Monday, April 17, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Back to the Beach


It may not be summer just yet but it isn’t too early to head to the beach. At least that’s true when it comes to the 18th annual Newport Beach Film Festival. The event will run April 20th-27th at multiple venues in and around its coastal host city. 

Celebrated as one of the leading lifestyle film festivals in the United States, the Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) seeks to bring to Orange County the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. Committed to enlightening the public with a first-class international film program, a forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities, the NBFF focuses on showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films from around the globe.
This typically includes a number of productions with LGBTQ appeal, and 2017 is no exception. Thousands of straight as well as LGBTQ attendees annually make NBFF a smash success. LGBTQ filmmakers participate as well.

Here are some of this year’s notable offerings, both short films and feature-length, of interest to our community:

Alzheimer’s: A Love Story is a potent yet hopeful documentary short that follows longtime gay couple Greg and Michael as they struggle with the title disease, which threatens to destroy the memory of their 40-year relationship.

My Mom and The Girl features a great, diverse cast including Harmony Santana, Valerie Harper and Liz Torres headlines this tale about a dinner with friends that takes a dark turn, leading a retired jazz singer and her caregiver to a proverbial crossroads on the streets of East Los Angeles. There, they encounter The Girl and the three very disparate — and desperate — women pull each other back into the light.

Writer-director Jerell Rosales’ sweet Please Hold details the aftermath when a condom breaks during a random hookup with a stranger. Fearing he may be infected with HIV, young Danny finds an unexpected new friend while awaiting his test results. Shown as part of the fest’s “Around The World In Shorty Gays” program.

Another short films program, ‘Til Short Do Us Part,” will include Thanks for Dancing. In this Norwegian production, a lifelong relationship is coming to an end as we examine two elderly men, both former athletes, during the last winter they are living together.

The North American premiere of The Dam, an Australian film about two lifelong mates (that’s Aussie-speak for “friends”) who revisit the monolithic dam that defined their young lives. An admission from one of the men cracks open a reservoir of silence, loss and regret, and feelings that were impounded long ago cannot be contained any longer.

Although gay marriage was legalized there several years ago, Mexico ranks second in the world in the rate of murders committed against the LGBT population. The documentary Pink Spring in Mexico (Primavera Rosa en México) spotlights the activists who have risked their lives to denounce these hate crimes, but impunity continues to surround the perpetrators.

Pretty M John, in which a 10-year old boy, Danilo, helps his mother run a guesthouse in the Philippines. When Mimi John (a transgender boxer from Manila) arrives, Danilo seizes the opportunity to connect with her as he finds out more about his own gender identity.

The Lavender Scare is an eerily prescient feature documentary. With the United States gripped in the panic of the Cold War during the 1950’s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower deems homosexuals to be security risks and orders the immediate firing of any government employee discovered to be gay or lesbian. This triggered a vicious witch hunt that ruined tens of thousands of lives but thrust an unlikely hero into the forefront of what would become the modern LGBT rights movement.

A couple living in Baja California makes preparations for their grand wedding in No Dress Code Required. There's only one problem: they are both men and their union is considered illegal. Cristina Herrera Borquez’s acclaimed film won the John Schlesinger Award at January’s Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Tickets for this year’s festival offerings may be purchased by visiting the NBFF website or calling 949-253-2880.

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dearest... 2016: The Leftovers

Every year, many must-see films end up with Oscar nominations. And then there’s the rest, the movies I had no intention of watching but, thanks to the Academy, I now “have” to watch. And the nominees were… 

Deepwater Horizon:
Producer/star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have cornered the market on inspirational “based on a true story” dude movies (see also: Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day) where they can aim for a certain air of prestige while still blowing lots of shit up. Here they take on the infamous 2010 BP oil rig explosion, a real world catastrophe co-opted into a 1970s-ish disaster movie, complete with an all-star cast playing such stock characters as "scruffy veteran" (Kurt Russell), "devoted wife on telephone" (Kate Hudson) and "moustache-twirling corporate villain" (John Malkovich, in full finely-cured ham mode). The result is astonishingly awful in its lack of subtlety, originality or suspense. (3/10)

Marky Mark Meets Jane the Virgin

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi:
Like Wahl-/Berg, Michael Bay is also (in)famous for his overly-macho flicks (see also: anything with the word “Transformers” in the title). His latest is at least grounded in reality, inspired by the 2012 terror attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Libya. The bulk of the overly-long 13 hour 144 minute running time becomes repetitive: terrorists attack, lull in the action, repeat. What enlivens it considerably is the elite team of ripped, hunky hired guns (including The Office’s Jim and Orange is the New Black’s Pornstache) on display, often-shirtless and always sweaty. The testosterone practically drips off the screen, along with an expected heaping helping of Rambo-esque patriotism. (5/10)

Worst drive-thru ever.

If the thought of sitting through a Day-Glo hued feature-length commercial for those frizzy-haired dollar store dolls you see in claw machines and on pencil erasers everywhere truly horrifies you, take heart: it’s not that bad. Sure, the characters literally fart glitter and crap cupcakes, but kids love that kind of stuff and it blessedly zips along at a quick pace. Pitting the perky Princess Poppy (voiced by, naturally, Anna Kendrick) against a race of troll-eaters (that totally don’t look anything like the Boxtrolls), this musical adventure of course has the typical “embrace individuality” moral all animated flicks are required by law to have these days. (6/10)

"I never felt like this before..."

On a 120-year trek to a distant space colony, Chris Pratt is rudely awakened 90 years too early to a ghost ship, with only a Michael Sheen bartender robot to keep him company. After a year of growing a Matt Damon Martian beard he breaks down and wakes up his own sleeping beauty (Jennifer Lawrence). He fully knows he’s dooming her to an isolated life, but hey, at least he’ll get laid. This Sci-Fi Lite doesn’t quite know what to do with the moral questions it raises, and it devolves into an increasingly illogical series of protracted close calls during its second half. (6/10)

At least there's this.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: War Makes Beasts of Us All


Rage-filled monsters are currently rampaging across movie screens, and making a lot of money in the process.  A live-action version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast?  Check.  Logan, Hugh Jackman's reportedly final appearance as X-Men mutant Wolverine?  Check.  And the towering granddaddy of them all, King Kong, is appearing for the first time since 2005.

Kong: Skull Island is an unusual prequel/reboot in that it delivers a serious, consistent anti-war message while showcasing impressive special-effects mayhem.  Set in 1973, the titular home of the giant primate is discovered thanks to first-time satellite surveys of our planet.  Shrouded for centuries by its own permanent storm system (upgraded from the giant fog bank seen in earlier Kong films) the mysterious land mass beckons a research team headed by Bill Randa (John Goodman).  He and his associates are convinced Skull Island could be a haven for MUTOs, those Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms introduced in 2014's Godzilla remake.  (Yes, Kong: Skull Island is the second chapter in a planned, connected series of "monsterverse" epics.)

With the US pulling out of Vietnam, Randa is granted the support of a squadron led by a still combat-hungry colonel played by Samuel L. Jackson.  No sooner do their helicopters make it through the violent atmosphere then they begin showering the island with depth charges.  An unhappy Kong quickly appears and makes mincemeat of the battalion.  The scattered survivors, who also include a war photographer (Oscar winner Brie Larson) and a hunky jungle scout (Tom Hiddleston), have to find their way to one another and their mutual rescue point while evading Kong as well as some nasty reptilian critters out for blood.  They also cross paths with John C. Reilly as the film's most interesting human character, a World War II fighter pilot marooned on the island 30 years earlier.

All eventually learn, even Jackson's gung ho military leader, that violence and weaponry only lead to more violence.  Kong is protective of the human natives on Skull Island, and he takes on the vicious "skull crawlers" when they go after the new arrivals.  Larson's pacifist makes a personal connection with the big ape that endears him to her without going as all out romantic as Kong did previously with Fay Wray, Jessica Lange and Naomi Watts.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes an impressive leap to the big budget league following his low-budget 2013 feature debut The Kings of Summer.  He strikes a fine balance between monster battles and more human moments, even as the film's Apocalypse Now allusions prove excessive. Perhaps needless to say, Kong: Skull Island is a vast improvement on producer Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong (1976) and its even worse 1986 sequel King Kong Lives.  And be sure to stay through the film's end credits for a sneak peek at future movie mayhem to feature Kong, Godzilla and other kaiju classics.

Gay director François Ozon's Frantz, now playing in southern California and NYC, also explores the damaging effects of war.  Set in Germany in 1919, it initially explores a family's grief following the combat-related death of the title character in France during World War I.  Frantz's fiancée Anna and his mother and father are generally coping well until a young Frenchman, Adrien, arrives to town and begins leaving flowers on Frantz's gravesite. Soon after, he shows up on the family's doorstep and introduces himself as their late loved one's longtime friend from Paris, although, oddly, Frantz never mentioned Adrien to his family.

While Adrien proves to have a darker agenda related to his wartime experience, he doesn't prove to be a monster.  Things get complicated as Anna falls in love with him and must eventually choose between Adrien and a local man eager to take Frantz's place.  Being an Ozon film, the intriguing story plays out in unpredictable ways and includes a few homoerotic moments.  This is also Ozon's first true period piece and its a visual stunner in this regard.  Cinematographer Pascal Marti shoots most of the film in black and white but several flashback scenes "bleed" into full color.

Frantz is frequently reminiscent of a 1940's post-war melodrama, and its actually a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 Broken Lullaby.  Joan Crawford or Bette Davis would not be out of place in the role of Anna but modern-day actress Paula Beer makes the unfortunate (though not tragic) character her own.  Pierre Niney, recently seen in the title role of Yves Saint Laurent, volleys appropriately between tortured and desirable as Adrien.  Watch for a brief shot of him in see-through underwear following a swim.  Anton von Lucke is great in several scenes of remembrance as the sadly short-lived Frantz.  They all make this film an ultimately hopeful, anti-war morality tale.

Virtually all gay men can attest to the internal war we find ourselves in as we struggle to accept our sexual orientation while coming of age.  One is lucky indeed to make it out alive.  Three films newly available on VOD/DVD serve as vivid illustrations of this rite of passage.  Bromance (TLA Releasing), by Argentinian writer-director Lucas Santa Ana, is the weakest of these offerings but serves as a semi-autobiographical time capsule.  Set in pre-cell phone 1996, three best friends take a trip to a secluded, beach-side campground.  One of them, Daniel, brings along his video camera to record their memorable moments.  These end up including Daniel's coming out to his crush, Santiago, and Santiago's conflicted reaction.  The arrival of a nubile young woman doesn't help matters.  Whereas Bromance ends up affirming Daniel's conviction and bravery, it does so at what struck me as an uncomfortably excessive cost having been there myself.

Departure (Wolfe Video) and Being 17 (Strand) are both, in addition to being French-made, more contemporary yet still envelope-pushing gay coming-of-age dramas.  In the first, Alex Lawther (who played young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game) gives a remarkable performance as Elliot, a teenager who embraces his sexuality while helping his mother (the always great Juliette Stevenson) close up their longtime summer home.  Elliot is quickly drawn to a local motorcycle aficionado (a dreamy Phenix Brossard) and finds his attentions returned to a point.  Andrew Steggall, who previously helmed the award-winning gay short The Red Bike, makes a strong feature directorial debut.  Note: one may never look at carrots in quite the same way after watching Departure.

Being 17 is the latest masterpiece by longtime LGBT-interest filmmaker Andre Techine (Wild Reeds).  He receives an insightful assist here from co-screenwriter Celine Sciamma, the developing auteur behind such recent faves as Tomboy, Girlhood and Oscar nominee My Life as a Zucchini.  High school students Damien and Thomas are both gay but don't get along at school.  We eventually learn that Thomas' mother is seriously ill and he is taking his anger out inappropriately on Damien.  The boys are forced to get along better (and how) once Damien's mother invites Thomas to stay with them while his mother recuperates.  All ends happily once they've made it through their numerous trials and tribulations.  A must see.

Reverend's Ratings:
Kong: Skull Island- B+
Frantz- A-
Bromance- C
Departure- B+
Being 17- A-

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dearest: Once Upon a Time

Following their unexpectedly terrific (and terrifically profitable) live action re-dos of Maleficent and Cinderella, it’s hardly a surprise that Disney would turn to their crown jewel of animated princess tales for their next “real world” makeover. And thankfully for all who love the 1991 original, the new Beauty and the Beast lives up to its predecessor, a most happy "happily ever after" after all.

Using the animated version’s basic story as a starting point, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) and his screenwriters have explored and deepened the mythology of this “tale as old as time”. The hand drawn characters of the animated film are (literally and figuratively) fleshed out more, given detailed back stories and stronger motivations, and they also address some inconsistencies in the original’s narrative (like why no one from the village remembers the castle). They do get a bit carried away, though, particularly in an extended sequence about Belle’s mother that, frankly, nobody has ever wondered that much about.

Although not as strong a singer as one would hope, Emma Watson plays Belle as a scrappy independent young woman, another anti-damsel-in-distress that has become par for the course in these modern retellings. Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens turns out to be an inspired choice for the Beast, who goes from fussy fop to menacing monster to hairy hero to, finally, princely romance novel hunk. As the castle staff-turned-anthropomorphized housewares, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson are mostly heard but not seen, but their charming characterizations still shine through. Kevin Kline (as Belle's befuddled father Maurice), Luke Evans (as the vain and far more villainous Gaston) and Josh Gad (as LeFou... you may have heard about him) round out the stellar cast.

All six of the original film's songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are revisited, most notably the Academy Award winning title song; as sung by Thompson, it's every bit as enchanting (and tear-jerking) as when Angela Lansbury first performed it. As he did for the Broadway adaptation, Tim Rice steps in for the late Ashman as lyricist for three new, sadly mostly unnoteworthy tunes, although Stevens shows off some impressive pipes in the Beast solo "Evermore". (I will be going into further detail regarding the new Beauty and the Beast soundtrack in a future Movie Music column.)

From the opening prologue to the spectacular "Be Our Guest" production number to the final transformations, this Beast is a Beauty, a feast for all the senses. With its Gothic set pieces, imaginative costume designs and ubiquitous special effects, I fully expect the remake to follow in the footsteps of its precursor when Oscar time rolls around again, racking up several nominations and perhaps even a win or two.

It has been 26 years since Disney first told the tale of a beautiful girl and a not-so-handsome prince, a magical, musical story that has entertained generations both on stage and screen, and I am happy to say that this newest telling not only adds to but enhances the legacy of Beauty and the Beast.

Dearest Rating: 8/10

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

MD Top 10: Disney Toons in the Glass Closet


Much has been made about the “coming out” of LeFou, the bumbling sycophant sidekick of the hunky villain Gaston in Disney’s latest live action redo of one of their animated classics, Beauty and the Beast

Redneck states and even whole countries are scrambling to ban or restrict the film, and homophobic internet trolls (who you know haven’t even seen it) have already tried to sabotage its Internet Movie Database score with low ratings (in contrast, its CinemaScore rating, which polls actual theatergoers, is a solid A). Even so, actual film critics are calling it a Beauty (by the way, our Dearest review will be posted shortly) and this box office Beast in the making just set the record for the biggest March opening day ever.

Which all seems like much ado about nothing, or at least much ado about something that was pretty obvious 26 years ago for anyone who viewed the beloved 1991 original through a queer eye: yep, LeFou has always been pretty gay. In fact, since the very first Disney animated feature eight decades ago, there has been gay characters aplenty through the years, one just has to know how to read the (often none too subtle) subtext to see into their glass closets.

For example:

1. The Seven Dwarfs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937):
If that many dudes living in the same house doesn’t raise an eyebrow, what about the fact that the pure as the driven snow Snow has nary a qualm about moving in with them? Yes, they aren’t exactly tidy, but they sure are interested in learning all about girlfriend’s new boyfriend.

2. Willie the Operatic Whale, Make Mine Music (1946):
He’s an “Operatic Whale”. What else is there to say?

3. The Grand Duke, Cinderella (1950):
You know he was just dying to try on those glass pumps.

4. Captain Hook, Peter Pan (1953):
At the start of the long list of effeminate Disney villains (see also: Aladdin’s Jafar, The Lion King’s Scar) is the “Elegant” Captain Hook. With his dainty lace accents and expertly waxed moustache, it is no wonder that this chicken hawk is so obsessed with the ultimate twink (remember he never grows up) Peter Pan.

5. Just About Everyone, The Jungle Book (1967): A bossy queen (Bagheera) and a big lovable bear (Baloo) are the de facto gay dads of Mowgli, who every guy in the jungle “wants”. The “mancub” is seduced by a lisping snake (read: phallic symbol), abducted by an all male band of party animals and hunted by a tiger velvety-voiced by George frikkin’ Sanders, thus proving that The Jungle Book is like the gayest movie ever.

6. Edgar, The Aristocats (1970): Yes, this scheming butler was English so it may be hard to nail down the gay, but how about this: his whole diabolic criminal plan was to steal… cats.

7. Ratigan, The Great Mouse Detective (1986): No, it’s not the tired “Holmes and Watson bromance” meme that will set off your gaydar in this talking animal take on the iconic sleuth. Rather, it is its rodentified version of Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarity, who not only talks like Vincent Price and owns a pet cat named Felicia, but also tries to pass as a mouse when he’s really a self-loathing closeted rat. No wonder he wants to go into politics.

8. Timon and Pumbaa, The Lion King (1994): Two misfit outcasts find each other and shack up in a jungle paradise where they spend their days exchanging witty banter and belting out show tunes (composed by Elton John no less). Also: Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane no less), at the drop of a hat, knows exactly how to dress in drag and do the hula.

9. Wiggins, Pocahontas (1995): As the aide-de-camp to the pompous (and equally queerish) Governor Radcliffe, he’s the original perky P.A., one who doesn’t balk at tending to the boss’s prissy pug and is an expert gift basket maker. Fun fact: out actor David Ogden Stiers performed the voices of both Radcliffe and Wiggins.

10. Pleakley, Lilo & Stitch (2002): It’s not surprising that this one-eyed alien “Earth expert” who takes a liking to sporting wigs and wearing mu’umu’us is voiced by Kevin McDonald, best known for his often-cross-dressed performances on the comedy sketch show The Kids in the Hall.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Cine Gay Returns in Politically-Charged Times


Deportation fears are at a fever pitch, sadly, thanks to el presidente Trump. Fortunately, he can’t prevent 2017’s edition of the San Diego Latino Film Festival nor its LGBTQ showcase Cine Gay. The event runs now through March 26th at the AMC Fashion Valley 18.

Now in its 24th year, the fest annually screens more than 160 films from Latin America, Spain, the United States, Mexico and other parts of the world in celebration of Latino film, art and culture. Also featured are after parties, filmmaker workshops and guest celebrities from the hottest TV shows and feature films.

“LGBTQ cinema is transcendent by nature, oftentimes forcing spectators to look beyond their own experiences and inviting them to engage, reconcile and ultimately relate to issues initially outside of their understanding”, said Moises Esparza, the festival’s programmer. “It is our pleasure to continue our annual tradition of bringing you the very best of LGBTQ Latino cinema.”

Among the films to be shown this year are:

Don't Call Me Son

Don’t Call Me Son
(Brazil, 82 min., 2016, Portuguese w/ English subtitles, Drama)
Tall, dark, androgynously handsome Pierre wears eyeliner and a black lace g-string, while having sex with both boys and girls. The confusion only goes deeper when the teenager’s single, working-class mom is arrested for having stolen him at birth. He’s returned to his biological parents: bourgeois, straight-laced and thrilled to have him back... at least until he shows up in a zebra-print mini dress. The turmoil of adolescence is plumbed with wit and compassion.

Etiqueta No Rigurosa
(Mexico, 92 min., 2016, Spanish w/ English subtitles, Documentary)
Victor and Fernando run a beauty salon in Baja California. For many of their customers they were a lovely couple, until they decided to marry. They become the first ones in their state to fight for their rights in a place filled with homophobia and inequality. Through their struggle, they manage to open the eyes of Mexican society and affirm a love that fills every frame of this moving and eye-opening new film.

Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America
(USA, 90 min., 2016, English, Spanish w/ subtitles, Documentary)
When Moisés Serrano was just a baby, his parents risked everything to flee Mexico and make the perilous journey across the desert in search of the American dream. After 23 years growing up in the rural south as an undocumented gay man, Serrano is forbidden to live and love in the country he calls home. He sees only one option: to fight for justice and demand equality.


(Chile, 83 min., 2016, Spanish w/ English subtitles, Drama)
Jesús, 18, lives alone with his father, Hector, with whom he has a detached relationship. He dances in a K-pop band, hangs out with friends, does drugs, watches trashy clips, and has sex in public places. One night, he and his friends partake in a tragedy. This event will make Jesús and Héctor closer than ever, but also threatens to tear them apart forever.

The Ornithologist
(Portugal / France / Brazil, 117 min., 2016, Portuguese, Mandarin and Spanish w/ English subtitles, Drama)
A handsome ornithologist experiences a series of surreal adventures during a bird surveying trip in this queer interpretation of the life of St. Anthony of Padua.

Ovarian Psycos (USA, 72 min., 2016, English; Spanish w/ English subtitles, Documentary)
Riding at night through streets deemed dangerous in Eastside Los Angeles, the Ovarian Psycos use their bicycles to confront the violence in their lives. The film rides along with the Ovas, exploring the impact of the group’s activism born of feminist ideals, indigenous understanding and an urban/hood mentality. They confront injustice, racism and violence, and take back their streets one ride at a time.

The Cine Gay Showcase also features an LGBT short film program. Complete screening information including dates, times and ticket sales can be accessed at their website.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

Dearest… 2016: The Late Shows


Every year there’s always a few big Oscar bait-ers that I end up scrambling to see before the big night, and this year was no different. 

Hidden Figures:
This inspirational crowd-pleaser tells the previously little-known stories of the black women who endured racism and sexism to contribute greatly to the American Space Program during the early days of NASA. The terrific trio of Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer imbue their characters with the poise, drive and intelligence their real-life inspirations deserve, women that quietly overcame both by example and by simple strength of character. Sure, it’s Hollywood slick and a bit corny at times, but a little old fashioned corn won’t hurt you when it’s served up this well. (8/10)

The Ladies Who Launch

What would happen if several gigantic alien craft appeared at various locations across the Earth and we have no idea what they want? That question is the starting point of this moody science fiction drama that stars Amy Adams as a brilliant linguist tasked with finding a way to communicate with the squid-like, ink-squirting visitors. Director Denis Villeneuve maneuvers through the dense narrative that is heavy on the science (at times overwhelmingly so) but it remains grounded by the human emotions that bring it down to earth, ultimately revealing itself as a uniquely intimate sci-fi epic. (8/10)

The aliens have yet to master the art of the high five.

Taking its name from the plaintiffs of Loving v. Virginia, the landmark 1967 US Supreme Court civil rights case that struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage, this well-intentioned but frustratingly uninvolving biopic proves that sometimes being historically accurate, no matter how noble the intentions may be, can produce a really boring movie. As Richard and Mildred Loving, Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga craft delicate, understated performances despite the overly-reverent approach of writer/director Jeff Nichols. As the film inches along, the protagonists gradually turn into observers of than actual participants in their own story. (6/10)

Loving Couple

And speaking of overly-reverent, director/star Denzel Washington practically enshrines the words of playwright August Wilson in this screen adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning kitchen sink drama. As director, Washington barely opens up the action, while as an actor he recreates his Broadway turn as an embittered garbage man alongside this season’s award magnet Viola Davis as his long suffering wife. The duo won Tonys the last time they played these roles, and they’re still playing for the balcony here. The florid dialogue is spoken in that heightened stage inflection that signifies “Acting”, and dammit if Denzel won’t let you forget it. (5/10)

Viola Davis, fearlessly using every bodily fluid possible to get that Oscar.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Dearest… 2016: Only When I Laugh


From bittersweet comedies to mildly amusing dramas that end up in the Golden Globe comedy categories anyway, these are (for lack of a better term in some cases) the comedy/dramas of 2016. 

The Lobster:
In a vaguely futuristic world where single people are turned into animals if they don’t couple up, two outcasts (Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz) find each other in this bizarre love story/social commentary/black comedy that you’ll either love or hate depending on your capacity for embracing the absurd. Count me among the former. Director Yorgos Lanthimos and his co-writer Efthimis Filippou have conjured up an intriguingly insane premise and brazenly maintain the precise tone needed to turn this potential train wreck into a true original/future cult classic. (8/10)

Fist. Behind. Fuck. I'll just leave those three words there...

20th Century Women:
Outstanding and endearing, Annette Bening is a free spirit single mom in 1979 Santa Barbara who embraces the mantra of “it takes a village” when she enlists the aid of two younger women (Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning) in the task of helping her teenage son become a good man. Like his Beginners, writer/director Mike Mills taps into his own family history here, showing a knack for creating smart, funny and real female characters, the kind you’d want to hang out with around the kitchen table. (7/10)

Significant Mother

Captain Fantastic:
Viggo Mortensen plays a refugee from the 60s, the kind who gives his kids names like “Vespyr” and “Bodevan”, raises them off the grid in a wilderness compound, celebrates “Noam Chomsky Day” instead of Christmas and most likely reeks of patchouli oil. If your eyes rolled at any of that, then avoid this one at all costs, ’cause it only gets worse. This “rebel” balks at old people on their morning stroll who are shocked to see his dick and teaches his kids how to shoplift, grave rob and dress as tacky as possible for a funeral. It’s all too much crunchy granola hippie bullshit for me. (4/10)

My pain is mine...

A Man Called Ove:
One would not be wrong at first to call Ove (Rolf Lassgård) the proverbial grumpy old man, but we soon learn that he has just cause for his cantankerousness. Stultified by grief and longing to just be with his beloved, recently deceased wife, his frequent suicide attempts keep getting interrupted by the lives that obliviously continue around him. Sweden’s contender for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards, you’ll warm to the charms of Ove just like Ove comes to realize that living on may not be that bad after all. (9/10)

Widower's Peek

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dearest… 2016: Tragedy Tomorrow


Estranged parents, traumatized spouses and dead siblings factor into the family plots of some of last year’s most dramatic films.

Manchester by the Sea:
This year's Best Actor Oscared Casey Affleck plays a sullen guy, forever wrapped in grief from an earlier, devastating tragedy, who must face his past when he returns to the titular home following the death of his brother. There, he must decide on the guardianship of his equally sullen teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (also an Oscar winner for this film's screenplay) lays the moroseness on thick in this depression-athon, which I never really connected with due to its not-so-likable characters and monotonous tone. (5/10)

"Yeah, I don't really get it either."

Hell or High Water:
This modern day revenge tale with shades of the Old West finds two brothers (level headed Chris Pine and loose cannon Ben Foster) setting out to save the family farm by going on a bank robbing spree, with grizzled Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges hot on their heels. Fine performances of familiar character types elevate what is really, despite its contemporary economic trappings, an oft-told story. Still, it is a story well told, with subtly effective neo-Western atmospheric touches. (7/10)

Carpool Karaoke, Texas Ranger Style

Meet Krisha, the ultimate “black sheep of the family”, who nonetheless is not only invited to Thanksgiving but is entrusted with cooking the turkey. Not a wise move at all, as the mounting pressure sends her on a wine-soaked downward spiral of bitterness and desperation. In his feature debut, writer/director Trey Edward Shults stacks the deck, dramatically and illogically, against his protagonist (played by his own aunt, Krisha Fairchild), although stylistically he shows some promise. (6/10)

"Gena Rowlands ain't got nothin' on me."

The Salesman:
Now two-time Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi crafts another blistering domestic drama with this Oscar winner from Iran. Shortly after a young couple (Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti) move into a new apartment, their lives are upturned by an unwanted visitor. A masterwork in realism, The Salesman (which takes its name from the play Death of a Salesman, which figures into the film’s plot) deftly explores the fragility of not just relationships, but of life itself. (9/10)

The hottest Willy Loman like ever

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

If We Picked the Oscars 2016


Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert from back in the day, we here at Movie Dearest are presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars". These aren't predictions, but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy. We also chime in with our picks for the "egregiously overlooked" non-nominees as well as the "Worst Nominations of the Year". So without further ado, the envelope please...

The nominees for Best Picture are: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight
And our winners would be:
CC: It was #1 on my top 10 so I would be compelled to vote for Kenneth Lonergan's gut-wrenching yet ultimately hopeful Manchester by the Sea.
KH: I usually chose the nominee that touches me the most, and for 2016 that would be Lion, a film that sneaked in a grabbed my heart and still hasn't let go.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I'm tempted to say Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers' latest that I loved but left a lot of people scratching their heads.  Silence, Martin Scorsese's challenging exploration of faith, would be another contender for the #10 spot in my mind.
KH: If any animated film of late deserved to break into the Best Picture lineup, it was this year's Zootopia.

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #9, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1) Manchester by the Sea 2) Moonlight 3) Arrival 4) Hacksaw Ridge 5) Lion 6) Hell or High Water 7) La La Land and 8) Hidden Figures (Fences is the one major nominee I haven't seen yet).
KH: 1) Lion 2) La La Land 3) Moonlight 4) Hidden Figures 5) Arrival 6) Hell or High Water 7) Hacksaw Ridge 8) Manchester by the Sea and 9) Fences

Arrival by David Mahoney

The nominees for Best Actor are: Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic and Denzel Washington in Fences
And our winners would be:
CC: I loved Viggo and was very impressed by Garfield but my vote would go to Casey Affleck's sincere, heart-breaking performance in Manchester by the Sea.
KH: This is probably my toughest category, none of the performances jumped out for me as they did in the other acting races, and the bulk of them are from movies I didn't care for. I'll have to settle on my favorite movie of the five, so La La Land's Ryan Gosling gets my vote (even though it didn't feel like much of a stretch for him).
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: How was Trevante Rhodes, the beating heart of Moonlight and recipient of our GALECA Rising Star award, not nominated? I would have subbed him for Gosling's overrated turn.
KH: Tom Hanks in Sully. Isn't it about time the Academy stopped taking him for granted?

The nominees for Best Actress are: Isabelle Hupert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Emma Stone in La La Land and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins
And our winners would be:
CC: I love Emma Stone in general and in La La Land but I would go with Isabelle Hupert, if more for her entire, impressive career than just her sublime work in Elle.  Emma will have plenty of future opportunities.
KH: There really wouldn't be a La La Land without Emma Stone, the heart of the movie to Gosling's soul.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Everyone was justifiably surprised when Amy Adams was snubbed for her lovely, understated role as Arrival's time-traveling linguist.
KH: So many fine actresses were left out of the finals this year thanks to politics of one sort or the other, the most egregious being Annette Bening from 20th Century Women.

Fences by Kate Copeland

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Mahershala Ali in Moonlight, Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea, Dev Patel in Lion and Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals
And our winners would be:
CC: This is a toss-up for me between Mahershala Ali and Lucas Hedges, both very impressive relative newcomers.  With a gun to my head I would probably vote for Ali.
KH: Dev Patel was a revelation in Lion; who knew that dorky guy from Slumdog Millionaire and those Marigold Hotel movies could bring it as well as he did here.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Hugh Grant gave what I consider his best performance ever in Florence Foster Jenkins.
KH: Ben Foster, who has been on our radar since Six Feet Under, should have been Oscar recognized by now, especially for his loose cannon bank robber in Hell or High Water

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Viola Davis in Fences, Naomie Harris in Moonlight, Nicole Kidman in Lion, Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea
And our winners would be:
CC: I love me some Viola Davis and I'm sure she is deserving even though I haven't seen Fences.  I was most surprised though by British actress Naomie Harris' raw turn in Moonlight, an unrecognizable far cry from her role as Miss Moneypenny in the last two James Bond epics.
KH: Out of this year's batch of movie moms, Nicole Kidman most impressed me as the main character's adoptive mother in Lion.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures.  Technically, she should have probably been nominated in the Best Actress category but should have been included here as part of the film's stellar ensemble à la Octavia Spencer.
KH: Molly Shannon (yes, of SNL fame) showed previously unseen dramatic range as a cancer stricken (you guessed it) mom in Other People.

Hacksaw Ridge by Bill Bragg

The nominees for Best Director are: Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea and Denis Villeneuve for Arrival
And our winners would be:
CC: Damien Chazelle proves himself not just a Hollywood boy wonder at the age of 32 but also a worthy custodian of Hollywood's classic movie musical tradition.
KH: Damien Chazelle brought his unique vision of Hollywood dreaming to memorable life with La La Land.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Martin Scorsese for his 20-year effort to bring Silence to the big screen.
KH: Garth Davis for Lion, but you knew I'd say that.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion and Moonlight
And our winners would be:
CC: My vote goes to the lyrical, semi-autobiographical Moonlight, by Berry Jenkins from Tarell Alvin McCraney's play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.
KH: Based on Saroo Brierley's autobiography A Long Way Home, Luke Davies' script for Lion hit all the right notes for me.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Silence, a tough nut to crack as a novel (by Shūsaku Endō), became a respectful, thought-provoking film as written by Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks.
KH: Park Chan-wook and Chung Seo-kyung's skillful reworking of Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith into The Handmaiden deserved recognition.
Hell or High Water by Stuart Patience

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Hell or High Water, La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea and 20th Century Women
And our winners would be:
CC: Manchester by the Sea, hands down.
KH: You can't get more original than Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou's mesmerizing oddity, The Lobster.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The Coen Brothers' smart and funny Hail, Caesar!
KH: Another wholly original work, Anna Rose Holmer's The Fits.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight and Silence
And our winners would be:
CC: Though its tempting to award Silence for the one category in which it is nominated, I would vote for the similarly stunning La La Land.
KH: I found the acclaimed lensing of La La Land and Moonlight distracting at times; I'll go with Bradford Young's ominous, soft-focused camerawork in Arrival instead.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Disney produced two of the best-looking films of the year in this regard: The Jungle Book and Pete's Dragon.  I especially appreciated the latter's more realistic depiction of the Pacific Northwest's lush greenery.
KH: The Eyes of My Mother wouldn't have been half as chillingly disturbing were it not for the black and white photography of Zach Kuperstein.

Hidden Figures by Gravillis Inc.

The nominees for Best Production Design are: Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hail, Caesar!, La La Land and Passengers
And our winners would be:
CC: Not unlike the previous category, I'm tempted to vote for Hail, Caesar! for its sole nomination, but would go with La La Land.
KH: Out of the two takes on Tinseltown, I'll take the Old Hollywood look of Hail, Caesar! over the contemporary style of La La Land.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Park Chan-Wook's deliriously lavish, twisted The Handmaiden.
KH: Subtler, yes, but The Witch was exponentially enhanced by its moody atmosphere.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Allied, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie and La La Land
And our winners would be:
CC: La La Land has made LA fashion bright and colorful once again, for which I'm personally grateful.  Its been looking like a funeral around here.
KH: For her meticulous recreations for the title character alone, Jackie's Madeline Fontaine gets my vote.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The Handmaiden, along with production design.
KH: One can take comfort in knowing that Mary Zophres was nominated here for here work on La La Land while at the same time wondering why it wasn't for her for more impressive period designs for Hail, Caesar! instead.

Jackie by Lynnie Zulu

The nominees for Best Original Score are: Jackie, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight and Passengers
And our winners would be:
CC: The jazzy, snazzy La La Land.
KH: Although I'm not sure why it got by the "no predominate use of songs" rule that has blocked other potential nominees here in the past, Justin Hurwitz's score for La La Land is by far the most memorable (even without the songs).
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The first (but still effective) non-John Williams score for a Star Wars movie, Michael Giacchino's for Rogue One.
KH: I guess the Academy's music branch just picks and chooses which rules to follow, as they disqualified Jóhann Jóhannsson's deserving score for Arrival because of its "preexisting music" rule.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" from La La Land, "Can't Stop the Feeling" from Trolls, "City of Stars" from La La Land, "The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story and "How Far I'll Go" from Moana
And our winners would be:
CC: "How Far I'll Go," primarily so Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda can have an Oscar to complete his EGOT.
KH: La La Land's "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" is everything a great movie musical song should be.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: How is it that "Another Day of Sun," La La Land's exhilarating opening number, wasn't nominated?  I'd also nominate "You're Welcome" from Moana in the hope that Dwayne Johnson would perform it live on the Oscars telecast (preferably in his Maui costume).
KH: I can't limit myself to just one here: both Sing Street's "Drive It Like You Stole It" and Moana's "You're Welcome" were showstoppers on the big screen, and would have been again on the Kodak stage. Instead, we'll get Sting rattling off every word that rhymes with "chair"...

La La Land by The Project Twins

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, La La Land and Moonlight
And our winners would be:
CC: La La Land for making musicals snappy and cool again.
KH: Watch the "epilogue" of La La Land for a masterclass in fine film editing.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Manchester by the Sea benefits from knowing exactly when to cut away from a character or scene for full emotional resonance.
KH: It must have been a gargantuan task to pare down all the footage for the epic documentary O.J.: Made in America.

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and 13 Hours
And our winners would be:
CC: I most noticed and admired Arrival's otherworldly sounds and alien noises.
KH: I can't get past the muddled mixing of La La Land's opening number (understanding all the lyrics would've been nice, guys); I'll go with Rogue One, surely the most challenging of the lot.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC/KH: With all its lions and tigers and bears (oh my), where's The Jungle Book?

Lion by PlanetFab Studio

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land and Sully
And our winners would be:
CC: My pick would be La La Land.
KH: Considering they created the sound of a whole alien species, how could it be anything other than Arrival?
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (I'm not quite sure how a movie can be nominated for sound mixing but not sound editing).
KH: This is the one category that could have squeezed in Deadpool without much of a fuss.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
And our winners would be:
CC: The Jungle Book's photo-realistic menagerie was impressive indeed.
KH: No contest: the whole of The Jungle Book was mostly one big visual effect.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: They were fairly minimal but Arrival's special effects are certainly memorable.
KH: It's really kind of bizarre not to see Best Picture nominee Arrival here.

Manchester by the Sea by Jon McNaught

The nominees for Best Makeup & Hairstyling are: A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad
And our winners would be:
CC: I know plenty of people didn't but I liked the Joker's and other characters' styling in Suicide Squad.
KH: Say what you will about Suicide Squad, but from the reptilian skin of Killer Croc to Harley Quinn's two-toned pigtails, the villain makeup was super.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Nocturnal Animals, if primarily for Laura Linney's severe 'do.
KH: Why-why-why haven't they expanded this category to five nominees already?? There's always at least two worthy contenders they could easily add, and this year it should have been The Dressmaker and Jackie.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle and Zootopia
And our winners would be:
CC: I've always been a sucker for stop-motion animation and Kubo and the Two Strings uses it beautifully to tell a stirring story.
KH: A tough choice for me between the two Disney hits, but in the end Zootopia edges out Moana by a (rabbit's) hair.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I appreciated the unexpectedly moving Finding Dory more than its Oscar-winning predecessor as well as Zootopia.
KH: Story issues aside, The Little Prince did craft a unique hybrid of stop motion and computer animation.

Moonlight by Marcin Wolski

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: Land of Mine (Denmark), A Man Called Ove (Sweden), The Salesman (Iran), Tanna (Australia) and Toni Erdmann (Germany)
And our winners would be:
CC: These are all worthy of the top award but I favor A Man Called Ove... and will be serving Swedish meatballs in its honor at our Oscar party!
KH: Like my Best Picture choice, A Man Called Ove got to me good.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC/KH: No question that South Korea's The Handmaiden should be here.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life, Animated, O.J.: Made in America and 13th
And our winners would be:
CC: Life, Animated was the best Disney movie of the year not made by Disney.  Lovable and inspiring.
KH: Questions of whether or not it truly was a theatrical film or not aside, I was surprised to find O.J.: Made in America to be as engrossing and compelling as it was for practically its entire running time of nearly eight hours.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, a timely overview of the provocative artist's life.
KH: I found the well-crafted The Witness to be the 2016 non-fiction film that stuck with me the most long after watching it.

Nocturnal Animals by Dani Montesinos

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: Extremis, 4.1 Miles, Joe’s Violin, Watani: My Homeland and The White Helmets
And our winners would be:
KH: It's a close call between two intense looks at modern day global tragedies, 4.1 Miles and The White Helmets. In the end, the latter gets my vote for managing to find the hope amid all the hopelessness.

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: Blind Vaysha, Borrowed Time, Pear Cider and Cigarettes, Pearl and Piper
And our winners would be:
CC: Piper is the only one I've seen but certainly worthy as well as sweet.
KH: Pear Cider and Cigarettes is the most daring, visually and dramatically.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Matt Murphy

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: Ennemis Intérieurs, La Femme et le TGV, Silent Nights, Sing and Timecode
And our winners would be:
KH: Once again, well-earned sentiment rules out for me: La Femme et le TGV.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: I could get crucified for saying this but I found 13th pedagogical, preachy and woefully one-sided even as I largely agree with its thesis.  Ava DuVernay's sermon is galvanizing but not very good documentary filmmaking.
KH: With so many possibilities (Fences in Adapted Screenplay, "The Empty Chair" in Original Song, Deepwater Horizon for anything), I'm aiming high this year: Best Actress nominee Meryl Streep. Seemingly nominated not so much for her clownish characterization of the title character in the slight biopic Florence Foster Jenkins as for her "stick it to the man" speech while accepting her Cecil B. DeMille Award at last month's Golden Globe Awards, this semi-annual re-anointing of Streep as "Oscar Goddess" has got to stop. And that this happened in a year where the Best Actress field was uncharacteristically but awesomely overcrowded makes it especially frustrating. Perhaps now that she has reached the solid number 20 in her total career nominations the members of the Academy's actors branch will take a pause before ticking her name off yet again on any future ballots, at least until she gives us a performance truly worthy of such recognition.

Toni Erdmann by Reece Wykes

And so the final march to Oscar glory begins. Tune in to the Big Show, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, on ABC this Sunday to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, most attractive escorts and most heartfelt acceptance speeches.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine, and Kirby Holt, creator, editor and head writer of Movie Dearest.

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