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 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.