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.