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.