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 Review: 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.

Jesús

Jesús
(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

Arrival:
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.

...Loving:
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

Fences:
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.

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