Thursday, September 24, 2015

MD Reviews: Twelve O'Clock High


After you've spent a number of years watching movies, there are a number of evergreen stories that you end up seeing several versions of... whether you want to or not. Some of these have been filmed and filmed so many times, there is no joy left in the retelling, no matter how "rebooted" or "darkened" the newest attempt may be. I personally have sworn off watching any other versions of A Christmas Carol, Dracula and Peter Pan at all costs for just this reason.

One would think the tale of Cinderella, the scullery maid-turned-princess thanks to a fairy godmother, a pumpkin and some unconventional footwear, has also been done to death. After all, over the years everyone from Julie Andrews to Drew Barrymore to Anna Kendrick have tried on Cindy's glass slippers, not to mention the iconic 1950 Disney animated version and all its video, theme park and Once Upon a Time iterations. Yet it is Disney that has gone back to the wishing well again this time, with a live action take no less. And as it turns out, happily, this Cinderella may be the happiest ever after after all.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who knows his ornate classics) and written by Chris Weitz (Chuck & Buck's Chuck, of all people), the newest Cinderella does not lack for opulence (expect Oscar nods for the sumptuous sets and Sandy Powell's gorgeous gowns) yet still feels grounded in, if not reality, at least a fantasy-tinged facsimile of reality. With no songs or talking mice, the story has more breathing room, resulting in a more gradual and believable transition of our heroine from darling daughter to indentured servant. And with an expanded back story featuring her rarely seen mother (Hayley Atwell), Cinderella actually has a credible reason to stay with her wicked stepmother, played deliciously to the hilt by Cate Blanchett.

As the title character, Lily James imbues her character with a lovely grace, innocence and period-perfect poise; her time as Downton Abbey's Lady Rose serves her well here. Her prince (Game of Thrones' Richard Madden) is sufficiently charming in the usually thankless role, and has some nice father-son moments with the King (Derek Jacobi). Stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger, The Borgias' Lucrezia) and Drisella (James' Downton co-star Sophie McShera) and the scheming Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) round out the villains, but it is Helena Bonham Carter as the befuddled, bibbid-bobbidi-booing Fairy Godmother who practically steals the show, even with her curiously pearly white teeth and brief screentime (Carter also narrates the film).

While it does suffer the current movie malady of over-computerized special effects, this latest Cinderella is a joyous fairy tale treat for all ages, whether you've seen it all before or not.

MD Review: A-

Cinderella is 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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reverend's Interview; Jeremy Irvine at Stonewall

Roland Emmerich — the city-smashing director responsible for such apocalyptic blockbusters as Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow — has now set his destructive sights on… Stonewall? Sure, sections of the titular LGBT watering hole in New York City were damaged after four nights of rioting in June, 1969 but it hardly qualified as a disaster.

As it turns out, the openly gay, German-born Emmerich has long wanted to tell the story behind this milestone event in LGBT history. His long string of hit movies finally earned him the Hollywood clout needed to do so. Emmerich’s Stonewall will open nationwide Friday following its world premiere this month at the Toronto Film Festival.

The historical drama stars 25-year old British actor Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Great Expectations) as the all-American Danny Winters, a young gay man who flees his conservative home life in Indiana for uninhibited, 1960’s Greenwich Village. Other big names among the film’s cast are Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a leader in the local chapter of the Mattachine Society, Ron Perlman as Stonewall Inn manager Ed Murphy, and Matt Craven from the TV series Justified and Resurrection.

“When you get to work with people you grew up admiring, it’s always cool,” the in-demand Irvine said when he recently spoke with me via telephone from London. “I could be real with everyone in the cast.” I asked if this was especially the case between him and Rhys Meyers, with whom Irvine both dances and makes out in the movie. He laughed in reply. “Yeah, all my gay friends are quite jealous about that. I’ve done lots of straight sex scenes but this was my first gay one. (Rhys Meyers) was so relaxed and chill, he made it easy.”

Stonewall’s screenplay was written by Jon Robin Baitz, a successful playwright and creator of the television hit Brothers & Sisters (2006-2011). When the script first came Irvine’s way, he was familiar with the basic facts surrounding the uprising by LGBT patrons of the mafia-owned bar against police oppression but was surprised by how little he knew. “My first thought on reading the script the first time was ‘Wow, why doesn’t the global community know more about this story?’ It seemed like a story that needed telling.”

Upon Danny’s arrival in New York, he is befriended by a number of fellow gay and trans young people who have found themselves homeless and are forced to resort to prostitution. There is a title card at the end of the finished film referencing the large number of homeless youth who are LGBT. “That really moved me,” Irvine recalled. “I had no idea.” Given Stonewall’s subject matter and his rising stardom, I asked Irvine if he had any hesitancy in taking on the role of Danny. “None whatsoever,” he replied. “It was a brilliant script so it was really a no-brainer. I’m also a big fan of Emmerich’s films like Anonymous as well as his big epic movies, so I really jumped at the chance to work with him.”

Irvine (who was born Jeremy William Fredric Smith in 1990) has already had the opportunity to work with several world-class directors in his relatively brief career, including Steven Spielberg, Mike Newell and Emilio Aragon. When I inquired whether he deliberately seeks such filmmakers, he immediately responded “Absolutely! So much goes into the making of a movie, and only one person really shepherds the movie from when the script is written to when the movie comes out. The director is the captain of the ship.”

He continued, “I think we should choose the people we work with and be very picky. I’ve sometimes picked a movie on the strength of the script but you still need a director who will honor it.” Irvine describes Emmerich as being “very calm and subtle on set, which may surprise people who are only familiar with his big spectacles.”

A previous, 1995 independent movie about the Stonewall riots suffered somewhat from its low budget. This has been rectified in the well-financed new version, which boasts a larger cast and greater historic authenticity as reflected in its sets and costumes. In fact, this led to a particularly memorable moment for Irvine during production.

“One night, we were filming the main riot and there were these beautiful, restored cars from the 1960’s on set,” he relates. “Me and another actor, Jonny Beauchamp (who plays trans character Ray/Ramona), in the heat of the moment jumped up on one of the cars and they yelled ‘Cut! Cut! You can’t jump on the car!’ Turns out the owner had just bought it and didn’t fancy anyone jumping on it and throwing bottles. Go figure (laughs).”

I asked Irvine in what way or ways he is similar to his character, Danny. “He’s not the most comfortable kid growing up, and is still very much finding himself. He’s very much an outsider and I think we all feel like that sometimes.” Irvine has been public about the challenges he’s faced living with Type 1 Diabetes, which he was diagnosed with when he was only 6 years old and subsequently had to receive four insulin injections a day. He continues to be involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

On playing Danny, Irvine said “He goes through this wonderful journey of finding himself, and I felt honored to help show Danny’s journey.” Although his character is fictional and not to be confused with the late Danny Garvin, a real-life homeless gay youth who participated in the riots, Irvine revealed “he is based on someone I know personally but who wasn’t involved in Stonewall.”

Controversy over Stonewall erupted after its first trailer premiered this summer. Some viewers have voiced concerns that the new movie “whitewashes” history and doesn’t adequately depict the black, latino, lesbian and trans figures involved.

“You know, the trailer is two minutes as opposed to the two-hour movie,” Irvine responded when I asked him about the controversy. “The movie is very careful to include all the activists involved in the riots, including (black trans woman) Marsha P. Johnson; we really tried to do justice to the story and the people who were involved.”

Having seen the final cut of the film (which actually runs 129 minutes), I agree that these concerns are unfounded despite its mix of fictional and real-life characters. It also shows, true to the historical record but not always accurately dramatized, that a lesbian was the first patron to forcefully resist arrest and spark the riots.

Irvine, who will next be seen as poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in a new take on the Frankenstein story titled Mary Shelley’s Monster, is optimistic about Stonewall’s reception this month. “I hope it sheds a bit of light on the history,” he says. “Every once in a while, you get a film that is more than just entertainment. I was kind of shocked by how little I knew about (the Stonewall riots). It was a huge year for the civil rights movement and I think the time is ripe now for remembering it.”

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

MD Reviews: Before Sunset


"People leave, you know... but with some people it just doesn't seem fair."

It is close to impossible to hear the late Robin Williams speak lines such as this, in his last dramatic role in Boulevard, and not be deeply moved by the unexpected, retrospective irony. That it is a part of one of his finest screen performances, as a flawed man who spent his entire life pretending to be something else, makes it all the more tragic.

Williams plays Nolan Mack, a kind man and doting husband who spends his days toiling away as a banker. One aimless night driving he, literally, runs into Leo (Roberto Aguire), a brooding young street hustler who awakens within Nolan long dormant feelings. Their relationship remains platonic, yet complicated, and Nolan's secrets inevitably spill into his mundane life, threatening his marriage, job and future.

A natural caretaker, Nolan lives in fear of hurting other people, but at the cost of who he truly is. Yet when, at the age of 60, he tentatively begins to explore his true self, the delicate façade of his life crumbles around him, shattering those he holds dear. Williams (who also played gay in The Birdcage and The Night Listener) wholly embodies Nolan; one can feel his lifelong heartbreak in every forced smile and repressed gesture.

Kathy Baker as Nolan's wife Joy, a strong woman gut-punched by reality, and Bob Odenkirk as their cynical college professor best friend, match Williams in excellence. Opposite such acting veterans, relative newcomer Aguire isn't as effective as he should be, creating more of a cypher than a fully fleshed-out character. Regardless, Boulevard (sagely directed by Dito Montiel from a script by Douglas Soesbe) is Williams' show, a fitting, bittersweet swan song for a beloved talent gone far too soon.

MD Rating: B+

Boulevard is 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.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reverend's Preview: Stonewall on Stage


The Stonewall riots of 1969 aren’t only being recreated on the big screen this month. Los Angeles LGBT Center is presenting the West Coast premiere of Hit the Wall, Ike Holter’s acclaimed play about the event widely considered to mark the birth of the LGBT rights movement. It runs September 15th-October 25th at the Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre.

Called an “impassioned evocation” and “deeply affecting” by The New York Times, the play — not unlike the new movie — utilizes a combination of real and fictional characters or, as its press release notes, “a theatrical blend of history and mythology.” The LA production’s cast of 10 embodies such roles as Carson, an imperious black drag queen; Peg, a butch lesbian ostracized by her family; and a “Snap Queen Team” of shade-throwing gay boys. They are directed by Ken Sawyer and supported by a live band performing original music by The Go-Go’s guitarist Charlotte Caffey and Anna Waronker, formerly of That Dog.

Hit the Wall focuses on the first night of the riots, when a crowd of LGBT regulars of New York City’s Stonewall Inn famously fought back against police officers attempting to arrest them yet again on morality charges. The police were forced to barricade themselves inside the bar as more than 100 patrons and supporters congregated outside. The riots continued for several more nights and the crowds grew consistently larger. Their show of defiance led to the repeal of laws prohibiting LGBT gatherings, which culminated in NYC’s first Pride march one year later.

Holter’s unique take on this groundbreaking episode was first performed at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2012. For its LA premiere, Sawyer and his design team are completely re-configuring the Davidson/Valentini Theatre’s interior to make the experience of watching the play as immersive as possible. The theatre is located at the LGBT Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place in Hollywood. Due to the immersive nature of this production, late seating will not be allowed so ticket holders should be sure to get there on time.

Although Hit the Wall depicts an event that occurred nearly 50 years ago, the playwright reportedly employs a modern sensibility in bringing it to life. “What’s perhaps more significant (about the play),” wrote New York Times critic David Rooney, “is that Mr. Holter is working in a vernacular that speaks sincerely and directly to today’s gay youth; his freewheeling play invites them to honor the earlier generation that broke the chains of marginalization and invisibility.”

Tickets for Hit the Wall are $30 (only $20 for its three preview performances) and may be purchased online at their website or by calling (323) 860-7300.

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reverend's Preview: Qfilms is Heating Up


Things promise to get hot during the 22nd annual Long Beach QFilm Festival. The city’s longest-running cinematic event will once again take place the second weekend of September, which has proven historically to be one of the warmest weekends of the year locally. What better way, then, to spend September 10th-13th but in the air-conditioned Art Theatre, located at 2025 East 4th St. and the neighboring LGBTQ Center of Long Beach? Passes and individual film tickets are now available through the festival’s official website.

Known locally and affectionately as simply “Qfilms,” the festival has been presenting narrative features, documentaries and short films that embody the rich diversity and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities since 1993. More than 1,500 people attend each year to savor a mix of West Coast, Southern California and local premieres as well as some of the most acclaimed features currently on the film festival circuit. Over 200 submissions were received this year from both student and professional filmmakers around the world.

To accommodate the festival’s growth, an additional night has been added this year with the official opening on Thursday, September 10th as well as some weekend morning screenings. Also, all films will be shown in the 350-seat Art Theatre after a smaller, secondary space with unreliable a/c had been used the last few years for some screenings.

Many filmmakers and cast members of the films to be shown will be present for audience discussions after each screening. Among these luminaries will be out bestselling author Christopher Rice (son of Anne), who serves as narrator of the powerful West Coast premiere documentary Upstairs Inferno. Numerous post-screening parties at The Center will also provide opportunities for attendees to meet and mingle with filmmakers, actors, critics and other industry professionals.

The 2015 QFilm Festival will open with the Long Beach premiere of Tab Hunter Confidential, award-winning director Jeffrey Schwarz’s popular documentary about the heartthrob 1950’s movie star who later came out as a gay man. It will be followed by the Southern California premiere of Kittens in a Cage, a hilarious send-up of women in prison films starring Rebecca Mozo and local stage fave Gigi Bermingham as the power-hungry matron. An Opening Night party will take place between screenings at the LGBTQ Center of Greater Long Beach, located directly next door to the Art Theatre, with the opening night after-party taking place at Hamburger Mary’s on downtown Long Beach’s Pine Avenue.

Two acclaimed features will have their Long Beach premieres the night of Friday, September 11th. Liz in September stars Patricia Velasquez (The Mummy and The Mummy Returns) as a woman on a Caribbean vacation with friends who refuses to let her health issues hold her back from love. Those People, an elegant, appropriately New York-set story about a young man struggling with an all-consuming love for his troubled best friend, will serve as Friday night’s selection for men. It recently won the Audience Award for Best First US Dramatic Feature at Outfest. A party will take place between screenings at the Center and an after-party will again be held at Hamburger Mary’s.

Major West Coast premieres selected to screen on Saturday and Sunday are: Clambake, Andrea Meyerson’s entertaining new documentary about the women who congregate each summer in Provincetown; Robert L. Camina’s chilling Upstairs Inferno, which details a little-known New Orleans crime that endures as the largest gay mass murder in US history; and Velociraptor, which has nothing to do with dinosaurs but everything to do with two young Mexican men sorting out their feelings for each other as the world threatens to come to an end.

Other narrative and documentary features having their Long Beach premieres between Saturday and Sunday are: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), a moving exploration of the relationship between two brothers in Thailand that won the award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival; While You Weren’t Looking, a lesbian love story set against South Africa’s complex political and racial backdrop; the uniquely-crafted Drown, about sexual tensions among a group of Australian lifeguards; S&M Sally, a wacky, revealing romp through the world of BDSM for both women and men; Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story, which pulls back the curtain on the life of the founder of Falcon Studios, known as “the MGM of gay porn”; and the uproarious comedy BFFs, in which two longtime female friends on a weekend retreat begin to wonder if there isn’t more to their relationship.

In addition, QFilms signature Men in Briefs and Women in Shorts film programs will return on September 13th along with a new all-inclusive, mixed-genre program titled All Sorts of Shorts on September 12th. The festival will come to a close the evening of Sunday, September 13th.

Jury awards will be given to worthy films in several categories. All net proceeds from the festival benefit The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and its important community outreach programs. The complete 2015 Qfilms schedule is below. Please note that Q&A talent availability is subject to change.

7:00pm- TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (Long Beach premiere) followed by Q&A with director Jeffrey Schwarz and producer Neil Koenigsberg.
8:00pm-10:00pm- Opening Night Party at the Center.
9:15pm- KITTENS IN A CAGE (Southern California premiere) followed by Q&A.
10:00pm-1:00am- After Party at Hamburger Mary’s on Pine Ave.

7:00pm- LIZ IN SEPTEMBER (Long Beach premiere) followed by Q&A with cast member Eloisa Maturen.
8:00pm-10:00pm- Friday Night Party at the Center.
9:15pm- THOSE PEOPLE (Long Beach premiere) preceded by short film Britney-Holics Anonymous and followed by Q&A.
10:00pm-1:00am- After Party at Hamburger Mary’s on Pine Ave.

11:00am- ALL SORTS OF SHORTS program featuring Clown Service, God I Hope I Get It, Deux, Tomgirl, House, Not Home, More of Last Night and Gonna Sip That Sip, Hit That Dip. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
1:15pm- WHILE YOU WEREN’T LOOKING (Long Beach premiere) preceded by short film Girls You Know.
3:00pm- UPSTAIRS INFERNO (West Coast premiere) followed by Q&A with director Robert L. Camina, narrator & bestselling author Christopher Rice, and participants from New Orleans.
5:15pm- CLAMBAKE (West Coast premiere) followed by Q&A with director Andrea Meyerson and cast member Vickie Shaw.
7:30pm- DROWN (Long Beach premiere) followed by Q&A with cast member Harry Cook.
8:00pm-10:00pm- Saturday Night Party at the Center.
9:15pm- S&M SALLY (Long Beach premiere) followed by Q&A with cast members.
10:00pm-1:00am- After Party at Hamburger Mary’s on Pine Ave.

10:30am- HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME), Long Beach premiere preceded by short film New Year.
11:30am-1:30pm- Brunch at the Center (Free with festival pass or ticket to HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS or MEN IN BRIEFS).
12:30pm- MEN IN BRIEFS program featuring Pipe Dream, Morning Announcements, Seven Drinks, Relacion Albierta, Bombs, You. Me. Bathroom. Sex. Now; Mi Amigo Jaime and Lady of the Night. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
2:45pm- SEED MONEY: THE CHUCK HOLMES STORY (Long Beach premiere) preceded by short film Midnight and followed by Q&A with director Michael Stabile and others.
5:00pm- WOMEN IN SHORTS program featuring Truth Be Told: Stacy, The First Session, Ma/ddy, The L Market, Plunge, Carina, Blood & Water, Trucker Kitty, Falling and First Clue. Followed by Q&A with filmmakers and cast members.
7:00pm- BFFs (Long Beach premiere) followed by Q&A with screenwriter & actress Tara Carsian.
7:30pm-9:00pm- Closing Night Party at the Center.
9:15pm- VELOCIRAPTOR (West Coast premiere)
9:00pm-12:00am- After Party at Hamburger Mary’s on Pine Ave.

UPDATE: See the comments section below for the list of winners of the QFilm Jury Awards and Audience Awards.

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Monthly Wallpaper - September 2015: 10 Years of Brokeback Mountain

September 2, 2005 was the date, the Venice Film Festival was the place, and the film that would become one of the most honored and beloved gay-themed movies of all time was seen for the first time.

Movie Dearest celebrates Brokeback Mountain's tenth anniversary this month with our first calendar wallpaper dedicated to one single film. Yep, we just can't quit it.

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.