Pity the film critic who loses his glasses, as I did about three weeks ago. I know approximately where and when I lost them but no idea how. While my ability to watch movies wasn't impaired until I got my new glasses (and new prescription) this week, being able to write about them was virtually impossible. Obviously I'm not getting any younger. I pray I'm at least getting wiser. At any rate, here is my rundown of several recent releases. Some of them are, appropriately enough, age-related.
1992's Death Becomes Her was just issued on Blu-ray for the first time by Scream Factory, and I subsequently watched it for the first time since 1992. An Oscar winner for its still-impressive special effects that make it appear dueling divas Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn were inflicting major bodily harm on one another, its send-up of Hollywood vanity has become even more potent in our modern era of age-defying excess. Streep stars (although Hawn actually received top billing) as Madeline Ashton, a former movie star who has been reduced to theatrical roles in her middle years. The film opens with a hilarious song and dance number I had forgotten, with Madeline headlining a musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth titled Songbird!.
Hawn's character, Helen, is a now-successful writer still seriously pissed off at Madeline for stealing her plastic surgeon boyfriend (played by Bruce Willis) a decade earlier. The reunited women vie violently for Willis' affections with the help of a youth-restoring potion hawked by a frequently nude Isabella Rossellini. The catch is that while the potion grants one immortality, it can't prevent the effects of any further physical damage done. Death Becomes Her is one of the blackest comedies every made by a major studio (Universal) but, in the hands of director Robert Zemeckis, is technically superb. Zemeckis regular Dean Cundey's cinematography is particularly gorgeous. Its not-quite-25th-anniversary Blu-ray transfer is definitely worth checking out, whether for the first time or the first time since 1992.
Meanwhile, the homoerotic military-themed Tom Cruise classic Top Gun has just been re-released on Blu-ray combo pack, and in a steelbook no less, to mark its 30th anniversary. 30 years, really? I had just finished my first year of college when the tighty whities-sporting Naval pilot Maverick (Cruise) was "playing with the boys" (including hot youngsters Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards and Rick Rossovich) on the big screen. Where has the time gone? And were tighty whities ever military issue? Not that I'm complaining.
At any rate, Top Gun remains a jingoistic fantasy that is hard to take seriously but holds up in an entertainingly retro way. It also tries so hard to be a piece of hetero wish fulfillment that it can't help but be dated, especially since lead actress Kelly McGillis came out as a lesbian several years ago. The film definitely serves as an interesting time capsule of Reagan-era, testosterone-fueled military might. It is also an undeniable testament to the still-hot Cruise's charisma and enduring popularity.
Gay painter David Hockney continues to have a devoted following at nearly 80 years of age, as the new documentary Hockney reveals. It is now playing theatrically in major cities including special matinee showings this weekend at Long Beach's Art Theatre. Best known for his impressionistic images of water and swimming pools, often featuring nude men, Hockney began painting in the 1960's and hasn't stopped since.
"I'm interested in how people look at things," the artist states in the film. Initially inspired by motion pictures as a kid in World War II London, he went on to study at the Royal College of Art and moved to New York City. Once in the states, Hockney famously dyed his hair blond after being inspired by a Clairol commercial. He finally settled in southern California and befriended the likes of writer Christopher Isherwood, Jack Larson (Jimmy Olson on the 1950's Superman TV series), and the man who would become his first lover, Peter Schlesinger.
Hockney narrates much of this illuminating documentary himself via vintage and more recent interview clips. Directed by Randall Wright and featuring an appropriately eclectic music score by John Harle, it shouldn't be missed.
Finally, I checked out a grab bag of new LGBT offerings on DVD. Ariztical's Hunter is a rather dull tale of sexual confusion and conflict among a group of wayward young adults in Manhattan. Despite the presence of Jack Falahee from TV's How to Get Away with Murder in the film's central role, there is little new or interesting to recommend it. Henry Gamble's Birthday Party (Wolfe Video) is a more unusual gay coming of age story set among a group of Evangelical Christian teenagers gathered for the title event. The movie is sweet and admirably authentic if ultimately fairly routine.
And Wolfe's Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson is an award-winning expose of the lesbian artist who was sadly committed to an insane asylum in 1924. The documentary was made by Wilkinson's great-niece, Jane Anderson, which gives it a uniquely personal perspective.
Death Becomes Her: B+
Top Gun (30th Anniversary): B
Henry Gamble's Birthday Party: B
Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson: B+
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Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.