Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dearest Review: This is Halloween, Part 2

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

Click here for Part 1.

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

Abs Fab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Movie Dearest Guide to Halloween Costumes 2017

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

For those who wait to the last minute:

The Ghost from A Ghost Story

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

Wonder Woman

Pennywise from It

For those who like to travel in packs:

The Handmaids from The Handmaid’s Tale

All of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s personalities from Split

For “Girls Night Out”:

The La La Land Party Girls

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

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

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

For a flashback to the 70’s:

Billie Jean King from Battle of the Sexes

… or 80’s:

Yorkie and Kelly from Black Mirror: “San Junipero”

… or 90’s:

Tonya Harding from I, Tonya

For those with a big family:

The Pearson Clan from This Is Us

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

Tommy Wiseau from The Disaster Artist

For those who are always a few years behind:

A Litchfield Penitentiary Inmate from Orange is the New Black

For minimalists/exhibitionists:

A Westworld Host

For the politically incorrect:

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump from Saturday Night Live

For the politically correct:

Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton from Saturday Night Live

For the inexplicable meme fanatic:

Gay Babadook

For those who want to relive their youth:

The Stranger Things Kids

And finally, for those who can’t wait till next year:

A Porg from Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dearest Review: This is Halloween, Part 1

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

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

"Nope. Not gonna happen."

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

...not creepy at all...

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

Just one of the guys.

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

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Reverend's Preview: TransNation Film Fest Embraces All


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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