Saturday, December 23, 2017

Dearest Review: Super Troopers


Look, up on the screen... even more superhero movies!

It took three tries, but they finally made a good — no, great — Wolverine solo film. Apparently, all it took was to team ol' Wolvie up with Professor X for a buddy-slash-road movie. Set in a bleak future where mutants are nearly extinct, Hugh Jackman is back for his ninth (and reportedly final) turn as our favorite mutton-chopped, impossibly ripped anti-hero, as is Patrick Stewart, finally able to act in the usually cardboard role of X-Men founder Charles Xavier. They are joined by a young girl (Dafne Keen) with very familiar abilities and tasked with getting her to a fabled mutant Eden called... Eden. Stripped of all the typical tropes of a superhero flick, Logan plays out like a tragic western, one where not all of the heroes get to ride off into the sunset. (8/10) Now streaming on HBO.

"I told you never to bring up Viva Laughlin!"

Spider-Man: Homecoming:
Talk about finally getting it right... This, the third reboot of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in just fifteen years, gives us an age-appropriate leading man (a winning Tom Holland), smartly skips an origin story (are you listening, makers of the next Batman movie?) and, with Michael Keaton as the menacing Vulture (another kind of birdman), even nails the villain (something that remains frustratingly elusive for most superhero flicks in this Marvel age). It also gives Peter Parker a United Colors of Benetton-ish set of schoolmates, but keeps shoe-horning in Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and all the high-tech that goes with him (do we really need another talking super-suit?). Yet it remains refreshingly thrilling with the webbed wall-crawler's boyishly daring attempts at being — and ultimately becoming — a truly super hero. (8/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

The itsy-bitsy spider crawled up the monument...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2:
As a largely unknown Marvel property, the ragtag space crew known as the Guardians of the Galaxy burst onto the screen three years ago in a zippy, action-packed blockbuster that was super-fun. Well, it was fun while it lasted. The cheekily-titled Vol. 2 piles on the quirky characters, garish colors and snarky jokes (they even hold for the laughs this time) proving that, yes indeedy, there can be too much of a good thing... especially when it comes to Baby Groot. The plot has Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finding his long lost dad (the luxuriously locked Kurt Russell) who turns out to be a planet (wtf?) and (spoiler alert?) not that great a father. With its five requisite pre-/mid-/post-credits scenes, Marvel definitively proves here that they don't know when to quit while they're ahead. (4/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

Yeah, yeah, we get it. You're frikkin' adorable.

Wonder Woman:
One of the coolest things this year, movie-wise, was how rapturously embraced this first full film foray of the Amazing Amazon was; audiences and critics, even those who don't like superhero movies, loved them some Wonder Woman. Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot (make that Movie Star Gal Gadot), eschewing the overly-dark tone that has infected the DC Cinematic Universe to date, instead deliver a star-spangled adventure that deftly mixes mythic fantasy with period war epic, plus a refreshing dash or two of romantic comedy. From an island paradise to the trenches of the First World War, the warrior princess Diana joins American pilot/Allied spy Steve Trevor (an utterly charming Chris Pine) in his mission to thwart a chemical warfare plot… oh, and Ares, the God of War himself. To paraphrase the classic theme song of her beloved 70s TV series, “It’s a wonder, Wonder Woman!” (8/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

This isn't in the movie, but don't you wish it was?

Click here for reviews of the Bat-movies of 2017.

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dearest Review: Love and Death

A crowd pleasing romantic comedy, two bittersweet dramas starring three beloved actors and an idiosyncratic tale of the afterlife all offer up their own unique takes on themes of love, life and death.

The Big Sick:
It's one of those so-far-fetched true stories that if it was fiction you would scoff at the prepostoursness of it all. Shortly after aspiring stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani (played by... Kumail Nanjiani) and his girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan) break up (she finds out his Muslim parents wouldn't approve of her), Emily is struck by a mystery illness that puts her in a coma... and puts Kumail in the path of her parents (Ray Romano and a feisty Holly Hunter, terrific as always). The screenplay, by Nanjiani and his wife, the real life Emily, smartly avoids maudlinism, notably since, after all, this is how they met and fell and love. But the real Kumail and Emily aren't afraid to make the reel Kumail and Emily real, flaws and all. (8/10) Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Our Souls at Night:
A simple, quiet meditation on finding a connection long after you thought those were behind you, this adaptation of the Kent Haruf novel stars Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in their fourth screen collaboration in over 50 years. Needless to say, they still got it; their chemistry is palatable. Fonda is a widow who visits neighbor Redford one night and proposes that they sleep together – platonically – to combat the loneliness of a half-empty bed. After bonding over the care of Fonda's grandson (2017's pint-sized MVP Iain Armitage; see also Big Little Lies and Young Sheldon), their relationship slowly evolves into a true, quite lovely romance, one that shines even more brighter thanks to its legendary stars. (8/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

The Hero:
In a career that spans nearly five decades, Sam Elliott has been a reliably gruff and scruffy character actor who has lately achieved silver fox status thanks to such projects as I'll See You in My Dreams and Grace and Frankie. In The Hero, Elliott plays Lee Hayden, a gruff and scruffy fading star best known for such westerns as The Hero who finds himself facing his own mortality when he is diagnosed with cancer. His bucket list includes dating a woman more than half his age (Orange is the New Black's Laura Prepon), reconciling with his estranged daughter (Jessica Jones' Krysten Ritter) and smoking lots and lots of pot. Elliott is excellent in a role he was made for; unfortunately, the movie surrounding him fails to rise up to the level of his performance. (6/10) Now streaming on Hulu.

A Ghost Story:
One wouldn't expect that a film featuring a protagonist clad in a child's Halloween costume for nearly its entire running time to be moving, let alone profoundly so. Yet, despite its surface whimsicality, writer/director David Lowery has crafted a compelling, entirely unique take on the afterlife. Casey Affleck, as the recently deceased love of Rooney Mara, inhabits the eye-holed bed sheet in his lonely, wordless post mortem existence, silently wandering around the home he shared with Mara even after she moves on. Purposely ponderous, impatient viewers may find it a bit of a slog to sit through, but for those of you who are open to what it has to say it will haunt you more than any traditional ghost story. (8/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

Overly Analytical: Why We Love A Disasterpiece


Our guest writer Nate Cee examines audiences' obsessions with certain “so bad they're good” movies, specifically the notorious The Room, the making of which is the subject of James Franco’s new film The Disaster Artist, opening nationwide this weekend.

Why is it that we love to watch bad movies? What is it about the human condition that compels some people to deliberately watch something so incredibly atrocious like The Room? I find it akin to voluntarily sniffing the carton of questionable contents you found in the back corner of your refrigerator to confirm that it is in fact spoiled.

Vengeful dairy bacteria aside, what is it that pushes some people to do it? I have a theory as to why. I call it “Star Trek Syndrome”. The thing about Star Trek that has caused it to be the massive cult tour de force that it is is quite simple and elegant: it makes the viewer feel intelligent. When watching an episode of Star Trek it will take a seasoned Trekkie a matter of moments to know what to do to fix whatever problem the Enterprise/Voyager/Deep Space Nine/fuck-too-many-to-mention happens to be going through in that particular episode. Even if the viewer doesn’t know the answer off the top of their head they will soon come to understand the problem and agree with the crew's solution. The writers take something complicated (and made up) and simplify it, making it easily digestible for the audience. What this does is it empowers the viewer, educates them, and then allows them to use some of the knowledge gained from previous episodes at a later date.

In a way a god-awful movie can illicit a similar feeling. When watching a movie such as The Room it is easy for the audience member to feel intelligent, empowered and somewhat an authority on the medium they are currently consuming. So when we hear Tommy Wiseau grind out dialogue like “I did not hit her, it’s not true. It's bullshit. I did not hit her, I did not. Oh, hi Mark!” almost everyone watching it has a thought attune to “Oh my god, I can write better dialogue than this guy. This is just terrible, clunky, and doesn’t do anything to help the scene.” Instantly the viewer knows there's a problem and becomes an instant expert in script writing.

The Room is a perfect storm of abysmal. The dialogue, the blocking, the sets, the costumes, the “plot”, all of it. It’s. Just. Bad. I remember the first time I watched The Room a couple years ago. It was so cringy to watch and yet I had to keep watching it; going back to that spoiled milk, I just had to take a whiff. That is what watching this movie was like for me. On a number of occasions I found myself with my palm on my face and rolling my eyes so hard they hurt the next day. I would talk to the screen “What the fuck? What is happening? Who is that? Why are they in this scene? What’s the plot? What about her breast cancer?! What drug dealer doesn’t take cash up front?!”

I instantly felt like I could have easily written and directed a better movie. I started to rewrite lines in my head and tried to find ways to fill the massive plot holes. The movie forced me inward and it had my head racing. I felt smarter than the movie and consequently I felt smarter than Tommy Wiseau. That is what makes an absolutely awful movie completely awesome. When faced with something so ludicrously bad, cheesy, corny and full of codswallop it instantly shoves the brain into high gear. It doesn’t matter if it’s The Room or Troll 2 or After Last Season or any other dreadful movie, it makes you think. Ultimately movies are supposed to make you think, and make you feel something. Great bad movies bring people together on a level that is similar to a badge of honor. “How far did you make it into the movie? How much did you hate it? Can you believe that…”

That is exactly what The Room does. It will make you think and it will make you feel something (probably nausea and confusion, but I digress) and it brings people together. Upon watching this “what not to do when making a movie” movie you will be inducted into a club of others that have endured the same torture as you had, tantamount to the American Legion of Movie Horrors.

Watch The Room if you haven’t done so already and have an absolute blast with it. Enjoy it for how perfectly and beautifully bad it really is. Enjoy all the one-liners you can now exchange with anyone else who has seen it. Have a laugh and toss a football around wearing a tuxedo in a back alley. It’ll do ya some good.

By Nate Cee, who was awfully glad to contribute this piece to Movie Dearest.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Reverend's Interview: A Queer Classic Takes Shape


As a boy, acclaimed writer-director Guillermo Del Toro thought the title monster of his favorite movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the human woman with whom it was smitten should have swum off into the sunset together. Del Toro has now taken a step toward correcting this perceived slight of cinema history. The Shape of Water, opening in wide release December 8th, isn’t only a magnificent mashup of horror and romance. It also works gloriously as a comedy, a political allegory, a valentine to classic Hollywood, a religious parable, and even as a quasi-musical. 

In The Shape of Water, a mute cleaning woman named Elisa (exquisitely played by the Oscar-worthy Sally Hawkins) finds herself drawn to an amphibious being from the Amazon (Del Toro regular Doug Jones) held captive in the government facility at which she works. She hatches a plan to free him with the help of her co-worker Zelda (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer), and her neighbor Giles (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins). They all have to evade the creature’s seriously disturbed captor, played by two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon.

Del Toro, who was born in Mexico, is known for his previous genre-bending films Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, Hellboy and Pacific Rim. “I like to make movies that are liberating, that say it’s okay to be whoever you are,” the director states in his latest production’s press notes, “and it seems that at this time, this is very pertinent.”

Though set in 1962, numerous themes explored in The Shape of Water are as timely as ever, including racism, sexism, and America’s treatment of its LGBTQ citizens as well as people with physical disabilities. Jenkins’ character is a gay man who has found his job opportunities as a graphic designer limited due to his sexuality. Subsequently, he has had to stay closeted with everyone except Elisa.

Jenkins has given memorable performances in such diverse movies as The Cabin in the Woods, Eat Pray Love, Jack Reacher and The Visitor, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. He recently called me to chat about his latest role.

CC: What was your response when you first read The Shape of Water screenplay?
RJ: Truthfully, I loved it from the very first scene. And if you are a character actor like me you start thinking “I hope I don’t die in scene two” (laugh). I loved it from the beginning.

CC: Similarly, what was your initial reaction to the finished film?
RJ: I forgot I was in it. I thought I had a handle on what it would look like. It is so beautiful and so different. Guillermo is such a visionary and he told us how things would look but I had no idea until I saw the finished film. It’s amazing.

CC: You grew up during the era depicted in the film. Were there any particular memories or people you drew from for your character, Giles?
RJ: It wasn’t that so much, although my local pie shop really looked like the one in the film. I loved growing up in 1962. I grew up in a small farm town (DeKalb, Illinois) as a straight, white man. Life was very simple then, which in hindsight was both good and bad.

CC: What was your perception of the treatment of gay people at the time?
RJ: I didn’t know any. There weren’t any gay people in my high school until our 35th reunion (laugh). There weren’t any black people either. Guillermo refers to the characters played by me, Sally and Octavia as “the invisible people” of the time. There is the scene in the film where Giles tries to hold hands with the man who works in the pie shop. Something that is so simple today had to involve such risk back then.

CC: How have you seen things change, or not, for LGBTQ people since then?
RJ: Things do move forward, but at times they take a step back and then start moving forward again. Love is love, so (anti-LGBTQ people should) stop trying to do something to stop it. It’s a whole different world. (Being gay) wasn’t even on our radar. No one talked about it.

CC: What was it like working with the wonderful Sally Hawkins?
RJ: She’s incredible, sweet and fun. She’s my friend now. She is who you see on the screen. We had so much fun together.

CC: It shows. I loved your soft-shoe tap dance scene!
RJ: Thank you. Wasn’t that great? One thing about working with Guillermo is that everything in the film is made with a purpose. Nothing in the film is there by accident. I mean, accidents do happen on a film set but Guillermo often uses those too.

CC: What do you hope viewers will take from this film and/or your performance?
RJ: I hope people get lost in it like I did. I’m not asking anyone to be enlightened by it, although that would be nice.

CC: What are you working on now?
RJ: Nothing. I’ve done two seasons of Berlin Station on TV. I just got back from Germany and now I’m taking a well-earned break. I’m looking forward to it.

Del Toro directing Jenkins and Hawkins on the Shape of Water set.

Not so fast, Richard. I expect the actor will be required to work the awards season circuit of screenings, parties and other events in support of The Shape of Water. Jenkins could well secure a second Oscar nomination for his funny, moving performance as the closeted but ultimately brave Giles. Del Toro could also receive his first, well-deserved nomination as Best Director. He was previously nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Pan’s Labyrinth but has yet to win an Academy Award.

Admittedly, The Shape of Water is a hard-to-define movie that may not appeal to all Academy members. It struck me as a sexier, gorier, adults-only update of Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (E.T. and his human friend, Elliott, never had sex though). Some viewers may have difficulty accepting Del Toro’s uninhibited romance between Elisa and her gill man.

And what of the film’s unusual title? According to Del Toro: “Water takes the shape of whatever is holding it at the time and although water can be so gentle, it's also the most powerful and malleable force in the universe. That's also love, isn't it? It doesn’t matter what shape we put love into, it becomes that, whether it’s man, woman or creature.”

All of this is reason for LGBTQ moviegoers to rejoice. If queerness is best defined as unclassifiable “otherness,” then The Shape of Water is unquestionably the queerest movie of 2017. It could also be a cinema classic in the making.

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

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: All You Want for Christmas


As the holiday season gets into full swing in movie theaters this weekend, viewers can choose between an animated version of the nativity story (The Star), a light-hearted biopic about Charles Dickens (The Man Who Invented Christmas), or the romance between a 24-year old man and a teenaged boy.  I wonder which one our readers will be most interested in?

Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics) was declared nothing short of a gay masterpiece at this year's Sundance Film Festival and has had Oscar buzz ever since.  Adapted from Andre Aciman's acclaimed 2007 novel, it recounts an at-times tortured, gay coming of age story. 17-year old Elio Perlman (a strong performance by relative newcomer Timothee Chalamet) is spending the summer of 1983 at a sun-dappled Italian villa with his mother and father.  Elio's father (the terrific Michael Stuhlbarg, in an uncharacteristically sweet turn) is a professor of Greco-Roman antiquities.

One fine day, Mr. Perlman's new grad student intern arrives.  24-year old Oliver is tall, blonde, handsome and American, and perfectly embodied by the always pleasing Armie Hammer. Although Elio and Oliver are both drawn at first to local girls, they gradually become attracted to each other. A full-blown but intrinsically short-lived affair develops between the two.

I generally enjoyed and appreciated Call Me By Your Name even if I consider much of the praise accorded it thus far overblown.  It is obviously beautifully shot by Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom amidst great locations.  Gay director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) frames the story and his actors in similarly attractive fashion even if he shies from much nudity, a fact which is being heavily criticized in the gay press. But between James Ivory's screenplay and/or Walter Fasano's editing, I found the first half of the movie and the initial, attraction-repulsion relationship between Elio and Oliver confusing.  The film gets better once they "consummate" and the focus is turned squarely on them.

Also, sad to say, some may find the age discrepancy between the two young men more disturbing in the wake of the Kevin Spacey sex abuse allegations.  I actually attended a screening of the film the day the news first broke about Spacey so it was impossible to divorce myself from thoughts of it.  The fact that Hammer is actually 31, not 24, accentuated my occasional discomfort.

But gay viewers especially will find Call Me By Your Name hard to avoid, and it shouldn't be avoided.  And trust me: you'll never look at peaches in quite the same way afterward.

Rebels on Pointe, also now playing in theaters, is an eye-opening documentary about Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.  This famed, all-male drag troupe was founded in New York City over 40 years ago.  Bobbi Jo Hart followed the company around the world and provides in-depth biographies of its longtime director and several members.  They have weathered the Stonewall riots, HIV/AIDS and ongoing discrimination but continue to entertain and inspire thousands of people every year.  Warm and funny, Rebels on Pointe is a must see.

As the season of shopping for others gets underway, I have a few gift recommendations based on what I have been gifted with myself in recent weeks.  The 2006 award-winning musical Dreamgirls was just issued as a combo Blu-ray/DVD/Digital gift pack in a spectacularly remastered edition with ten minutes of footage added by its gay director, Bill Condon.  Numerous extras are also featured, including Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson's audition footage.  The movie looks and sounds stunning.

Fans of more current entertainment featuring a quartet of talented black actresses will surely enjoy Girls Trip.  Last summer's hit about a reunion of lifelong friends taking a no-holds-barred reunion trip to Las Vegas is now available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.  Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and, best of all, Tiffany Haddish go all in for this frequently foul-mouthed, gut-busting yet heartfelt comedy.  It could also make fun, adults-only family viewing after holiday meals.

If live theatre is more your or your friends' style, I can think of no better gift than tickets to the touring production of Broadway's Something Rotten!  It is currently playing at LA's Ahmanson Theatre through December 31st but will continue on to major cities in 2018.  An outrageous spoof of both all things Shakespeare and virtually all stage musicals, it is choreographed in typically fantastic, hilarious fashion by The Book of Mormon's Casey Nicholaw.  If that isn't enough, Broadway stars Rob McClure (Chaplin, Honeymoon in Vegas) and Adam Pascal (Rent, Aida, Disaster!) are headlining the tour.  Both are superb, with Pascal especially enjoyable in a more flamboyant role than usual for him.  Besides, gay viewers can't go wrong with a show that includes such double entendre-laden songs as "Bottom's Gonna Be on Top" and "Hard to be the Bard"!

Happy holidays!

Reverend's Ratings:
Call Me By Your Name: B
Rebels on Pointe: A
Dreamgirls: Director's Extended Direction: A-
Girls Trip: B
Something Rotten! (Broadway touring company): A-

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

MD Top 10: Christmas Movie Musical Numbers

Thanksgiving weekend can be a feast for the senses, beginning with the tastes and aromas of a festive family feast. You'll need a sharp eye and a quick touch for the ensuing shopping sprees on Black Friday. And then just open your ears and you'll hear it all around you: Christmas music!

Bridging one holiday to the next, Christmas music signals it's time to start rolling out the annual traditions of the season, from tree decorating to gift wrapping to, that's right, Christmas movie watching! Which is all just an elaborate lead in to:  

Movie Dearest presents (in chronological order) our Top 10 Christmas Movie Musical Numbers!

1. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

When one hears "musical number" you think of hordes of hoofers in flashy costumes dancing their feet off on sparkly sets while the camera spins around them. But sometimes the simple approach is best, such as just pointing the camera at the singer and letting them sing their heart out, as Vincente Millinelli did in this perennial favorite. Of course, it helps if the singer is Judy Garland, who's Esther plaintively warbles Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin's soon-to-be-classic to a weepy Margaret O'Brien as her sister Tootie. "Have Yourself..." has since gained the reputation as being the most depressing Christmas song ever, so it's no wonder that immediately after Esther finishes it, little Tootie runs off and beats the crap out of a couple snowmen.

2. "Silver Bells" from The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Bet you didn't know that this charming yuletide tune, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, was from a movie, right? It's just one of many cases where a song has outlived the movie that introduced it, in this case a Bob Hope gangster comedy set in a Damon Runyan-esque New York City. The number is set within the bustling "city sidewalks, busy sidewalks" during "Christmastime in the city", where Hope (in a sorry-looking Santa beard) and his sweetheart Marilyn Maxwell (his other beard?) stroll along and are joined in the song by passersby, with Hope mugging as usual all along the way (he even flirts with a policeman!). And yes, that is William "Fred Mertz" Frawley as the grumpy street Santa at the start of the scene.

3. "White Christmas" from White Christmas (1954)

Of course, Irving Berlin's all-time bestseller was first introduced in 1942's Holiday Inn (and won the Academy Award that year for Best Original Song), but it got upgraded from a simple sing-along at the piano to the full-fledged finale twelve years later in this eponymous pseudo-remake. Bing Crosby is joined by co-stars Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (dubbed by Trudy Stevens), as well as a tiny troupe of ballerinas, as they croon about "treetops glistening" and "sleigh bells in the snow". Yes, there's a lot of red velvet and white marabou going on up on that stage, but at this time of year it's hard to resist such nostalgic, albeit cornball, sentimentality. May all your Christmases be white indeed.

4. "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame (1974)

Ah, Lucy. For years on the I Love Lucy show we thought you were just funning us with your out-of-tune shrills, but alas, it turned out you really couldn't sing. Or, several thousand cigarettes later, at least you couldn't by the time this wholly ill-conceived silver screen adaptation of Jerry Herman's Broadway musical decided to (mis)cast you as the larger-than-life Auntie Mame. Nevertheless, this number is fascinating to watch in a "just... can't... look away" sort of way, from the dull costuming (why is Mame in a nun habit?) to the imbecilic choreography (did they really need to spend half the song "decorating" poor, pathetic Agnes Gooch?). But then Mame dons that creepy as hell Santa Claus death mask and the whole thing is elevated to a whole other level of "WTF".

5. "It Feels Like Christmas" from The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

In this, the like bazillionth filmed version of Charles Dickens' holiday ghost story, most of the familiar Muppets are relegated to minor roles while the juicy parts – namely the three Spirits of Christmas – were "cast" with original creations. So, instead of say, Fozzie Bear as the Ghost of Christmas Present, we get... a ginger bear! Burly, boisterous and vaguely Santa-ish, this jolly ol' fellow (voiced by longtime Muppeteer Jerry Nelson) introduces Michael Caine's Ebenezer Scrooge to the joys of the season, who at one point forgets his miserly ways and gets jiggy with it. Paul Williams, who was Oscar nominated for co-composing the songs for the original Muppet Movie, returned to contribute new Carols for this Christmas.

6. "What's This?" from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Fans of this stop-motion animated cult favorite have long argued over "is it a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie?" This sleigh-belled ballad, written and performed by Tim Burton mainstay Danny Elfman, is a strong argument for the latter. Diametrically opposed to the film's spooky opening number "This is Halloween", "What's This?" is a candy-colored kaleidoscope of Christmasy cheer, with our hero Jack Skellington gleefully discovering all new kinds of tricks and treats. But then again, lyrics such as "There are children throwing snowballs/Instead of throwing heads/They're busy building toys/And absolutely no one's dead" swing the argument back to the pro-Halloween side. So here you have it, the film's whole thematic dichotomy, wrapped up in one catchy three-minute tune.

7. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Voice acting legend Thurl Ravenscroft (of Tony the Tiger and Disney's Haunted Mansion fame) memorably sung this one in the 1966 cartoon classic, but here the Grinch (a heavily made up Jim Carrey) croaks it out himself. Regardless of the fact that there is no actual mention of Christmas or holidays or even snow, "You're a Mean One" (music by Albert Hague and lyrics by Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss himself) has become a seasonal standard anyway, even with its mentions of seasick crocodiles and termite-infested teeth. Fun Fact: The soundtrack album for the animated television special won a Grammy for Best Album for Children in 1968. The recipient of the award? Horror film icon Boris Karloff, who voiced the original Grinch.

8. "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Camp (2003)

The camp of the title is Camp Ovation, a summer retreat for young performing arts students, which prompts the question "how is there a Christmas song in a movie set during the summer?" Well, among the many musicals the camp stages (seriously, how did they afford the rights for all of them anyway?) is the 1968 Burt Bacharach/Hal David stage musical adaptation of 1960's Best Picture Oscar winner The Apartment titled Promises, Promises. This Act I closer takes place during the office Christmas party, with three bubbly secretaries (Alana Allen, Dequina Moore and Tracee Beazer) providing the entertainment, which escalates from a perky trio to a full-blown office blowout and climaxes with a hand flailing finale set to the ebulliently incessant belting of "Jingle bells! Jingle bells!". As seen here in Camp, the number is a considerably impressive recreation of the original Broadway "Turkey Lurkey" as frenetic-ly choreographed by Michael Bennett, later of A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls fame.

(By the by, if this list was ranked, this one would easily be in the number one spot.)

9. "Jingle Bell Rock" from Mean Girls (2004)

As a quartet of... sexy? Slutty? Skanky? Santa's helpers, the "Plastics" (Lacey Chabert as Gretchen, Rachel McAdams as Regina, Lindsay Lohan as Cady and Amanda Seyfried as Karen) slink along to a recording of this pop X-mas ditty (written by Joe Beal and Jim Boothe) for their Winter Talent Show act... that is, until Gretchen kicks the boombox off the stage (um, why doesn't the school auditorium have a sound system?). New girl Cady saves the day though when she starts singing live, and the audience quickly joins in for a merry sing along as the "mean girls" go on to mix and a-mingle their jingling feet. This scene has become so popular that all one has to do is search for "jingle bell rock mean girls" on YouTube to find a bevy of fan-made tribute videos, including a few by "mean boys".

10. "Toyland" from Tangerine (2015)

We come full circle for our last and most recent Christmas movie musical number. Like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", this melancholy arrangement of the usually peppier "Toyland" (composed by Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough for their 1903 children's operetta Babes in Toyland) is tinged with forlorn sadness. In the scenes leading up to this moment, sassy streetwalker Alexandra (Mya Taylor, who became the first transgender actress to win a major film award with her 2016 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female for her performance here) is seen tirelessly promoting her Christmas Eve singing gig at a local cocktail lounge. But it is all to no avail, as she ends up performing to a mostly empty bar. Taylor's haunting vocals add to the bittersweet air, yet she seems to gently acknowledge the irony of her situation through such lyrics as "Little girl and boy land/While you dwell within it/You are ever happy there".

Monday, November 20, 2017

Dearest Review: The Dark Knight Rises

2017 has been a busy year for The Batman.

The Lego Batman Movie:
Will Arnett’s growly Caped Crusader was the breakout character of the super-cute Lego Movie three years ago, so it was a no-brainer to spin him off into his own animated feature. Just as deliriously over-stuffed as its predecessor, this Batman Movie is filled to the brim with bat-references, including appearances by pretty much his entire Rogues Gallery and plenty of clever nods to his previous live action cinematic adventures. The family friendly plot finds our plastic hero facing off once again with his old foe the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), who recruits an army of special guest villains from such other Warner properties as Gremlins and Harry Potter. Holy synergy, Batman! (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray and streaming on HBO.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The Dynamic Duo

Batman & Bill:
The most tragic Batman story of all didn’t play out on the comic page or movie screen but in real life. Everyone’s favorite cowled crime fighter made his four-color debut in 1939, with Bob Kane credited with creating the future superstar superhero. However, Kane didn’t do it all by himself. A large part of what makes Batman the Batman we know today is thanks to writer Bill Finger, who was denied his proper credit (and all the money and acclaim that goes with it) by the fame-hungry egotist Kane (who deserves the Bat-Villain name Credit Hog). The bittersweet story of how Finger’s legacy was rightfully restored years after his lonely death makes for an engrossing and ultimately uplifting must-see for any true Bat-Fan. (8/10) Now streaming on Hulu.

Kane and Abler

Justice League:
Of course, Batman (as played by Ben Affleck) is one of the big guns brought together for the long-awaited first big screen adventure of DC Comics’ “World’s Greatest Heroes”. He and Gal Gadot’s kick-ass Wonder Woman recruit Jason Momoa’s über-hunky Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s geeky Flash and Ray Fisher’s high tech Cyborg to stop an encroaching global alien threat… oh, and also to resurrect Henry Cavill’s Superman, who was killed off in last year’s widely derided Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Learning from their mistakes from that one and capitalizing on the wonderfully received Wonder Woman from earlier this year, JL has been lightened up considerably (even ol’ Bats cracks a smile at one point) and is blessedly devoid of the dark tone that has made most of DC’s own “Cinematic Universe” such drudgery to watch.

In a League of Their Own

Racked by production problems and overshadowed by perennial rival Marvel’s ongoing dominance of the genre/flooding of the market, JL is far from the great superhero epic it certainly had the potential to be, but it’s still fun, with some cool fight scenes and enough positive hints toward future chapters/spin-offs to give at least this longtime DC "super friend" some hope for the future. (7/10) Now in theaters.

Coming soon: reviews of this year’s other superhero flicks, including Logan, Spider-Man: Homecoming and, of course, Wonder Woman.

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Dearest Review: Five Came Back


From Twin Peaks to Will & Grace, nostalgic revivals have been all the rage this year on television and at the movies as well. Witness these five recent sequels, all spawned from originals that range in age from 21 to 84 years old.

T2: Trainspotting:
Yes, it’s been two decades since Danny Boyle first brought from the pages of Irvine Welsh’s novel to the big screen (and set to the driving beat of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”) the lovable losers Renton, Spud, Begbie and Sick Boy. But there’s a good reason for the long wait, as now the characters, having survived their drug fueled youth, are older… yet not necessarily wiser. New schemes are hatched, old scores are settled, and all without quite so much heroine in this slick and stylish, funny and fitting follow-up to 1996’s cult classic Trainspotting. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray and streaming on STARZ.

Whoever smelt it dealt it

Kong: Skull Island:
More of a reboot/launch of the “big-ass monster cinematic universe” then a direct sequel, this umpteenth iteration of the iconic “8th Wonder of the World © 1933” boasts impressive visuals and a surprisingly all-star cast, including Brie Larson (in her first “cashing in on that Oscar” part), a proverbially over-the-top Samuel L. Jackson, and scruffy scene stealer John C. Reilly (in the Ben Gunn role). For what at first glance seemed like a cheesy cash grab actually turns out to be a pretty darn good popcorn flick with potential for a few sequels of its own. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

I love the smell of wet ape in the morning

Alien: Covenant:
Along with the unending adventures of Artimus Prime and Captain Jack Sparrow, the seemingly endless Alien saga just keeps trudging along, ever-increasing audience apathy be damned. Ridley Scott, who helmed the original film 38 years ago, returns again for this sequel to his prequel Prometheus, which confounded audiences five years ago. Covenant is less confusing but hardly engaging with its Passengers-like plot that keeps the aliens off screen for far too long. Of particular note for MD readers: Demián Bichir grieving his fallen husband, and Michael Fassbender’s Peter O’Toole-ian David macking on his android “brother” Walter, also played by Fassbender. (5/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Yep, Fassbender-on- Fassbender twincest… the fan fiction practically writes itself.

Blade Runner 2049:
Ridley Scott’s other sci-fi classic from last century finally got its long-delayed second chapter this year, albeit with Arrival’s Oscar nominated director Denis Villeneuve at the helm. Set 30 years later in a Los Angeles even more dystopian, the initial story – of a blade runner (Ryan Gosling, in a role perfect for his actorly quirks) who stumbles upon a potentially incendiary mystery surrounding the corpse of a replicant – seems distinctly removed from the original’s, yet slowly (granted, at times too slowly) reveals just how connected it truly is. As with the 1982 model, 2049 is thick with themes of identity and humanity, yet manages to outdo its grim predecessor in regards to emotionally resonance. (8/10) Now in theaters.

Stayin' (artificially) alive, stayin' (artificially) alive...

War for the Planet of the Apes:
War is right. This conclusion to the Apes prequel trilogy lays it on thick with the Nazi/Holocaust allegory, not to mention cinematic allusions to such World War II epics as The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Great Escape. It also works overtime to set up its connections all the way back to the original 1968 classic; who knew that a Chevrolet subcompact would factor into the mythology of the Planet of the Apes? Andy Serkis’ now stoic ape leader Caesar leaves plenty of room for Woody Harrelson to go all “Heart of Darkness” crazy as the skinhead colonel tired of all this monkey business. (6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Lots and lots of monkey business...

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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Reverend's Interview: France's AIDS-Themed Oscar Contender is Already a Winner


A number of powerful films depicting the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis are rightly considered classics. Parting Glances, Longtime Companion, And the Band Played On and Philadelphia helped to open eyes and hearts before there were any treatments for HIV infection. We can now add to this list Robin Campillo's excellent BPM (Beats Per Minute).

The new movie (original title: 120 battements par minute), which is France's submission in the Best Foreign Language Film for this year's Academy Awards, will opens theatrically in Los Angeles and NYC this weekend and in other cities later this month.

It is a painfully vivid but life-affirming and inspiring portrait of the ACT UP movement in early 1990's Paris. A brave group of male and female activists goes to battle for those stricken with HIV/AIDS, taking on sluggish government agencies and major pharmaceutical companies in bold, invasive actions modeled after New York's ACT UP chapter. The activists, many of them gay and HIV-positive, embrace their mission with a literal life-or-death urgency.

Amid rallies, protests, fierce debates and ecstatic dance parties, newcomer Nathan (played by Arnaud Valois) falls in love with Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), the group’s radical firebrand. Their passion sparks against the shadow of mortality as the activists fight for a medical breakthrough. BPM is movingly intimate but boasts an impressive sense of large scale on a small budget, especially during its Pride scenes.

Any LGBT viewers alive at the time will recognize many of the issues and actions depicted in the film. These included sexually-graphic ad campaigns and spraying politicians with fake blood, although the recipients didn't initially realize the blood was artificial. Director/co-writer Campillo accomplishes the tricky task of showing ACT UP's excesses without denigrating the organization. This is significant since he knows them first-hand, as he revealed during a recent phone interview with Reverend shared with his two leading men.

"I was involved with ACT UP in Paris for for about five years starting in 1992," the Morocco-born Campillo revealed. "I came back toward the end of the 1990's so I was probably involved for ten years in all." At the time, there were approximately 6,000 new HIV cases in France each year. Like its New York chapter, ACT UP Paris's impact was ultimately blunted by infighting among its leader. This is shown in BPM but Campillo directs throughout with a riveting, non-judgmental verve.

Campillo is known to many viewers for his previous acclaimed films Eastern Boys, about a male Ukrainian prostitute, and the Oscar nominated The Class. He also wrote The Returned, a eerily effective French TV series about dead villagers returning to life that he helped adapt for American television. But BPM is a decidedly more personal effort for him.

"I came to ACT UP in 1992 but for many years I didn't realize I could do a film about it," he said. "I thought about doing a movie about the AIDS epidemic but only later realized it could be about my personal experience." Campillo has considerable insight into the health crisis both then and now, as evidenced by his finished film. This contrasts sharply with his two less-informed but nonetheless dedicated lead actors.

"I was 9 in 1992, so I did not remember ACT UP but I do remember the giant condom (they placed) over the obelisk in Paris," Valois recalled with a laugh. "I discovered AIDS in the movies or TV but fortunately did not have any family members or friends with it." His character in the film, Nathan, is equally naïve at first. Upon meeting Sean at an ACT UP meeting, Nathan asks "What's your job?" Sean replies in no-nonsense fashion, "I'm poz, that's all."

Valois's co-star, Nahuel (pronounced "Noel") Perez Biscayart, spoke of his similar upbringing. "I really dived into the story and script," he said. "I was 9 or 10 years old at the time depicted so I knew very little." Biscayart, who was born in Argentina, also admitted to not having any personal knowledge of someone living with HIV/AIDS. You wouldn't know his lack of first-hand experience from his intense performance, which necessitated considerable weight loss.

Valois and Biscayart have several steamy scenes together in the film, which I couldn't resist asking about. "It was a challenge (to film them) because its not just about the sex," Biscayart said. "It was about the characters really opening up to each other." There is a particularly graphic yet poignant scene between the two lovers toward the film's end. "The final scene at the hospital was not just a sex scene but was very emotional; it was very difficult," according to Biscayart. Valois immediately agreed with his co-star.

Those viewers fortunate to have lived to tell about the early days of the AIDS pandemic will find both nostalgia and modern relevancy in BPM. It reminds us of the once popular phrase "silence = mort (death)," which can certainly be applied to our current US political situation. As one character states in a sassy yet still-timely manner, "We don't want to die, darling."

Arnaud Valois, Robin Campillo and Nahuel Perez Biscayart at the New York Film Festival

Now as then, government agencies more often serve as a hindrance than a help to those dealing with HIV/AIDS on the front lines. There have been tremendous medical advances over the last 20 years but not all those infected have had equal access to them. BPM focuses in particular on the development of protease inhibitors, which were initially regarded with suspicion. "People will think they're better than AZT," one skeptical character says about the then-new medications. "I'll take any kind of hope," responds an infected woman.

According to Campillo, Biscayart and Valois, their film is being very well received thus far. "Its very popular in France, which we did not expect," said Campillo. "We had low expectations due to the subject and gay sex scenes; I did not think the film would be such a success."

Moviegoers too young to remember the time period depicted in BPM are also responding well. "Apparently, they are very moved and some are shocked at the beginning (of the film) because they didn't know so many people died from AIDS," said Valois. Biscayart seconded that by saying: "(Younger viewers) are going beyond activism and are excited about breaking taboos; girls are really excited about the gay sex scenes in the film (laugh)." Campillo and his stars are optimistic their work will be just as well received in the US.

With any luck, BPM will emerge as one of the five finalists for this year's foreign language Oscar. Even if it doesn't, though, this powerful movie should not be missed by moviegoers young and old, gay and straight. For more information about the film or to purchase tickets click here.

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dearest Review: This is Halloween, Part 2

Continuing our look at the latest fright flicks, all of which are now streaming on Netflix… call it “Netflix and Chill-ers”...

Click here for Part 1.

The Babysitter:
Meet Cole (played by the young Zac Efron-ish Judah Lewis), a nerdish 12-year old whose parents still hire a babysitter when they go out. You’ll understand why he doesn’t mind though when you see Bee (Samara Weaving): she’s every pubescent boy’s dream girl, a total babe who likes playing video games and eating pizza and watching kung fu movies and, most importantly, wants to do all that with him. But what does his incredibly hot babysitter do after he goes to bed? This being a horror film, that would be satanic rituals and virgin sacrifices… and now Bee needs the blood of an innocent. Yep, that would be Cole’s. Charlie’s Angels director McG doesn’t stray far from his usual pop art-y style, but it fits in the heightened reality of this goofy but gory story, a sort of millennial Scream complete with hat tips to scary movies past and an attractive young cast, including the pretty-much-shirtless-the-whole-time Robbie Amell. (7/10) Watch on Netflix.

Abs Fab

Did you know that French veterinary schools attract hordes of fresh-faced students willing to endure weeks of humiliating hazing rituals all so they can learn how to insert their arms up to their shoulders inside a cow’s rectum? No? Well, if Raw is to believed, boy do they, and that is only the beginning of the illogical absurdities piled onto its otherwise intriguing premise. Brainy vegetarian Justine is the newbie who, after being forced to eat rabbit kidneys (ew), develops an overwhelming hankering for raw flesh. Following an unfortunate pubic hair waxing accident that results in her sister’s finger being cut off (seriously), Justine chows down on the severed digit like it’s a chicken wing. But sis doesn’t mind so much because she too is a cannibal (one can surmise at this point that not just an interest in veterinary medicine runs in the family). This is that type of movie where the characters don’t say much to each other merely to keep the plot from unraveling. (3/10) Watch on Netflix.

Justine does have a hot gay/sexually fluid roommate, so at least there’s that.

The Dark Tower aside, this has been a great year for Stephen King film adaptations, what with the huge box office hit It and the following two Netflix originals:

Gerald’s Game:
Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are Jessie and Gerald, a married couple taking a romantic weekend in the country to reignite the passion in their marriage. To that end Gerald's plan involves a bed, two pairs of handcuffs and a certain blue pill. What he didn’t plan was a fatal heart attack that leaves Jessie helplessly shackled to the solid wood headboard with no one to hear her cries for help… except a hungry stray dog, and perhaps a grim reaper. Upon succumbing to physical and mental exhaustion, Jessie is visited by her inner demons and haunted by a disturbing, life-altering incident from her childhood, her ordeal climaxing with a squirm-inducing act of survival that rivals 127 Hours in its visceral intensity. Director Mike Flanagan maintains a taut tension throughout, notable as the story mainly takes place in one location. But, thanks to her incredible performance, this is Gugino's movie all the way. You feel her pain, fear and, most of all, her will to live. (7/10) Watch on Netflix.

"(Sigh)... I knew I should never had let Gerald read Fifty Shades of Grey... "

The protagonist in Netflix's second King adaptation of the year, Nebraska farmer Wilfred James (Thomas Jane, employing an Ennis Del Mar accent), faces his own demons as well, but these are of his own devising. Sick of him and her life on the farm, his wife wants to sell the land she inherited from her father and move to the Big City. Ol' Wilf don't take too kindly to that idea, so naturally he plots to murder her, and he ain't above manipulating his son to help him do it. A sense of impending doom settles over the story like a fog once the deed is done... and the corpse is buried under a dead cow. This being a King story, such evil doings do not go unpunished, the dead come back to haunt the living (even if it may all just be in their minds), and there are rats... lots and lots of rats. There's nothing really new here, and it ends exactly as expected, but the effective atmosphere and Jane's committed performance make this a ghost story worth retelling. (7/10) Watch on Netflix.

"I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks..."

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