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:
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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dearest... Short Cuts 2016, Part 3: Oscar's Live Action Short Film Nominees

ShortsHD once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming device near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

I'd love to be able to tell you that this year's slate of live action short nominees are as over-all great as last year's, but that is sadly just not the case. Still, the majority of them are terrifically entertaining, so there will be some suspense before the envelope is read naming the winner come this Sunday night.

In addition to my reviews and trailer links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each live action short nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...

Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within), Sélim Azzazi (France, 27 minutes).

A simple interview for French citizenship turns into a witch hunt when the Algerian applicant is asked to name names of possible terrorists. Basically a two-hander, and an overly familiar one at that. Hassam Ghancy gives an intense performance as the interviewee, but in this time of immigrant crises and international terrorism this one brings nothing new or surprising to the table.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Another cat-and-mouse story, Hell or High Water.

La Femme et le TGV (The Railroad Lady), Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff (Switzerland, 30 minutes).

A lonely woman, who methodically but joyfully waves a Swiss flag at the train every time it passes by her quaint country home, finds her life unexpectedly revitalized when she begins corresponding with the train's unseen driver. Jane Birkin (yes, of Birkin bag fame) shines in this lovely, bittersweet tale (inspired by a true story) of hope and finding connections in the unlikeliest of places.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: A Man Called Ove is another curmudgeonly protagonist you'll grow to love.

Silent Nights, Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson (Denmark, 30 minutes).

While volunteering at a housing shelter, a Danish woman falls in love with a homeless immigrant from Ghana, who unbeknownst to her has a wife and family back home. With its boring characters doing stupid things, this one is quite the disappointment coming from producer Magnusson, who previously won in this category for the much-more deserving Election Night and Helium.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 4/10
Pair it with: The other interracial love story this year, Loving.

Sing (Mindenki), Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy (Hungary, 25 minutes).

Set in a Budapest elementary school, new girl Zsófi becomes fast friends with popular student Liza, but trouble arises when a secret about their school's award-winning choir comes to light. Further proof that foreign films "get" stories about children far more realistically and interestingly than most Hollywood fare, this charming tale of rebellion in the face of adult conformity is an inspirational breath of fresh air.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: My Life as a Zucchini also centers on a "new kid in town".

Timecode, Juanjo Giménez (Spain, 15 minutes).

Although parking lot attendants Luna (day shift) and Diego (night shift) only see each other fleetingly, they develop a unique relationship via their work station security cameras. Already a Palme d'Or winner from last year's Cannes Film Festival, this original and surprisingly artful take on workplace romance not only features a great "take this job and shove it" denouement, but also the best punchline of any of this year's short film nominees.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Another unique love story, The Lobster.

Coming soon: A Movie Dearest annual tradition... "If We Picked the Oscars"!.

Click here for part one, my reviews of this year's Animated Short Film nominees, and click here for part two, my reviews of this year's Documentary Short Subject nominees.

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: A Gay New Film Year


While we're all concerned about the rise of der führer Trump, we mustn't allow him to obscure the fact that we are living in a darn good time for LGBTQ film and filmmakers.  Moonlight is up for multiple Oscars including Best Picture and several award winners from last year's festival circuit are newly available on home video.  If that wasn't enough, last month's Sundance Film Festival introduced a whole new crop of LGBTQ-themed movies that will be distributed later this year.

Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro is now in theatrical release and couldn't be better timed.  An Oscar nominee for Best Feature Documentary, it draws from gay and African-American writer James Baldwin's notes for a book he wasn't able to finish before his death in 1987.  The film also incorporates considerable TV footage of and commentary by Baldwin himself as it explores race relations in the US then and now.

Whereas Baldwin's book was primarily concerned with the assassinations of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, Peck expands this into an examination of civil rights today.  Samuel L. Jackson gives appropriately strong voice to Baldwin's incisive words. The doc's bottom line is a galvanizing one: the ongoing "racial problem" in America has more to do with how short we have fallen as a nation in upholding our foundational values. Race is merely an excuse. As Baldwin states in the film, "The story of the Negro in America is the story of America... this is not the Land of the Free."

Baldwin was by his own admission, however, an optimist.  The dream shared by him and the martyrs he was writing about can yet be achieved.  In fact, we must achieve it.  I Am Not Your Negro is undeniably challenging but ultimately inspiring and should not be missed.

Ethnic differences are also a factor in the gay romantic-drama Akron, though more subtle.  It is now available on DVD and VOD from Wolfe Video.  Benny and Christopher are openly gay students attending college in the title Ohio city. They meet cute one day while playing football and begin dating soon after.  Unfortunately, they discover that a tragic event from their early childhood has put their parents at odds.  Benny's Latino family has a more difficult time accepting Christopher as a result.

Matthew Frias and Edmund Donovan are sweet, not to mention attractive, as the beleaguered young lovers, and Broadway actress Andrea Burns (In the Heights) gives a solid performance as Benny's mother.  Brian O'Donnell, the film's gay writer/director/producer, was born and raised in Akron and subsequently captures its Midwest melting pot vibe well (Sasha King serves as co-director).  While the script's family dynamics get soapy at times, it is refreshing to see how otherwise well-adjusted the gay characters are.  Teens and young adults especially should check Akron out.  Also new from Wolfe and worth checking out is the German drama Jonathan, about a straight young man who learns his terminally-ill father is gay.

Out fashion designer Tom Ford made a splash with his filmmaking debut, 2009's A Single Man.  He has returned with Nocturnal Animals, a decided change of pace that is newly available for digital download and on Blu-ray/DVD combo courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.  Based on Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan, the stylish yet noir-esque film is also decidedly darker than its predecessor.

Amy Adams stars as Susan, an art gallery buyer in an unhappy second marriage.  She one day receives out of the blue the pre-published proof of a novel written by her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).  She is initially flattered that the book is dedicated to her but becomes increasingly horrified by its vengeance-tinged plot about a man whose wife and daughter are murdered by a gang of hoodlums headed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who last month won a Golden Globe for his creepy turn here.  Michael Shannon is currently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Nocturnal Animals as a dying detective trying to hunt down the killers.

As a thriller, Ford's latest is unsettling yet satisfying.  It is less successful as a portrait of a failed marriage and many viewers will find the finale downright polarizing.  Thankfully, the film is not without humor courtesy of Shannon's and Taylor-Johnson's unhinged performances.  There is mention of Susan's brother being gay but otherwise no LGBT content.  Ford continues to stretch and grow, however, as a gay filmmaker.

Sadly, it is more difficult to say the same of Alain Guiraudie.  The French writer-director garnered international acclaim for his sexually-explicit, 2013 gay suspense-drama Stranger by the Lake. Guiraudie's new film, Staying Vertical, is still sexually-explicit but also pretty darn bad.  This confused story about a sexually confused man manages to be more repellent than engrossing.  More adventurous and/or non-discriminating moviegoers will be tempted to take it in during its current theatrical release in select US cities.  Just don't say I didn't warn you.  You'll be better off with the award-winning documentary Kiki, kind of an update of 1991's Paris is Burning about NYC's current ball culture, or the real-time gay romance Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo.  Both are also now in US theatrical release.

Looking ahead, we've got LGBTQ Sundance darlings Call Me By My Name, Beach Rats and God's Own Country on the horizon.  Not even Trump can stop 2017 from being a great gay year at the cinema!

Reverend's Ratings:
I Am Not Your Negro: A
Akron: B
Jonathan: B+
Nocturnal Animals: B-
Staying Vertical: D

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dearest... Short Cuts 2016, Part 2: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

ShortsHD once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming device near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Two British and three American short documentaries are the finalists for the Oscar this year, with loss and global conflict the dominant themes.

In addition to my reviews and trailer links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each documentary short nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...

Extremis, Dan Krauss (USA, 24 minutes).

Set in the bustling confines of a hospital intensive care unit, compassionate doctors help families make the agonizing decisions on whether or not to keep their loved ones on life support (the title refers to the Latin phrase in extremis, which means “at the point of death”). Needless to say, this one is an intense, but effective, emotional roller coaster, and the one nominee here most likely to hit close to home. Krauss was previously nominated in this category for The Life of Kevin Carter.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Manchester by the Sea is steeped in grief and guilt.

4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki (USA, 26 minutes).

4.1 miles is the distance across the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, where thousands of refugees, fleeing from the war in Syria, attempted to cross the perilous waters on flimsy inflatable rafts. Most wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the tireless rescue efforts of the Greek Coast Guard. The raw footage here is absolutely harrowing, with child after child plucked from certain death right in front of your eyes. Visceral and immediate, you won’t soon forget this one, already a Student Academy Award winner.

Watch trailer, or watch in full here.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Documentary Feature nominee Fire at Sea, another view of the plight of refugees.

Joe's Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen (USA, 24 minutes).

A 91-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor donates his treasured violin, which immigrated with him to America, to a school instrument drive, where it is adopted by a 12-year-old schoolgirl from an impoverished neighborhood. I hate to bag on something so well-intentioned, but this one feels so manufactured it’s practically a reality show. Even the big “emotional moment” when the two meet feels forced and falls flat. Sigh; Holocaust-related documentaries have become the Meryl Streep of this category, automatically nominated regardless of their actual merit.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on YouTube.
Dearest Rating: 5/10
Pair it with: another inspirational heart-tugger, Hidden Figures.

Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis (UK, 40 minutes).

The family of a Free Syrian Army commander live on the literal frontline of the Syrian Civil War, where bombs and gunfire are such everyday occurrences that the children actually “play ISIS”. After the father is captured, the family flees to Germany. Not sure what this one is trying to say, as it’s hard to sympathize with a father who would keep his children in a war zone or a mother who wants to go back to where her husband has been likely tortured and/or brutally murdered.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 4/10
Pair it with: The grim Jim: The James Foley Story.

The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara (UK, 40 minutes).

They are the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteer rescue workers who rush in to recently bombed-out neighborhoods to save as many victims as they can. You’ll witness their triumphs (rescuing a “miracle baby” from under tons of rubble) and defeats (not all of them make it home). Above all, you’ll be struck by not just the bravery of these selfless heroes but also their steadfast commitment to preserve life. Even after all the death and destruction, the filmmakers (previously nominated for the documentary feature Virunga) end their story on an uplifting note.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: For more drama on the frontlines, try 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.

Coming soon: Part 3 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

Click here for Part 1, my reviews of this year's Animated Short Film nominees.

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Dearest… 2016: Family Matters


The 2016 movies for the whole family (mostly).

The Jungle Book:
Kipling knows we didn’t need yet another version of this classic story but then, what do you know, it turns out to be pretty darn terrific. Iron Man director Jon Favreau makes it all fresh and fun, and even manages to squeeze in some of the famous songs from Disney’s 1967 animated fave. Amid an all-star voice cast that boasts Bill Murray as Baloo and no less than three Oscar winners, youngster Neel Sethi shines as “man cub” Mowgli, the one flesh and blood character on screen. But the real star of this show is the eye-popping photorealistic visual effects and scenery, which completely transport you to the land where the “bear necessities of life” rule. (8/10)

The Wrath of Khan

Pete’s Dragon:
Disney raided their vault for another remake last year with this non-musical retelling of their 1977 favorite. This one is grounded more in reality, that is as much as a movie about a boy and his fire-breathing best friend can be. So we get a downer back story on how Pete became an orphan and instead of belting out power ballads from atop a Maine lighthouse, the female lead (here a dewy-eyed Bryce Dallas Howard) is a forest ranger in the Pacific Northwest. Like Mowgli, Pete is a “wild child” raised by, not wolves, but Clifford the Big Red Dog Elliot the Big Green Dragon. Seriously, does every animated critter have to act like a pokey little puppy? Bonus eye candy if you’re into lumberjacks. (6/10)

How Not to Train Your Dragon

The BFG:
Like Rudyard Kipling, author Roald Dahl has had quite a few of his works translated for the big screen, but it took this long for his beloved “Big Friendly Giant” to make that big leap. Steven Spielberg makes his most kid friendly live action flick since 1991’s Hook, but it blessedly turns out a lot better than that disaster. A CGI-enhanced Mark Rylance stars as the title character, who befriends an orphan girl and the Queen of England (Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton) to thwart his fellow giants, who are a lot less friendly and a lot more giant. There’s a definite Harry Potter vibe, for better or worse, but where else can you see Spielberg do fart jokes? (7/10)

Make that "whizzpopper" jokes.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople:
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a would-be juvenile delinquent taken in by the loving Bella and her much-less enthusiastic husband Hector (Sam Neill), who live on a remote farm in New Zealand. After an unexpected loss, Hector and Ricky (along with his pet dog Tupac) trek off into the bush, which prompts a nationwide manhunt when the authorities wrongly assume it’s a kidnapping. This scruffy adventure is a lot of fun and even sweet, a scrappy tale of unlikely male bonding. Marred slightly by its cartoonish villains and their assumption that Hector is a pedophile, it is a little less family friendly then it really should be. Also features the best alternative to “Happy Birthday to You” like ever. (8/10)

Take that, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

LGBTQ Love on the Silver Screen


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and Cupid is getting his bow and arrows ready. Some of us hope to be struck while others may be doing everything we can to dodge his arsenal, but there is no doubt that love will be in the air for the next few weeks.

Lots of people turn to romantic movies this time of year for both encouragement and solace, which got us thinking about those LGBTQ-themed films that can be considered the most romantic. I have my personal preferences but I also enlisted the help of nearly thirty gay and lesbian Facebook friends to identify their favorites.

Sunday Bloody Sunday
The notion of romantic movies geared toward our community is actually fairly recent, with few such films made before the 1990’s. Most previous films featuring LGBTQ characters usually saw them being killed, committing suicide or otherwise being punished for their non-conforming yearnings. Pioneering early productions incorporating more positive depictions of LGBTQ protagonists include Midnight Cowboy (1969), Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Making Love (1982) and My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).

Things really started to improve with 1987’s sympathetic Maurice. This gorgeous Merchant-Ivory adaptation of E.M. Forster’s autobiographical novel, which Forster refused to allow to be published while he was living, focuses on the repressed feelings shared between two young, upper-class British men (James Wilby and Hugh Grant). While their relationship doesn’t endure, the title character is more successful with a dark and handsome groundskeeper (memorably played by Rupert Graves).

Desert Hearts
Pre-90’s romantic favorites among the ladies include the true story Silkwood (1983), in which Cher plays a lesbian power plant worker caring for her radiation-exposed friend (Meryl Streep); Desert Hearts (1986), a passionate, 1950’s-set love story between a divorcee (Helen Shaver) and the Nevada ranch hand (Patricia Charbonneau) she meets; and Personal Best (1982), Robert Towne’s graphic-at-the-time exploration of love between two female athletes (Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly) and the male coach who threatens to come between them.

Two recent, admirably unapologetic additions to the lesbian love canon are Blue is the Warmest Color, the acclaimed and erotic 2013 film about a young French woman’s sexual awakening, and 2015’s award-winning Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as women having a secret affair in the closeted 1950’s.

Beautiful Thing
For many LGBTQ people, the most cherished romantic movies are coming-of-age stories. Frequently cited in my survey were 1996’s Beautiful Thing, the British tale of tentative first love between two put-upon high school boys (based on Jonathan Harvey’s hit play); the similar but lesbian-themed The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995); and Get Real (1998), in which a brainy gay boy crushes on his school’s star athlete and finds his attentions reciprocated, at least for a time. Two of my personal favorites in this subgenre are 1996’s Lilies, about a tortured love triangle in a Catholic school for boys, and Come Undone (2000), a no-holds-barred French drama about two toned and tanned young men who fall in love on the beach during summer vacation.

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love
Love and loss often seem to go hand-in-hand in real life, so it isn’t surprising that a few gay-themed films considered the most romantic also involve death and dying. The Oscar-winning gay cowboy saga Brokeback Mountain (2005) is the undisputed champ in this regard, and the film has resonated even more strongly in the wake of co-star Heath Ledger’s tragic death just a few years after its release. Other tragic love stories mentioned by my Facebook pals are the revolutionary AIDS dramas Parting Glances (1986) and Longtime Companion (1989), Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy (1988), the fact-based Soldier’s Girl (2003), A Home at the End of the World (2004) and the 2009 Peruvian gay ghost story Contracorriente (Undertow).

A Single Man
I would add to these David Lewis’ 2009 film Redwoods, starring gay fave Matthew Montgomery and the beautiful Brendan Bradley as two men who embark on a life-changing relationship that endures beyond death, as well as Tom Ford’s exquisite A Single Man (also 2009). Colin Firth scored a deserved Academy Award nomination for his moving yet frequently funny turn as a gay university professor grieving the sudden death of his partner.

As if being homosexual, bisexual or trans wasn’t considered unorthodox enough, a few recent movie gems feature unexpected romances between unusual pairings. From Beginning to End is a 2009 Brazilian film about an Olympics-bound swimmer in love with another man. The catch? The two are half-brothers who were raised together from a young age. So controversial it was never released theatrically in the US, it is worth seeking out on home video or streaming. And then there’s Plan B from Argentina, in which two heterosexual men bond as friends over one’s messy breakup with his girlfriend (whom the other man is now dating) but ultimately become lovers. I found this film refreshing in its disdain for sexual labels and very touching in the end.

Soldier's Girl
2010’s Paulista, also from Brazil, boasts a male-to-female trans title character who knowingly has an affair with her initially in-the-dark but increasingly vulnerable father. It isn’t for everyone but some trans viewers may find their dilemma intriguing, to say the least. More recently, The Danish Girl recounts the story of the first man to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. This 2015 biopic is unique in that it begins as a heterosexual romance between its married subjects but becomes more queer as the wife (Alicia Vikander, in an Oscar winning performance) grows to support her transgender spouse (Eddie Redmayne).

The Circle (2014) is an even more factual, inspiring love story. Director Stefan Haupt employs a combination of documentary footage and dramatic recreations to relate the decades-spanning romance between Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp. They met as young men in the 1950’s and fought right-wing oppression in their native Switzerland. Both were still alive and together at the time of the film’s production.

Of course, the newest gay, cinematic love story is current awards darling Moonlight. Based on an autobiographical play, it depicts a neglected black boy’s coming of age including his first sexual experience as a teenager with his best friend. They reconnect as adults in the film’s final, hopeful segment.

Trick, Jeffrey, Fried Green Tomatoes, Yossi & Jagger (I would add its 2012 sequel, simply titled Yossi, too), The Wedding Banquet, Carrington and Big Eden wrap up the remainder of my Facebook friends’ nominees for most romantic LGBTQ films of all time, and I agree with most of these.

Wherever you find inspiration, we wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day!

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