(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Putting Some Gay in 'It'

Novelist Stephen King has long trafficked successfully in making seemingly innocent or mundane things vessels of horror. Cars, antique stores, St. Bernards, cell phones, nurses and grand hotels are just a few examples. His most enduring, however, has proven to be a dancing clown who has haunted readers, TV viewers and moviegoers since 1986.

Pennywise, the clown in question, is back on the big screen now in It Chapter 2, the inevitable but appropriate sequel to 2017's blockbuster adaptation of King's novel It. 27 years after being temporarily defeated by seven juvenile inhabitants of Derry, Maine who were able to overcome their fear of him, Pennywise returns not only as part of his ongoing cycle of rejuvenation but for revenge.

King has incorporated gay characters into several of his novels but It may be the most significant in this regard. The new film opens with a horrific gay bashing taken from the book's mid-point that serves here as the catalyst for Pennywise's return. Out filmmaker-actor Xavier Dolan (last seen in Boy Erased) appears as Adrian Mellon. After enjoying a fun night at Derry's fair and talking about their impending move to New York City, Adrian and his boyfriend are accosted by a gang of homophobic townies. They don't go down without a fight but Adrian is thrown off a bridge and ends up in the evil clown's waiting arms/mouth. Some fellow gay press members have condemned this scene as "traumatizing," which I find an overreaction and misplaced. I personally found scenes of Pennywise biting the heads off of unsuspecting, defenseless children much more disturbing.

Besides, Adrian and his partner are vindicated by the end of It Chapter 2. The movie goes a surprising step further than the book in terms of inclusion and actually expands a gay character and storyline only hinted at in King's text. (Spoiler alert) Richie, the wise-cracking kid played in both movies by Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard, turns out not only to be gay as an adult (played by Bill Hader), but is in love with his fellow "loser" Eddie (James Ransone). This revelation and relationship really serves as the heart and soul of Chapter 2, with Hader's performance especially resonant out of an all-star ensemble that includes James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and the returning Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. Richie and Eddie together lead the climactic battle that leads to Pennywise's final (?) defeat. This is significant, as is a touching coda shot of Richie carving his and Eddie's initials into a wooden bridge.

Pennywise gay-baits Richie both as a kid and an adult. This was in the novel but King did not confirm Richie's sexuality. The author has reportedly endorsed screenwriter Gary Dauberman's decision to define Richie as gay. King has also spoken recently about how a gay-bashing in his own Maine town inspired the gay-bashing scene in the book and new film.

Perhaps due to the sequel's A-list cast members, Pennywise takes more of a backseat. His two standout scenes are when he tricks a little disfigured girl under the bleachers during a football game, similarly to how he seduced little Georgy into the sewer in the first film, and when he first appears to the grownup Richie by floating in on red balloons while a cheer-leading squad seemingly dances to his arrival. Pennywise/Skarsgård also entertainingly mimics Richie's earlier, bad impression of his dancing. In addition, Skarsgård makes a brief appearance without makeup to Beverly (Chastain), who learns about Pennywise's background during a visit to her former apartment.

At nearly three hours, It Chapter 2 is overlong. While it could be considered justifiable in terms of exposition, wherein we also learn how the evil "Deadlights" that power Pennywise first came to Derry, there are individual scenes that could have been tightened up by director Andy Muschietti and his editor, Jason Ballantine. Prime candidates for tightening or cutting altogether are the numerous slow, conversational scenes set in the hotel where the grownups are staying. Otherwise, this is a satisfying sequel that unexpectedly, courageously illustrates how gay-bashing remains one of the greatest horrors of all.

Homophobia also serves as the primary subject of Groupers, a new indie film that will be released theatrically in the US this fall. Marking the feature debut of writer-director Anderson Cowan, it centers around two all-American high school jocks, Brad and Dylan (Peter Mayer-Klepchick and Cameron Duckett). While out for a night on the town, they are approached by the beautiful and seductive Meg (the very good Nicole Dambro) at a local bar. The guys are subsequently kidnapped, drugged and awaken tied up face-to-face in the empty swimming pool of an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere.

Absurdity and insanity ensue as we learn that Orin (Jesse Pudles), Meg’s overly flamboyant brother dubbed "Fancy Pants," has been the target of Brad and Dylan’s homophobic bullying. Meg is actually a grad student who plans to perform a somewhat sadistic experiment on the pair as part of her thesis, which poses the classic question “Is homosexuality a choice?” The men's "members" are connected in what is amusingly dubbed a "Chinese dick trap." To escape it, they have to achieve simultaneous erections. Brad, who may be secretly gay himself, concludes that their situation is worse than anything he and Dylan did to Orin, making it "a hate hate crime crime."

Groupers is a welcome psycho-sexual comedy, though I wish it would have provided more frequent and abundant laughs beyond the set up. It is also overlong at nearly two hours. On the plus side, the guys are cute and the talented cast of unknowns is fully committed. I also want to note the following statement from the film's distributor: “This is an important film”, stated Global Digital Releasing President Joe Dain. “Homophobia has always been an issue in our society but with the current administration and the potential roll backs of LGBTQ protections in this country, (Groupers) is not only timely but Anderson effectively tackles the subject matter in a dark, humorous, yet thought-provoking and entertaining way that we believe will resonate with audiences.”

Viewers can soon decide for themselves. The film is set to open in Los Angeles on Friday, September 27th at the Laemmle Music Hall theater and will expand into additional markets on October 1st. Additionally, the distributor plans to submit it to this year's GLAAD Media and Spirit Awards for consideration.

Reverend's Ratings:
It Chapter 2: B
Groupers: C

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Dearest Review: Talk To Her

Ever since her hilarious, Emmy Award-winning performance as an exaggerated (and lesbian) version of herself on a 1997 episode of Ellen, I have said that Emma Thompson needs to do more comedy. And here she is, more than twenty years later, not only starring in a comedy but playing a comedian. And, as nighttime talk show host Katherine Newbury in Late Night (now streaming on Amazon Prime), Emma even seems to be channeling Ellen, sartorially speaking, sporting slacks, sneakers and short hair. Yet the prickly demeanor of Katherine harks back to a far more stern yet still crisply tailored media diva, Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, a film that Late Night oh so apparently tries to be.

Screenwriter/co-star Mindy Kaling has written the Anne Hathaway part for herself, a Betty Suarez-type in over her head as the newly-hired member of the writing staff for the long-running Tonight with Katherine Newbury. Kaling stacks the sympathy deck in her character Molly Patel's favor by making her a complete novice in writing, comedy and showbiz who is still put off when called a "diversity hire". As both the creator of and the actress playing the role, Kaling seems to be steadfastly against painting Molly as anything more than a Pollyanna-ish underdog; she even resists the advances made by the show's resident Lothario (Hugh Dancy). A smarter, less predictable take would have been to lean hard into Molly's Rachel Berry-ish over-earnest tendencies.

"Ah, yes, I'll take that Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy now."

Regardless, Late Night is Emma's show, just as Tonight is Katherine's... at least for now, as declining ratings are allowing a new network president (Amy Ryan) the opportunity to replace her with a douchey young male comic (Ike Barinholtz). With Molly's help Katherine rallies a comeback, but this is 2019 so a "#MeToo" scandal is thrown into the mix, albeit with a refreshingly gender-swapped element for once.

Nisha Ganatra directs Late Night in a breezy way that smooths over the script's rougher spots and adequately balances both sides of this "comedy-drama", the latter of which is featured mostly in a subplot concerning the character of Katherine's long-suffering, now Parkinson's Disease-suffering husband, played nicely by John Lithgow. This of course allows Miss Thompson to also show off her dramatic chops as well, proving that this lady may not be wearing Prada but she sure is a devil of an actress.

Dearest Rating: 7/10

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

Monday, September 2, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Q Stands for 'Queen' at Qfilms 2019


Raise your hand if you have heard of Jose Julio Sarria, a.k.a. Empress the First of California, a.k.a. the Widow Norton. I was humbled to learn recently that I did not know about this gender non-conformist who reigned over San Francisco gay society for more than 50 years.

Everyone who attends the opening night of this month’s QFilms, Long Beach’s annual LGBTQ film festival, will bear witness to Sarria’s incredible life. Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria, a new documentary about this inspiring figure who became one of the founders of the national Imperial Courts movement, will kick off this year’s event with an exclusive sneak preview screening on Thursday, September 5th.

Now in its 26th year, QFilms remains the longest-running film festival — LGBTQ or otherwise — in the ocean-side “international city.” The 2019 edition will run September 5th-8th at the historic Art Theatre, 2025 E. 4th Street, and the neighboring LGBTQ Center of Long Beach. All net income from pass, ticket, and drink sales during the weekend as well as sponsorships go directly to the non-profit Center’s numerous, critical community services.

2,400 people attended the fest last year, an increase of 30% over 2017, to view a mix of West Coast, Southern California, Los Angeles and Long Beach premieres. Several of the feature-length and short films being shown this year are among the most acclaimed currently on the film festival circuit. Jury awards will be given in several categories, as well as audience awards for which attendees get to vote. All-access passes and individual tickets are available for purchase through the festival’s website.

“QFilms is one of the most anticipated LGBTQ events in Long Beach every year,” says Porter Gilberg, the festival’s Executive Producer as well as Executive Director of the LGBTQ Center. “This year, both our VIP Filmmaker’s Lounge and lobby lounge will feature craft cocktails and exceptional mixology hosted by Lola’s Mexican Cuisine. Our VIP pass holders will also receive access to a delicious Sunday brunch hosted in the Filmmaker’s Lounge.”

In addition, Gilberg is “incredibly excited to be hosting an exclusive sneak preview of Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria on opening night.” I was able to watch a rough cut of this new documentary that holds universal appeal. Even in unfinished form, it is amazingly insightful and delightfully entertaining.

Sarria was many things: a World War II veteran; a singer known as “the nightingale of San Francisco”; the first openly gay man to run for political office in the US, more than a decade before Harvey Milk; and the aforementioned Empress 1st, the Widow Norton. Regarding the latter, Sarria satirically claimed to be the wife of the late Joshua Norton, a gold prospector who died in San Francisco way back in 1880 but not before proclaiming himself Emperor of the United States. He even went so far as to print his own currency.

Director Joe Castel reveals in Nelly Queen that Sarria’s use of the title would have socio-political repercussions to this very day. As Empress, Sarria challenged anti-gay laws, called out undercover police officers during performances, and helped established the first chapter of the Imperial Court in San Francisco. Today, the Imperial Courts of drag queens have grown throughout the US and have raised millions of dollars to support worthy causes and organizations.

“I had no problems believing in myself,” Sarria states in the film. Castel makes great use of archival photos, videos and interviews to illustrate his subject’s pioneering efforts. After more than 50 years of activism in San Francisco, Sarria retired to Palm Springs but ultimately passed away in New Mexico in 2013. It is definitely time for his story to be told. I have no doubt it will inspire today’s viewers as well as future generations.

And that’s just QFilms’ first night! Many more LGBTQ stories will unspool during the weekend. According to Gilberg: “QFilms will be hosting our first ever LGBTQ Asian Shorts programming, featuring this year’s best short films about the Asian and Asian- American queer and trans experience.” This will be in addition to “Gaytino!” a unique selection of shorts spotlighting Latino gay men.

“QFilms always features unrivaled opportunities to engage directly with some of the brightest LGBTQ filmmakers and actors around,” Gilberg truthfully exclaimed, “and we can’t wait to welcome back the thousands of fans that look forward to our festival every year.” Naturally, newcomers are welcome too.

Several other noteworthy movies scheduled for the festival include:

Making Montgomery Clift, Robert Anderson Clift’s acclaimed, intimate documentary about his late uncle: the closeted, Oscar-nominated actor who starred in such classics as From Here to Eternity, A Place in the Sun and Suddenly, Last Summer.

The Garden Left Behind, a potent drama centered on a young trans woman, Tina, preparing for her transition. Things get increasingly complicated for her as she draws closer to her dream. The film’s cast includes 89-year old, Emmy-winning actor Ed Asner in a great turn as Tina’s sympathetic psychiatrist.

Dykes, Camera, Action!, which provides an enlightening overview of the history of lesbian cinema and the women who contributed to it.

From Zero to I Love You, a new and sexy dramedy from actor-filmmaker Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc) about the fraught love affair between a gay black man (played by Noah himself, Darryl Stephens) and a white man who happens to be married to a woman. Other familiar faces in the movie include The Bay’s Scott Bailey, original Queer Eye-r Jai Rodriguez and Ann Walker of Sordid Lives fame.

Good Kisser, a romantic saga in which a lesbian couple hooks up with a stranger in hopes of spicing up their relationship. Instead, the experience exposes faults in the pair’s foundation.

There will be even more quality feature-length and short films shown during QFilms 2019 that reflect the diversity of our community. Everyone who attends can truly be queen for more than just one day!

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Murder on Fire Island, Kissing Cousins and VelociPastor!


Summer may be coming to an end, but gay-interest releases in theaters and on home video are just heating up! Here's a rundown of new movies for which to keep an eye out...

In the sexy suspense-thriller Last Ferry (opening today at the Laemmle Music Hall cinema in Los Angeles and screening during Palm Springs' Cinema Diverse in September) a young gay lawyer, Joseph (played by the very cute Ramon Torres), arrives on Fire Island to explore his sexuality. Unfortunately for him, he ends up drugged and mugged, then becomes witness to a murder. A handsome stranger, Cameron (Sheldon Best), helps Joseph to safety and introduces him to his eclectic group of friends. Just when things are heating up between him and Cameron, Joseph discovers his savior may be friends with the killer. Their relationship becomes complicated, to say the least.

Written by Torres and directed by Jaki Bradley, Last Ferry explores a darker side of the east coast gay mecca than we usually see. But the movie isn’t without humor plus its chock full of hot guys of diverse ages, body types, ethnicities and even hair colors. It also offers some thoughtful reflections on the progress that’s been made by the LGBTQ community, as well as the tendency to be our own worst enemy at times.

I didn’t find this film’s ending to be completely satisfying but it is engrossing throughout. Alexa Wolf’s beautiful, off-season cinematography of Fire Island as well as a hip score by dance-jazz duo Wonderly (Jim Brunberg and Benjamin Landsverk) also make Last Ferry worth seeing and listening to.

Blending big-screen sexiness with a healthy dose of religion is the Brazilian drama Cousins. It is currently making the LGBTQ film festival rounds, including September's Cinema Diverse. Young Lucas (Paulo Sousa) lives with his devout Catholic aunt, Lourdes, in a small country town. Up to now, life has been pretty simple and quiet. Things change, however, when his charitable aunt announces the arrival of another nephew, Mario (Thiago Cazado). Just out of jail, Mario's life has been anything but quiet. When their aunt goes out of town for a weekend, the boys are left to their own devices and things between them can't help but get interesting.

Sousa and Cazado are adorable (and frequently naked) as the love-struck relations. Of note, Cazado wrote Cousins and co-directed the film with Mauro Carvalho. I don't know anything about Cazado's personal life, but he fully and sensitively invests himself in his role as Mario. The movie's finale sends a refreshing message of acceptance, much to the hilarious consternation of the young woman who wants Lucas for herself. A definite gay crowd pleaser.

Rafael Gomes' 45 Days Away from You , new on DVD courtesy of Dekkoo Films and TLA Releasing, is as good as Cousins and similarly from Brazil. The lead character, a gay writer named Rafael in what is seemingly an autobiographical story, is grieving the unexpected breakup of a recent relationship and considers himself "the most inadequate person alive." He decides to pursue some distance and perspective by visiting an actress friend in London.

Over the 45 days of the film's title, Rafael (played by Rafael De Bona) ends up traveling to France, Portugal, Denmark and Argentina as well, gaining advice from various longtime friends in each locale. These include his straight but bromantic buddy Fabio as well as the gay, sexy Icaro. As Fabio thoughtfully ruminates, "Our biggest legacy may be the collection of our love stories."

Gomes' screenplay is well-written and philosophical throughout, with such additional bon mots as "a broken heart is a moving forest" and "I love you like no one is looking." The acting is great all-around, plus Dhyana Ma's location photography is gorgeous. 45 Days Away from You is a reflective winner.

Speaking of Argentina, that country's writer-director Marco Berger is back with The Blonde One, his latest romance between initially straight guys. This has become his patented bread and butter, as seen in such previous films as Plan B, Taekwondo and Hawaii. Unlike most of those, The Blonde One will be released theatrically in the US starting in LA on September 6th.

In the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Gabriel (the fair-haired boy of the title) has just moved in with his colleague, Juan. Shy and reserved, Gabo is reluctant to follow Juan's wandering hands and meaningful looks. Gabo also has a young daughter from a previous hetero dalliance. Besides, with a revolving door of female beauties streaming out of his bedroom Juan's machismo seems firmly in place. However, the attraction between the two men is undeniable. What starts out as a sexual relationship based on convenience of location, soon develops into the engrossing evolution of a tender and intimate relationship.

Berger's movies are defined by slow-building chemistry between his male leads. Unfortunately, this is even more protracted than usual in The Blonde One and the film's first half is dull as a result. It's a thoroughly predictable story but there's no denying the main actors' sexiness.

Not very gay but intentionally campy as all get out is The VelociPastor, now available for streaming and scheduled for DVD release on September 17th. Fr. Doug Jones (cute, often scantily-clad Gregory James Cohan) is a devoted young priest until he witnesses the murder of his parents. After receiving some questionable theological counsel, Fr. Doug travels to China. There, he is unexpectedly endowed with the power of "the dragon warrior" and becomes capable of turning into a justice-seeking dinosaur!

After returning to his Pennsylvania parish, the priest crosses paths with Carol (the very funny Alyssa Kempinski), a kind-hearted prostitute who remarks of her thwarted higher ambitions "there's a surprisingly low demand for hooker-doctor-lawyers." They gradually fall in love and team up to take down local criminals as well as battle a gang of Catholic ninjas (?) led by Doug's neglected brother. As the vengeful priest states, "I think God wants a lot of people dead."

Written, directed and edited by Brendan Steere with tongue firmly in cheek, The VelociPastor is a hoot. Complete with 1970's visual/filmmaking throwbacks, cheesy make-up and visual effects, a fun punk rock song score by various bands, and a perfectly laughable dinosaur costume, it is a low-brow must see for those into such things!

Reverend's Ratings:
Last Ferry: B
Cousins: B+
45 Days Away from You: B+
The Blonde One: C
The VelociPastor: B

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Gay Days of Summer


The typically over-heated month of August has long been referred to as the "dog days" of summer. I have no idea why. This year, however, we can think of August as the gay days of summer based on all the LGBTQ-themed movies now in theaters, on home video, or fresh from their Outfest Los Angeles premieres.

New in select US theaters this weekend is Consequences (from Uncork'd Entertainment), which happens to be the first gay-themed narrative film from the historically conservative country of Slovenia. The attractive Matej Zemljic (who resembles CW's The Flash star Grant Gustin) plays Andrej, a troubled young man who finds himself remanded to a residential program for youths with behavioral issues.

Since the facility's counselors are largely ineffectual, Andrej finds himself drawn to his manipulative peer Zele. Zele seduces Andrej not only sexually but into his bullying lifestyle. "We're the mafia, aren't we?," Zele asks Andrej with a smile. Andrej comes to his senses and does the right thing in the end but, unfortunately, pays a price for it even as the experience leads him to embrace his sexual orientation.

Talented writer-director Darko Stante handles this subject matter sensitively but doesn't shy from the story's more brutal situations. Consequences illustrates the darker side of "What I Did for Love" as well as underscores the enduring vulnerability of gay or bisexual men in Eastern Europe. The film strikes a more universal chord in showing that a perceived attitude of entitlement among today's youth is hardly unique to North America. Despite some necessary roughness, it is definitely worth a look.

Newly available on home video courtesy of TLA Releasing is Always Say Yes (Siempre Si), a remarkable, at times experimental movie from Mexico. Gay viewers will be enticed by the DVD cover's promise that it "contains real sex, a lot of it" but there is much more going on than just that. Subtitled "a Mexican picaresque," Alberto Fuguet's semi-autobiographical film provides an intimate exploration of Mexico's culture, literature, music and politics. It is dedicated, tellingly, to the country's celebrated gay novelist, Luis Zapata, as well as to Joe Dallesandro, the underground American actor/sex symbol.

Gerardo Torres Rodriguez headlines the sexy, virtually all-male cast as Hector Vasquez, a young gay man lured to Mexico City for the first time from his home in more rural Hermosillo. He lives a closeted existence there but is excited about posing nude for an established gay photographer. Things don't go as planned but Hector ends up going home far from disappointed thanks to steamy, unplanned encounters at his hotel, a bathhouse, and other locales. Plus, he meets another gay photographer with whom he forges a more long-term relationship.

One may well consider booking a trip to Mexico City after watching Always Say Yes. It is inspiring in this sense as well as revealing new subjects and techniques for the Mexican film industry. Most interestingly, Fuguet employed multiple cinematographers to shoot in a variety of styles including black and white, digital, celluloid, and color. The result is a sometimes dreamy, sometimes (porno)graphic "picaresque" that thoroughly enraptured me.

This was the first year I covered Outfest, the annual Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival, from afar since I moved to New England last summer. I'm grateful to the many filmmakers and publicists who kept me "in the loop" and enabled me to sample their wares (so to speak) from afar. I noted several Outfest premieres in my July preview article but here are my capsule reviews of a few others that will likely continue on the festival, theatrical, and/or streaming circuit:

Holy Trinity is a thoroughly and unabashedly queer celebration set in Chicago. Written and directed by Molly Hewitt and executive produced by "mumblecore" auteur Joe Swanberg, its chock full of colorful, kinky characters including a dominatrix through whom dead people start speaking, a balloon-bedecked "Imp Queen," and a Catholic priest who drinks holy water and loves Madonna (the pop singer as opposed to the Virgin Mary). There's a little too much huffing and smoking among them for my taste, but the movie boasts a fabulous musical interlude that gives new meaning to "going to church."

Label Me, the potent, sexy story of a Syrian immigrant, Waseem (well played by Renato Schuch), who studied music in his home country but is forced to hustling once he arrives in Europe. He gains a regular client, Lars (Nikolaus Benda), who begins to pay Waseem for more than just sex. A deeper but tenuous relationship grows between them. Kai Kreuser's film is hard-hitting at times but ultimately hopeful.

From Zero To I Love You is the latest from actor-writer-director Doug Spearman of Noah's Arc and Hot Guys With Guns fame. Here, he crafts a sometimes far-fetched yet well-intentioned tale of romance between a straight, married father and a single gay man historically drawn to married men. The fact that one of them is white and the other black is initially, refreshingly not an issue. Things eventually take a strained turn in this regard but the movie, set in Philadelphia, has enough high-quality production values plus a strong cast (Noah's Arc's Darryl Stephens, The Bay's Scott Bailey, Ann Walker in a funny cameo, and Jai Rodriguez) to keep it afloat.

Tu Me Manques, a cinematic expansion of writer Rodrigo Bellott's 2015 play. Young Bolivians Sebastian and Gabriel fall in love at first sight in New York City but, unfortunately, Gabriel's conservative Christian parents refuse to accept his homosexuality. Their relationship ends tragically but Sebastian sees an opportunity to help others through a theatrical production inspired by their story. The film jumps around in time, which can be confusing at times, but it builds to a strong, memorable conclusion. Bellott was awarded a special Jury Prize at Outfest for his screenplay.

The Garden Left Behind is a similarly strong yet sad story about a young trans woman, Tina (played by Carlie Guevara), taking the final steps toward her surgical transition. She has saved money by working as an Uber driver and bartender, has the support of her seemingly accepting boyfriend, and lives with her understanding grandmother. Everything goes well until it doesn't, and then they go from bad to worse in Flavio Alves' sympathetic but arguably too pessimistic film. Name actors Michael Madsen and 89-year old Ed Asner appear in supportive supporting roles.

Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story details the horrific treatment the comedian and LGBTQ ally has endured since posting a satiric photo of herself holding a replica of President Donald Trump's severed head two years ago. She was investigated unconstitutionally by the FBI, put on no-fly and Interpol lists, and remains blacklisted by the US entertainment industry. Her new, self-made documentary/stand up movie screened at Outfest prior to a July 31st Fathom Events showing in 700 movie theaters. It serves as both Griffin's latest, hilarious critique of the powers that be as well as a call to arms to LGBTQ and straight Americans alike. Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services ought to be ashamed if they don't buy and stream this immediately.

And if all these aren't enough for one month, Rocketman – hands down the gayest movie of the year to date – will be out on home video August 27th!

Reverend's Ratings:
Consequences: B
Always Say Yes: A-
Holy Trinity: B-
Label Me: B+
From Zero to I Love You: B
Tu Me Manques: B
The Garden Left Behind: C+
Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story: A-

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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Reverend's Preview: I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Outfest


This month’s 37th annual Outfest, the Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival, promises to be a scream. Among the approximately 200 short and feature-length films from around the world that will be screened is an eye-opening documentary exploring the gay/anti-gay history of one of the most notorious horror films of all time.

Outfest 2019 runs July 18th-28th at various venues in and around Los Angeles. It is the largest LGBTQ film fest in the world and the largest of the many film festivals that take place in Southern California each year. More than 40,000 attendees, filmmakers, community leaders and others participate in Outfest’s plentiful screenings, panels and parties.

Things will kick off the evening of Thursday, July 18th at the Orpheum Theater with Rachel Mason’s intimate and absorbing documentary, Circus of Books, about LA’s legendary gay pornography emporium run by her parents, Karen and Barry Mason. The film was recently picked up by Netflix. Additional gala screenings include Adam (US Centerpiece), an adaptation of Ariel Schrag’s YA novel directed by Outfest alum and Transparent producer Rhys Ernst; the Sundance hit This Is Not Berlin (International Centerpiece), set within the 1980’s queer music scene in Mexico City; the acclaimed Changing the Game (Documentary Centerpiece), which focuses on three resilient transgender high school athletes fighting to compete amidst national scrutiny; and Straight Up (Breakthrough Centerpiece), a sharp and witty Los Angeles-set comedy written and directed by newcomer James Sweeney, who also stars.

The festival will close in gala fashion on Sunday, July 28th at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel with Hannah Pearl Utt’s Before You Know It, a quirky comedy about two sisters who discover the mother they’d long been told was dead is actually a famous soap star. In addition to Utt, the film’s cast features Judith Light, Alec Baldwin, Tim Daly, Mike Colter and Mandy Patinkin.

In a major change, the majority of screenings are moving this summer from the fest’s longtime home at the Director’s Guild of America building to the TCL Chinese 6 theater complex at Hollywood and Highland. This classic, easily-accessible location is sure to heighten the Outfest experience for many.

I can’t recommend highly enough the special sneak previews on July 20th and 21st of Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. When the horror sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was released in 1985, fans thirsting for more Freddy Krueger slasher mayhem weren’t prepared for what became dubbed “the gayest horror movie ever made.” Some consider it the gayest movie ever made, period.

But the film has been re-appraised more recently by scholars as well as documentarians Tyler Jensen and Roman Chimienti. While its original reception derailed the acting career of its gay star, Mark Patton, he is now recognized as the horror genre’s first male “scream queen.” Patton and fellow cast members from the infamous sequel including Freddy himself, Robert Englund, will gather following the Outfest screenings to discuss its legacy and queer aesthetic. The documentary also unapologetically confronts the Hollywood homophobia that ended opportunities for Patton and other gay actors during the height of AIDS hysteria in the mid-1980’s.

Scream, Queen! reveals much about Patton’s personal life, including his own HIV+ status, his longtime self-imposed exile in Puerto Vallarta, and his enduring friendship with singer/actress/goddess Cher. Patton shared even more with me during a recent phone interview:

CC: Have you seen the documentary? What was your reaction to it?
MP: Oh yes. I love it. It’s what I intended it to be. It’s been cut 8 or 9 times over the years. We started working on it five years ago, so I’m very happy with the final version. We’re really hoping for a theatrical release but it will definitely be available for streaming. I really want to protect young people nowadays, and I think the movie raises awareness of a lot of issues affecting LGBTQ young people then and now.

CC: Were you satisfied by your meeting with Freddy’s Revenge screenwriter David Chaskin (shown during the documentary’s climax)? Any follow up thoughts or insights?
MP: Well, I knew he really wasn’t apologizing (for having blamed Patton over the years for the film’s gay interpretation). I often ask audiences after viewing the film, “How many of you have had therapy?” Sometimes it’s all you really get from people. But my desire to confront David ultimately wasn’t about him, it was about me. My main thought watching Freddy’s Revenge for the first time was “Could people tell I was gay?,” which was horrible. Now, I’m completely comfortable with myself. I also realize none of this (the documentary and its positive reception) is happening by accident.

CC: How does it feel to be back in the public eye for the first time in 30 years?
MP: Well, you know I’ve had a gentle slide back in. I flew into Los Angeles the day after they talked to me about the documentary. Then I started the convention thing with Comic-Con and what not. People want to see me, and that feels great. I do have some moments when I’ve been overwhelmed, including in Toronto (during the Toronto Film Festival). It’s one thing when people know you but another as the ripples get bigger and people don’t know you. I’ve learned not to look at social media. But I’ve also heard from people that they consider me a gay icon, which I’m really humbled by.

CC: Speaking of gay icons, here is the question some of my readers will consider the most important: Do you still speak with Cher?
MP: (Laughs) I do. I used to live near Chaz (Bono, Cher’s son) in West Hollywood. Cher lives in a particular world, surrounded by people at her level of success, but she’s always been kind to me. We met when we did the play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean on Broadway (in 1982; they co-starred in the film version, also released that year). We were very close and are still friends. We would go out to Studio 54 after the show. At the time she always had a dark-haired young man she would be interested in and a blonde young man at her side, so I was her blonde “wing man” at the time (laughs). She remains very supportive and I really hope she comes to see the film at some point.

CC: Do you think you might act more or get otherwise involved in the film industry?
MP: I was literally testing the waters with the two little films I made recently (Family Possessions and Amityville: Evil Never Dies). I know I can do it now. This movie I’m making now in Portland, Black Butee, is a really professional gig. It’s about a serial killer but is a great part. It’s my announcement that the store is open for business! (Laughs).

CC: Finally and more personally, how is married life in Mexico treating you?
MP: Good! I’ve been married for 14 years to a man I never thought I would be with (Hector Morales Mondragon). We met in a club when he started dancing around me. I thought, “Leave me alone!” (laughs). Being in a married relationship takes work. You have to really want it. He’s upstairs right now. We have our fights sometimes, as all couples do, but it’s great.

Visit the official Outfest website for further information about the festival, including the full schedule of films and to purchase passes or tickets.

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

Monday, July 1, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Marvel-ous Women

Fans of badass females, zombies, aliens, and/or cats who may be aliens (are there any other kind?) will want to check out these new releases!

Captain Marvel (now available for streaming and on home video) is the first female-led entry in the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though lesser-known than her male counterparts such as Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, Captain Marvel has a convoluted comic book history that also incorporates Ms. Marvel, but she technically pre-dates many other superheroes.

Fan boys including my husband were generally thrilled with this blockbuster movie adaptation. The screenplay by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who co-directed, plus Geneva Robertson-Dworet is a celebration of girl (super)power that smartly incorporates elements from the title character's various iterations. Here, she is referred to as Vers for the most part but is ultimately identified as Carol Danvers, a military test pilot who is kidnapped and brainwashed by an alien race. We learn her background along with her when she becomes marooned on earth circa 1994.

The Marvelous Ms. Danvers

Vers/Carol finds herself caught in an intergalactic battle between the Kree, the alien race she believes to be her own, and the Skrull, a race of shape-shifters who also arrive on earth. Things aren't as they initially appear, however, which also applies to a scene-stealing feline dubbed Goose (after Anthony Edwards' character in the 1986 movie Top Gun) who befriends Vers.

Captain Marvel's plot is engrossing, its special effects are impressive (especially the CGI that convincingly de-ages Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury), and its supporting cast that includes Annette Bening, Jude Law and Ben Mendehlson (finally breaking his tiresome streak of villains) in addition to Jackson is excellent. Best of all is Oscar winner Brie Larson, perfectly cast in the title role that she has already repeated in Avengers: Endgame to similarly winning effect. Larson also shouldn't be missed as the star of her 2019 directorial debut, the delightfully whimsical Unicorn Store, available on Netflix.

Meanwhile, Dark Phoenix (which may or may not still be in a theater near you) is the final chapter of Twentieth Century Fox's long-running X-Men saga, based on the Marvel Comics. The public and critical response has been decidedly underwhelming, partly because Dark Phoenix re-boots a story that was previously told in 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand that involved Jean Grey turning evil and going haywire.

That aspect of the plot is overly familiar but the new movie is an accomplished, occasionally thrilling farewell (at least for now) to the beloved characters and their longtime players. Also, Dark Phoenix is notably more female-centric than its predecessors, with Sophie Turner's Jean Grey, a nasty body-snatching alien played by a stiletto-wielding Jessica Chastain, and Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique taking center stage for the most part. This sequel is a somewhat tired but nevertheless acceptable option to tide one over until Disney/Marvel inevitably resurrects the X-Men...and X-Women.

Endzeit (Ever After in German, now playing theatrically in LA and NYC) does not involve superheroes but is based on a graphic novel. Set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie-plagued world, the movie is worth noting as the first feminist take on the genre with few male cast or crew members involved.

Set in an unspecified but not too distant future, only two European cities have survived an uprising of the undead that began two years prior. No one is allowed to leave their community in an effort to thwart further infections. Despite the rule, two young women escape their city, Weimar, in the hope of finding a better life in the other, Jena. Eva is the more experienced, badass of the pair, with the pink-haired Vivi sensitive and fearful. When the supply train they stowaway on breaks down in between Weimar and Jean, the women end up bonding while taking their chances.

Endzeit features moments of de riguer zombie violence but also many striking moments of natural beauty. These include a family of moths living in the train's bathroom, green meadows, sunsets over wide-open fields, a rabbit and even giraffes frolicking, all shot with an observant eye by cinematographer Leah Striker. Directed by Carolina Hellsgard, this is a unique horror-romance.

Reverend's Ratings:
Captain Marvel and Unicorn Store: A-
Dark Phoenix: B-
Endzeit: B

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Get Your Shorts Off


Temperatures are heating up in Palm Springs, so shorts are going on and coming off with abandon this month. Short films, that is. Approximately 325 of them will be screened during the 25th anniversary Palm Springs International ShortFest. It will run June 18th -24th at the Camelot Theatre, 2300 E. Baristo Road in Palm Springs.

As the largest short film event in North America, ShortFest programmers receive more than 5,000 submissions from over 100 countries around the globe. Those selected are screened in 90-minute themed programs. Films have an average running time of 15 minutes. ShortFest has to date presented more than 100 shorts that have gone on to receive Oscar nominations and/or awards.

Hundreds of filmmakers and industry professional plus 22,000 avid filmgoers are expected to be in attendance this year. According to organizers, “ShortFest is defined by a decidedly casual atmosphere and a taste for the unconventional.” The full film and event schedule as well as tickets are now available.

The festival has been hailed by USA Today as the best US film festival for short films. It has also long included LGBTQ-interest stories given Palm Springs’ significant LGBTQ population, and this year is no exception. More than 40 shorts of interest to our community will be screened. Here’s a rundown of several noteworthy offerings I was able to screen in advance:

Lavender, a provocative yet moving North American film written and directed by Matthew Puccini. Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) plays Arthur, one-third of a threesome, or throuple. A younger man falls in love with Arthur and his husband but is ultimately forced out in light of the couple’s preparations for a baby. There is little dialogue during the film but talk proves unnecessary as Puccini and his cast explore the characters’ emotional dilemma.

Floating (Flotando), a surreal sci-fi film from Spain involving a gay astronaut in a heavily-damaged space station. He receives an unexpected visitor, Elio, who is somehow able to survive in space without life support. This eerie but occasionally funny short boasts impressive production design and special effects, presumably on a fairly low budget.

Floss, by talented Chinese filmmaker Popo Fan, is a strange yet sensual tale of a gay man with a dental fetish. It is well-acted and beautifully shot, and a cute dog is involved. However, potential viewers with a fear of going to the dentist should definitely proceed with caution.

Bob & Dale, another beautifully-shot short that makes breathtaking use of its mountainous Colorado setting. The title characters are an older, longtime gay couple coming to grips with one’s advancing dementia. Sensitively written and directed by David Rosfeld, as well as movingly acted by Mark Hattan and Robert W. Smith.

The Cocoa Fondue Show, a comedic drag extravaganza. The title starlet, known from a stylish ad campaign for spray-on abs for men (or Sprabs), is prepping to film the pilot for her own TV series. However, Cocoa (played by Caldwell Tidicue, a.k.a. RuPaul's Drag Race season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen) finds her plans threatened by Lola, an imperious network exec played by drag legend Jackie Beat, as well as her arch-nemesis, the villainous, red-tressed Catastrawberry, assayed by another Drag Race alum, Ginger Minj, who I was able to interview this past Memorial Day weekend...

CC: It sounds like this is a busy weekend for you! You're currently in California but live in Florida, correct?
GM: Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind weekend, for sure! I was finishing up my Big Gay Cabaret tour so I was in El Paso on Friday, Salt Lake City on Saturday, and in LA for DragCon on Sunday.

CC: Wow! When did you first start performing in drag? Who were your early inspirations?
GM: I’ve been doing drag professionally for about fifteen years, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I used to wait for my mama to leave the house so I could put on her red high heels and black negligee and pretend to be the Wicked Witch of the East from The Wizard of Oz. I guess I knew it was “different” but it felt very natural to me. I loved that movie so much, I wanted to be a part of it and I thought she had the best (albeit the most brief) role because her shoes were so fabulous! As I got older and really started to think about drag as a serious art form, I wanted to emulate Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. They were the most glamorous clowns I’d ever seen and I wanted to be just like them.

CC: How did you get involved with The Cocoa Fondue Show? You are a hoot as Catastrawberry/Big Mama!
GM: My agent called me and said: “Hear me out! I know you’re on the other side of the world doing this crazy tour right now, but you just got an offer to do a short film opposite Bob (the Drag Queen). It’s a musical so you’d get to sing and dance, and they’ve written it with you in mind.” I didn’t even have to think twice! I grew up doing musicals and I hadn’t had the opportunity to really sing and dance in a long time, plus I really love working with Bob. It was a no-brainer.

CC: What was it like on set with all of you high-powered drag icons?
GM: FUN! We had such a blast making each other laugh. The energy in the studio was unreal! The crew was insanely professional and treated us so well, so being able to make them laugh so hard we had to cut was a huge triumph. It became a game between us to see who could get the biggest laugh break of the day!

CC: I understand The Cocoa Fondue Show might be expanded into a feature film. How has your experience been making feature films, including the Netflix hit Dumplin’?
GM: I was born and raised on a stage. My entire life was theatre when I was growing up. I never thought much about doing film because I didn’t like the thought of not taking the full emotional journey all at one time like you do on stage. What I learned very quickly was that film gives you a chance to mine the depths of every emotion and really fine tune your performance. I love that you get the opportunity to really think about it, go away, and come back with an even stronger perspective. I also really love the little oranges at every Craft Services table ever.

CC: You have done plenty of TV between RuPaul’s Drag Race and the awesome, animated Super Drags, also on Netflix. What was it like to voice the animated Lemon Chiffon? I assume you weren't in full drag while doing so. Was it a dramatically different process for you?
GM: Listen, I had no idea what it was like to do voice-over work. I had been told my whole life that I should get into it because my voice was so unique and expressive, but my life just took me other places at the time. When I got the call from Netflix asking me to be a part of the production, I said sure and hopped the next flight to LA. I was so nervous but I realized very quickly that voice acting is my favorite kind of acting! I rolled up in my pajamas, sat on a stool, drank coffee and watched cartoons all day! It really doesn’t get better than that.

CC: What advice would you share with any young, budding drag queens who may be reading this?
GM: Just do you! It sounds simple but it’s true. Take the little things you admire about other entertainers and find how they work within your personality. Don’t imitate, emulate! If you’re not being authentic to you, the audience will know and they’ll be denied that personal connection with who you are and what your perspective is.

CC: Any upcoming projects or other information you'd like readers to know about?
GM: There’s so much going on! I’ve got a couple more TV shows coming up, I’m finishing my solo show before setting off on a six-month national Broadway tour, and my new album is finally coming out in August! Go find me on social media so we can be friends and you can keep up with all my shenanigans!

The Cocoa Fondue Show, which will screen at ShortFest on June 20th at 7 PM, is colorful, stylish, musical and appropriately over the top.

For tickets, showtimes and more information on this year's Palm Springs International ShortFest, visit their official website.

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Celebrating Pride at the Movies


Rocketman – the appropriately flamboyant, occasionally surreal Elton John biopic – may be the gayest movie of the summer (at least from a major studio) but its hardly the only one. As Pride month/season gets underway, there are a number of new and re-released LGBTQ movies definitely worth checking out.

But first let's talk about Rocketman, now playing in theaters thanks to Paramount Pictures. And I do thank Paramount because, contrary to early reports, they backed the most honest and moving big-studio exploration of gay desire since 2005's Brokeback Mountain. I didn't expect this based on the film's frothy trailers so I was quite pleasantly surprised. The cinematic Elton peers at so many men so longingly, I frequently sighed with identification/admiration.

I wouldn't say moviegoers have been clamoring for a jukebox musical drawn from the singer-songwriter repertoire, but then I didn't think a bio of Freddie Mercury would become a global blockbuster not to mention a winner of multiple Oscars. However, it will be hard for people to resist the abundant charms of this film directed by Dexter Fletcher who, coincidentally, completed last year's Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was fired amid both professional and personal controversy.

The other Dark Phoenix

Chief among Rocketman's achievements is a revelatory performance by pretty-boy Kingsman Taron Egerton as Sir Elton. He sings, he dances, he goes on ugly drug- and alcohol-fueled benders, he goes bald, and he prances about in his undies plus all manner of over-the-top costumes. I didn't know he had it in him. Its a showier turn than Rami Malek's Freddie Mercury but it is also more genuinely emotional and explicit. Egerton seems a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

Also unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, this movie is an all-out musical boasting energetic, eye-popping dance numbers choreographed by the talented Adam Murray. These moments help compensate for a fairly straightforward dramatic approach to its subject's life. Other attributes include the performances of Bryce Dallas Howard and Jamie Bell as, respectively, John's chilly mother and his more supportive writing partner Bernie Taupin. In addition to providing an informative look at Elton John's life, Rocketman is just a plain old, toe-tapping good time. How can you not love a movie that opens with the child Elton and cast singing "The Bitch is Back"?

My favorite among the other new releases, though, is Kanarie (a.k.a. Canary). Opening June 14th and out on DVD June 18th courtesy of Breaking Glass, it offers a rare glimpse into LGBTQ life in South Africa during the apartheid era. I laughed out loud when I read the current IMDb description of the film as "a coming-of-age war musical." It is that, I guess, but so much more.

Set in the mid-1980's, Kanarie's central character is the decidedly queer Johan (a bold performance by Schalk Bezuidenhout). The movie opens with a terrific dance number straight out of an early Madonna video and progresses from there with abundant references to Prince, Kate Bush (my personal fave) and Boy George/Culture Club. Johan gets drafted into a 2-year stint with the South African military but is fortunate enough to be accepted into the Kanaries, the state's Christian choir. Under the direction of Rev. Engelbrecht, their sensitive and possibly closeted director/chaplain, Johan and his fellow Kanaries flourish. Things hit a snag, though, once Johan falls in love with a handsome and sympatico choir mate, Wolfgang.

Johan becomes increasingly confused and conflicted, which gets heavy-handed, but the movie is nevertheless an insightful glimpse into a thankfully-bygone era of institutionalized racism and homophobia. The fact that its more serious moments are interspersed with musical numbers headed by facsimiles of 1980's pop icons as well as lovely hymns and choral episodes is icing on a cake that IMDb could also adequately sum up as a gayer Full Metal Jacket. It even comes complete with a R. Lee Ermey-ish corporal who ultimately proves more hunky (especially during a full-frontal shower scene) than fearsome.

Speaking of hunky, we come to the bizarre but lovably campy Diamantino from Kino Lorber. Currently set for a Los Angeles opening on June 28th, this Portuguese movie is a wild, visually-striking and occasionally kinky ride that should not be missed.

The title character is an adorably child-like, world champion soccer/football player played by the delicious Carloto Cotta. Although he is beset by evil twin sisters, a pair of undercover lesbian spies, and a pack of giant Pekinese puppies (!), Diamantino remains blissfully unaware of worldly concerns until he rescues some refugees at sea and his father subsequently dies. Devastated, Diamantino retreats from the public eye but his greedy siblings hatch a plan to have him cloned without his knowledge.

This turns out to be part of a plot to convince the people of Portugal to leave the European Union and build a wall around their country (sound familiar?). It also results in Diamantino adopting a "child" and growing breasts. Co-written and -directed by the creative Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes, Diamantino is baffling at times yet nuanced where it needs to be. The sexy, minimally-clad Cotta alone is well worth the price of admission.

The similarly sexy and even more minimally-clad actor Brian Jordan Alvarez is currently gracing the big screen in Everything is Free, which also marks his feature directorial debut. The film will be available on DVD from Breaking Glass starting June 11th. Alvarez is best known for playing Jack's newlywed husband, Estefan, on TV's Will & Grace.

Here he plays Ivan, a gay artist living in Colombia. He receives a visit from his American best friend, Christian (Peter Vack), as well as Christian's younger brother, Cole (Morgan Krantz). Although both brothers are straight, Cole and Ivan find themselves increasingly drawn to each other. Things get romantic yet messy as the pair have to hide their relationship from the suddenly homophobic Christian.

Everything is Free proves to be a great showcase for the multi-talented and attractive Alvarez. He has a good eye for fellow acting talent (including Jason Greene as Ivan's gender-fluid friend Eli and the super-cute Jimmy Fowlie as a new suitor) as well as for visuals, as illustrated by sunny cinematography and several stylish fantasy interludes. Alvarez even composed his film's bouncy electronic score! Unfortunately, the screenplay's treatment of Ivan becomes problematic as Christian's dark side is revealed. Ivan tolerates too much abuse and Christian is permitted to get away with too much. Despite this, the movie is worth checking out for Alvarez's rising star.

But the cinematic piece de resistance of Pride 2019 is the Blu-ray debuts of four queer classics courtesy of Shout! Factory. These are 1980's endearingly campy Village People musical Can't Stop the Music; the 1995 drag queen road trip comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar; and the hilarious, 1995 adaptation of Paul Rudnick's play Jeffrey featuring an all-star cast.

The more questionable release among these – both in terms of quality and queerness – is 1968's Boom! A notorious box office flop, the film stars then-"it" couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in a just plain weird adaptation of a lesser Tennessee Williams play, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (the original title survives as a nonsensical line of dialogue).

Set on an Italian island privately owned by Sissy Goforth (Taylor), the world's wealthiest woman, there is no shortage of lavish sets and beautiful scenery. Burton arrives unannounced as a poet and possible angel of death. The only truly gay element of the film is a rare acting appearance by famed playwright Noël Coward. Coward was cast in the originally female role of the Witch of Capri after Katharine Hepburn wisely turned it down. He plays the role as a gay man, who makes his entrance on the shoulders of one of Sissy's male servants.

John Waters, who provides audio commentary on the Blu-ray, has long heralded Boom! as an under-appreciated film. Out critic Alonso Duralde concurs in an extra on the disc. I don't revere it as much but it should be viewed at least once so one can draw your own conclusion. And please note that during the month of June a donation will be made to LA's LGBTQ Center from each purchase of these films via the Shout! Factory website.

Reverend's Ratings:
Rocketman: B+
Kanarie: A-
Diamantino: B+
Everything is Free: B
Boom!: C

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

Monday, May 27, 2019

Dearest Review: Dude, Where's My Carpet?

Racist. Culturally insensitive. "Whitewashed". The start of all those crappy direct-to-video sequels. The Disney Aladdin franchise has faced some formidable complaints in the past, but likely it's biggest misstep just opened in a theater near you this past weekend.

The newest splashy, special effects-y Aladdin is just the latest result of a beloved classic getting yanked from the fabled "Disney Vault" and fed through the live action remake machine Bob Iger has working in overdrive of late (it's just one of five such projects this year alone). Yet unlike the enchanting recent returns of Cinderella, Mowgli and Belle, Al & Company find themselves mired in a rote, by-the-numbers rehash nearly devoid of all the charm, whimsy and magic of its predecessor, the latter obviously the most necessary ingredient of all for this exotic tale of a boy and his big blue genie.

An in-the-flesh Aladdin should have worked, a Thief of Bagdad for the new millennium. How could it go so wrong? Well, for starters we have Guy Ritchie in charge, a director with zero family friendly credits and who's closest brush with a musical on his résumé is a music video for his (now ex-)wife Madonna. Then we have Mena Massoud, a lackluster leading man with limited singing abilities clad not in MC Hammer pants but a Justin Bieber hoodie. And most damaging of all is Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, Agrabah's resident sneering bad guy. Except here he's without a sneer... or any discernible change of facial expression at all for that matter. In the original Aladdin, voice actor Jonathan Freeman and ace animator Andreas Deja created a memorably oily, power-hungry Villain with a capital 'V' (the OG Jafar even quoted Republican sound bites through song); Kenzari is so unimpressive you would think he was a Marvel supervillain.

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge, casting wise, was finding someone willing to take on the daunting task of filling Robin Williams' pointy-toed shoes as the iconic Genie of the Lamp. Will Smith, to his credit, does an adequate, amiable job that, while it certainly won't make you forget Williams' legendary turn, won't make you want to immediately forget his take on it either (well, except for his horrendous end credit hip hop cover of "Friend Like Me"). Fairing the best is the lovely Naomi Scott as Jasmine, a thoroughly modern (as in 21st century) maiden with a purpose, and it's not to marry some prince but to rule as sultan herself. She even gets her own "Let It Go-ish" princess power ballad in "Speechless", the sole new song (from Alan Menken and his umpteenth Aladdin collaborators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, of La La Land/The Greatest Showman fame) that is surely being over-earnestly covered by a multitude of YouTubers as we speak.

In addition to this film and the already released Dumbo, Disney has Jon Favreau's "photo realistic" reimagining of The Lion King coming out this summer, then Angelina Jolie reprises her Sleeping Beauty villainess in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in October, plus there's a live Lady and the Tramp reboot set to debut on Disney's new streaming service the following month. If you add in the Avengers, Toy Story, Frozen and Star Wars sequels also premiering this year, that's a lot of cashing in on IP for the House of Mouse in 2019. At the rate they're going, soon Disney will be churning out animated remakes of the live action versions. If so, one can only wish that Aladdin 3.0 will be more inspired than its current iteration.

Dearest Rating: 5/10

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