Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Reaching for the Stars


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Bad Boys

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

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

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

Somewhere, under the rainbow

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Movie Dearest Guide to Halloween Costumes 2018


Fall has fell, the leaves are changing, Michael Myers is returning again... Yes, it is Halloweentime, and once again you haven't a clue what to wear. But never fear, for whether you’ll be out looking for tricks or treats (or both) this All Hallow’s Eve, Movie Dearest has got you covered with the latest creepy and kooky movie-inspired costume ideas:

For those that are feeling super:

Black Panther


Ant-Man and the Wasp

Or the Incredibles, too

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

The Amphibian Man from The Shape of Water

The Cast of Coco

LaVona Golden from I, Tonya

Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson from Lady Bird

The Bearded Lady from The Greatest Showman

For those who want to be Crazy Rich Asians:

...but only if you're actually Asian

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

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

Ruth Bader Ginsburg from RGB

The Triplets from Three Identical Strangers

For those who want to be Toni Collette from Hereditary:

Scared Toni Collette

Scary Toni Collette

Batshit Crazy Toni Collette

For those who want to be a diva:

Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Lady Gaga in A Star is Born

Edna Mode

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

Simon from Love, Simon

Or a LOT gay: