Friday, October 18, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Cinema of the Abused


Print media and TV have been rife for some time now with often shocking, always sad stories of abused children, teenagers and adults of all ages. Currently, movie screens are awash in such tales. Two are intimate accounts of true events, while two others are fictional films that ring with varying degrees of truth.

Acclaimed, openly gay filmmaker François Ozon (Swimming Pool, Double Lover) is back with By the Grace of God, opening in New York this Friday and in Los Angeles on October 25th. This powerful exposé of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in France won the coveted Silver Bear grand jury prize at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. Ozon's excellent, tasteful screenplay focuses on three adult men who were victimized as children by Fr. Bernard Preynat of the Diocese of Lyons. During the mid 1980's-early 1990's, the victims were Boy Scouts under Preynat's leadership. After protracted negotiations with church leaders starting in 2014 and a legal battle, Preynat was finally removed from the priesthood just last year. His bishop, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, was convicted earlier this year of covering up Preynat's abuse history and was sentenced to a suspended six month prison sentence.

By the Grace of God is not unlike the Oscar-winning 2015 film Spotlight in its detailed approach, but Ozon's film is unique in that it is told from the victims' perspectives whereas Spotlight focused on the investigation of Boston Globe reporters. (As a nice tribute, a Spotlight poster can be glimpsed in the background of one shot.) While unrelentingly critical of the Church's poor leadership during the abuse crisis, one of the victims – who is atheist – appropriately declares of his and the others' pursuit of justice: "This is about morality, not faith."

Ozon makes great, unexpectedly dramatic use of conveyed letters and email correspondences. And while the three subjects the filmmaker focuses on are heterosexual, one of them played by Melvil Poupaud (who previously starred in Ozon's Le Refuge) accurately states "sexual orientation is not a criminal perversion," unlike pedophilia. Mention is also made of a gay victim of Preynat's who ended up committing suicide, tragically. The victims' varying reactions to their abuse are interesting and authentic.

I came away from By the Grace of God wondering why a strong response to the history of clerical sexual abuse in France, which is so similar to our experience in the United States in the early 2000's, was delayed by more than a decade? Most likely it is because Catholicism has been entrenched there for centuries longer than here in the US. As the courageous survivors depicted in Ozon's latest work boldly state, "We want to push the Church to evolve." Amen to that!

Men of Hard Skin (now available on home video from TLA Releasing) tells a related but even more intimate and insightful story about the plight of young people abused by clergy. Jose Celestino Campusano's Argentina-set drama introduces viewers to Ariel, a religious teenager who devotedly volunteers at his local Catholic church against his father's wishes. That's because Ariel is in love with the hunky Fr. Omar, with whom he has been having a sexual relationship for some time. Ariel becomes enraged when he discovers Fr. Omar is feeling repentant and backing away from him.

After confronting Fr. Omar about his rejection, the precocious Ariel pursues a new, handsome farmhand working on his father's farm. The bisexual Julio is, unbeknownst to Ariel initially, married to a woman and has a baby girl. Things get ugly and more public after Ariel's dad catches his son and Julio having sex and beats Julio before firing him. Fortunately, Ariel's sister is accepting of his sexuality and wisely advises her brother against doing "anything to please others" and "don't betray yourself."

Writer-director Campusano nails the love-hate feelings that some sexual abuse victims develop toward their abusers, something that hasn't been shown often in movies dealing with the subject. It also accurately depicts how victims can become overly sexualized at an early age and, in turn, objectify others. But the character of Ariel (very effectively played by Wall Javier) becomes admirably aggressive toward and defensive against his abuser. He grows to realize he has been wronged and inspires other victims of Fr. Omar to rebel against the priest. This, coupled with its excellent cinematography of scenic settings, makes Men of Hard Skin a film to watch.

Then there are the two J's currently dominating movie screens: Joker and Judy. Both detail the horrific results of abuse starting at an early age, and both boast awards-worthy performances by their leading man and lady, respectively. Joker, however, is excessive and arguably irresponsible in its seeming endorsement of violence against perpetrators, at least wealthy ones.

Joaquin Phoenix is undeniably powerful as Arthur Fleck, a downtrodden resident of decrepit, pre-Batman Gotham City. Long convinced by his mother that his role in life is to bring happiness to others, Fleck works as a clown for hire by local businesses, hospitals and other organizations. Sadly, Fleck endures near-constant physical and/or emotional abuse from street hoodlums, co-workers, employers and passersby. One day he is pushed too far and ends up shooting three employees of the storied Wayne Enterprises to death after they attack him on a subway train. This unanticipated action and the general kudos it receives from his fellow poor citizens of Gotham, as well as more personal revelations, spark Fleck's evolution as the sinister kingpin (and Batman's arch-nemesis) Joker.

Joker, the movie, is a huge international hit but has received wildly divergent reactions from critics and viewers ever since its premiere at September's Venice Film Festival, where it unexpectedly won the fest's Best Picture trophy. Drawing too obviously at times from the early works of Martin Scorsese, it serves as a retro prequel (set in 1981 to be exact) to Tim Burton's Batman series. In presenting a villain forged from personal abuse, however, it takes a dramatic turn from the origin of Jack Nicholson's Joker. While well-acted and well-made, this is a depressing and morally troubling movie, especially when it comes to its "kill the rich" denouement/encouragement.

The late, great singer-actress Judy Garland endured systematic abuse beginning at the age of two from managers, studio heads, and her own mother. Most significantly, they got her addicted to drugs as a child starlet so she could perform on demand. As an adult, her ongoing addictions to drugs, alcohol and manipulative men ruined her career and led to her early death at the age of 47.

Judy, now playing, is the latest of several dramatizations of Garland's life. This biopic is adapted from, and actually an improvement on, Peter Quilter's more sensationalistic play End of the Rainbow. In particular, the movie shows how MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer abused Garland emotionally and subsequently controlled her. Renee Zellweger is sensational in a good way as the title icon. While Zellweger is subtle more often than not in her channeling of Garland, the musical numbers remind viewers simultaneously of both women's artistry and endearing vulnerability. Hollywood's award season is just getting underway but Zellweger would get my vote for Best Actress if I had to vote now.

Reverend's Ratings:
By the Grace of God: A-
Men of Hard Skin: B+
Joker: C
Judy: B+

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

Reverend's Preview: SDIFF Presents Scorsese, Pitbull and The Bionic Woman


The 18th Annual San Diego International Film Festival (SDIFF) will be celebrating a diverse array of movies and artists from October 15th-20th. Produced by the San Diego Film Foundation, organizers announced that they will honor music star and rapper Pitbull with the festival’s Music Icon Award, acclaimed actress Lindsay Wagner with the festival’s Humanitarian Award, and Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix series, What’s Love Got to Do With It) with the annual Gregory Peck Award.

Each year’s festival is the signature event presented by the San Diego Film Foundation, which is “dedicated to providing new perspective through the experience of film; we believe that film can be transformative and we are bound together through human connection.” Their mission is to use “the experience of film to explore issues of global impact, to create dialog, and ultimately to develop empathy and understanding.” The fest also provides an advance look at what are sure to be some of this year’s Hollywood awards season darlings.

Other honorees will include British actor Jared Harris (Chernobyl, Carnival Row) with the Cinema Vanguard Award and actress-comedian Jillian Bell (Brittany Runs a Marathon, Office Christmas Party) with the Fairbanks Award. In addition to receiving his award, Pitbull (aka Armando Christian Perez) will perform during the festival’s Night of the Stars Tribute ceremony on October 18th at the Pendry San Diego.

Emmy award-winning actress Lindsay Wagner captured the hearts of audiences around the world with her iconic portrayal of The Bionic Woman. She has since starred in over 60 films, miniseries and specials that were also groundbreaking, socially relevant and often poignant. Wagner made a conscious and courageous decision in the turbulent 1970s to use her stature in the entertainment industry to champion many causes that were receiving little media attention. Forgoing a number of feature film offers, she chose to use her significant clout to make movies that were aired on television in an effort to educate her audiences. Wagner has often been referred to as the “Queen of TV Movies,” and her films and docudramas have covered such important subjects such as healthcare, capital punishment, child sexual abuse, terrorism, domestic violence, revisionist history, and the emotional impact of breast cancer.

And then there are the movies! The local premiere of the controversial Jojo Rabbit, directed by Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), will serve as the Opening Night film at the Balboa Theatre on Tuesday, October 15th. This World War II satire follows a lonely German boy, Jojo, whose worldview is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother (played by Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (personified by director Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism. Jojo Rabbit recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Other prominent films to be screened at ArcLight Cinema La Jolla on October 17th will be Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated The Irishman featuring the dream teaming of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci; Marriage Story, directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver; the acclaimed women’s romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire; and A Hidden Life directed by beloved auteur Terrence Malick. All in all, 107 films will be shown including five Narrative Spotlight Competition films, 20 Narrative Competition films, nine Documentary Competition films, and 66 Short films.

Among the festival’s gay-interest movies are Temblores (Tremors), which will screen on Sunday, October 20th. Set in Guatemala, it tells the potent story of a newly-out gay husband, father, son, and brother and the harsh treatment he receives from his evangelical Christian family. Talented writer-director Jayro Bustamante pulls no punches and one easily feels for Pablo, the handsome, Scruff-ready lead character (beautifully portrayed by Juan Pablo Olyslager).

Also screening on October 20th will be By the Grace of God, gay director François Ozon's gripping drama that follows three men who band together to dismantle the code of silence that continues to protect a priest who abused them decades ago.

Tickets, passes, and the most up to date festival information are available at SDIFF website.

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Movie Dearest Guide to Halloween Costumes 2019

Whether you’ll be out looking for tricks or treats (or both) this All Hallow’s Eve, Movie Dearest has got you covered with the latest creepy and kooky movie and TV-inspired costume ideas:

Kick-Ass Women

Alita, Battle Angel

Captain Marvel

Dark Phoenix

Bo Peep in Toy Story 4


The Stranger Things Scoops Ahoy Crew

Molly and Amy from Booksmart

Anna and Elsa in Frozen II

Eve Polastri and Villanelle from Killing Eve


The Tethered from Us

The Cast of American Horror Story: 1984

The Rose Family of Schitt's Creek

The Hustlers

The Many Lives and/or Deaths of Nadia Vulvokov in Russian Doll

The Various Elton Johns from Rocketman

Golden Girls

Dame Maggie Smith as The Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey

Rita Moreno as Lydia Margarita del Carmen Inclán Maribona Leyte-Vidal de Riera
from One Day at a Time

Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy

Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in The Favourite and/or as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown


The Umbrella Academy

The Shazam! Family

Fat Thor

...and Supervillains

The Joker

Mysterio from Spider-Man: Far from Home

Mary Louise from Big Little Lies