Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

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.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Sexual Politics


 

"Is sex political?," a reporter asks the openly gay, real-life filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini in a newly-released biopic. "Of course," Pasolini replies, "There's nothing that isn't political." This query opens Pasolini, Abel Ferrara's 2014 movie that is only now being released in the US thanks to Kino Lorber. It opens this weekend in New York.


The controversial artist, who considered himself a writer first and foremost, was also an avowed Communist and atheist. This didn't exactly ingratiate him with the public in his native Italy or elsewhere during the 1960's and 70's. Few people were surprised when Pasolini was found beaten to death, presumably by someone he met for sex, in 1975. He would have a final word, however, when his shockingly graphic anti-fascism film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, had its premiere just a couple of weeks later. Nonetheless, Pasolini is generally revered among cinephiles today. Even the Vatican has acclaimed his 1964 version of The Gospel According to St. Matthew as the best film about Jesus Christ yet made despite the filmmaker's unbelief, not to mention his homosexuality.

Four-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe stars as Pasolini in Ferrara's film. Clad in bell bottoms and constantly sporting dark sunglasses, it is a good personification despite Dafoe's lack of an Italian accent. The main action in the movie takes place on the day Pasolini would die. Flashbacks reveal significant moments and interests from his past. This device proves confusing at times, especially since other actors play the younger Pasolini.

This biopic, though long delayed, marks an appropriate subject and fine big-screen return for Ferrara. After all, the "bad boy" American director made his mark with 1992's Pasolini-esque Bad Lieutenant. The movie was also beautifully photographed on location by Stefano Falivene. Don't miss this opportunity to get re-acquainted with Ferrara and more intimately acquainted with Pasolini himself.


Non-Fiction, award-winning director Olivier Assayas' latest, is also now playing in US theaters courtesy of IFC Films. It also dabbles in political and romantic/sexual topics via challenges confronting the contemporary publishing industry. Leonard (played by the endearing Vincent Macaigne) is a successful author of what he terms "auto-fiction," or fictional stories inspired by his own life. This doesn't please the thinly-veiled ex-girlfriends and other actual people who populate his works.

Having grown tired of Leonard's style, his longtime publisher Alain (handsome Guillaume Canet) decides not to print the writer's latest. This sets off existential and relational angst not only for Leonard but for Alain's actress wife Selena (Oscar winner Juliette Binoche), who has been having an affair with Leonard, and Leonard's current political-advisor girlfriend. Alain, meanwhile, is having an affair with Laure, his company's bisexual head of "digital transition" as they try to adapt to an increasingly online readership.

Set primarily in Paris, Assayas' screenplay is a brainy, bracing dissertation on our modern cultural zeitgeist. It includes such perceptive zingers as "addiction is now our default setting" and defines our "post-truth," "fake news" era as "people living in a fictional world ruled by their prejudices." Critics are obsolete (exempting myself, naturally) as public opinion and internet algorithms reign supreme. The film also features a very funny meta moment involving Binoche. But its most accurate observation may actually be one quoted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's 1958 novel The Leopard: "Everything must change for things to stay as they are."

I haven't actually seen any of Assayas' previous films such as Personal Shopper and The Clouds of Sil Maria, which I intend to seek out. Non-Fiction serves as a great, enjoyable primer on the auteur's style and technique.


A writer-director with whom I am very familiar is Stewart Wade, who previously helmed the LGBT-themed indies Coffee Date, Tru Loved and Such Good People. His new release, Say Yes, is now available on Amazon Prime and is well worth renting. It is a touching dramedy in which a married straight couple deal with the wife's unexpected terminal illness. Her twin brother moves in to help care for her. This is initially challenging for her husband but he and her brother develop a friendship. Prior to her death, his wife makes an unusual last request: she wants her husband and brother to be a couple after she's gone. While neither of them is gay, the men begin to explore their "hetero-flexibility" with surprising results. Say Yes is low budget and the acting amateurish at times but it is a moving look at modern love.


I wish I could be as positive about TLA's new gay DVD release, The Skin of the Teeth (not to be confused with Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth). Billed as "Get Out meets Grindr," Matthew Wollin's bizarre movie lacks the best elements of either, although lead actors Pascal Arquimedes and Donal Brophy are attractive. They play Josef and John, respectively, who get together at John's place after connecting online. Josef unwisely ingests an "experimental" pill he discovers while snooping around, which leads to unusual complications and hallucinations... or are they? Unfortunately, the stranger things become, the less interesting the film is and it grows prolonged and boring. There is some good cinematography and use of shadow during a police interrogation scene. Wollin seems to be going for something David Lynchian but sadly doesn't succeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
Pasolini: B
Non-Fiction: B+
Say Yes: B
The Skin of the Teeth: D

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: How to Stream Like a Queen


 

Let’s take a time machine trip back to the groovy 1970’s. On second thought, let’s not. In terms of home entertainment, it was a primitive time when there were only three national television networks plus a handful of public TV and cable access stations. The 1980’s introduced several dozen pay cable options, which was an improvement, but painfully few if any of these regular TV or cable networks featured shows with positive depictions of LGBTQ characters. What’s more, everything could only be watched on a boxy, heavy TV set.


My, how things have changed in the modern era! There are hundreds of satellite and cable channels today and as many or more websites offering a plethora of LGBTQ-interest shows. Some channels and sites broadcast nothing but LGBTQ shows! Our long-deceased, more conservative elders would probably roll over in their graves…although, in fairness, my grandfather was a big fan of Billy Crystal’s pioneering portrayal of an out gay character on the late-70’s sitcom Soap.

Freed from traditional constraints, LGBTQ writers, producers, actors and directors have found welcome freedom in today’s TV and internet landscape. Network and original shows streamed online provide a storytelling environment that viewers around the world can tune in to any time. Streaming shows also provide greater storytelling flexibility. Individual episodes can range from just a few minutes to the more traditional 30 or 60 minutes. Blessedly, many of them are shown without ads or commercials. And we can watch today’s shows through a variety of media: on our televisions, our phones, our laptops, iPads and more. Viewers are now able to keep up with their favorite shows anytime, anywhere: during lunch and bathroom breaks at work or school, or while riding the bus, plane or train. One can watch an episode at a time or “binge” an entire series in one sitting.


The “DC Universe” of series adapted from classic comic book superheroes has been one of the most popular and inclusive when it comes to LGBTQ characters. Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning, all available on cwtv.com as well as Netflix, feature an assortment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer heroes, villains and/or associates. Joining them this fall with her own CW show will be the lady-loving Batwoman.

Lest the CW be solely populated by DC’s characters, the comics giant recently inaugurated its own streaming network. DCuniverse.com provides a number of original series and classic movies for the low monthly price of $7.99. Chief among these in terms of queer content is Doom Patrol, about a diverse band of antiheroes. Out actor Matt Bomer plays Negative Man, a gay man with a troubled past including an ex-boyfriend with whom he longs to re-connect.

Here’s a rundown of several other LGBTQ-interest shows currently streaming that I recommend most highly:


Special (Netflix):
Ryan O’Connell created and headlines this autobiographical series about a gay man with cerebral palsy. While he is accepting of and open about his homosexuality, he has a hard time embracing his physical disability. Heartfelt and hilarious by turns, Special is special indeed.


American Gods (Starz):
An adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed novel about a brewing war between traditional deities brought to the shores of North America by immigrants and newer, human-created “false idols.” Now in its second season, it is a sexually explicit series that features a hot gay jinn (or genie) and his lover among its heavenly hosts.


Now Apocalypse (Starz):
Envelope-pushing queer filmmaker Gregg Araki recently debuted his first-ever streaming series. It explores identity, sexuality and artistry in ways both comedic and serious, as a struggling artist grows increasingly troubled by foreboding dreams. The cute young cast is frequently undressed and definitely worthy of ogling.


The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime):
A superb, frightening show inspired by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s novel. It envisions an alternate past in which Nazi Germany and Japan won World War II and have taken over the US. A revolution is brewing, however, led in part by an out and proud gay man. The series also features a closeted, conflicted lesbian who heads the Nazis’ propaganda office.


The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu):
Another scary, dystopian series, this time based on Margaret Atwood’s classic book. Here, the religious right has risen to power in the US and is forcing fertile women to bear children for the impotent upper class. Alexis Bledel, all grown up after her prior teenager role on the popular Gilmore Girls, plays a persecuted lesbian plotting to take the anti-LGBTQ leadership down.


Gaycation with Ellen Page and Ian Daniel (Hulu):
Openly lesbian actress Ellen Page set out with her gay best friend Ian to explore LGBTQ communities around the world in this documentary series. Eye-opening and frequently funny, it’s a streaming trip worth taking.


The Umbrella Academy (Netflix):
Speaking of Ellen Page, she is also part of the ensemble of this new, offbeat superhero series adapted from a graphic novel. She plays Vanya, one of eight children from different mothers gifted with special powers. Adopted by a manipulative billionaire, they end up a dysfunctional family but must unite to stop the end of the world. One of the other siblings is Klaus (Robert Sheehan), a time-tripping drug addict grieving the death of his male lover during the Vietnam War.


Grace and Frankie (Netflix):
This sitcom starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin is now in its 5th season but is must-see TV. The pair play former frenemies who bond after their secretly-gay husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, fall in love with one another. While it’s always fun to see Fonda and Tomlin together (they previously co-starred in the movie 9 to 5 way back in 1980), Sheen and Waterston are equally great as the women’s newly liberated exes.


Black Mirror (Netflix):
This creepy-cool series about the unexpected costs of technology has featured a fair share of LGBTQ storylines and characters. The best may be the touching episode “San Junipero,” a time travel tale about two women in love that won a pair of Emmy Awards.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your favorite device and start streaming!

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Newport Beach Film Fest Celebrates the Big 2-0


 

Smile, Newport Beach Film Festival, it’s your birthday! A small-scale event initially, NBFF will be celebrating 20 years of growing, international recognition from April 25th through May 2nd, 2019.


The festival strives each year to bring to Orange County, California the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. Its organizers are committed to enlightening the public with a first-class international film program, providing a forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities, and showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films from around the world.

NBFF’s global focus isn’t only reflected in the movies shown but in nightly parties and receptions. An Irish Showcase Celebration will be April 28th’s main event, with other nights devoted to Latin, European and Pacific Rim places and people.

In addition to standard film fest categories like narrative features, documentaries and family films, NBFF has developed several unique showcases over the years. These include movies centered on culinary subjects, action sports, architecture, music and the environment.

Notably, NBFF’s growth over the last 20 years has paralleled a broader interest in and mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ films. A number of productions with LGBTQ appeal are screened during the fest each year. Although the 2019 feature film lineup has not been announced yet, organizers shared that a whopping 80+ LGBTQ short films in a variety of genres and styles will be shown.


Here is a mere sampling of these many fantastic-sounding shorts:

Older Than What? – A documentary that brings LGBTQ elders sharply into focus with humor, frankness, wit and charm. Twelve seniors answer questions about aging and share stories about how they made history.

Black Lips – A lonely abalone trader is awakened by a longing he’s never explored before.

Like Glass – A club kid grappling with their identity finds liberation in NYC nightlife, while haunted by the pressures of societal norms.


Black Hat – Shmuel is a pious Hasidic man leading a fairly simple life. By day, he dutifully prays at the local synagogue and manages a busy dry cleaning business. But when his wife and daughters leave town, Shmuel steps out at night into a more complex world. When he misplaces his black hat along the way, his two lives will interconnect in a way he never expected.

Swimming – A coming-of-age story of an American-born Chinese teen trying to handle her possible homosexuality when her 3-month old half-sister seems to have stolen the attention of the entire family. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Ming-Na Wen co-stars.

Aphrodite – A crossdresser driven by her dream of becoming a singer puts her own sexual identity at stake for an uncertain opportunity to shine in Hollywood.


The Buttcheek Boys – An animated spoof in which brothers Billy and Bobby Buttcheek do their darndest to solve a really big case.

As One – A short documentary created by Orange County filmmakers explaining why Pride festivals are still important today.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin –A feature documentary exploring the remarkable life and legacy of groundbreaking science-fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 88.


Blush – A guy and his girlfriend are forced to navigate new territory when he's caught wearing her dress.

You Say Hello – A suicidal young gay man retreats to his family's beach house to end his life, but a chance encounter with a hustler changes his plans.

My Dad Works the Night Shift – Felix, a 14-year old boarding school student, spends the weekend at his conservative father's house. Felix starts a relationship with a much older boy, secretly hoping he will get caught so he can reveal his homosexuality to his father.


Hank – Recent LA transplants Hank (out comic Jason Stuart) and his husband Tommy attempt to save their 15- year marriage by entertaining the idea of an open relationship. While this might be working well for Tommy, Hank struggles to cope with the change as well as the challenges of being old.

Out of the Shadows – A theatre class at California State University Long Beach creates a play to tell the stories of undocumented immigrants, some of whom are LGBTQ.

I’ve Been Thinking – When Julian gets a boyfriend, his best friend Josh realizes it's time to reveal how he really feels. A romantic dramedy about a friendship that becomes something more, and the seeming impossibility of a perfect union.


Mack Wrestles – Mack Beggs broke records and changed history when he won the Texas state title as a transgender wrestler. Now, with high school ending and college on the horizon, the sports champion, national activist and high school hero must grapple with what comes next in this documentary.

Three Corner House – The lives of a suspicious wife, closeted husband and sex-obsessed son collide. Starring Michael J. Burg (BlacKkKlansman), Russell Koplin (Iron Fist) and Kathryn Kates (Orange is the New Black).

Silverlake Afternoon – Michael is 33 and he's never been with a guy. His first encounter is going to be awkward... and also kinda great.


All Cock & No Bull! – Relaxing in your backyard is one thing. Relaxing naked in your backyard with an old friend is something else entirely, and may have consequences.

Headlock – John, a closeted high school athlete, grapples with his attraction to a teammate in the days leading up to prom.

Homecoming – When a college sophomore returns home to share some important news with his parents, things don’t go exactly as he had expected…until they do.


Stay Tonight – This romantic dramedy follows the lives of two men who grew up together in Brooklyn, New York. Michael is bisexual and Tony is heterosexual. As life moves on, however, both men find themselves in a difficult situation that requires difficult decisions.

Broken Sunflower Hearts – When his ex-boyfriend Sam shows up on his doorstep a year after separating, Anthony weighs the impact it will have on his life and young daughter Luna.

Hiding in Daylight – After a gay purge in the not too distant future, four best friends are surviving by living in fake marriages to each other. They secretly meet once a week to see their true spouse and play a "game" where they reminisce about their former openly gay lives. But one night, emotions run high, friendships begin to unravel, and everything changes in an instant.


One Leg In, One Leg Out – Documentary in which a lively, strong-willed sex worker struggles to move from the streets and into a career as a social worker, hoping to help fellow trans sex workers find acceptance.

Mr. Sam – Today is a big day for Mr. Sam. Not only is he going to reveal to his mother that he’s finally found the love of his life, he’s also telling her that he’s gay. But Sam is in for a huge surprise: the secret he has managed to keep hidden from everyone for so long will be revealed in the most dramatic of ways by his best friend, Sandra.


Sequins - 17-year-old Paul's journey of self-discovery takes a unique turn when he embarks on his ambition to become a drag queen, despite fear of ridicule from his peers and being ostracized by his family.

Land’s End – Set in a bleak and poetic world on England’s southeast coast, this explores the magnetic relationship between Adam, a naïve but hopeful young man, and Michael, a charismatic ex-con and drag artist.

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

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