Sunday, December 16, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Have Yourself a Sexy Homo Christmas


There is currently no shortage of opportunities during this holiday season to "make the Yuletide gay." We can delight in an abundance of ginger(bread) men, ugly sweater-inspired undies, and battery-powered toys (ahem). And there are plenty of hot guys getting down and dirty in three new, gay-themed home video releases from around the world! Two of them even have Christmas connections.

Cola de Mono (now available from TLA Releasing) is set in Santiago, Chile on Christmas Eve. Two brothers – younger, precocious Borja and the older, studious Vicente – have gathered with their amusingly pessimistic (at least initially) mother. As the three get intoxicated on wine and the special holiday punch which the film is named after, family secrets of a homosexual nature are revealed and result in some decidedly non-jolly, bloody mayhem.

Talented writer-director Alberto Fuguet draws from his own upbringing during the 1980's for this provocative psycho-sexual thriller. Borja and Vicente sport short shorts, and there are numerous references to such popular movies from the "Me Decade" as Short Circuit, Aliens, Gremlins, Poltergeist and Revenge of the Nerds. In one memorable scene, Borja (played by the deliciously sassy and sexy Cristobal Rodriguez-Costabal) does for dancing in a jock strap what Tom Cruise did for dancing in tighty-whities in 1983's Risky Business. William Friedkin's controversial but pioneering (at least in hindsight) gay slasher flick Cruising is also eluded to.

Fuguet's biggest inspirations, however, are the 70's-80's oeuvre of director Brian DePalma as well as horror novelist Stephen King's works. Cola de Mono even opens with a quote from King: "We lie best when we lie to ourselves." King's Carrie figures strongly, especially during the finale (notably, DePalma directed the original film version), as well as DePalma's Body Double and Dressed to Kill. Topping it all off is Christian Heyne's great, synth-pop score and 80's songs by the popular Chilean group Upa! Made with a potent combination of economic storytelling, nostalgia, visual flair and eroticism, Cola de Mono shouldn't be missed by gay men in the 45+ age bracket.

Meanwhile, the infamous Chinese provocateur SCUD (Utopians, Amphetamine) is back with his latest, explicit gay epic, Adonis (now available from Breaking Glass Pictures). It isn't set at Christmas time but does open with a bevy of beautiful naked men in a forest who we later learn are elves! The film stars and is even named for SCUD's current muse Adonis He, who also headlines the director's last production.

In what may be an at least partially autobiographical story, Adonis is a Beijing opera performer who turns to porn and prostitution after he is cut from the company. He is taken in by an older man he comes to affectionately call "Uncle," although this agent is revealed as truly wicked by the film's horrific climax. Told in non-linear style, we learn about Adonis's childhood with a terminally-ill mother. There are also bondage, kink and orgies throughout that at times threaten to be too much even by SCUD's standards.

Nathan Wong's gorgeous cinematography in color, black & white, and sepia ravishingly depicts the sometimes sordid proceedings. Adonis is not without its philosophical and even theological aspects, especially in the end. Like most of SCUD's films to date, it is an often hypnotic blend of both sacred and profane elements.

From China we are transported to India for Jayan Cherian's Ka Bodyscapes (now available from Ariztical Entertainment). As the first Indian film to deal openly with LGBTQ issues, censors demanded heavy cuts to it and ultimately banned it from theaters. There is no explicit sex shown but the relationship between lead male characters Harris, a gay artist, and the athletic Vishnu is undeniably sensual. Jason Chacko and beautiful Kannan Rajesh assay these roles, respectively.

The pair confront prejudice and persecution, especially once they support their female friend and her fellow feminist activists. Sadly, things don't end well for them, in a harsh reminder of how far Indian society still has to go in accepting its LGBTQ citizens. But writer-director Cherian does an admirable job of showing the diverse attitudes that do exist in modern India. There are also beautiful shots of the local flora and fauna plus of Harris' provocative paintings.  

Ka Bodyscapes makes for eye-opening holiday viewing on many levels. After all, this is the season of goodwill toward all.

Reverend's Ratings:
Cola de Mono: B+
Adonis: B-
Ka Bodyscapes: B

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Dearest Review: My Ex-Boyfriend's Wedding

Kosovo's official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at this year's Academy Awards is The Marriage, a moving drama about the sacrifices one makes... or doesn't make... for love.

Bekim (the Jake Gyllenhaal-ish Alban Ukaj) and his fiancée Anita (Adriana Matoshi) are in the midst of preparing for their upcoming wedding when they unexpectedly run into Nol (Genc Salihu), an old friend of Bekim's who has returned to Kosovo after living in Paris for several years. It is soon revealed that Bekim and Nol were more than just friends, they were lovers, secret lovers in a country that is still unaccepting of LGBT people. Old passions are reignited, but there is no real happy ending for anyone in this love triangle.

In his feature film debut, director Blerta Zeqiri (also co-writer of the screenplay with the film's producer, Keka Kreshnik Berisha) aims for a universal story where the gender of the three main characters is besides the point. This is admirable, yet there is a lot in The Marriage that is familiar, especially if you're a connoisseur of queer cinema. Zeqiri also pads the story with superfluous flashbacks (some of which are practically indiscernible from the story proper) and a family dinner scene that goes on forever for no apparent reason.

What saves this Marriage is the performances of its two leading actors, especially Salihu (a Kosovar pop star who was also a judge on his country's version of The Voice), who imbues his character with a steadfast dignity even though he knows quite well that he will be the one most victimized by fate.

The Marriage opens this Friday in Los Angeles and will also be available via Video On Demand.

Dearest Rating: 7/10

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Dearest Review: Darling Lily

From her spirited performance as the impetuous Lady Rose on TV's Downton Abbey to her luminous portrayals of Cinderella and the feisty waitress Debora in Baby Driver on the big screen, Lily James has become a true star across several mediums. And as she proves in the hit musical sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, she very well could add pop star to her resume if she so chose.

Leave it to our darling Lily to make us all forget about Meryl Streep as she takes on the younger version of Streep's character Donna in this follow-up to the 2008 box office smash Mamma Mia!, itself based on the long-running global stage musical that cemented the 70s chart-topping Swedish quartet ABBA permanently in the pop culture firmament well into the 21st century. Yes, she sings better (and leaves all the mugging to her predecessor/older self), but Lily also makes us so smitten with Donna that it doesn't even occur to us that she's a bit of a slut, what with sleeping with three different men she barely knows all within a short span of time (thus setting up the whole "who's your daddy?" plot of the first movie).

And she's super cute in those overalls to boot.

Taking a page from, of all things, The Godfather Part II, Here We Go Again is a hybrid prequel/sequel that, like the conventional wisdom regarding that gangster classic, is better than the "part I". Writer/director Ol Parker (whose directorial debut was the lesbian romcom Imagine Me & You) had the unenviable task of taking the sow's ear that was the critically-reviled original and turning out, if not quite a silk purse, at least a gorgeous looking light entertainment that unabashedly chugs along in happy ABBAland until it sneaks in a heart-tugging valentine to motherhood in the final act that will surely create tear-diluted glasses of Chardonnay in girls' night viewing parties for years to come.

When a Mamma Mia sequel was first announced, many wondered what ABBA songs were left considering all their biggest hits were, more or less, already used. But Parker took a deep dive into the ABBA back catalog and while you (like me) have likely never heard them before, found several – "Why Did It Have To Be Me?", "I've Been Waiting For You", "My Love, My Life" – that actually fit quite seamlessly into his narrative, almost as if they were written specifically for it. He even manages to squeeze in "Waterloo" (previously relegated to the "curtain call" on both stage and screen) into the story proper, plus a few choice reprises of songs – "Dancing Queen", "Mamma Mia" – no ABBA project could do without.

Cher will next play Lady Gaga's long-lost mom in A Star is Born 2.

Considering it was one of ABBA's many #1 songs (not to mention one of the best-selling singles of all-time), the absence of "Fernando" was glaringly obvious from Mamma Mia! since it first opened on the musical stage way back in 1999. Well, the wait for it was worth it, as the song is finally performed in the "ABBAverse" here by none other than Cher as Donna's globe-trotting mother... that's right, 35 years post-Silkwood Cher plays Meryl Streep's mom. And if that wasn't bonkers enough, Cher is joined by both Donnas, Lily and Meryl, as well as the whole Mamma Mia! gang (both young and older versions), in belting out "Super Trouper", Here We Go Again's time-bending grand finale, an irresistible coda to the whole Mamma Mia! franchise... for now.

Dearest Rating: 8/10

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

Reverend's Review: Do the Konga


One of cinema's biggest, most enduringly popular beasts is making his unexpected debut on the Broadway stage this month. No, I'm not referring to Duane Johnson but rather King Kong, the massive simian ruler of Skull Island. Kong first appeared on movie screens way back in 1933 and has reigned over sequels and remakes ever since. When I first heard he was to be the star of a theatrical musical, I scratched my head like many naysayers but I was also intrigued. So intrigued was I that I set out to make King Kong, which opened November 8th, the subject of my first official Broadway review since moving to the east coast!

Although this production actually originated in Australia, it is most fitting that it is having its American premiere in the city Kong has terrorized repeatedly. The book, written by recent Tony winner Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), is set in Depression-era NYC just as the 1933 and 2005 movies were. It follows the original plot's basic outline but makes some striking changes with the lead human characters. Carl Denham, the charmingly reckless filmmaker, is now a full on villain with little regard for his leading lady, Ann Darrow, Kong or anyone/anything else. Ann, meanwhile, is no longer a wilting flower scream queen à la Fay Wray but a newly empowered heroine for the #MeToo generation (she is also currently being played by a black actress, Christiani Pitts, making Ann even more relevant in 21st century USA).

Denham, Ann, and a hunky all-male crew journey to Kong's home via a spectacular evocation of a sailing tanker courtesy of scenic and projection designer Peter England. Once there, the original tale's gorilla-worshipping natives are replaced by mysterious sentient plant life, which is initially confusing but explained later in Act Two. These crafty vines "kidnap" Ann and present her to the larger-than-life master of Skull Island.

Photo by Joan Marcus

The genuine thrills of this stage adaptation of King Kong are provided by its title creation: a 2,000-pound, two-story-tall, absolutely-believable puppet designed by Sonny Tilders and operated by ten cast members dubbed the "King's Company." It roars, it carries Ann in its fist, it "runs" through the jungle, and it convincingly climbs the Empire State Building (uniquely viewed from within the tower). At one point, when Kong breaks free from his theatrical captivity, it even moves down to the first view rows of the audience and "sniffs" patrons before roaring at them. The audience responded with wild applause to practically every gesture and facial expression of this marvelous faux monkey.

One does wish the musical's book was stronger and its songs more memorable but it is hardly "The Mess That Roared," as it was recently dubbed in a merciless New York Times review. The techno-pop score by Marius de Vries (of Moulin Rouge! and La La Land fame), Eddie Perfect (who will soon also be represented on Broadway with the new musical version of Beetlejuice) and a handful of other contributors features a few numbers that are catchy, moving, and/or hilarious (intentionally so). The most touching and memorable of these is one of the simplest: a lullaby Ann sings to the wounded Kong while a full moon casts its light upon them. Ann gets a couple of powerhouse songs including "Last of Our Kind" but the climactic "The Wonder," sung by the entire cast, is genuinely spine-tingling.

Director-choreographer Drew McOnie puts his predominantly male cast through some dazzling paces. The fluidity not only of the dances but the show as a whole is truly impressive. The handful of female performers are fine in largely chorine roles, and several of them nearly steal the show away from Kong when they are forced to sing while the monster is breaking free.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Pitts is fetching and in command as Ann, the queen to Kong's king, even if her character comes across as too contemporary at times. As the conniving Carl, Eric William Morris has charm but is saddled with a pretty one-dimensional role and isn't given much to do musically. Veteran actor Erik Lochtefeld is affecting as Lumpy, a new character with a tragic backstory. And ensemble member Casey Garvin is a standout as "Fake Carl" in the show-within-a-show relating the story of Kong's capture. Garvin is handsome and hilarious, and the unknown woman sitting next to me concurred that he is this production's best asset after the Kong puppet.

It is difficult to predict the longevity of the stage version of King Kong, given the mixed critical reaction it is receiving plus its enormous scale and related cost. There is no question, though, that it is the best giant-monster musical out there... at least until a Godzilla tuner comes along.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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

Friday, November 9, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Gay Movies on the Bay


Although this November will mark its third edition, the Coronado Island Film Festival is now garnering our fullest attention. This increasingly popular event will run November 9th-12th at San Diego’s iconic Hotel del Coronado and other nearby locales.

Coronado Island’s enduring love affair with Hollywood began back in the earliest days of filmmaking, when “movie people” were irresistibly drawn to the still-legendary hospitality of the host hotel (which also serves as the festival’s Presenting Sponsor). The hotel was built right on the sand in 1888. Coronado’s world-class beaches, perfect weather, and proximity to Hollywood have made it a favorite go-to spot for the stars since those halcyon days when Errol Flynn, Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin strolled the Avenue.

The film festival, inaugurated in 2016, is an intimate, pedestrian-friendly festival, with most screening venues an easy walk from one another. Organizers promise a weekend to remember with films of every genre, many introduced by their makers; memorable panel discussions; a welcoming Hospitality Lounge; live performances; numerous parties; a “Meet the Jury” reception; and a signature Celebrity Tribute hosted by renowned film critic Leonard Maltin, back for his third year as Festival Host and Honorary Jury President. Jury awards will be presented in several categories.

A number of gay-interest movies will be screened this year. They include Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story; the acclaimed documentaries Love, Cecil and Studio 54; and the cross-dressing comedy classic Some Like It Hot.

Another film of significant interest to LGBT viewers is Words and Music by Jerry Herman. Amber Edwards’ insightful look at the life of the gay, Tony Award-winning composer will be screened the afternoon of Sunday, November 11th. Although Edwards made her documentary a decade ago, Herman has been in the spotlight once again thanks to the smash Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly!.

Herman is also renowned as the songwriter behind La Cage aux Folles, Mame and Mack & Mabel, among other shows. He made his Broadway debut at the age of 29 with the Jewish-themed musical Milk and Honey, and subsequently scored his first Tony nomination. The documentary features interviews with such luminaries as Carol Channing, Angela Lansbury, Michael Feinstein, and the late great Charles Nelson Reilly. Now 87, Herman often works as a coach to budding theatre artists.

I asked Edwards about the films with LGBT appeal that will be screened during the Coronado Island Film Festival during a recent phone interview. “There are quite a lot of them, including mine,” she replied from her home in Connecticut. “Jerry Herman is a gay man but the film is primarily about his career as a Broadway composer; I think it’s a sign of progress that the gay-interest films are no longer in a separate or niche program.”

The director attended last year’s event and presented Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past, her most recent documentary. “One of the things I found (about the fest) and made me feel good is that they pay a lot of attention to the people who make the films — animators, composers, production designers, etc — versus big stars or actors,” Edwards said upon reflection. “There is an emphasis on peeling back the layers of a film and filmmaking as a holistic thing, rather than focusing on name stars or directors.”

Edwards described another significant benefit of this festival’s size and location. “For one thing, they don’t overpack it in terms of screenings. When you have too many films, you can’t find common ground to talk about them because everyone has seen something else. (Finding common ground) is one of the great, socializing aspects of film festivals.”

Word and Music by Jerry Herman provides plenty of fodder to get attendees talking, especially gay viewers. Herman discusses the AIDS-related death of his partner, Marty, as well as his own HIV+ status. He has been living with HIV for approximately 30 years. The doc also boasts generous use of vintage and backstage photography of fantastic musical numbers from Herman’s classic musicals.

It sounds like the third edition of the Coronado Island Film Festival shouldn’t be missed. “I really just fell in love with the people who run it and the community,” Edwards noted. “The local community was so interested and excited; usually, the organizers of a festival are really excited but nobody else (laugh). This is a great, very well-run festival.”

Visit the Coronado Island Film Festival website for full details and tickets.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


This year is shaping up to be a great year for actresses, especially those whose characters are doing all they can do to not lose their minds.

In reverse order of their ability to keep their shit together, here are 2018’s “women on the verge of a nervous breakdown”:

Private Life (now streaming on Netflix):
WOTVOANB: Rachel Biegler, played by Kathryn Hahn.
Supportive spouse: Richard, played by Paul Giamatti.
What’s driving her crazy: This middle-aged New York couple’s increasingly desperate attempts at getting pregnant.
How bad does it get?: They resort to asking their step-niece (Kayli Carter) to be their surrogate, drawing the wrath of her mother, another WOTVOANB, played by Molly Shannon.
Oscar Moment: Rachel has a street freak out when Richard supports the previously off-the-table idea of surrogacy.
Review: Fertility issues usually crop up in long-running TV shows when the writers decide to tackle a pregnancy storyline and want to draw it out as long as possible. Thankfully, writer/director Tamara Jenkins (The Savages) nicely manages to make this oft-told scenario fresh and funny. She also smartly cast two warm and wonderful character actors as her leads; it is especially gratifying to see Hahn (easily the best thing in the incredibly overrated Transparent) finally in the spotlight.
Rating: 7/10

Tully (now available on DVD and Blu-ray):
WOTVOANB: Marlo Moreau, played by Charlize Theron.
Supportive spouse: Drew, played by Ron Livingston.
What’s driving her crazy: Already on shaky ground dealing with her two young kids (one of whom is obviously autistic yet the film rather shamefully just labels “quirky”), Marlo is pushed over the edge in the aftermath of the birth of her third child.
How bad does it get?: Actually, it gets better with the arrival of Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a night nanny of the “manic pixie dream girl” variety. But then a diner waitress uniform enters the picture and it gets weird…
Oscar Moment: Sitting on her living room sofa nursing the baby, Marlo wonders if it is her life that is empty or just her right breast.
Review: Eleven years after Juno, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody revisit the topic of pregnancy, this time from a postpartum perspective, with their sharp comedic sensibility still intact. A once-again de-glammed Theron grounds the story, even when it goes in unexpected directions, with her lived-in performance.
Rating: 7/10

The Kindergarten Teacher (now streaming on Netflix):
WOTVOANB: Lisa Spinelli, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Supportive spouse: Grant, played by Orange is the New Black’s Michael Chernus.
What’s driving her crazy: As the titular educator, Lisa discovers that Jimmy (Parker Sevak), one of her young charges, is a poetry prodigy and becomes determined to nurture his natural talent… no matter what.
How bad does it get?: Plagiarism, adultery and child endangerment are just a few of the many lines Lisa crosses.
Oscar Moment: Lisa confronts Jimmy’s preoccupied father and tries to convince him his son is the next Mozart.
Review: A remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same name, writer/director Sara Colangelo creates here an engrossing tale of mounting anxiety anchored by a can’t-take-your-eyes-off-of-her, career best performance from Gyllenhaal (who also co-produced the film). Her character starts out with the best intentions and, even though she ends up committing highly questionable acts, we kind of see her point, which is then proven correct by a gut-punch of a final moment.
Rating: 8/10

Hereditary (now available on DVD and Blu-ray):
WOTVOANB: Annie Graham, played by Toni Collette.
Supportive spouse: Steve, played by Gabriel Byrne.
What’s driving her crazy: Where to start? There’s a couple of funerals, a few ghostly sightings, some light witchcraft, plus an unnervingly disembodied tongue click or two, all topped off with some mounting paranoia and a heaping helping of soul-crushing grief.
How bad does it get?: You. Have. No. Idea.
Oscar Moment: When questions of guilt and responsibility arise during a family dinner, an increasingly unhinged Annie verbally lashes out at her grieving son Peter (My Friend Dahmer’s Alex Wolff).
Review: Honestly, the less you know about Hereditary (a masterful feature debut for writer/director Ari Aster) the better the scares, of which there is a plentiful amount. Trust me, this is not for the faint of heart. Yet if you are in the mood for a good dose of terror, this is definitely the one for you. Finally, a horror film that actually lives up to being compared to The Exorcist.
Rating: 9/10

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Thrills & Chills at NewFest & Everywhere


It's Halloween, and this year's just-concluded NewFest in New York City presented appropriately darker hues of the current LGBTQ experience. The festival opened October 24th with the New York premiere of Yen Tan's acclaimed, literally dark (it's filmed in black & white) 1985, previously reviewed here. 1985 was also the year I graduated high school, so it evoked frightfully memories for me in that regard. The best film featured at NewFest and several other LGBT festivals this year, however, is A Moment in the Reeds. This poignant love story between a Finnish man and the Syrian asylum-seeker his father hires to work on their house proves to be the most sensual, soulful gay movie I've seen in years (sorry, Call Me By Your Name) but nonetheless ends on a bittersweet note.

The hands down spookiest film to screen at NewFest was Devil's Path. Out actor Matthew Montgomery makes an impressive directorial debut with this tale of a gay man, Noah, searching for his missing gay brother in a woodsy cruising area. As one fellow tricker warns him: "Love doesn't exist on Devil's Path, sunshine." Montgomery and co-screenwriter Stephen Twardokus (who also plays Noah) throw in several twists toward the end of this suspense thriller. It is beautifully shot by Stephen Tringali in the northern California wine country and features an effective music score by Ceiri Torjussen. Montgomery makes a Hitchcockian cameo as does his husband, actor Steve Callahan (the two previously co-starred in Role/Play).

Featured in one of the short film programs at NewFest was No More We, by talented Swedish writer-director David Fardmar. It depicts the intense breakup of the marriage between husbands Adrian and Hampus in non-linear fashion, kind of like a gay non-musical version of The Last Five Years. It's every gay married couple's worst nightmare. Bjorn Elgerd and Jonathan Andersson are simultaneously adorable and heartbreaking (heartbreakingly adorable?) as the former lovers.

Mario, which also made its NYC debut during the festival, is an exploration of a still-scary environment for gay men: professional sports. In this Swiss production, the title character is a young football (i.e. soccer) player long groomed for the big leagues by his ex-pro father. On the verge of success, Mario falls in love with new team transfer Leon, who is both gorgeous and more openly gay. They soon embark on a passionate but conflicted affair. Mario is forced to make a choice once scandal erupts, and let's just say the pair don't end up happily ever after. It is a sexy if by now familiar story, featuring de riguer underwear shots with an occasional naked ass.

Beyond NewFest, the most terrifying movie for many gay men that is newly available on VOD this Halloween is the documentary American Circumcision. Writer-director Brendon Marotta turns an unflinching lens on the history and controversy behind "the most common surgery in America." Most interesting is the perspective of the so-called "intactivists" or "anti-circs" who oppose circumcision and/or call for foreskin restoration surgery for men who were circumcised as infants against their presumed will. American Circumcision isn't uninteresting but it is overlong and clearly on the side of the intactivists. It ultimately struck me, as one who was allegedly "maimed" as a child, as much ado about very little (no pun intended).

For more traditionally scary Halloween film fare, one can currently choose between the aptly-titled, big-screen sequel Halloween or the new Netflix miniseries inspired by Shirley Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House. Sorry to say, I was mightily disappointed by the latest entry in the 40-year series initiated by John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic Halloween. It is much of the same, with Jamie Lee Curtis giving a charismatic but one-note performance as Laurie Strode, her traumatized character from the original film. Psychotic "boogeyman" Michael Myers escapes from his mental institute and starts killing innocent people, who most disturbingly and unapologetically include a dance-loving, presumably gay teenager. The movie stuck me as unimaginative at best and, at worst, offensive.

Meanwhile, The Haunting of Hill House bares little resemblance to Jackson's original work or the prior films adapted from it but emerges as its own memorable, frequently creepy story. Writer-director Mike Flanagan has re-imagined it as a decades-spanning family saga starring the likes of Carla Gugino, Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton, and Henry Thomas, the all-grown-up Elliot from Steven Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Gugino's and Thomas's married couple moved into the cursed title domicile in the 1990's with their five children, intending to fix it up and "flip" it. It isn't long before supernatural forces conspire against them. The grown-up children have to confront both literal and figurative ghosts from their past, including the very scary "Bent-Neck Lady" and the unnaturally tall, bowler hat-wearing master of the house. Definitely a worthy chiller for this All Hallow's Eve.

Reverend's Ratings:
A Moment in the Reeds: A-
Devil's Path: B-
No More We: B+
Mario: B
American Circumcision: B-
Halloween (2018): D
The Haunting of Hill House: B+

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Reaching for the Stars


Despite my love of Lady Gaga, I went into a screening of the latest version of A Star is Born thinking the last thing the world needs is another version of A Star is Born.  This time-honored story of a struggling female artist (an actress in two versions and a singer in the more recent two) who falls under the tutelage of an aging, alcoholic pro was previously told in 1937, 1954 and 1976.  Actually, its been told four times previously if one includes 1932's What Price Hollywood?  Director George Cukor helmed both that earlier film and the 1954, Judy Garland-headlined take on A Star is Born, which is still generally considered the best.

Bradley Cooper makes an impressive feature directorial debut with the new version.  He also plays male lead Jackson (formerly Norman) Maine, the hard-drinking and -drugging rocker who crosses paths with Gaga's singularly-named Ally in a drag bar where she is performing.  Jackson becomes smitten with the budding singer-songwriter and is soon bringing her out on stage during his sets.  Ally's talent is recognized and her popularity grows, ultimately to the troubled Jackson's suicidal chagrin.

In previous iterations, Norman's/Jackson's dire climactic act was seen as a noble way of ensuring the object of his affection's continued success.  Here, however, it remains tragic but also seems dramatically unnecessary and kind of creepy.  There is room for both Ally and Jackson in the YouTube/online era, and God knows bigger psychological messes than Jackson draw audiences today.  In this regard, Cooper's A Star is Born seems somewhat out of touch even as it reveals an impressive intimacy and chemistry between its two stars.

Cooper and Gaga give great, naturalistic performances, as does the normally taciturn Sam Elliott as Jackson's personal assistant/half brother and even Andrew Dice Clay (!) as Ally's encouraging father.  In addition, the original songs penned by Gaga, Cooper and Lukas Nelson (son of Willie) make a tuneful impression, especially likely eventual Oscar nominee "Shallow" (see video, above).  Matthew Libatique's cinematography is frequently in the actor's and viewer's face, in the best possible way.  Earlier, Hollywood-set versions of A Star is Born may ring truer but this latest iteration, though still arguably unnecessary, makes a strong impression nonetheless.

Pilot and astronaut Neil Armstrong literally reached for the stars during the 1960's and subsequently became the first human being to walk on the moon.  Armstrong and his 1969 achievement are the subject of First Man, an outstanding new movie by La La Land's Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle.

Ryan Gosling stars as Armstrong, with The Crown's Claire Foy playing his first wife, Janet.  I've not been a huge fan of Gosling but this is easily his best, most engaging performance since Crazy, Stupid, Love despite his Oscar nomination for La La Land.  The film presents the tragic death of Armstrong's 2-year old daughter as a source of both grief and inspiration.  It is undeniably touching but a moon-set tribute to his daughter late in the film feels like a gravity-bending stretch.  Foy, employing an authentic-sounding Southern accent, matches Gosling step by step.

Be warned, though: First Man is visceral to the point of potentially inducing motion sickness in sensitive viewers, especially if viewed in its IMAX format.  I am not prone to motion sickness but still had to close my eyes at a few points.  As he previously proved in Whiplash and La La Land, Chazelle is a young maestro of visceral, you-are-there filmmaking.  However, First Man is an even more mature and involving drama.  It is easily one of the most ambitious and best pictures of the year.

She was neither a rocker nor an astronaut, but Joan of Arc made an undeniably memorable impression during — and after — her relatively brief lifetime.  Jeannette, as she was called while a young girl/woman, heard God's voice from an early age and defended France during the Hundred Years' War only to be burned at the stake by the Inquisition.  She was later absolved and ultimately canonized as one of the Catholic Church's most popular saints even to this day.

Acclaimed French filmmaker Bruno Dumont (Humanite, The Life of Jesus) turned to Joan/Jeannette's early years as inspiration for an unusual, 2017 movie musical.  Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc is newly available on home video from KimStim.  Set in 1425, it is an interesting but avant garde and often redundant film complete with dancing, headbanging nuns and even a "chorus" of live sheep.  The songs, written by Igorrr and the cast, are far from memorable but raise such provocative, time-honored questions as "Why does God allow such suffering and perdition?" among human beings.

Lise Leplat Prudhomme gives an impressive juvenile performance as the younger Jeannette, while Jeanne Voisin evokes Alanis Morissette as teenaged Jeanne.  Dumont is apparently now working on a musical sequel about Joan of Arc's adult years.  Jeannette is odd and amateurish in spots but warrants attention, especially from Catholic viewers.

Reverend's Ratings:
A Star is Born: B+
First Man: A-
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc: C+

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Bad Boys

Up for review: the latest adventures of a pansexual mutant superhero and the scandalous escapades of a bisexual Hollywood pimp.....

Deadpool 2:
What made the original Deadpool so entertaining was that it not only tweaked the nose of every cinematic superhero convention in the book, it was also surprisingly softhearted. The sequel is back with, smartly, more of the same, although the strain of keeping that snark-to-sweet balance shows more and more despite the efforts of Ryan Reynolds and his (on- and off-screen) partners in crime (now including Josh Brolin as Cable, his second Marvel villain role of the year, and Ricky Baker himself, Julian Dennison, as a hot-headed orphan with a revenge streak). While the action becomes ever-increasingly over-the-top (at one point, our hero is literally ripped in half), most of the jokes lean heavy into Reynold's (by now overly-) familiar "ain't I a naughty boy" shtick, which, let's face it, is growing old with the star now in his 40s.
(6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood:
Meet Scotty Bowers, former Marine and WWII vet who found his fame and fortune in post-war Hollywood as a service station attendant on Hollywood Boulevard not by pumping gas but by pumping... movie stars. A fateful meeting with Mr. Miniver himself, Walter Pidgeon, led our hero Scotty to becoming a very successful procurer (as well as practitioner) of male and/or female companionship for all sorts of Tinseltown elite, mostly of the closeted variety. Be prepared for shocking revelations about the secret sex lives of everyone from Hepburn & Tracy to none other than the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (for whom Scotty reportedly set up bisexual orgies for on a regular basis). It's all very sordid and at times crass (I admit to flinching when he offhandedly states that he "fucked Bette Davis"), and one can't help but question the veracity of such an abundance of sexual shenanigans, even when  the likes of Gore Vidal have backed him up.

Somewhere, under the rainbow

The bulk of the film, however, is devoted to recent interviews with Scotty himself, now a 95-year-old hoarder married to a woman who is still, even after the publication of his memoirs, "Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars", largely in the dark about the bulk of her husband's past (to be fair, she doesn't want to know... do you blame her?). Gay actor Stephen Fry is among the scant collection of talking heads, on hand to offer some historical context of the time when being gay could ruin careers, sprinkled among scenes of Scotty visiting his former "staff" and picking up old toilets off the side of the road. Director Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) touches on themes of "faded glory in La La Land" but never quite develops them, and frankly, with at title like Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, one would expect far more of the latter than we end up with.
(6/10) Available on DVD November 6th.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Movie Dearest Guide to Halloween Costumes 2018


Fall has fell, the leaves are changing, Michael Myers is returning again... Yes, it is Halloweentime, and once again you haven't a clue what to wear. But never fear, for 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 movie-inspired costume ideas:

For those that are feeling super:

Black Panther


Ant-Man and the Wasp

Or the Incredibles, too

For those who have been waiting for months to trot out these late-2017 inspirations:

The Amphibian Man from The Shape of Water

The Cast of Coco

LaVona Golden from I, Tonya

Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson from Lady Bird

The Bearded Lady from The Greatest Showman

For those who want to be Crazy Rich Asians:

...but only if you're actually Asian

For those who were really inspired by this year's documentaries:

Mr. Rogers from Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg from RGB

The Triplets from Three Identical Strangers

For those who want to be Toni Collette from Hereditary:

Scared Toni Collette

Scary Toni Collette

Batshit Crazy Toni Collette

For those who want to be a diva:

Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Lady Gaga in A Star is Born

Edna Mode

And finally, for those who want to be a little gay...

Simon from Love, Simon

Or a LOT gay: