than the 166-minute cut on DVD but retains "Cool Considerate Men." It will be released on Blu-ray in July and is definitely worth checking out for its score and performances (the great Howard DaSilva is a delight as Benjamin Franklin) as well as its more-timely-than-ever critique of the US Congress, which drew considerable laughter from Saturday's audience.

Lastly, I caught a rare big-screen showing of 1940's Christmas in July, the second feature written and directed by Preston Sturges. What would become Sturges' signature satirical take on American values and the foibles of the 1% was well in development as he made this film. I had never seen Christmas in July and so was struck by its plot about a talented but unrecognized clerk, Jimmy (played by golden age fave Dick Powell), who has entered a coffee company's contest to determine a new sales slogan. Three of his co-workers pull a prank on Jimmy leading him to believe he has won, and the joke quickly spirals out of control. The movie takes a little while to get going but, once it does, proves to be smart, funny and preternaturally observant on economic and political matters. Its climax also features one of the best feline performances ever on film, with a related commentary on the fickleness of what we consider luck.

While I was unable to make it back to the fest on Sunday, I did record and watch Man of La Mancha. The poorly-received 1972 film version of the Broadway hit made its TCM debut on Friday as part of the channel's celebration of "roadshow" musicals of the 1960s-70s. Despite a starry cast led by Peter O'Toole as Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes and his creation Don Quixote, the previously mentioned Sophia Loren and James Coco, the movie was a notorious flop, largely due to the fact that neither of its three leads could sing very well (in fact, O'Toole was dubbed). It has its pleasures in other respects, especially a tuneful score that includes "The Impossible Dream," a genuinely funny and occasionally moving script, and some robust dancing by its primarily male cast. I believe Man of La Mancha may be ripe for re-discovery by a generation of younger viewers accustomed to movie musicals that haven't been dependent on great singing by their stars, i.e. Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and, most egregiously, Russell Crowe.

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Monthly Wallpaper: April 2015 - Brush Up Your Shakespeare

This month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper is all about theatrical inspiration, so you better Brush Up Your Shakespeare as we salute the best cinematic versions of the works of a certain bard from Stratford-upon-Avon.

From direct adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream to films that were inspired by them like West Side Story, The Lion King and Were the World Mine, the words of William Shakespeare sing out this April here at Movie Dearest.

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.