(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Apocalypse, Now


The end of the world is just around the corner...

Alex Garland made an impressive directorial debut four years ago with Ex Machina, one of the best true science fiction films in recent memory, but sadly stumbles with this, a murky and convoluted adaptation of the award-winning novel by Jeff VanderMeer. It starts with a promising premise: biologist Natalie Portman risks her life to save her soldier husband (played by Oscar Isaac, so yeah, it’s easy to understand her concern) by entering “The Shimmer”, a quarantined zone infected by some mysterious alien force. She is joined by a uniquely all-female suicide squad (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Westworld’s Tessa Thompson and Jane the Virgin herself Gina Rodriguez) who, after experiencing lost time, watching a literally “viral” video, and being mauled by mutated alligators and bears (oh my), are killed off in reverse order of famousness. Don’t fret, this is not a spoiler, as Garland employs early the old “sole survivor” trope, wherein Natalie is grilled by HAZMATted government types who are just a little curious as to why she’s the last lady standing. Alas, her tale – and the movie’s – slowly devolves into pseudo-2001 sci-fi hooey. (5/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

A Quiet Place:
Director/co-writer John Krasinski manages to inject some new ideas into the over-saturated subgenre of post-apocalyptic thrillers (not an easy feat) with this springtime hit. He co-stars with his real-life leading lady, a luminous Emily Blunt, as the parents of last year's "wonder" kids, Wonderstruck's Millicent Simmonds and Wonder's Noah Jupe; they are a rural family who, having suffered a devastating loss, have managed to turn their farm into a reasonably well-fortified sanctuary... the titular quiet place. Why the need for the silent treatment? Seems the planet has been invaded by a particularly nasty breed of bloodthirsty extraterrestrials (think a hybrid of a Cloverfield beastie and the Stranger Things Demigorgon), whose blindness is more than made up for with their highly-attuned hearing. A tense, tactile atmosphere is maintained throughout, and special kudos for the expert sound work; prolonged silence has never been more nerve-racking. It's a shame that some rather deep plot holes (most acutely the rather obvious weakness of the alien antagonists) nearly derail the whole thing. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Dearest Review: Big Little Guys


A frothy romp whose stakes aren't too high is just what we needed after the sturm und drang of Avengers: Infinity War and just what we get with Ant-Man and the Wasp, the latest (and possibly lightest) entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With a little heist caper flick here, a little retro sci-fi à la Fantastic Voyage there, director Peyton Reed makes A&W just interesting enough to be fun while it's going on, although one can't help but see it all as merely a mild diversion between bigger-budgeted tent poles. Paul Rudd generously feeds into his DILF-ness here as ex-con/single dad-turned-mighty mite Scott Lang/Ant-Man. He is joined in the action this time by Evangeline Lilly as his distaff partner in/against crime, the high-flying Hope van Dyne, code name: Wasp. Unfortunately she is just the latest one-note superheroine who isn't entirely boring because that one note is "yo, girl power, kick some ass" but still, can't the ladies have a little personality, you know, a little sense of humor?

Little Big Man

Speaking of humor, it fits into Ant-Man's corner of the MCU better then its brethren since, well, it's Ant-Man, but the jokes are overly-calculated, all protracted set up with minimal pay off, as with the even more rapid-fire shtick of Michael Peña's "um, is this a racial stereotype?" sidekick character. Joining the MCU ranks, Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne add some class to the joint, but are really not given much to do except banter with a grumpy Michael Douglas; still, it's nice to see some seasoned veterans in the mix, even if they do mutate them back to the days of Married to the Mob/Boyz N the Hood/Basic Instinct with that creepy de-aging CGI for flashbacks.

Still, by the time the effects of a certain offscreen finger snap reach our characters here during the worst-timed experiment ever resulting in the most-expected cliffhanger ever, your memories of the adventures of Ant-Man and the Wasp will likely be dissipating into the ether as well.

MD Rating: 6/10

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Getting Out to Outfest 2018


Trans bodybuilders, controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, teenagers sent to a gay aversion therapy camp, and New York’s legendary Studio 54 are just a few of the subjects that will be on view during the 36th annual Outfest. The Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival, presented by HBO, will run from July 12th through July 22nd.

Outfest is an internationally-renown, non-profit organization that promotes equality year-round by creating, sharing and protecting LGBTQ stories on the screen. With two-thirds of the festival’s content this year directed by women, people of color and trans filmmakers, Outfest once again brings together the most diverse and highest-quality LGBTQ films from around the world.

“I am incredibly proud of all the ways Outfest Los Angeles continues to step onto a larger stage,” stated Christopher Racster, Outfest’s Executive Director. “This year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences named Outfest as an Academy Award-qualifying film festival for their Short Film Awards. This recognition acknowledges our long history of discovering extraordinary short films and the talented filmmakers who have used Outfest as a platform to launch their careers.”

This year's festival will also take place in more Los Angeles neighborhoods than ever before. New venues include Plaza de la Raza, the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the California African American Museum, and Regal Cinemas at LA Live. Outfest will also be returning to the newly-renovated, outdoor Ford Theatre for several screenings under the stars.

Outfest 2018 will open on July 12th at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA with Studio 54, Matt Tyrnauer’s vibrantly nostalgic documentary about the famous NYC dance club. It will close on July 22nd with The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Desiree Akhavan’s startling drama about so-called reparative therapy that won the Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (see interview with Akhavan below).

In between, the fest will feature five world premieres: Bao Bao, a deeply felt film from Taiwan (one of several spotlight movies from Taiwan); Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, directed by Michael Urie of Ugly Betty fame and starring the hilarious Drew Droege; Laura Madalinski’s Two in the Bush: A Love Story, detailing a polyamorous romance; Tucked, about two drag performers connecting across generations; and Room to Grow, a documentary exploration into the lives of queer teenagers today. Several North American and US premieres include Eva & Candela, Sodom, Canary, Cola De Mono and Daddy Issues.

“With 221 films and 13 TV series, this festival’s lineup is bursting at the seams with the most anticipated queer and trans stories of the year,” commented Lucy Mukerjee, Outfest’s Director of Programming. “Notable recurring themes in 2018 include escapism and sexual liberation, and we continue to raise the bar in non-fiction storytelling as we shine a spotlight on unsung LGBTQ communities in our documentary competition.”

I was privileged to screen three films in advance that I consider don’t-miss standouts of this year’s fest. Although it will screen on Friday the 13th, you won’t experience any bad luck while watching the sexy, biographical Mapplethorpe. British actor Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame transforms himself physically and vocally to play the gay photographer, who died too young of AIDS complications in 1988 but not before sparking a revolution in the then-conservative art world. Smith and award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner provide a no-holds-barred look at the late artist.

1985, screening on July 16th, is another significant drama set during the early years of the AIDS pandemic. It is written and directed by Yen Tan (who previously made the gay-themed Pit Stop and Happy Birthday), and is beautifully shot in rare black & white by the single-named Hutch. Cory Michael Smith (who is terrific as the Riddler on TV’s Gotham) headlines as Adrian, a closeted young man who returns home for Christmas of the titular year after several years’ absence. He is intent on revealing several secrets to his family but it won’t be easy. Michael Chiklis (Smith’s Gotham co-star) and the ever lovely Virginia Madsen play Adrian’s struggling parents.

My third fave is Man Made, an eye-opening documentary produced by actress Tea Leoni about female-to-male trans competitive bodybuilders. It will screen on July 21st. I didn’t know there were such athletes nor that there is an annual competition for them, Trans Fit Con. Director T Cooper (who is trans himself) follows six competitors in various stages of their transitions, training and personal relationships. Their stories are inspiring and the movie overall is illuminating. To top it off, Florence + the Machine provides a great song over the end credits.

For more information about the offerings during Outfest 2018 and to purchase advance passes or tickets, visit the Outfest website.

Desiree Akhavan made a splash at Outfest in 2014 with her feature film debut Appropriate Behavior. She returns this year with The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which will serve as the Closing Night gala screening. An adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s celebrated YA novel, it was awarded the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in part for its sincere exploration of religion with well-intentioned queer characters.

Set in 1993, the plot centers on lesbian teen Cameron (played by the luminous Chloë Grace Moretz of the Kick-Ass movies). She is sent to a Christian conversion camp after she gets caught having sex with her female best friend. At the camp, Cameron reluctantly undergoes various tactics used to “cure” same-sex attraction from persistent faith leaders Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), who are intent on “saving” LGBTQ teens from their “sinful” lifestyles. Cameron eventually forms a resistant alliance with the rebellious Jane (American Honey's Sasha Lane) and two-spirit Adam (The Revenant's Forrest Goodluck).

Akhavan recently took the time to speak with me about her new film via phone from a British editing room.
CC: What are you doing in England?
DA: I’ve been living here for three years now, working with my co-writer and producer who is from here. I was visiting more and more often so decided to make it my permanent home.
CC: How did you react when The Miseducation of Cameron Post won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance?
DA: I was shocked but pleased. I was really excited and grateful. You don’t expect something like that. Well, at least I didn’t. I had never won anything big before in my life. (Laugh)
CC: What has been the public reaction to your film?
DA: I’ve gotten a really positive response. People are really nice, at least to my face. (Laugh) Strangers have told me they could really relate to it, which is exciting. Both queer and straight people have responded well to it, including my family. They loved it and they’re all straight.

Desiree Akhavan (in blue) and her cast

CC: Was the novel or your approach to adapting it autobiographical at all?
DA: The novel was not autobiographical. My approach was a little personal in that I spent time in a rehab center and group therapy. I could relate to those aspects and wanted to depict them realistically. But none of us involved have undergone same-sex attraction aversion therapy (as the process is formally called).
CC: The cast is excellent. Can you talk a bit about your casting process?
DA: When it came to the principals, it was a matter of making offers. Chloe was a no-brainer. I knew she could carry a movie but I wanted to see her play against her persona. I also didn’t want the characters played by Jennifer (Ehle) and John (Gallagher Jr.) to be seen as villains. I cast them because they are both so warm and relatable.
CC: Were you raised in a religious environment? If so, how could you relate to Cameron’s plight?
DA: No, not at all. I was raised in a traditional Iranian family. My family is Muslim but lived through the Iranian Revolution so we learned how destructive religion can be. They weren’t pro-gay but didn’t try to change me.
CC: What are plans for your movie after Outfest?
DA: It will be released in theaters on August 3rd.
CC: And what are you working on now?
DA: A TV series, a bisexual dating comedy called The Bisexuals. That’s what I’m in the editing room with now. It will be on Hulu in October.

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

Monday, July 2, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Summer Schooled

Two Disney-owned franchises. One hit, one miss. Welcome to summer movie season.

Solo: A Star Wars Story:
Coming out too soon after the last Star Wars movie. The heavily reported firing of its original directors. Bad marketing. All have been blamed for the lackluster box office of this latest spin-off but the truth may be that most people are just fine with not knowing too much about the past of their favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder. This ill-advised "origin story" of a young Han Solo answers a lot of questions, some expected (like how he met Chewbacca), but mostly ones that nobody had ever bothered to ask. Missteps abound, from charging a charmless Alden Ehrenreich to fill the unfillable space boots of Harrison Ford (admittedly an unenviable, nigh on impossible, task) to bringing in Ron Howard, quite possibly the dullest A-list director working today, to drag it all across the finish line. With all this bad mojo against it, no wonder most audiences were a no show for Solo. (5/10)

Incredibles 2:
In the 14 years since The Incredibles first hit the silver screen there has been a few more superhero movies. So it's disappointing that this long-in-demand sequel doesn't stand out farther in the crowd. But, thankfully, it at least isn't a shallow cash grab like Monsters University (the Pixar equivalent of Solo, come to think of it) or Cars Pick-a-Number. A fun if not exactly game-changing super-caper, Incredibles 2 comes complete with a couldn't-be-less-surprising villain reveal and the multi-powered Incredi-baby Jack-Jack, who totally steals the movie out from under even the likes of veteran scenery-chewer Edna Mode, the Edith Head-ish "Couturier to the Supered Stars". Less welcome is an unfortunate subplot about Mr. Incredible being all man-jealous about the success of his wife Elastiwoman Elastigirl, which sadly turns out to be even more unsettling in light of recent revelations of the Incredibl-y sexist environment fostered at the Pixar Animation Studios for years. (7/10)

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Conditions are Ideal for FilmOut 20

As summer 2018 gets underway, so does the 20th anniversary edition of FilmOut San Diego!  The annual LGBTQ film festival will run June 7th-10th at at the historic Obervatory North Park.  No fewer than 45 short and feature films will be screened during the fest's relatively brief 60 or so hours.  Many of their creators and cast members will be in attendance and participate in question and answer sessions with the audiences.

San Diego city council member Chris Ward will officially kick off the Opening Night festivities on Thursday, June 7th.  Ideal Home serves as this year's inaugural movie and its a goodie.  Ant-Man himself, Paul Rudd, and British comedian Steve Coogan are hilarious as a bickering, longtime gay couple.  Their lives are turned upside down when a 10-year old boy shows up at their door claiming to be the elder partner's grandson.  Neither man is ready to give up their extravagant lifestyle to be parents but this initially nameless kid has a thing or two to teach them about the value of family.

Ideal Home, which will be making its West Coast premiere, was written and directed by Andrew Fleming.  Fleming previously made the underrated LGBT-interest movie Threesome as well as the cult classic horror film The Craft (which FilmOut will be hosting a special screening of in October).  Its great to see him back in fine, funny form with his latest gay-themed comedy.

Four of the films to be screened during the festival incorporate local topics and/or talent.  San Diego's Gay Bar History is a KPBS-funded and community-supported documentary that will be having its world premiere.  Preceding this documentary will be two short films, Deviant and Saltwater Baptism, directed by local filmmakers.  Finally, San Diego resident Patrick Zeller is the lead actor in another world premiere, Say Yes.  Writer-director Stewart Wade (Such Good People, Tru Loved) returns to FilmOut with Say Yes, in which a young woman diagnosed with cancer tries to play matchmaker between her soon-to-be widowed husband (Zeller) and her bisexual twin brother.  Terminal illness, mortality, compassion and sexual fluidity are all touched upon in this poignant and heartfelt drama. 

Rage Magazine is once again a proud sponsor of FilmOut as well as co-presenter of a major new documentary that will be shown on Friday, June 8th.  To A More Perfect Union: United States v Windsor tells a true story of love, marriage and the fight for equality.  This West Coast premiere chronicles two unlikely heroes, octogenarian Edie Windsor and her attorney Roberta Kaplan, on their quest for justice.  Beyond the story of what became the pivotal case in the marriage equality movement and the compelling personal, legal and political stories behind it, the documentary also chronicles our continued journey as a people, as a culture, and as citizens with the promise of equal rights.

Edie Windsor met Thea Spyer in 1963.  It was a time when "it was scary to be a lesbian," according to Windsor in the film.  The couple became engaged in 1967, symbolized by a circular pin of diamonds that each wore rather than rings.  It took 40 years but Edie and Thea finally married in Canada in 2007.  Sadly, Thea died just two years later of complications from multiple sclerosis.  Edie just passed away last year at the age of 88. To A More Perfect Union rehashes some material that has been covered in previous documentaries about the fight for marriage equality but, at just over an hour long, is more streamlined and succinct.  Edie is interviewed extensively, as are Rosie O'Donnell and other lesbian celebs.  Even if Edie's story is well-known to some, this film is a worthwhile addition to the LGBT canon. UPDATE: To A More Perfect Union will be released theatrically this Friday in multiple cities. Visit the film's official website for screenings in your area.

The fest's Closing Night film, Anything, has garnered a lot of buzz for its standout lead performance by out actor Matt Bomer.  He plays Freda, the transsexual neighbor to a kind, decent straight man grieving the recent death of his wife.  The simplicity of the pair's shared loneliness and growing affection must be reconciled with the complexity of their disparate backgrounds.  As non-judgmental as its Southern-born protagonist, Anything is a deceptively quiet love story and an all too timely parable on the pressing need to bridge barriers and find common ground.  Its screening will be followed by a sure to be fabulous Closing Night party.

Speaking of fabulous, children of the 1970's and 80's shouldn't miss The Fabulous Allan Carr.  Award-winning documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz (Vito, I Am Divine, Tab Hunter Confidential) turns his attention on the over-the-top antics of Carr, the gay producer of 1978's mega hit Grease.  Despite his best efforts, he was unable to duplicate that movie's success and instead produced such flops as Grease 2 and the camp classic Can't Stop the Music.  Carr redeemed his reputation somewhat by backing the Tony Award-winning La Cage aux Folles on Broadway only to sink it again a few years later when he produced the notoriously cheesy 1989 Academy Awards show. Schwarz's doc serves as a loving reassessment of the man. UPDATE: The Fabulous Allan Carr is now available to rent or purchase on Amazon.

Obviously, the 20th annual festival has plenty to offer our community.

The full FilmOut 2018 schedule is as follows:

Thursday, June 7th
7:00 PM: Ideal Home

Friday, June 8th
1:00 PM: Al Berto (2017)
3:15 PM: Mario
5:30 PM: To A More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor
7:00 PM: Golden Boy
9:30 PM: Devil’s Path

Saturday, June 9th
11:00 AM: Best of LGBT Shorts - Volume 1
1:15 PM: Say Yes
5:30 PM: The Fabulous Allan Carr
9:45 PM: M/M

Sunday, June 10th
11:00 AM: Best of LGBT Shorts - Volume 2
1:15 PM: San Diego’s Gay Bar History
7:15 PM: Anything (2017)

For additional festival info and to purchase tickets or passes, visit the FilmOut website.

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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Avengers Disassembled

With its string of blockbusters piling up on the list of all-time box office champions, it looks like superhero fatigue isn't much of a threat to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least not yet). And with the overwhelming success of Black Panther and the surprisingly deep characterization of the big bad in Avengers: Infinity War, plus the upcoming female-led Captain Marvel and hints of a long-awaited Black Widow solo outing, it appears that Marvel is (slowly but surely) addressing all of the biggest complaints against them from their first decade of existence, at least in regard to ethnic and gender diversity and its rogues gallery of underwhelming villains.

Granted, there's still the issues of convoluted plots (thank god this business with Infinity Stones is almost over), rushed storylines (the Sokovia Accords) and questionable motivations (the Sokovia Accords), not to mention the film division's snobbish disregard for the entire TV side of the MCU (by the by, forget those drama queen "defenders" on Netflix and tune in instead to the criminally underrated, recently renewed Agents of SHIELD on ABC, where the terrific ensemble of Phil Coulson and Co. are currently facing an apocalypse of their own). No, the biggest threat to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they just can't help cracking a few jokes.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a little "funny" in these "funny pages"-based movies, but that's the point: the jokes should be funny. Starting around the time boy scout Captain America chastised rich playboy Iron Man for his salty language in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the attempts at injecting humor into the superheroic fray began to become forced, often corny, and increasingly embarrassing. Just look at Doctor Strange playing straight man to a sentient cloak and try not to stop your eyes from rolling out of your head.

Nowhere is this increasing overreliance on humor more evident than in Thor: Ragnarok (now available on DVD and Blu-ray). Who knew the Norse God of Thunder was such a quipster? Yeah, Chris Hemwsorth (apparently more than willing to take on the mantle of "funny hunk" for the rest of his career) has always imbued his Thor with a healthy dose of self-aware humor, but he nearly OD's here. But then again, maybe he's overcompensating for losing his mighty hammer and golden locks to the baddies played by, respectively, Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum, each out-camping the other as the film (directed by Taika Waititi of What We Do in the Shadows cult fame) goes on. And then there's Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner, who here (and continuing in Infinity War) has been transformed into the Marvel version of (parent company) Disney's Absent-Minded Professor.

Even that overpraised overperformer Black Panther (available on DVD and Blu-ray today) isn't immune to these lame attempts at laughs, most cringingly with the silly "don't freeze"/"did he freeze"/"he froze" running gag. To superhero sagas in the way that Get Out was to horror flicks, Black Panther has been given a lot of extra credit for simply being a good genre offering that just so happens to have a black protagonist. Its real strength lies not in Chadwick Boseman's (let's face it, kinda dull) King T'Challa but his trifecta of Wakandan Woman Warriors™ played by The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o and Letitia Wright (not to mention Angela Bassett as a fierce Queen Mother). Black Panther did manage to illicit a few chortles out of me... of derision, that is... for its "wonder element" vibranium, an all-purpose substance that does all sorts of nifty things; no matter what the script dictates, have no fear, vibranium can fix it!

The saving grace for all three of these films is that once the plot starts rolling, the jokes peter out and the action amps up, giving us what we all want from a superhero movie: some kick-ass fight scenes. Infinity War does this best, with several climactic set pieces unfolding at roughly the same time (reminiscent of the final battle(s) in Return of the Jedi), and relatively seamlessly at that. Speaking of which, kudos must be given to directors Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for not only managing to bring all these characters together and (mostly) serving each one well, but also for keeping the huge scope of the movie from consuming itself; just take a look at Ready Player One to see how easily a massive clusterfuck can happen when you have a cast of pop culture thousands.

With the biggest feature film cliffhanger since The Empire Strikes Back (what, two Star Wars references? Wait, doesn't Disney own that too...?), it's not hard to look at Infinity War as incomplete, and ultimately irrelevant once the next Avengers flick comes out and un-dos < insert "tip-toe around the spoilers" here > (come on, it's been out for over two weeks now, go see it already!). But, unlike the three year wait for Empire, at least we only have to hold on for a year to find out how they do it, and hopefully without the use of a "screenwriting equivalent of a "Get Out of Jail Free card" like the Time Stone, or vibranium. Or too many jokes, for that matter.

Dearest Ratings:
Thor: Ragnarok: 6/10
Black Panther: 6/10
Avengers: Infinity War: 7/10

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Theatre on the Fringe


Long Beach, California's International City Theatre (ICT) has presented a number of bold, challenging plays throughout its 33-year history.  With Cardboard Piano, however, the company goes farther than I have known them to go during the 12 years I have been associated with them.  ICT is staging the West Coast premiere of Hansol Jung's powerful, lesbian-themed drama now through May 20th at the Beverly O'Neill Theater.

caryn desai, ICT's Artistic Director/Producer, caught the world premiere of Cardboard Piano at 2016's Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky.  She was deeply moved and felt immediately inspired to seek the rights to present it locally.  Although Jung is Korean, the playwright drew from Uganda's tortured political history for her latest work.

During the 1980's-1990's, more than half a million Ugandans were either killed or expelled from the county between four different, harsh presidential regimes.  A civil war raged in the country for 21 years.  The play opens in 1999, on the eve of the new millennium, and concludes 15 years later.  This provides a glimpse into conditions both during and after the civil war.

It is difficult to relate the plot of Cardboard Piano without revealing what might be considered spoilers by those who haven't seen it. As the play begins, a young American missionary in Uganda, Chris, is solemnizing her same-sex relationship with a local girl, Adiel.  The couple has prepared to flee Chris's disapproving parents and the troubled country right after their marriage ceremony.  Fate intervenes tragically via the arrival of Pika, a teenaged soldier.

Chris returns alone to Uganda in 2014 and the small church her father established there.  An unexpected reunion as well as a chance meeting with Adiel's gay cousin provides Chris with both challenge and hope as she tries to reconcile with her past.  As the play's author has observed, "Religion can do two opposite things: it can destroy, hurt, and be an instigator of violence, but it can also be the only thing capable of controlling that violence."  This is well-illustrated during the course of Cardboard Piano.

desai directs this provocative work with her usual clarity and compassion.  Scenic designer Yuri Okahana, working with ICT for the first time, has provided an impressive set for the action to take place.  Most impressive though is the four-member cast, two of whom play double roles.  I felt Allison Blaize lacked a little focus or commitment on opening night with her performance as Chris but this could have been due to nerves.  Dashawn "Dash" Barnes, JoJo Nwoko and Demetrius Eugene Hodges were excellent.  All four actors are to be commended for their willingness to take on this emotionally wrenching play.

While exiting the theater, I overheard another attendee say "Well, not every play can have a happy ending."  This is true but I believe Cardboard Piano has an open, ultimately hopeful ending.  Kudos to ICT for having the courage to mount this noteworthy premiere.

For tickets, call 562-436-4610 or visit the ICT website.  Use coupon code CENTER18 at checkout for a $10.00 discount on each ticket that will also benefit the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach.

Plenty of us LGBTQ folk feel like we’ve long lived on the fringes of society. The irony is that over time we’ve become cultural tastemakers, deciding which TV shows, movies, plays and musicals are truly worthy of attention.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community. Begun in 2010, this year’s dates are June 7th-24th. World-premiere plays, musicals, revivals and other theatrical events will infiltrate the Hollywood neighborhood. Fully-equipped theaters, parks, clubs, churches, restaurants and other unexpected places will host hundreds of productions by local, national, and international arts companies as well as independent performers.

Participation in the non-profit fest is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival’s mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points of view the world has to offer. Additionally, by creating an environment where artists must self-produce their work, the Fringe motivates its participants to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurialism in the arts.

The Fringe concept was incubated in Edinburgh, Scotland more than 70 years ago. In 1947, eight performance groups appeared uninvited on the “fringes” of the exclusive Edinburgh International Festival. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has since grown into the largest arts festival in the world with hundreds of artists, thousands of performances, and millions of patrons every summer. It annually grosses over $100 million for the local economy and remains the biggest tourist draw in the UK.

Fringe Festivals have since sprung up in dozens of cities around the world. Diversity in programming is strongly encouraged to provide a true festival atmosphere. This typically results in a number of projects with LGBTQ interests. 2018’s offerings will include:

  • The Importance of Being Oscar, which follows Oscar Wilde at the end of his life. Released from prison, he discusses love, loss, morality and lack thereof. A whimsical and heartbreaking tribute, laced with Wilde’s own words and wit.
  • The Actor’s Nightmare, by award-winning gay playwright Christopher Durang, is a one-act comedy exploring different styles of theatre (Shakespeare, Beckett, Coward) and how one man deals with being thrust onstage to perform without having seen his lines.
  • Expectations High, written by teens for teens (and anyone who has ever been a teen). Overheard humor, rumor, drama, trauma, bromance, romance and karma play out during passing periods in high school.
  • Snap Honey. Do you wanna get snapped? Grab a seat, get some tip money and enjoy female impersonator Vageena Honey as she tells the story of her rise to fame in a no-holds-barred diva style.
  • The Book That I’m Going to Write, by Judy Garland. Tasked with dictating her memoirs alone to a tape recorder, the legend's life story quickly gives way to the searing inner-rage and personal revenge fantasies of a woman left robbed and broken by decades of abuse in Hollywood, now living the profound heartbreak of not being heard.
  • A Pride of Queers. What does it mean to be queer? What is queer art? And how do we approach the truth, the vanity, and the stereotypes to find something new? Come and find out.
  • My Calico Soul, a theatrical journey about taking all the labels that get thrust upon us or even give to ourselves and fully embracing them, including bisexuality.
  • Cameron’s in Drag, an emotionally driven musical about adolescence and the difficulties of a young black teen being bullied as he struggles with gender identity, both at his private high school and at home with his widowed father.
  • The Craftlesque, a musical-burlesque parody of the cult classic horror film The Craft!
  • Salve Regina: A Coming of Gay Story. Born in Puerto Rico to an ultra-religious mother and a domineering father is not easy, especially when it’s likely you are a big Queen. Thank God for Madonna.
  • Lorelei: I'm Coming Out. Glitter, Grace, and Grindr… who says the life of a drag queen is easy?
  • Converted. Matt and Zeke get caught having sex at a gay conversion therapy camp in southern Ohio is just the beginning of this one-act comedy.
  • Sex and the Musical. A new parody musical, this prequel to Sex and the City answers the question of how our favorite ladies became friends.
  • Les Deux Remember This: The Musical. This juke box musical begins in 2006 where Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton go out to the famed club Les Deux and discover that their Bentley can time travel.
  • Marilyn Monroe: The Last Interview. Subtitled "The Raw Truth of a Hollywood Legend", this solo show is based on Marilyn's final interview for Life Magazine in 1962.
  • The Bitch is Back: An Elton John Cabaret. A musical journey through Elton John’s hits from the early 70’s to the late 80’s.
  • The Oz Monologues goes beyond the story you already know, exploring each of the beloved characters from The Wizard of Oz... with a poetic and irreverent modern take.

Who knows, some of these shows could go on to off-Broadway or even Broadway as previous Fringe offerings have done.  For more information about these performances and the festival, visit the HFF website.

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Newport Beach Film Fest 2018 is Larger than Life


Despite having one major LGBT offering pulled at the eleventh hour by its distributor, this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) will still spotlight several feature-length and short films of interest to our community. The 19th annual event will run April 26th through May 3rd at multiple venues in and around its renowned host city.

NBFF strives each year to bring to Orange County the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. It also provides an important forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities by showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films.

Among these are a number of productions with LGBTQ appeal, although this year’s final lineup had not been announced at press time. LGBTQ filmmakers participate as well as thousands of both LGBTQ and straight festival attendees.

One intended inclusion this year was The Game Is Up, a new documentary about LGBT professional athletes. It is inspiring and features several 2018 Olympians including out freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy. Unfortunately, distributor AT&T decided not to screen it at NBFF due to an altered release plan. The film is worth seeing though, whenever and wherever it does eventually show.

UPDATE: The Game Is Up has been retitled as Alone in the Game and will premiere on the AT&T Audience Network on June 28th. Watch the trailer here.

Another standout documentary that will be screened is Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story. Aucoin (pronounced Ah-kwan) revolutionized the art of makeup in the 1980's and 90's and would subsequently become an icon.

After his birth in 1962, Aucoin’s mother gave him up for adoption. He was taken in and raised by a loving family in Lafayette, Louisiana. As a kid, he continuously listened to Barbra Streisand and Cher albums, and was later spotlighted in his high school’s newspaper for his devotion to these divas. He is described in the film as “a tall and lanky club kid, dramatic and over-the-top.”

By the age of 11, Aucoin had committed himself to glamour and beauty, according to one of his friends at the time. Aucoin stated once he was an adult that he had been “a regular little boy who also liked some of the things girls did.” This paid off when he met a New York makeup artist by chance in the early 1980’s. “Months later, he was a pro beyond belief,” the artist who discovered Aucoin reports in the film.

Aucoin took a more naturalistic approach to makeup, and changed the style of the time as a result. “Meticulous,” “a painter” and “a natural with a twist” are a few of the descriptions applied to him in the film. He was also one of the first prominent, openly gay artists at the time and later prided himself on “working toward acceptance of diversity in this business.”

Following his initial work on models (including Paulina Porizkova and Christy Turlington, pictured above with Aucoin) and porn actresses, he began a highly successful career in New York City doing makeup for the covers of such big magazines as Vogue and Cosmopolitan. Aucoin worked on such beautiful and talented women as Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Cindy Crawford, Brooke Shields, Andie McDowell, Liza Minnelli, the late Whitney Houston, and his childhood fave, Cher. As one of them comments, “He was addicted to making us beautiful.”Cher is interviewed in the documentary about her admiration for the late artist.

Sadly, Aucoin was diagnosed with a rare pituitary condition that caused some parts of his body, including his hands and skull, to grow larger than normal. This became more painful over time and he became addicted to Vicodin and other pain medications. Word of his addiction spread through the industry and ended his career. Aucoin died in 2002 at the age of 40 as a result of his drug abuse.

Directed by Tiffany Bartok, Larger Than Life is a comprehensive, intimate look at Aucoin’s short-lived but impressive time on Earth. His legend as both a makeup artist and a pioneer in the fight for LGBT rights lives on. Not even Aucoin’s untimely death could stop the revolution he helped to launch. As no less a luminary than Cher states in the documentary, “He inspired so many people.”

NBFF 2018 will also present an LGBTQ short films program entitled “Short, Sweet & Queer.” The lineup includes the following: 
  • Alex and the Handyman, in which a 9-year old boy develops a crush on the moody 25-year old guy who works in his family’s mansion.
  • Broad Strokes, about two gay, platonic friends who contemplate marrying each other and raising a family when they fail to find their significant others.
  • Disforia finds a young, gender-queer person returning home after an absence to discover his family has moved away and their house has been sold.
  • Jordy in Transitland, a modern fairy tale about a trans woman on the brink of her physical transition who finds it more challenging than anticipated.
  • Manivald, an animated exploration of the title character’s harmonious life being disrupted by the arrival of a hot young plumber.
  • Suitable, which features a young, ethnically diverse cast in a story of gender politics.
  • Swim, the award-winning look at a young trans girl who finds freedom taking a secret midnight swim.

Individual tickets and festival passes are now on sale. They may be purchased by visiting the NBFF website or calling 949-253-2880.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Three Toons and a Baby

No wonder Coco won.

Quick takes on some popular animated movies now streaming and/or on home video.

It's odd to see a family flick centered around the "sport" of bullfighting in this day and age, but here it is. Nevertheless, this modern adaptation of the kid lit classic (previously made by Disney as an Oscar-winning cartoon in 1938) is silly fun and sometimes clever (our hero visits the proverbial china shop), although one has to question the casting of wrestling stud John Cena in the title role... who casts John Cena for his voice? One can only imagine the queer lunacy a Nathan Lane could have brought to the part of a flower-loving pacifist. (6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Um... is he pointing at his nipples?

The Breadwinner:
This Afghani version of Mulan from Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon begins with the young protagonist witnessing her mother being brutally beaten in the street. Yikes... I don't normally have issues with mature themes in animation, but I do when the characters resemble the cute little sprites from The Secret of Kells. Parents beware. (5/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

Don't trust this face.

Cars 3:
Hey Pixar, are you finally done with this worn-out, over-exposed franchise? Now that I've got that out of my system, this third Cars feature isn't too bad, especially since the focus has shifted back to Lightning McQueen (after the wall-to-wall Mater of Cars 2), even if he is saddled with a downer storyline about facing that final pit stop... uh, retirement? Yep, I think they're done. (6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Glengarry Glen Gerber

The Boss Baby:
In a field that has included the sad likes of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Shark Tale, The Boss Baby can now easily claim the title of the worst movie to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Crammed to the breaking point with everything that makes today's average animated fare so bad — such sloppy, lazy tropes as stunt voice casting (Alec Baldwin! As a baby!), a soundtrack-ful of tired pop songs, plenty of poop/fart/burp/booger jokes — this Boss Baby deserves a permanent time out. (2/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Totally Awesome Visions, New & Old


I have emerged from my longer-than-anticipated, post-awards season recovery coma.  Somewhat similarly, Steven Spielberg has just premiered his first post-The Post movie, Ready Player One. It proves to be an awesome, just plain fun return to the über-director's 1980's heyday before he got all serious and stuffy with 1993's Oscar-winning Schindler's List.  Despite a couple of exceptions, Spielberg has been making serious films ever since including Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Munich, Bridge of Spies and last year's The Post.

Ready Player One barely has a serious bone in its body, and the movie is totally successful as a result.  It is also dripping with nostalgia for all things 1980's-early 90's.  The time travel-augmented Delorean from Back to the Future is prominently featured, as are Spock's burial capsule from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, incantations from John Boorman's Arthurian epic Excalibur, and a rampaging T-Rex from Spielberg's own Jurassic Park.  Twisted Sister's rowdy "We're Not Gonna Take It" plays over the film's climactic battle scene.  Had Ready Player One actually been made in the 80's, Corey Haim no doubt would have played hero Wade Watts (a.k.a. Parzival) instead of current headliner Tye Sheridan, while Peter Coyote would be cast as big baddie Nolan Sorrento instead of new villain du jour Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Animal Kingdom).

Set in the year 2045 and a predictably dystopian, post-Trump Ohio, Spielberg's terrific sci-fi adventure showcases Wade's efforts to solve three virtual reality riddles created by the late James Halliday (a great performance by the director's current muse, Mark Rylance, in a fright wig and age-defying CGI).  Whoever solves these puzzles by the Willy Wonka-ish video game designer will win a priceless "Easter egg" including ownership of Halliday's entire online universe, known as the OASIS.

Naturally, anything priceless is going to attract not only well-intentioned folks like Wade but money-grubbing, megalomaniacal people such as Sorrento, who turns out to have been Halliday's former personal assistant. Sorrento lords over a staff of hundreds whose only job is to play the OASIS's games and get the all-powerful Easter egg. A big part of the fun in watching the visually dazzling Ready Player One for anyone over 40 is looking for the many mini "Easter eggs" that play brief background roles.  Appropriately enough, my friends and I saw the movie on Easter Sunday.  It was definitely less messy than dying actual eggs.

The movie's best sequence is set in the Overlook Hotel, haunted setting of Stephen King's horror novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation.  I haven't read the book Ready Player One but I've read that this Shining sequence replaced a lengthy literary homage to Blade Runner. It includes appearances by the scary twin girls and an expanded part for the bathtub-dwelling ghost in infamous room 237.

In the end, Ready Player One incorporates the best elements of Spielberg's 80's oeuvre: heroic young people, awe-inspiring special effects, abundant humor, and an emotionally uplifting finale. Older viewers may have difficulty with all the fast-moving video game CGI on display but will still likely enjoy this thrill ride of a film.

Classic cinema meets modern media in two stunning new Blu-ray releases from the lovingly curated Criterion Collection.  Turning back the clock 90 years, we find Carl Theodore Dreyer's famed religious pageant The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Inspirational in the best sense, it draws from actual court documents of the time to recount the trial, sentencing and execution of the female French soldier who would eventually become one of the Catholic Church's most renowned saints.

Renee Falconetti gives an unforgettable, screen-searing performance in the title role.  Dreyer required Falconetti and the rest of his cast to forego makeup in order to heighten the film's Middle Ages authenticity.  Rudolph Mate's innovative black and white photography, heavy on extreme closeups and odd angles, has inspired generations of cinematographers.

The Blu-ray of The Passion of Joan of Arc boasts numerous extras of historical interest as well as three different music scores by which to watch it.  One is Richard Einhorn's acclaimed oratorio "Voices of Light," which accompanied the film's 1995 release on VHS.  While this is the best regarded option, I enjoyed/appreciated the more recent, percussion-heavy score co-composed by rockers Will Gregory of Goldfrapp and Adrian Utley of Portishead.  The third musical option by Japanese pianist Mie Yanashita is lovely and reflective.  This universally-recognized classic is worth watching with all three scores as well as in its original silent mode.

Fast-forwarding to 1968 is Criterion's spotless, newly restored release of George A. Romero's revolutionary Night of the Living Dead.  The late director's famously low-budget horror hit set the template for all subsequent depictions of zombie uprisings, including today's Walking Dead franchise.  But the film may strike many as more significant or timely than ever due to its not-so-subtle commentary on race relations in the US.  Watching it now as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination makes this movie that much more relevant.

Largely set in a Pennsylvania farmhouse and its surrounding countryside, the movie depicts uneasy relations among a group of white strangers who have taken refuge from a siege by flesh-hungry undead.  The appearance of a black man (Ben, memorably played by Duane Jones) who is easily the smartest and strongest of them all only serves to heighten tensions.  In the end, the black hero survives only to be killed by a sheriff's posse that shoots without even determining if he is a zombie.

The original theatrical release of Night of the Living Dead at the height of the Civil Rights Movement was an unintended but providential occurrence that has helped to make the movie a cross-generational, multi-ethnic phenomenon for five decades now.  Sure, the actors' performances are amateurish at times and I noticed upon re-viewing it that some of the sound editing is off, especially during a fistfight scene.  These are minor criticisms though when held up against this movie's enduring cultural impact.  A new documentary about this, Light in the Darkness, is included as a bonus and features new Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro among its commentators. Awesome indeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
Ready Player One: A-
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): A
Night of the Living Dead (1968): A-

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MD Top 10: Will & Grace Guest Stars Who Need to Return

In its heyday, Will & Grace had so many guest stars it was practically The Love Boat (with Jack, Your Cruise Director). These guest spots ranged from hilarious (Matt Damon as a straight guy who just wants to sing) and iconic (Cher, naturally) to misfires (Ellen DeGeneres as a nun?) and outright bombs (Madonna or Britney, take your pick).

Since its return last fall, the classic sitcom has continued its guest star tradition with both new and returning celebs, including Grace and Will's ex-loves (Harry Connick, Jr. as Leo Markus, Bobby Cannavale as Vince D'Angelo), a couple of Karen's many nemeses (Minnie Driver as Lorraine Finster, Leslie Jordan as Beverly Leslie), recurring faves Nurse Sheila (Laura Kightlinger) and Val Bassett (Molly Shannon) and, coming soon, Blythe Danner as Will's mom Marilyn and Alec Baldwin as the mysterious Malcolm Widmark.

Of course, we'd love to see even more blasts from the past, and now that Will & Grace has been renewed for yet another season already they'll have plenty of opportunities to bring back some of our old favorites, such as...

(In alphabetical order, click on character name for a video clip.)

1. Candice Bergen as Candice Bergen

The multiple Emmy winner (or is it People's Choice Awards?) can warm up for the pending return of Murphy Brown by sparring with Karen yet again; imagine their debate about the pros and cons of a certain commander-in-chief.

2. Sandra Bernhard as Sandra Bernhard

Picture it: Will and Grace once again cross paths with the comedienne (who will also be in the upcoming Roseanne revival) and, since Sandra doesn't remember them, they become pals again... until Grace breaks out in song.

3. Veronica Cartwright as Judith McFarland

Jack has already mentioned his loving but clueless mother ("What is she, headless?") in the current season, a perfect set up to bring her back for a long-awaited second appearance. How about a dinner party with Marilyn?

4. Cher as Cher

Dear NBC: Just. Make it. Happen. Signed: The Grateful Gays of the World.

5. Michael Douglas as Gavin Hatch

Connect the dots... Gavin was a closeted cop who took a shine to Will. Jack's current boyfriend is a cop just out of the closet. How about a blind double date? Woof!

6. Christine Ebersole as Candy Pruitt

Candy was one of Karen's many high society rivals, the one with a penchant for plastic surgery. Imagine her now in the age of Botox.

7. Woody Harrelson as Nathan

Leo who? We always thought Nathan was the true love of Grace's life, and his bohemian vibe played well off of the straight(ahem)-laced Will. So how about a round two?

8. Dan Futterman as Barry

Don't you want to see where Barry is at now? Karen's cousin, who was Eliza Dolittle-d into a handsome head-turner by Will and Jack, has been out for awhile now... time enough surely to give Will a second chance.

9. Parker Posey as Dorleen

What a hoot it would be to see Posey (who'll play a gender-swapped Dr. Smith in Netflix's Lost in Space reboot) yet again as Dorleen, Jack's high-strung supervisor during his all-to-brief stint at Barney's.

10. Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Ro D'Angelo

Let's face it: Will & Grace was never too kind to lesbians during its original run (remember the cringe-inducing couple played by Edie Falco and Chloë Sevigny? Yikes). They can make up for it now with an encore appearance of Vince's sister Ro, who Jack convinced to come out to her family that one memorable Thanksgiving.

There are just two episodes left of Will & Grace this season, so you'll know where to find me the next two Thursday nights...!