Sunday, October 22, 2017

Halloween Costumes 2017

Whether you’ll be out looking for tricks or treats (or both) this All Hallow’s Eve, Movie Dearest has got you covered with the latest creepy and kooky pop culture-inspired costume ideas:

For those who wait to the last minute:

The Ghost from A Ghost Story

For the uninspired (a.k.a. those who will see themselves over and over again all night long):

Wonder Woman

Pennywise from It

For those who like to travel in packs:

The Handmaids from The Handmaid’s Tale

All of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s personalities from Split

For “Girls Night Out”:

The La La Land Party Girls

The Ladies of Big Little Lies (in Audrey Hepburn drag of course)

For mult-taskers/those who can’t make up their mind:

Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as 
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as 
Baby Jane and Blanche Hudson from Feud: Bette and Joan

For a flashback to the 70’s:

Billie Jean King from Battle of the Sexes

… or 80’s:

Yorkie and Kelly from Black Mirror: “San Junipero”

… or 90’s:

Tonya Harding from I, Tonya

For those with a big family:

The Pearson Clan from This Is Us

For those who like to say “Oh hi Mark”:

Tommy Wiseau from The Disaster Artist

For those who are always a few years behind:

A Litchfield Penitentiary Inmate from Orange is the New Black

For minimalists/exhibitionists:

A Westworld Host

For the politically incorrect:

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump from Saturday Night Live

For the politically correct:

Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton from Saturday Night Live

For the inexplicable meme fanatic:

Gay Babadook

For those who want to relive their youth:

The Stranger Things Kids

For those who can’t wait till next year:

A Porg from Star Wars: The Last Jedi

And finally, for the “ripped from the headlines” afficiando:

(Think about it.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dearest Review: This is Halloween, Part 1

With trick or treat time looming at the end of the month, October is always a good time to catch up on all the latest fright flicks and this year is no different, with a bumper crop of spook fests so far, enough in fact to merit this two-part review… 

M. Night Shyamalan acquits himself quite well from the likes of his The Happening and Lady in the Water with this taut thriller as tightly wound as its protagonist, a man inflicted with a horde of multiple personalities who kidnaps three teenage girls in a plot that is gradually revealed to be a lot more insidious than one at first expects. Shyamalan is famous (infamous?) for his twists, and Split has its fair share but here they serve the story instead of supplanting it. James McAvoy is simply mesmerizing in a career best role that has him switching from persona to persona, such as a lisping preadolescent boy to a stern English matron and back again; in a just world he would be seriously considered for Best Actor accolades in the impending award season (along with Betty Buckley, in strong support as his psychiatrist), but the film’s genre trappings may hamper that possibility. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

"Nope. Not gonna happen."

Imagine that the answer to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was “The Stepford Wives and you’ll have a good idea about the plot of Get Out, TV funnyman Jordan Peele’s twisted directorial debut that was equally embraced by both critics and audiences alike earlier this year. Daniel Kaluuya stars as the boyfriend of a white woman (Allison Williams) who takes him home to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) only to find himself in a nightmarish situation where the only thing creepier than the black people he meets are the even creepier white people. Race plays a significant role in Get Out, which prompted pundits to fall over themselves to pile praise on Peele for his modern take on horror movie tropes. Yet don’t let all that hype set your expectations too high; at the end of the day, this is simply a smart and stylish scary movie. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

...not creepy at all...

If you ever wondered how The Omen would play as a comedy, has Netflix got the movie for you. Adam Scott plays Gary, the lucky guy newly married to Evangeline Lilly… and the unlucky guy to be the new stepfather to Lucas, a pasty young tyke dressed all in black with a penchant for leaving disaster in his wake, such as impaled science teachers and charbroiled party clowns. As a horror film its light on scares and it often feels like a slightly off-brand Halloween-themed Hallmark Channel movie. What sets Little Evil apart and makes it watchable is the unconventional character Al, Gary’s co-worker and fellow stepdad played by… actress Bridget Everett. How’s that for progress? Not only do we have a gender nonconforming character that is a non-issue, they also help save the world from a satanic cult led by Clancy Brown and Sally Field (in the Ruth Gordon role). (6/10) Now streamingon Netflix.

Just one of the guys.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Following some kind of apocalyptic event, a small group of survivors hunker down in an isolated location where they must defend themselves from their new mortal enemy: their fellow man. Bleak nihilism saturates every frame of It Comes at Night, which relentlessly teases some sort of… paranormal?... extraterrestrial?... hillbilly??? threat that never appears, at night or otherwise. If that weren’t enough to send writer/director Trey Edward Shults to horror movie jail, than the multiple “oh wait, that was only a dream” fake-outs will. With its overly-familiar premise, incredibly unlikeable characters and especially its “fuck you, audience” ending, It Comes at Night can just go away. (2/10) Now available onDVD and Blu-ray.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Reverend's Preview: TransNation Film Fest Embraces All


One could argue that the last thing Los Angeles needs is another film festival. However, last year's inaugural TransNation Film Festival succeeded as a more in-depth exploration of our trans community than even most LGBTQ events provide. The fest returns October 13th-15th at the Silent Movie Theater in West Hollywood.

Presented by St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, a community health center in LA that serves one of the largest populations of transgender patients in the country, the festival’s mission is to "honor our history and nurture emerging voices while celebrating and showcasing trans culture’s cinematic achievements and social impact throughout the world." Hosted by Zackary Drucker (filmmaker, artist and producer of Transparent), the TransNation Film Festival is a three-day event featuring an unique program of works by emerging and established filmmakers, as well as rare and under-seen repertory gems and classics that reflect the trans experience.

“I can’t imagine a more dynamic, challenging, and crucial time for us to build community around art and storytelling,” said Drucker. “We programmed this year’s festival to highlight filmmakers and subjects that keep us critical, galvanized and empowered. Moving through time and around the world, we’re featuring vintage and cult films alongside subversive and groundbreaking narratives of today."

Festival highlights will include an October 14th tribute to The Cockettes, the legendary San Francisco theatrical troupe, featuring photographs, an art exhibition, and screenings of three rare Cockettes-made films: Tricia's Wedding, Elevator Girls in Bondage and Palace. The screening of Palace will be accompanied by a live score by Kristian Hoffman. This exhibition of original Cockettes costumes and photographs will be shown for the first time in Los Angeles. Founding Cockette and photographer Fayette Hauser will be in attendance. Also, The Starbooty Trilogy, a cult classic from RuPaul’s early public access days, will screen with a midnight dress-up party. All those who dress up will be photographed on the red carpet and are invited to attend a pre-party contest on the patio.

Two new and acclaimed social justice documentaries that explore issues at the core of the mission of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will screen. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, directed by Academy Award-nominated David France (How to Survive a Plague) will open the festival on October 13th. One of the film’s subjects, trans activist Victoria Cruz, will be present in conversation with St. John's CEO Jim Mangia, who knew Johnson. Also screening is Strong Island, the Sundance 2017 Special Jury Award winner for Storytelling. Yance Ford, the film’s director and subject, will attend and participate in a post-screening Q&A.

The festival’s ground-breaking shorts program features world premieres and new works by emerging and acclaimed trans filmmakers as well as those working with trans themes, including Rhys Ernst, Luis De Filippis, Rosie Haber, Rain Valdez, Harriet Fleuriot, Sarah Cockings, Wes Hurley and Nathan M. Mille.

Also screening will be the West Coast premiere of Trans Youth, a nuanced verité documentary following the lives of trans millennials in Austin, Texas, as well as a sneak peek of the forthcoming HBO documentary short film 15: A Quinceañera Story. The short will air in 2018 and follows transgender teen Zoe Luna getting ready for her quinceañera in Los Angeles. Luna and filmmaker Matthew O’Neill will be in attendance.

Not to be missed is a rare big-screen presentation of 1970's Myra Breckinridge. The first depiction of a trans character financed by a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox), this gender-bending comedy written by Gore Vidal is equally loved and loathed. Its eclectic cast includes Raquel Welch, John Huston, film critic Rex Reed, the great Mae West, and pre-stardom Farrah Fawcett and Tom Selleck. It will screen October 14th at midnight.

TransNation Film Festival is but one element of the TransNation Festival 2017, a week-long celebration of the trans community that also includes ELEGANZA, the official closing gala. It will be held the night of Saturday, October 21st at the Cicada Club in downtown LA. ELEGANZA will honor trailblazers in the trans community including Jazzmun Crayton, an actor and advocate for the trans community for more than 30 years who will be the recipient of the “Marsha P. Johnson Trailblazer Award.” Performers at the event include the evening’s emcees, Candis Cayne and Laith Ashley, DJ JD Samson, along with Peppermint, Shea Diamond, and Gia Banks.

Proceeds from the film festival and ELEGANZA will benefit the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center’s Transgender Health Program. Visit their website to purchase tickets or for more information.

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

GALECA Names “Ten Best Films You Never Knew Were LGBTQ”

In the spirit of “We are all one,” GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (of which Movie Dearest critics Chris Carpenter and Kirby Holt are proud members), has revealed its choices for The Ten Best Films You Never Knew Were LGBTQ.

GALECA’s nearly 200 members were asked which “straight” films through cinema history so mirror an LGBTQ sensibility — maybe they more than hint at what Joan Crawford would call “Sapphic” or feature an unusually intense bromance — they might as well be “gay.”

The final picks include well-known films featuring Tom Cruise, James Dean, Bette Davis and a baseball bat-wielding Madonna, as well as three Best Picture winners, two thrillers from the master of suspense and two so-called "chick flicks" from 1991.

Here, in alphabetical order, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics presents its Ten Best LGBTQA Films You Never Knew Were LGBTQ (entries written by GALECA members Sarah Toce and Jeremy Kinser):

All About Eve (1950)
“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Frequently described as the bitchiest film ever made, this Academy Award-winner's insightful peek into the mid-century theatrical world offered gay icon Bette Davis her most indelible role as that endlessly quotable Broadway diva, Margo Channing. Shocker: the script was penned by a straight man, writer-director Joe Mankiewicz. Even more surprising (or not), a recent biography of Mankiewicz revealed that Margo’s rival, conniving upstart Eve Harrington (memorably played by Anne Baxter), was originally conceived as lesbian. Even without this hindsight, it’s not a challenge to read certain characters here as LGBT. Take George Sanders’ Oscar winning portrayal of the acid-tongued columnist Addison DeWitt, perhaps the cattiest character ever committed to celluloid, a man prone to withering bon mots and squiring a pretty young beard on his arm (affording Marilyn Monroe an early role). And of course, there’s the title character, relentlessly obsessed with Margo well past the point of comfort (no wonder calling someone “Eve” has become a shortcut to describe a ruthless backstabber). The only time Eve shows genuine warmth toward another character is when a comely young female stalker breaks into her apartment and seems to make a pass at her.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker and Cicely Tyson star in this sisterhood of the senses, based on the Fannie Flagg novel about a group of close friends who mingle at small-town Georgia’s Whistle Stop Café. Make that very close friends in the case of tomboy Imogene “Idgie” Threadgoode (Masterson) and older, wiser Ruth Jamison (Parker). After Idgie saves Ruth from (sigh) an abusive husband, the two women raise a child together... and get riled whenever a man is near the other one. True, the two never profess their lust for each other, leaving some fans to marvel at their profound friendship, and others to imagine what might have been.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Thomas Edward Lawrence is perhaps one of the 20th century’s greatest sexual enigmas. Although confirmation of his sexuality looms to this day, the pre-World War I intellectual has widely been thought by researchers to either be homosexual or asexual. In this epitome of sweeping epics — 1962’s Oscar winner for Best Picture — Peter O’Toole emotes dramatically as the British archaeologist, military officer, diplomat and writer (phew!) seeks to find peace by creating a new type of warfare during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Highly regarded as director David Lean’s biggest masterpiece, Lawrence is fascinatingly layered viewing for that backstory alone. And it’s a campy treat to see the (eye-liner-heavy) Brit flounce around as he tries on his ankle-length, silky and very flowy Arabian thwab for the first time.

A League of Their Own (1992)
In 1992, real-life friends Rosie O’Donnell (not yet out at the time) and pop diva Madonna showed fun screen chemistry as well in this fact-based comedy about the Rockford Peaches, an all-female baseball team in the 1940s. All the women (played by the likes of Geena Davis, Tank Girl’s Lori Petty and Tea Leoni) seemed to sport beaus in the movie, but Davis’ character, Dottie Hinson, was inspired by Josephine D’Angelo, an early lesbian hero who actually played for the South Bend Blue Sox. D’Angelo was fired from the team after she showed up to play ball sporting what she herself called a “butchy” haircut! While none of that backstory or outrage made it into League, a sense of uber-feminism prevails.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Likely the queerest mainstream horror film ever made, this sequel to Robert Englund’s surprisingly inventive spin on the slasher genre featured male protagonist Jesse (out actor Mark Patton) who screams repressed gay. For example, he wakes up from a nightmare and inexplicably wanders into a gay leather bar and bumps into his gym teacher. In an interview, Englund shared that this second Nightmare was “intended as a bisexual-themed film. It was early '80s, pre-AIDS paranoia. Jesse's wrestling with whether to come out or not and his own sexual desires (were) manifested by Freddy. His friend is the object of his affection. That's all there in that film.” It certainly is.

Rebecca (1940)
The only film helmed by Alfred Hitchcock to win the Academy Award for Best Picture is also one of the master director’s queerest. Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s best-selling novel, the story chronicles a nameless and naïve young woman (Joan Fontaine) who marries the mysterious Maxim de Winter (swoon-worthy Laurence Olivier), and soon finds herself competing with the specter of his glamorous dead wife. The most potent character, Mrs. Danvers (magnificently portrayed by Judith Anderson), is clearly a coded lesbian. She’s a servant slavishly devoted to (okay, obsessed with) the unseen title character to the point of longingly caressing the deceased’s lingerie. Danvers, doing her own version of “Nothing Compares 2U,” is also intent on preserving the first Mrs. De Winter’s memory by driving the second Mrs. De Winter, well, bonkers. Rarely has such morbid Sapphic longing been displayed on film.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Made at a time when being non-hetero was a crime, Rebel Without a Cause is perhaps the most "bisexual film" ever released by a major studio. Nicholas Ray (who some movie historians claim was bi) directed James Dean (ditto) in his most famous performance as Jim Stark, a tortured teen whose torrent of emotion resonated with young audiences as never before. Sal Mineo (who was actually known to be bisexual) costarred as Jim’s pal Plato, who kept a photo of handsome movie actor Alan Ladd in his locker and very obviously crushed out on Dean’s character. And, while Jim had a girlfriend (Natalie Wood), he definitely had a soft spot for Plato too. A landmark coming-of-age film for all, Rebel becomes even more poignant when viewers realize that all three leads died prematurely.

Strangers on a Train (1951)
Three years after starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s queerest film, 1947’s Rope, handsome bisexual actor Farley Granger added yet another super-queer film on his and the master’s CVs, a thriller adapted from a novel by lesbian author Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Price of Salt, which gay auteur Todd Hayne’s turned into the acclaimed Carol in 2015). Granger, who came out late in life, stars as a tennis champ who — after getting drunk, trading intimate secrets and establishing some uber-masculine camaraderie with Bruno (tragic actor Robert Walker) — is persuaded to swap murders with the charismatic stranger. That Bruno recognized him from the newspaper’s gossip pages is merely clue number one to the film’s pervasive gayness.

Thelma & Louise
Director Ridley Scott hit the nail on the head with this female empowerment film about the titular friends (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) on the run from Thelma’s abusive husband, a journey that iconically ends with them agreeing to (26-year old spoiler alert!) fly their car off a cliff. Sure, the 1991 classic depicts both women in jeans and a penchant for danger, but that doesn’t make it a gay feature... or does it? No, it goes much deeper than clothing. GALECA’s barometer is set the moment these two ladies decide to risk all to live — or die — protecting one another. If that isn’t love, what is?

Top Gun (1986)
Ah, Top Gun. What makes slick director Tony Scott’s wild-flying Navy pilots drama so infamously queer? That double entendre-loaded title, of course. The characters’ testosterone-raging banter (“I want somebody’s butt, I want it now!”). And, um, the inexplicable rivalry between studly hotshot Iceman (Val Kilmer) and studly hotshot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), two pilots who show off for each other in the skies and on the beach (via a volleyball match that has them sweating and staring into each others eyes). Those UFC tussles pales in comparison here! And when Maverick takes a wingman, it’s sure not his love interest, Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), who went by “Charlie” and wore a baseball cap! This sexy 1986 smash soared to in $356.8 million in US ticket sales — and inspired Saturday Night Live and Quentin Tarantino to spoof its (the writer has said) "unintended" homoeroticism. Hey, we didn’t ask, so they didn’t tell. But we can say this flick was this list’s top vote-getter among GALECA members.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Qfilms Brings Our Community Together

Now in its 24th year, Long Beach's QFilm Festival has grown to become one of the seaside city's preeminent social events.  It has also come to be regarded as the greater LA area's second-biggest exclusive showcase for LGBTQ movies, after Outfest.

The 2017 Long Beach QFilm Festival — often referred to as Qfilms for short — will take place September 7th-10th.  The historic Art Theatre located at 2025 East 4th Street will present all screenings, while the neighboring LGBTQ Center of Long Beach will host receptions and other festive gatherings throughout the weekend.  Both are located on Long Beach’s renowned “Retro Row” consisting of antique and vintage shops in addition to unique eateries and wine bars.

Long Beach’s longest-running film festival since 1993, the QFilm Festival annually presents narrative features, documentaries and short films that embody the rich diversity and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.  More than 1,500 attendees gather to savor a mix of West Coast, California and local premieres as well some of the most acclaimed features on the current film festival circuit.  Numerous filmmakers and cast members of the films to be shown will be present for audience discussions after many screenings.  Other festival events include nightly parties, a Saturday afternoon ice cream social, and a Drag Brunch on Sunday, September 10th.

This year's Qfilms will open the evening of Thursday, September 7th with the Long Beach premiere of The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, a new and acclaimed documentary about the longtime activist and author of the popular Tales of the City book series.  All fans of Maupin's writing will find this film inspiring.  The screening will be preceded and followed by an Opening Night party for all pass- and ticket-holders at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, located directly next door.

Two feature films will have their local premieres the night of Friday, September 8th.  The Feels is a hilarious yet heartfelt comedy about a woman who has never had an orgasm but receives unexpected help from her girlfriends during a lesbian bachelorette party. Cast member Ever Mainard won a Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress at July’s Outfest film festival.  The Feels will be followed by Something Like Summer, a romantic drama with musical interludes that explores the relationship between two gay friends over a decade.  It is based on the bestselling young adult novel.  A festive party for all attendees will take place at the Center between Friday night's screenings.

A number of great narrative and documentary features will screen on Saturday, September 9th.  They include The Lavender Scare (Los Angeles premiere), a revealing documentary about the persecution of LGBT employees of the US government during the Cold War; A Million Happy Nows (Long Beach premiere), in which a longtime lesbian couple confronts the challenge of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease; Extra-Terrestrials (Los Angeles premiere), a story about family secrets and the first feature film by award-winning Puerto Rican writer-director Carla Cavina; and Sebastian (California premiere), an enjoyable gay romance co-starring Katya from RuPaul’s Drag Race that results when a man falls for his boyfriend’s visiting cousin.

On Sunday, September 10th, the award-winning Saturday Church will have its Long Beach premiere.  This charmer is about a young queer boy experimenting with his sexuality and gender identity who finds refuge in an unusual church.  Additional Sunday features are Signature Move (Long Beach premiere), in which a Pakistani-Muslim woman and a Mexican-American woman discover romance, and Alaska is a Drag (official Los Angeles premiere), a delightful expansion of Shaz Bennett’s award-winning short film about an aspiring drag superstar stuck working in an Alaskan fish cannery.  A Closing Night party will be celebrated on Sunday starting at 5:30 pm.

QFilms 2017 will also boast four spectacular short film programs between Saturday and Sunday: Men in Briefs, Women in Shorts, Queer & Trans Shorts, and the festival's first ever Latinx Shorts Spotlight.  Jury and Audience awards will be given to worthy films in several categories.  All net proceeds from the festival will benefit the non-profit LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and its important community outreach programs.  Sponsors of the 2017 QFilm Festival include Here Media, the Arts Council for Long Beach, Anderson Real Estate Group, California State University Long Beach, Regal Medical Group and the Port of Long Beach.

Discounted full-festival and 5-film passes as well as individual screening tickets are now available for purchase at the Qfilms website.

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: Opening Nights

Health and family issues conspired, sadly, to prevent me from attending an opening night at Los Angeles' storied Ahmanson Theatre since the end of last year.  Thankfully, I was able to break out of this vicious cycle last week in time for the LA premiere of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Not only was this 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play (in addition to several other Tonys) outstanding in virtually every way, but I was seated next to out actor-screenwriter Peter Paige (the US Queer as Folk, The Fosters) as well as just down from the fabulous, always friendly Wilson Cruz.  Cruz will soon be seen as one of the first two openly gay characters ever to grace a Star Trek TV series, with Broadway's Anthony Rapp playing his partner.

Curious Incident isn't a gay-themed play per se.  Adapted from Mark Haddon's bestselling 2003 novel by Simon Stephens, it follows the adventures of 15-year old Christopher Boone.  This intelligent British teen lives with his widowed father and is apparently on the autism spectrum, though this is never specifically mentioned.  Christopher has very particular likes and dislikes, doesn't relate well to other people and hates to be touched.  He has affection for his pet rat Toby, as well as video games, Sherlock Holmes detective stories and his neighbor's dog.

One night, Christopher discovers the dog next door dead in its yard, a pitchfork protruding from its side.  He sets out to discover who could have committed such a ghastly, seemingly unwarranted act.  The incident proves to be just the tip of the iceberg for Christopher, who ends up uncovering family secrets that lead him to travel alone (well, with Toby) beyond his home town for the first time.

The production is stunningly, engrossingly directed by Marianne Elliott, whose current London revival of Angels in America is drawing similar raves to her Tony Award-winning work on this.  Elliott and her design team do an impressive, at times overwhelming job of staging the action from Christopher's perspective.  It is frequently but necessarily loud, busy and visually irritating.  Audience members can't help but feel what life for someone living with autism or Asperger's must be like.

While the entire, notably diverse cast of the touring production is exceptional, young Adam Langdon was nothing less than amazing as Christopher during the opening night performance (Benjamin Wheelwright alternates in the role during Saturday and Sunday matinees).  It would be a demanding, challenging role for the most experienced actors but Langdon portrays Christopher beautifully, with both sensitivity and profound strength.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Ahmanson through September 10th and will then resume its national tour.  It absolutely should not be missed.

Speaking of opening nights, there is a fun, new, gay-interest film with that very title now available on DVD from Wolfe Video.  Opening Night finds a strong roster of both characters and actors occupying Isaac Rentz's backstage musical-comedy.  Topher Grace (where has he been?) headlines as Nick, the flummoxed stage manager of a new Broadway musical entitled One Hit Wonderland.  A celebration of such 1980's and 90's songs as "Rock Me Amadeus," "I Melt With You" and "Living La Vida Loca" ("Come On Eileen" is conspicuously missing) the show stars NSYNC's JC Chasez.  These and other musical numbers are energetically choreographed by Aakomon Jones of Pitch Perfect and Dreamgirls fame, assisted by Amy Allen.

Anne Heche plays the musical's Cher-esque leading lady but a backstage accident sidelines her.  Her understudy, who also happens to be Nick's ex-girlfriend, assumes the role to the initial chagrin of the production's high-strung producer (Rob Riggle).  Meanwhile, gay dancer Malcolm (the always delicious Taye Diggs) is battling a hilariously foul-mouthed Lesli Margherita for the attentions of the show's hot new male dancer.

The movie's plot doesn't amount to much but it serves as a great showcase for the cast as well as its retro song score.  Andre Lascaris's colorful, dynamic cinematography is also of note.  Opening Night is great for a quiet summer night at home, especially for fans of its showcased one-hit wonders.

My personal travails earlier this summer also prohibited me from reviewing two new-ish films that demand attention.  The Ornithologist, by gay, Portuguese writer-director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, isn't unlike a queer film as directed by David Lynch.  The film's hunky title character, Fernando (played by Paul Hamy), encounters all sorts of unusual people and adventures as he paddles down a river searching for rare birds.  Cute, deaf-mute Jesus (Xelo Cagiao) is memorable as a lonely goatherd who crosses Fernando's path with dramatic results.  There is also plentiful Catholic imagery at play, which naturally caught Reverend's attention along with the men on display.

And then there is South Korean filmmaker's Joon-ho Bong's Okja, now available on Netflix as well as in some US theaters.  Alternately delightful and disturbing, it is at heart an E.T.-like story of a girl and her beloved giant, genetically-engineered pig friend.  Young Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) embarks on a journey to the decadent old US of A when Okja is abducted by the evil corporation that created it, headed by Tilda Swinton in dual roles as the company's hilariously insecure CEO and her downright vicious sister.  Mija and Okja also become targets of an animal rights group and a demented TV host à la the late Steve Irwin, portrayed by a surprisingly whacked-out Jake Gyllenhaal.  The remainder of the movie's all-star, multi-national cast includes Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins and The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun.  Okja isn't for kids, despite its cute & cuddly star, but it serves as a potent adult fable.  Have some hankies handy.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (on tour): A
Opening Night: B
The Ornithologist: B+
Okja: A-

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