Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

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

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


Aquaman


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:


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dearest Reviews: An Odd Couple


 

The latest from the brilliant auteurs behind such cinematic quirkfests as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Moonrise Kingdom and Shortbus:


Isle of Dogs:
Outside of Tim Burton, no other filmmaker working today has such a unique visual style as Wes Anderson, who returns to the medium of animation (specifically stop-motion animation) nine years after his fantastic Fantastic Mr. Fox. This time it's an original story (boy, is it), an odd yet endearing dystopian adventure yarn about a boy in search of his devoted dog, who was shipped off to the titular location when all canines are banned following an outbreak of a mysterious disease. In addition to creating a world only-just-slightly askew from our own, Anderson imbues it with a sly, deader-than-deadpan humor, perfectly delivered dryer-than-dryly by an all-star cast (including Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton), gamely voicing a motley crew of mutts and mongrels. Unrestrained by physical limitations, Anderson really blossoms with animation, and the results, while maybe not for everyone, are eminently more watchable and far more entertaining than most other studio-funded toon features of late.
(8/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


How to Talk to Girls at Parties:
First, let's get one thing out of the way: that teen movie-ish title is stupid and misleading and hardly has anything to do with the plot, so don't let that deter you from checking out this quirky charmer from director/co-writer John Cameron Mitchell, which is ultimately more Rocky Horror Picture Show than American Pie. Loosely based on a Neil Gaiman short story, this sci-fi punk romcom takes you to a 70s-era London where the young misfit Enn (Alex Sharp) and his mates stumble into, well, an alien orgy, where he meets Zan (a fearless Elle Fanning), a comely visitor from another planet who is fed up with her group's cult-like ways (and its impending deadly rite of passage). Mitchell's film isn't quite as hip as it clearly wants to be, but any movie that features color-coded rubber costumes designed by Sandy Powell, an unexpected bisexual threesome and Nicole Kidman as a cockney has-been punk goddess is worth checking out in my book.
(7/10) Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: There Is Nothing Like a Dame



Who wouldn't want to sit down for a drink with British acting legends Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins? Well, you have your chance with the delightful, intimate Tea with the Dames, opening this weekend in NYC and next Friday in Los Angeles. And let me just say that they don't only drink tea!


This insightful documentary by Roger Michell (best known for the narrative films Notting Hill, Venus and My Cousin Rachel) is the next best thing to being in the same room with these celebrated women of stage and screen. All four have been honored by Queen Elizabeth II for their memorable contributions to the arts, hence their "dames" status. While they have grown elderly, three members of this distinguished quartet continue to work regularly. Sadly, Plowright has more recently gone blind, which prompts Dench at one point to comment hilariously "We have three eyes between the four of us."

Gathered together at Plowright's comfortably elegant country home (which she shared with her late husband, Sir Laurence Olivier), they all share anecdotes about their past performances, marriages, and other achievements. Children are frequently mentioned as another significant accomplishment, especially by Dame Maggie. True to form, though, Smith humorously disses her Downton Abbey wardrobe, her stage debut playing a Chinese boy(!), and this doc's sometimes intrusive cameraman. It's also great to watch Smith and Dench, who first met at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival way back in 1958, repeatedly crack each other up.


All four offer interesting recollections and bits of advice. "Listen more," Atkins would instruct her younger self. "When in doubt, don't," Smith wisely recommends. For Plowright, exploring "the difference between actual truth and illusion" has become paramount. They also all reflect on not being considered "conventionally pretty" at the start of their careers and how irrelevant that ultimately proved to be.

Tea with the Dreams provides a truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience (at least until it comes out on home video/streaming) and I'm so glad Michell was inspired to gather these spectacular talents together. As the Queen herself would surely proclaim: "Miss this film at your peril!"

The Oscar-nominated, American actor Montgomery Clift might have bristled at being referred to as a "dame," but he likely would have preferred it to some of the other terms with which he was described before and/or after his premature death in 1966 at the age of 45. Clift was criticized as "a gay tragedy," "self-destructive" and "a beautiful loser," the last also serving as the title of a proposed biopic about this unquestionably talented, sensitive yet troubled man. He made his film debut in the 1948 western Red River, prompting co-star John Wayne to call him "an arrogant little bastard."


Making Montgomery Clift, a uniquely intimate exploration of his life and work, will be having its world premiere this Sunday, September 23rd, at the LA Film Festival. Directed and photographed by Monty's nephew, Robert Clift, it incorporates excerpts from the voluminous recordings of phone conversations preserved by the actor as well as his late brother, Brooks (Robert's father).

Monty proved to be a pioneer in several ways. While he didn't apparently shirk at being thought of as gay, he was actually bisexual and had relationships with women (including Elizabeth Taylor) as well as men. He refused to be put under contract to a particular studio, making Clift one of the first true "free agents" in Hollywood. And while he was often lumped in with the method actors of his generation, Clift himself was publicly critical of "the method" that made stars of several of his contemporaries including Marlon Brando.


All of these facts are illustrated in this illuminating documentary. Despite the mysterious conditions surrounding his death, Monty declared "I have a rather large capacity for life." Robert Clift doesn't resolve all these conundrums, with the role of the late Lorenzo James (Monty's black male "nurse" his last few years) one of the more perplexing. James' voice is heard in the film but he refused to be interviewed or appear on camera. Another lingering question after watching Making Montgomery Clift is whether or not Monty was actually having an on-camera nervous breakdown in the Oscar-winning movie Judgment at Nuremberg.

Although Robert Clift never met his famous uncle, he does his best here to clear Monty of decades of untruths and false allegations. Montgomery Clift's fans as well as fans of classic Hollywood will surely find this doc fascinating.

Reverend's Ratings:
Tea with the Dames: A
Making Montgomery Clift: A-

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Super Heroes to Be Honored at Vanguard Awards



Four real-life superheroes will be honored at the Los Angeles LGBT Center's 49th annual gala Vanguard Awards on Saturday, September 22nd.  The event will take place at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.


The members of this extraordinary quartet are Grammy-winning singer, philanthropist and actor Ricky Martin; film and television producer, writer and director Greg Berlanti; Robbie Rogers, accomplished athlete and producer (as well as Berlanti's husband); and philanthropist Ariadne Getty. Previous honorees include Miley Cyrus, Jane Fonda, Elton John, George & Brad Takei, Neil Patrick Harris & David Burtka, Jesse Tyler Ferguson & Justin Mikita, Wanda Sykes and Lily Tomlin.

One of the nation’s premier LGBT charity events, the Vanguard Awards brings together more than 1,200 of the region’s most important leaders and influencers in the civic, corporate, entertainment, and philanthropic communities to celebrate this year’s inspirational honorees for their unwavering support of the LGBT community and their dedication to creating positive change in the world.  Guests enjoy cocktails, dinner and entertainment along with a not-to-be-missed silent auction.

“Our honorees fully embody strength, compassion, and resilience. They set the stage for what will be an amazing and inspiring evening,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean.  “At a time when threats to the well-being of the LGBT community happen almost daily, this event will be a celebration of our collective humanity and commitment to building a world where LGBT people thrive.”


Recently nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the FX Drama Series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Ricky Martin needs little introduction.  He continues to soar in his third decade as a leader in the entertainment industry.  Since his first solo album release in 1991, Martin has appreciated a worldwide fan base, sold over 70 million records, and has won multiple Grammy awards.  In 2004, he founded The Ricky Martin Foundation, an organization dedicated to denouncing and exposing global human trafficking that enslaves approximately 30 million people.  After the catastrophic Hurricanes Irma and Maria of Puerto Rico in 2017, Martin was compelled to start an initiative to revive his homeland.  The Ricky Martin Foundation organized the Puerto Rico Relief Fund, which has raised almost $5 million to date.

Ariadne Getty is a lifelong philanthropist dedicated to serving disenfranchised populations.  She is the President and Executive Director of the Ariadne Getty Foundation, which since 2004 has partnered with non-profit organizations worldwide to improve the lives of individuals and communities through large-scale investments and social activism.  In addition to financial contributions, Ariadne donates her time and energy to causes she supports.  As a member of GLAAD’s Board of Directors since 2016, she works tirelessly to inspire and motivate others to better understand and accept the LGBTQ community.


Golden Globe-nominated writer, director and producer Greg Berlanti is the force behind several of the most inventive and acclaimed works in film and television, including multiple interpretations of classic DC Comics superheroes.  He is best known for his work as executive producer and co-creator of The CW’s Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Riverdale and Supergirl.  Berlanti's numerous upcoming television projects include Lifetime’s straight-to-series thriller You; the live action versions of DC Entertainment’s Titans and Doom Patrol; The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina for Netflix; God Friended Me and The Red Line for CBS; and the recently announced Batwoman series for The CW.  Berlanti will soon make television history with a total of 14 scripted series on the air at the same time.  His most recent feature-film directorial project is this year's critically-acclaimed gay romance Love, Simon.

Berlanti's husband since 2017 is television producer and former professional soccer player Robbie Rogers.  He is best known as the first openly-gay male athlete to compete in a top North American professional sports league.  Internationally, Rogers represented the US Olympic Team in Beijing in 2008.  He published his memoir, Coming Out to Play, in 2014 and was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.  As an LGBT advocate, Rogers currently works closely with charities such as GLSEN, championing LGBT issues in K-12 Education, and serves as an Ambassador for The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative.  He and Berlanti will co-produce the upcoming TV series All American, to debut on The CW in October, 2018.


Together, Rogers and Berlanti are the proud parents of a 2-year old son, Caleb. We love being married and being dads," the couple replied when they recently took time out of their very busy schedules to answer a few questions. "Caleb reminds us every day how much we love him. Watching him grow up has been special for us both and one of the greatest things about our wedding was having him there to be a part of the festivities."

I asked them what the Vanguard Award means to them, individually and as a couple. "First and foremost, we are both honored to be in such good company; many of the past individuals who have received this honor are inspirations to us both," they replied. "Secondly, the LGBT Center holds such an important and special place in our hearts and we are so grateful to everyone who works so tirelessly to support this important organization."

Berlanti and Rogers are looking forward to their first TV co-production, which will be premiering this fall. Gay viewers will likely find much to appreciate in it, especially since Berlanti's other series prominently feature LGBT characters. "We both individually try to make our shows as diverse as possible," they said, "and we feel extremely lucky to be working together on new projects such as The CW’s All American, which tackles many aspects of self-identity and love."

Since 1969, the Los Angeles LGBT Center has cared for, championed and celebrated LGBT individuals and families in Los Angeles and beyond. The Center's nearly 700 employees today provide services for more LGBT people than any other organization in the world.

Tickets for the September 22nd event are now on sale here. For the latest news and information, follow @lalgbtcenter on social media and join the conversation using #VanguardAwards.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Everyone’s a Friend at QFilms 2018


 

A friendship that lasts 25 years or more is a treasure, and so is a 25-year old LGBTQ film festival. Long Beach’s QFilm Festival has been drawing friends new and old to its tantalizing annual line up of great LGBTQ movies since 1993. The 25th anniversary, 2018 event will take place September 6th-9th at the historic Art Theatre located at 2025 East 4th St. and the neighboring LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, both on Long Beach’s renowned “Retro Row.”


Qfilms remains Long Beach’s longest-running film festival. It annually presents narrative features, documentaries and short films that embody the rich diversity and experiences of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. More than 1,500 people attend each year to savor a mix of West Coast, Southern California and local premieres as well some of the most acclaimed features on the film festival circuit. Numerous filmmakers and cast members of the films to be shown will be present for audience discussions after many screenings. Festival events include nightly parties, Sunday brunch, and opportunities for attendees to meet and mingle with filmmakers, actors, critics, and other industry professionals.


The 2018 QFilm Festival will open at the Art Theatre the evening of Thursday, September 6th with the Long Beach premiere of The Advocate Celebrates 50 Years: A Long Road to Freedom. This acclaimed documentary about the pioneering LGBT publication is narrated by Laverne Cox and features music by Melissa Etheridge. It will be preceded and followed by an Opening Night party for all pass- and ticket-holders at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, located directly next door to the Art Theatre.

Two engaging, biographical feature films will have their local premieres the night of Friday, September 7th. Wild Nights with Emily is an irreverent exploration of the famous poet Emily Dickinson, brought to vivid lesbian life by the hilarious Molly Shannon. It will be followed by Mapplethorpe, the eye-opening and sexy life story of controversial gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (well-played by British actor Matt Smith of Dr. Who and The Crown fame). A festive party for all attendees will take place between screenings at The Center.


Friendship is the potent subject of two memorable men’s features that will be making their Southern California premieres during Qfilms 2018. Mi Mejor Amigo (My Best Friend) is an award-winning coming of age tale from Argentina. Lorenzo is a quiet teenager who lives with his parents and younger brother. One day, a family friend’s son named Caito moves into Lorenzo’s home. Lorenzo soon finds himself with an unexpected secret to keep, added responsibility, and an intimate friend who will expose him to new life experiences.

Just Friends(Gewoon Vrienden) (Southern California premiere) is a delightfully off-kilter love story between two young men from very different backgrounds. Unfortunately, the idiosyncrasies of their parents threaten to keep them apart. When we first meet handsome medical student Yad, he has quit his hard-partying life in Amsterdam and moved home to a smaller Dutch city to live with his Middle Eastern mother and father. To their dismay, he settles for a temporary job in domestic care, working for a bubbly elderly woman named Ans. Like a mischievous Cupid, Ans slyly introduces Yad to her dashing and sexy grandson Joris. Their connection is immediate but Joris is dealing with his own set of family problems, including an overbearing mother who is addicted to plastic surgery and who has never fully dealt with the messy end of her marriage to Joris’ late father. Don’t miss Just Friends and Mi Mejor Amigo, and bring your friends/amigos!


Several other strong narrative and documentary features will screen on Saturday, September 8th and Sunday, September 9th. These include Kiss Me! (West Coast premiere), a French comedy in which a lesbian serial romantic crushes on her new obsession; Man Made (Long Beach premiere), a fascinating, award-winning documentary focusing on transgender bodybuilders; Transmilitary (Long Beach premiere), another award-winning documentary about trans service members who challenged the Pentagon; The Heiresses (Southern California premiere), the subtle but intense story of two Paraguayan women from wealthy families who risk all to be together; Shakedown (Long Beach premiere), a skillfully-crafted glimpse into the history of Los Angeles’ African-American lesbian club scene; and Every Act of Life (Long Beach premiere), an inspiring look at the life of out Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally.

In addition, QFilms 2018 will boast several extraordinary short film programs between Saturday and Sunday including "Men in Briefs", "Women in Shorts", and "Queer & Trans Shorts". The shorts lineup will include the Finding Home series featuring three stories of LGBTQ asylum seekers seeking refuge throughout Los Angeles. Jury and Audience awards will be given to worthy feature and short films in a number of categories.

All net proceeds from Qfilms and related events benefit The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and its numerous, important community outreach programs. For more information, visit the QFilms website.

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Dearest Reviews: That Was Then, This Is Now


 

Gay cinema, then and now.


Buddies:
Long before Philadelphia (not to mention Longtime Companion, Parting Glances and even An Early Frost) there was Buddies, the 1985 independent drama that was the first narrative film about AIDS. If you've never heard of it, let alone seen it, that's probably because it has never been released on home video in any format... until now. Thanks to a company called "Vinegar Syndrome", this forgotten classic has been restored and is now available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack no less (perhaps you'll want to give the extra disc to your own "buddy").

Written and directed by Arthur J. Bressen Jr. (an early gay porn auteur of the "arty" variety), Buddies follows a by-now familiar formula (most recently seen in last year's BPM: Beats Per Minute) of pairing a sympathetic yet naïve young gay with a slightly older, slightly wiser/jaded gay man living with AIDS. David (David Schachter), a volunteer from the local gay center, has been assigned as a "buddy" to Robert (Geoff Edholm), who has been basically abandoned by everyone in his life and is now wasting away, alone, in a hospital bed. Initially antipathetic, their relationship evolves into a deep, even intimate, friendship, although David (and we, the audience) know how this will all end.

A buddy picture

Even restored, there is no hiding the fact that Buddies is a product of its time. The 80s were a watershed period for American indie film in general and early queer cinema in particular, and truly independent examples from this era all have that scrappy "do it yourself" feel to them, as Buddies certainly does. The dialogue can be a tad too theatrical and the acting a bit unpolished at times, and certain technical aspects leave a lot to be desired (let's just say that the set decorator latched on to the fact that David is a typesetter and ran with it... into the ground).

Yet despite its short-comings, Buddies does deliver dramatically, and the film's emotional coda packs a particularly powerful punch. A lot of Buddies feels familiar, but one must remember that it did it first, and now, finally, we are all able to see it. (8/10)


Love, Simon
At the time of Buddies, one would never have imagined a gay teen romcom, let alone a gay teen romcom distributed by a major Hollywood studio and advertised as a gay teen romcom on prime time network television. Oh, and also be a box office hit. But this is 2018, and there's a lot of things we never could have imagined thirtysomething years ago.

The gay teen romcom in question is Love, Simon (directed by Greg Berlanti, of Broken Hearts Club and 3/4ths of all superhero shows on TV right now fame), now available on DVD and Blu-ray. Simon Spier (a winning Nick Robinson) seems to have the perfect life. Loving parents (played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel)? Check. A close knit group of supportive friends? Check. A girlfriend? Yeah, about that... See, Simon also has a secret: he's gay. So when another closeted gay student at his high school anonymously posts an online confessional, a curious Simon begins an email correspondence with this mystery boy he only knows as "Blue".

The kids in the hall

Things get complicated though when, as he is developing feelings for his digital pen pal/potential boyfriend, yet another student (Martin) sees Simon's messages to Blue and blackmails Simon into setting him up with one of his besties (Abby). (Theater Nerd Rant: Simon does this by setting up Martin and Abby on a "date" to practice their lines for the school musical, which is Cabaret, wherein Martin plays the Emcee and Abby plays Sally Bowles. This is, of course, bullshit because the Emcee doesn't have any dialogue outside of introducing the musical numbers. End of Theater Nerd Rant.)

Simon spends the bulk of the film (which is based on Becky Albertalli's YA novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; thank god they changed the title) in crisis mode, trying to suss out the true identity of his little boy Blue while simultaneously scrambling to keep his secret a secret, screwing up most of his other relationships in the process. Does it all work itself out, culminating with a swoony romantic clinch at the top of a Ferris wheel at the school carnival? Well yeah, of course it does, but considering all the times we've seen straight characters in the same scenario, it's nice to finally see not just a "happy ending" for this charming crowd pleaser, but a "Hollywood happy ending". (7/10)

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Big Gay Summer Roundup


 

Reverend spent most of his summer re-locating from fire-ridden California to decidedly moister New England.  The excessive moving effort involved prevented me from writing any reviews for the last month or so.  I'm happy to be back with my round up of several new gay-interest releases either in theaters now, available via streaming/home video, or on the festival circuit.


The most celebrated among them are We the Animals and The Cakemaker, both playing theatrically in select cities.  The first is hot off its Jury Award win for Best Narrative Feature at Outfest last month and its director, Jeremiah Zagar, also won the Innovator Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival.  This look at a young gay boy's upbringing within a troubled family, adapted from Justin Torres' novel, didn't wow me as it has others.  Zagar handles the material sensitively as well as with a documentarian's eye for detail (this is his first narrative film after a number of documentaries).  He also employs some striking drawn/animated sequences.  Looking's Raul Castillo impresses in his role as the boy's father.  However, the unflinching depiction of often abusive family dynamics is disturbing and presented too non-critically.  It is ultimately difficult to sympathize with anyone, including the central gay character.


I was somewhat similarly underwhelmed by The Cakemaker, which was initially released earlier this summer to capitalize on the US Supreme Court case involving a Colorado baker who refused to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple on religious grounds.  The court disappointed many by siding with the baker.

In this Israeli-German co-production, the gay male character of the title falls in love with a closeted businessman.  They cross paths when the businessman, Oren, stops into the Berlin pastry shop where Thomas works.  The pair undertake a secret affair but it comes to an unexpected end when Oren is killed in an accident.  Thomas subsequently goes to Jerusalem and ingratiates himself with Oren's wife and young son.  It isn't long though before local friends become suspicious of Thomas and the nature of his relationship with the late Oren.  There are a number of moving moments and fine performances in writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer's film but it suffers from some clichéd, dated elements.


A fresher story now making the LGBT film fest rounds is Cuernavaca, from writer-director Alejandro Andrade.  Like We the Animals, it also focuses on a gay boy's coming of age within the confines of his dysfunctional family after his mother dies suddenly.  Since his father is in jail, Andy is sent to live with his strict grandmother (played by fabulous Almodovar regular Carmen Maura) at her rural estate.  Things seem grim until Andy falls for his grandmother's hunky, frequently shirtless gardener, Charly.  Charly takes Andy under his wing, serving as both father figure and sexual fantasy.  Over time, Charly's own issues throw a wrench into things between them but their relationship still emerges as the most authentic and loving in the film.  Andrade indulges in a couple of excesses, namely ants and kittens, but this is an engrossing, beautifully shot (by Fernando Reyes Allendes) and hopeful tale.  Watch for it.

Another must-see is the award-winning documentary Hot to Trot.  It is scheduled for theatrical release in NYC and other major cities beginning August 24th.  Shot over four years, it explores the little-known world of same-sex ballroom dance competitions.  Since same-sex couples are currently forbidden to participate in mainstream events, a number of competitions have popped up around the world so male-male and female-female dance pairs can compete.  As one observer states in the doc, "Its Fred and Fred (Astaire) and Ginger and Ginger (Rogers)!"


Director Gail Freedman focuses on two couples who have consistently won multiple expositions.  Ernesto Palma and Robbie Tristan bluntly describe their choreographic relationship as "a marriage without the fucking."  After several successful years together, they are sidelined when Robbie is diagnosed with a brain tumor and returns to his native Hungary for treatment.  While his tumor proves benign, Ernesto necessarily moves on with a Russian-born substitute, Nikolai.

Emily Coles and Kieren Jameson, meanwhile, are the ladies on pointe.  Their longtime dance partnership has endured despite significant personal challenges: Emily has Type 1 diabetes while Kieren battles depression and anxiety.  The film shows how their relationship evolves over time as well as their more personal partnerships.  It also reveals the great camaraderie and mutual respect inherent among the dancers.  The last 30 minutes of Hot to Trot features dazzling dancing and cinematography.  Sashay to wherever the doc is playing ASAP.


For sheer camp value, check out the early summer hit Book Club, now available on digital and out on Blu-ray/DVD on August 28th.  A quartet of fine, mature actresses -- Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen -- were assembled for this silly crowd-pleaser.  The women are longtime members of a book discussion group.  Steenburgen's character is married (to "Mr. Incredible" himself, Craig T. Nelson) but is as unhappy as her single or widowed friends.

Fonda selects Fifty Shades of Grey as their next novel to read and discuss, hoping its bondage storyline will inspire them all to pursue more satisfying sexual and/or romantic relationships.  They succeed in doing so with the likes of Andy Garcia, Don Johnson (looking especially good) and Richard Dreyfuss.  Its all predictable and the humor is forced more often than not, with a negligible connection to the Fifty Shades books.  Bergen comes off best as a lovelorn judge and the film is best when it is, like Bergen's performance, grounded and heartfelt.  Still, Book Club may inspire future generations of drag queens via its saltier moments and dialogue à la Steel Magnolias.


While not exactly gay, despite the participation of gay fave Ewan McGregor, Disney's adorable Christopher Robin is hands down the best movie I've seen all summer.  Applying the Hook approach to Winnie the Pooh works as A.A. Milne's classic, stuffed toy characters are called to intervene in their grown-up human friend's life to save him and his family.  Reliable genre filmmaker Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, World War Z) masterfully helmed this beautifully designed, very funny yet gently heart-tugging family flick.  Enjoy it with your favorite Pooh bear(s).

Reverend's Ratings:
We the Animals: B
The Cakemaker: B-
Cuernavaca: B+
Hot to Trot: B+
Book Club: C+
Christopher Robin: A-


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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Apocalypse, Now


 

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


Annihilation:
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.