Thursday, December 2, 2021

Reverend's Interview: Getting Merry with Michael Urie


The Hallmark Channel, Lifetime and other networks are awash in holiday-themed movies this month, pretty much running them 24/7. Too many of them share boringly similar storylines with nary an LGBTQ character in sight.


Thankfully, this trend is slowly starting to change. Last holiday season featured the premieres of three groundbreaking films with LGBTQ characters front and center: Dashing in December (Paramount Network), The Christmas Setup (Lifetime) and Happiest Season (Hulu). This year, we can add Netflix's new Single All the Way (debuting today on the streaming service) to this growing subgenre.

Desperate to avoid his family’s judgment about his perpetual single status, openly gay Peter, played by Michael Urie, convinces his best friend Nick (sexy Philemon Chambers) to join him in going home for the holidays and pretending they're now in a relationship. But when Peter’s mother (Kathy Najimy of Sister Act plus Hocus Pocus and its upcoming sequel) sets him up on a blind date with her handsome trainer James (the hot Luke Macfarlane, himself a veteran of several Hallmark Channel Christmas offerings), the plan goes awry. Despite this, Peter and Nick gradually draw closer to each other. The movie co-stars the one and only Jennifer Coolidge, Barry Bostwick of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame, and Schitt's Creek's Jennifer Robertson. It is directed by out Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening).

Single All the Way is Netflix’s first gay holiday rom-com. “That’s a very special feeling; I’m not going to lie and pretend that’s not a big deal,” said Chad Hodge, the festive film's screenwriter. Hodge previously created the TV series Wayward Pines and The Playboy Club. He also wrote the book for the stage adaptation of Irving Berlin's musical Holiday Inn. “I’m lucky, and the experience I’ve had making this movie with Netflix has been very rewarding," Hodge continued. "But there are so many LGBTQ storytellers, so many brilliant writers and directors, so let this be just the beginning."

As star Michael Urie adds in the movie's press notes: “It’s the perfect Christmas movie because it’s a love story between queer people surrounded by a cast of queer icons who are doing everything they can to get these two friends to fall in love with each other.” Urie is well known to both LGBTQ and mainstream viewers. The out actor rose to prominence on TV's award-winning Ugly Betty as Marc St. James, personal assistant and "seeing-eye gay" to the bitchy Wilhelmina (played by Vanessa Williams). Since then, Urie has gravitated easily between TV, film, and the stage. He has also moved into producing and directing.

The ever-effervescent Urie recently spoke with reverend via Zoom from New York City, where he was appearing in the Broadway comedy Chicken & Biscuits.

REV: Congratulations on Single All the Way as well as one of my favorite movies of the year, Swan Song!
MU: Oh, thank you so much! Also a Jennifer Coolidge film. We didn't have any scenes together but when I arrived all of Sandusky, Ohio was abuzz that she had been there. And I have to say working with (cult movie star) Udo Kier and working with Jennifer Coolidge was everything you'd want it to be.

REV: That's quite the combo! So tell me, how did Single All the Way come your way? How did you get involved with it?
MU: Well, that's an interesting question actually. I guess it's OK if I tell the story. So, I received a request to make a self-tape audition for the role of Nick, the hot, rugged handyman (ultimately played by co-star Chambers). And I was like, "Guys, are you sure about this? Are you sure this is what you want? Because I see in the script there's this adorable, neurotic, gregarious Peter and I'm a Peter, not a Nick." And they said, "OK, yeah, let us look at the clips." Also, I know the writer, I knew Chad Hodge socially and I loved his work and we'd met a few times so I said, "You know, Chad knows me so if you just float this by him I think he'd be more interested in seeing me for this role." And they're like, "OK, don't make a tape; hold on." I told them I loved this script and I love this idea, and I would love to be in this movie, so just let me know. And so a few days go by and they're like, "OK, don't make a tape, I think they're going to just ask you to do it." And I said fine and it turned out that they just offered me the part. It's one of those weird things where like if I had made a tape for Nick, I'm not sure I'd be in the movie.

REV: Interesting! Now, had you worked with Michael Mayer before as a director?
MU: I don't think so... (pauses for a moment) No, we never had. We knew each other, we'd been around each other a few times and we may have done a reading together at some point or another. In the theater, there's lots of one-day gigs where you cross paths for a day and you stand at music stands and read a play. That may have happened at some point, and I know there was a thing in development that we were trying to get going. But I knew him and really liked him. I loved his work and we had a really great time together in Montreal.

REV: Awesome! I read you had worked with Kathy Najimy before but you hadn't worked with Jennifer Coolidge and how about Barry Bostwick?
MU: So, Kathy and Barry were both on Ugly Betty and Kathy and I were both on (the TV series) Younger, and Jennifer and I were both in Swan Song but I don't believe any of us had actually shared the screen before. I was very familiar with their work; it's hard not to be if you love actors. And if you're gay, they're even more important.

REV: I agree. They are god and goddesses. I've interviewed Barry Bostwick before and he's delightful just to talk to, very open and he was great.
MU: Oh my gosh, he's so charming and even though one would think he doesn't want to talk about Rocky Horror anymore, he still does! He's so proud of the legacy.

REV: Do I understand correctly that you filmed Single All the Way at the height of COVID? What was that experience like?
MU: Yep, we shot last year in Montreal and Quebec while both cities were shut down. There were curfews the entire time. Friends would recommend restaurants I should check out while I was there and I was like, "Guys, everything's shut down!" We had to carry letters with us saying we were essential workers, because Christmas movies are essential (laughs). We all had to stay six feet apart, and there was a COVID monitor on set to make sure no one was with anyone else for more than 15 minutes. It's amazing that, in the movie, it looks like we're all together and hugging and everything is perfectly normal. But that is a testament to Michael Mayer, because when 15 minutes were up and he yelled "Cut!", everyone scattered!

REV: Wow! You're right, everything looks totally normal in the finished film. Are there any moments in the film that parallel your personal holiday experiences or that you drew from?
MU: Hmm, that's a good question. My partner Ryan Spahn and I have been together 13 years. Ryan's family all live in the same town, while my family is more scattered. We alternate each year. The holiday dinners with Ryan's family are massive, like in the movie, and it's really easy for everyone to gang up on one person. Alliances change very easily. I also remember everyone in my family going to separate rooms to wrap gifts, like they do in the movie. I think Single All the Way reflects a lot of universal truths about the holidays. There is Christmas magic, and I find it interesting that traditions for every family are so unique while relatable. Christmas is unique. I mean, what other holiday has its own genre of music?

REV: I think that's the perfect way to end this interview. Thank you, Michael, and happy holidays!
MU: Happy holidays!

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

MD Review: Gods and Monsters

Leave it to Marvel to take a group of obscure comic book characters and build a whole big budget sub-franchise around them. But what worked for the Guardians of the Galaxy does not for Eternals, no matter how much the studio pushes it as their next awards-baiting break out, à la Black Panther. Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao tries, but it's hard to care much about a bunch of angsty, super-powered immortals you've never heard of before.

MD Rating: 6/10

Eternals is now playing in theaters.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Reverend's Reviews: Back to Broadway


With proof of COVID-19 vaccination and photo ID in hand, Reverend recently made his first trip back to NYC and Broadway since December 2019. Ah, how I longed for those carefree days when one could attend subsequent Best Musical Tony Award winner Moulin Rouge! (which we earlier honored as our pick for 2019's Best Stage Show) without fearing for one's life! But I'm happy to report that both Broadway and Off-Broadway are in healthy shape at present.


My intrepid theatre chums Joe, Zoe, David and I first paid homage to the gods of NYC theatre by taking in Off-Broadway's Fairycakes. It is playing at the Greenwich House Theater in Greenwich Village (duh). Written and directed by the acclaimed and often hilarious Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed, the stage adaptation of Xanadu and the LGBTQ film classic To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar), the comedy is something of a mashup of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Pinocchio and Cinderella. It's first act is too long and convoluted, but things pay off nicely in the tighter second act. The play's main selling point is its big name cast currently consisting of comedian/CBS news correspondent Mo Rocca, Avenue Q veteran Ann Harada (who is also a regular on Apple TV+'s Schmigadoon!), Charles Busch's frequent sidekick Julie Halston and the one and only Jackie Hoffman. An enchanting musical score by Beane's husband Lewis Flinn as well as Gregory Gale's extravagant costumes also deserve special mention.

Disney is back on Broadway, not only with the return of long-running hits Aladdin and The Lion King but with their brand-new Winnie the Pooh. At 75 minutes, it is an adorable family-friendly delight. Sure, the simplistic plot consists of little more than honey-loving Pooh bear and his stalwart friends Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and Rabbit getting into various kinds of trouble while their human pal Christopher Robin is away at school. But the overall look of the production, supervised by Jonathan Rockefeller, is amazing. The various non-human characters are larger-than-life puppets visibly operated and voiced by Jake Bazel (Pooh), Chris Palmieri (Tigger), Kirsty Moon (Piglet and Roo), Emmanuel Elpenord (Eeyore, Rabbit and Owl), and Kristina Dizon as Kanga and various natural elements. Bazel, in particular, does a great job channeling the unforgettable voice of the late Sterling Holloway; he even looks like a young Holloway! Numerous songs by the Sherman Brothers from the classic animated films as well as tunes from more recent Pooh-related projects like Piglet's Big Movie (2003) and The Tigger Movie (2000) are incorporated. Both the kids and adults in attendance loved it. Trust me, there are way worse ways to spend a Saturday morning.

My Connecticut friends and I went our separate ways the afternoon of Saturday, October 30th. Reverend took in my #1 choice, which was Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, now playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. An import from London that originally opened on Broadway shortly before the COVID-related shutdown, it starred newly-minted Tony Award winner Adrienne Warren as the rock & roll goddess. Unfortunately, Reverend learned just a few days before the performance and months after buying my tickets that Warren was leaving the production last weekend so I didn't get to see her. On the plus side, her understudy and new successor Nkeki Obi-Melekwe was fantastic and I'm sure she would have won the Tony if she had originated the role. I also preferred Obi-Melekwe's vocal performance over Warren's more affected, gravelly singing (which I had heard multiple times beforehand via Sirius XM's On Broadway channel).

The book of Tina, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, is a fairly straightforward account of Turner's rise to stardom despite her abusive marriage to Ike Turner (very well-played with just enough sympathetic insight by Tony nominee Daniel J. Watts). I appreciated that the show, directed by Mamma Mia's Phyllida Lloyd, is bookended with references to Turner's longtime devotion to Buddhism. Many songs from the diva's five-decade career are successfully incorporated into the show, although some (notably "Better Be Good To Me" and the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome theme "We Don't Need Another Hero") feel somewhat shoehorned in. To call Anthony Van Laast's choreography energetic would be an understatement, and Obi-Melekwe impressed me even more with her post-curtain call mini-concert of three more Turner songs! Whether on Broadway or eventually on tour, Tina is a must see!

My theatre-loving pals and I closed out our 4-shows-in-24-hours NYC weekend together with a preview performance of Mrs. Doubtfire at the Stephen Sondheim. Adapted from the beloved 1993 movie that starred the late, great Robin Williams, the musical was in previews and primed to open before last year's Broadway shutdown. Our reaction to it was decidedly mixed but revisions may yet be made prior to it's official December opening.

I haven't actually watched the film since seeing it in a movie theater nearly 30 years ago. I enjoyed it but can't remember the plot with complete accuracy. That being said, the musical (written by Wayne Kirkpatrick, Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell, who previously collaborated on the delightful Something Rotten!) recreates all the story's major points including "It was a run-by fruiting!" I do wish there had been a full musical number of this, though, in addition to a pair of terrific songs inspired by the movie's "Easy Peasy" and "Make Me a Woman."

The primary attribute of the stage version, which is directed by Broadway legend Jerry Zaks, is lead actor Rob McClure. He gives an amazing performance as Daniel Hillard/Euphegenia Doubtfire, aided and abetted by Catherine Zuber's quick-change costumes and Tommy Kurzman's makeup and prosthetics. McClure is hilarious and moving in equal shares, and I totally expect him to win next year's Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Mrs. Doubtfire: The New Musical Comedy is well worth seeing for McClure alone.

As I wrap up this article, I was just informed of the long-awaited casting of the two leads in the upcoming Wicked movie! Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo will play Elphaba while pop superstar Ariana Grande will be Glinda. The film starts filming next summer under the guidance of director John M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights). Reverend is already polishing his ruby slippers!

Reverend's Ratings:
Fairycakes: B-
Winnie the Pooh: B+
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical: A-
Mrs. Doubtfire: B

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

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Reverend's Preview: Festivals of the Fall


We might all have cooler temperatures, pumpkin lattes and Halloween celebrations on our mind, but there are still major film festivals happening in Southern California this autumn. And there is plenty of LGBTQ content featured at two of this month’s most prominent events!


Now celebrating its 20th year, the San Diego International Film Festival (SDIFF) is the region’s premiere film festival and one of the leading stops on the annual film fest circuit. This year’s lineup includes at least 155 films: 24 Narrative Competition films, 14 Documentary Competition films and 117 Short films.

SDIFF’s 20th anniversary event starts today and  will run through October 24th. Produced by the San Diego Film Foundation, festival attendees will enjoy a hybrid of in-person and virtual events. In-person festival events and screenings will take place in some of the oceanfront city’s most beautiful locations including Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa on Mission Bay, and even on board the USS Midway! Patrons can also access over 150 films On Demand in the festival’s Virtual Village as well as Q&As with filmmakers from around the world.

C’mon C’mon, the opening night film, stars Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann and Woody Norman. The latest from writer-director Mike Mills (who previously made 2010’s Oscar-winning, gay-themed film Beginners) is a deeply moving meditation on the connections between adults and children and the importance of family. SDIFF 2021 will close with actress Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial feature debut The Lost Daughter, a psychological drama based on the novel of the same name.

Presented in between these will be two major gay-interest Spotlight features. The Power of the Dog is the first film in 12 years by acclaimed writer-director Jane Campion (The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady, In the Cut). Benedict Cumberbatch stars as a sadistic 19th century rancher struggling with repressed sexual yearnings. The actor is already receiving major Oscar buzz for his performance. Meanwhile, the unique animated documentary Flee follows Amin, a gay man on the verge of marrying his husband, as he shares his story for the first time about his hidden past of fleeing his country as a refugee. Flee won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Other Spotlight features will include Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as the late Princess Diana; Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical Belfast; uber-quirky filmmaker Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch; and Stephen Karam’s The Humans, adapted from his award-winning Broadway play.

Tonya Mantooth, CEO/Artistic Director of the San Diego International Film Festival recently said: “As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, I have really reflected on the great strides that have been made within the film industry. There has been a significant increase in female filmmakers as well as a larger examination of global social topics. We are thrilled to provide a platform to showcase that change. This year, the festival received over 3,000 film submissions representing over 65 countries. We are excited to curate one of the strongest film lineups in our 20-year history including both independent films and studio premieres."

Passes to attend live screenings at multiple locations throughout San Diego or Virtual Fest Passes can be purchased at the SDIFF website or by calling 619-818-2221.

Then there is the 22nd annual Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF), to be held October 21st -28th at various Orange County locations. Tickets are now on sale on their website. Several LGBTQ+ feature films as well as short films will be screened. Among these are:

My Father Mary Anne (Min pappa Marianne)
: After breaking up with her boyfriend, 28-year-old Hanna returns to her hometown for a temporary position at the local news station. Her world is soon turned even more upside down when her beloved father, the local priest with the big beard, reveals that his greatest desire is to be Mary Anne. From this point on there is no going back for Father Mary Anne, who insists on being her true self. It's a tumultuous journey for Hanna, who didn't know herself or her father as well as she thought she did.

Yes I Am - The Ric Weiland Story: An openly gay software pioneer, Ric Weiland found early wealth as the second employee at Microsoft in 1975. He was an integral and valued part of their early successes and helped shape the company into what it is today. Ric retired at 35 to quiet nagging doubts and to create impactful and meaningful change in the world around him. His generosity and influence helped shape modern HIV/AIDS research, marriage equality and legal protections for LGBTQ employees at some of the biggest names in the business. Through this documentary (narrated by Zachary Quinto) and the personal diaries Ric left behind, we gain a clearer picture of the beloved, talented and troubled man.

Pieces of Us: An intimate look at the personal journeys of LGBTQ+ hate crime survivors who, by choosing to take their recovery public, inspire the survivor in all of us. The film juxtaposes the inspirational stories of recovery each of its subjects (including transgender activist and Stonewall Riots survivor Victoria Cruz and Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of India) have experienced with the powerful connections their public actions have produced. Their stories take us to New York City, Denver and India to witness how intersectionality and speaking one’s truth can build a supportive community and even spark global change.

Someone Like Me: Leaving everything he knows behind, Drake -- a vibrant 22-year-old gay man from Uganda -- aspires to the universal freedoms everyone deserves: to be whom he is and love whomever he chooses without fear of discrimination, persecution or violence. Tasked with a year-long commitment as Drake’s primary support network, a group of strangers from Vancouver’s queer community unite under the banner of Rainbow Refugee, a non-profit that connects LGBTQ+ asylum claimants with sponsors. Sean Horlor and Steve J. Adams’ feature documentary takes a verit√© approach to the generous and rough-edged nuances of what it means to sponsor an asylum seeker. Chronicling the complexities of the journey taken by Drake and his sponsors, the filmmakers illuminate how survival itself becomes a victory in a world where one must constantly fight for the right to exist.

Several LGBTQ+ short films will also be screened under the program title “Short, Sweet and Queer.” These will include Adrift in Sunset, Falling In, ITCH, Liminal, Satan's Tears, That Girl, Peugeot and The Lonely Prince.

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


Monday, September 27, 2021

Reverend's Preview: Jump, Darlings, to QFilms Long Beach


I expect I’ll always remember Cloris Leachman best as Frau Blucher, the sinister yet hilariously lascivious castlekeeper in Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein. Others will fondly recall her as Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or as Granny in the big screen adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies.


Sadly, Leachman passed away earlier this year at the age of 94 but not before completing her final film role in Jump, Darling. This new LGBTQ family drama will have its Long Beach premiere the evening of October 3rd as part of the 28th Annual QFilms Festival. Presented by The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, proceeds from each year’s festival provide important funds for The Center’s numerous programs that support more than 25,000 seniors, youth and other members of the diverse local community.

QFilms will run Thursday, September 30th through Sunday, October 3rd, 2021. Movies will be shown three different ways this year: indoors at the Art Theatre Long Beach, 2025 E. 4th Street; outdoor screenings at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), 628 Alamitos Avenue; and online at QFilmsLongBeach.com. Last year, all films were streamed online only due to the pandemic. Passes and tickets are now on sale at QFilmsLongBeach.com.

Jump, Darling is written and directed by debut filmmaker Phil Connell. It follows a rookie drag queen (played by newcomer Thomas Duplessie) reeling from a breakup who moves in with his declining grandmother (Leachman) to protect her from the local nursing home. The film is a thoughtful exploration of the right to live as who we are and how we wish, while also grappling with end of life care.

The initial seeds for Jump, Darling were planted along two parallel tracks. One was Connell’s experience with end-of-life care conversations with his grandmother. The other was his experience choosing life as an artist. “Over a period of years, my late grandmother struggled with how to prepare for her ‘decline’, be it physical or mental,” shares Connell. “It was the topic of conversation each time I would visit her. Meanwhile, as I recommitted to filmmaking, I struggled to maintain my resolve, against all the forces and voices, the ones that every artist face.”

The film’s supporting cast includes Linda Kash (Best in Show) and Jayne Eastwood (Chicago), plus cameo appearances by well-known drag queens Tynomi Banks (featured recently on Canada’s Drag Race), Fay Slift and Miss Fiercalicious. The film showcases six on-screen drag performances against a pop soundtrack including Robyn, Allie X, Rough Trade, Years & Years and more.

During her long career, Leachman won both an Academy Award and a BAFTA Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Last Picture Show, and she holds the record for the most Primetime Emmy acting nominations in history, a whopping 22. She played her role as Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show to such great success that it led to her own television series spinoff, Phyllis.

“Cloris was an icon and an ally,” said Connell. “To work with her, to know her, and now to share her final leading performance with the world is a true honor.”

QFilms will feature a number of additional feature films and documentaries during its four days. Here’s the rundown:

This is Jessica (premiering Thursday, September 30th at 7:00 pm at the Art Theatre): Fest favorite Andrea Meyerson paints an intimate, emotional portrait of a woman forced to make a heart-wrenching decision to save herself. From her earliest years growing up as a Mormon boy in a conservative environment, Jessica knew she was a girl. Terrified to risk her family, her faith, her life on earth and eternal soul, Jonathan went about creating the perfect life of a young Mormon man, becoming a missionary, marrying young and starting a family. While serving in the Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, she became despondent over the chasm between whom she was and who she was merely pretending to be. When Jonathan finally comes out as Jessica, it's a leap off the edge of life as she knows it.

Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story (Thursday at 9:30 pm at the Art Theatre) features tech mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates as well as the voice of out actor Zachary Quinto. Ric Weiland was a brilliant programmer, queer pioneer and one of the earliest employees of Microsoft. He dedicated his life and fortune to philanthropy and activism, but personal struggles eventually became too much to bear. This important film is the story of his life and legacy.

Rebel Dykes (Friday, October 1st at 7:15 pm at the Art Theatre) is a rabble-rousing documentary set in 1980s, post-punk London. It tells the previously unheard story of a community of dykes who met doing art, music, politics and sex, and how they went on to change their world.


No Ordinary Man (Friday at 9:30 pm at the Art Theatre): A fascinating, award-winning portrait of Billy Tipton, the renowned jazz musician who was revealed after his death to have been transgender.

Summertime (Friday at 9:15 pm Men & Friends’ Night @ MOLAA): Over the course of a hot summer day in Los Angeles, the lives of 25 young Angelenos intersect. A skating guitarist, a tagger, two wannabe rappers, an exasperated fast-food worker, a limo driver... they all weave in and out of each other's stories. Through poetry they express life, love, heartache, family, home and fear… but one of them just wants to find someplace that still serves good cheeseburgers.


My First Summer (Saturday, October 2nd at 11:00 am at the Art Theatre): 16-year-old Claudia has grown up in isolation from the outside world. Stranded on a remote property after her mother's death, she is shocked when Grace, a spirited local teen, appears in the garden like a mirage or a breath of fresh air. The pair finds in each other the support, love and intimacy they need, and teach each other the restorative power of human connection.

Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters (Saturday at 6:30 pm at the Art Theatre): A feature documentary that traces the remarkable history and legacy of one of the most important works of art to come out of the age of AIDS: choreographer Bill T. Jones’s tour de force ballet D-Man in the Waters. As a group of young dancers reconstructs the 1989 dance today, they learn about this oft-forgotten history and deepen their understanding of the power of art in a time of plague.


Fanny: The Right to Rock (Saturday at 9:15 pm at Women & Friends’ Night @ MOLAA): Sometime in the 1960s in sunny Sacramento, two Filipina American sisters got together with other teenage girls to play music. Little did they know their garage band would evolve into the legendary rock group Fanny, the first all-women band to release an LP with a major record label. Despite releasing five critically acclaimed albums, touring with famed bands from Slade to Chicago, and amassing a dedicated fan base of music legends including David Bowie, Fanny's groundbreaking impact in music was written out of history... until now. Fighting early barriers of race, gender and sexuality in the music industry, and now ageism, the incredible women of Fanny are ready to claim their hallowed place in the halls of rock 'n' roll fame.

Marry Me, However (Sunday, October 3rd at 1:15 pm at the Art Theatre) tells the stories of Jewish LGBT men and women who decided to marry against their own sexual orientation, in order to comply with Torah laws and be accepted into their families and religious communities. Some shared their secret with their partners, some kept it hidden, and some lied even to themselves. After their eventual divorces, they confront the conflicts they repressed: their faith and religious laws; children, family and community; exposure to society and search for a partner. The characters experience a journey of self-acceptance and social activism, as they try to affect change in their religious environments.

Forgotten Roads (Sunday at 5:30 pm at the Art Theatre): Bereft on an isolated turkey farm after her husband’s death, 70-year-old Claudina — meek, repressed and adrift — moves into town to live with her daughter and grandson. Despite a strained relationship with her daughter, Claudina experiences an unexpected spark of life when she befriends the dynamic and independent married woman next door, Elsa, who seems to travel paths and make choices Claudina never had the chance to make. But in the gossipy Chilean town of Lautaro, their budding relationship doesn’t stay a secret for long. Just as Claudina sees love’s horizons expanding, she may be forced to choose between the traditional role she understands and the open road ahead of her.

QFilms 2021 will also present a large number of specially-curated LGBTQ short film programs including CORTOS: Latinx Queer Shorts (Thursday outdoor screening at MOLAA); TRANSpirational Shorts (Friday at 5:00 pm at the Art Theatre); Rated PG-13: Youth Shorts (Saturday at 1:30 pm at the Art Theatre); Queermation: Animated Shorts (Saturday at 4:00 pm at the Art Theatre); and (Almost) Midnight: Experimental Shorts (Saturday at 9:30 pm at the Art Theatre). These are in addition to the fest’s traditional programs Men In Briefs (Sunday at 11:00 am at the Art Theatre) and Women In Shorts (Sunday at 3:30 pm at the Art Theatre) plus two new exclusively-online programs, Eat My (Comedy) Shorts and Locally Sourced: California Shorts.

There will truly be something for everyone everywhere in Long Beach at this year’s QFilms!

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

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Reverend's Preview: 21st Annual FilmOut San Diego Prepares To Take Flight


The LGBTQ Film Festival known as FilmOut San Diego celebrate its 21st anniversary this year from September 9th–12th. 47 movies will be screened during the mostly in-person, four-day festival at The San Diego Natural History Museum (THE NAT) and The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) both located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. Award-winning films from Sundance, SXSW and Berlin Film Festivals will be featured, along with independent features and a variety of short films.


According to its organizers, FilmOut San Diego "annually affirms the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories. The Board of Directors believes its work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBTQ community in San Diego County." Local filmmakers will be represented during the fest by two noteworthy short films: Las Reinas de los Cuentos and the very funny We All Die Alone.


The Opening Night film on September 9th will be Peeter Rebane’s Firebird. This visually-impressive gay romance, based on a true story, opens in Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1977. Troubled soldier Sergey (played by the hunky Tom Prior, who also co-wrote the screenplay) falls in love with an esteemed fighter pilot, the equally attractive Roman. Unfortunately, their relationship becomes complicated by the affections of their commanding officer's daughter as well as by a suspicious KGB agent, at a time when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense. Their love story spans five years, and the film culminates in a performance of Stravinski's title symphony. The screening will start at 7:00 PM at THE NAT and will be followed by an Opening Night Party until 11:30 PM.

A final performance by the late, great Cloris Leachman highlights Jump, Darling, the fest's Closing Night film on September 12th. Written and directed by debut filmmaker Phil Connell, it follows a rookie drag queen (played by newcomer Thomas Duplessie) reeling from a breakup who moves in with his declining grandmother (Leachman) to protect her from the local nursing home. The film is a thoughtful exploration of the right to live as who we are and how we wish. It will screen at 7:00 PM and be followed by a Closing Night Dessert Reception at MOPA.


Other fest highlights include veteran filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka’s Boy Culture: The Series (Men's Centerpiece), Kelly Walker’s My Fiona (Women's Centerpiece) and Rafael Gomes’ Music for Bleeding Hearts (International Spotlight). One of my personal faves to be screened is Potato Dreams of America, a 99% autobiographical saga according to writer-director Wes Hurley. Precocious 12-year-old Vasili, affectionately nicknamed Potato, lives with his grandmother (a terrific, largely serious turn by Lea Delaria) and prison-doctor mother in the USSR circa 1985. His near-religious devotion to American movies is hilariously personified by a movie-loving Jesus Christ. Potato and his mother are eventually brought to the US by an American man with whom his mother has been having a correspondence. Once in 1990's NYC, Potato begins to define his homosexuality with the help of repeat viewings of Gregg Araki's indie gay classic The Living End. It's a funny, lovable flick and even features the occasional musical number!

In addition to the in-person festival, four additional films will be available exclusively online during the festival. These will give patrons who aren't quite ready to mingle in person the opportunity to participate in FilmOut from home. One of the movies is Beyto, a Turkish twist on the familiar coming out story. The title character is a competitive swimmer in Switzerland, played by the very appealing Burak Ates. Originally from Turkey, Beyto falls in love with another male teammate. However, he remains closeted from his conservative parents. After a friend of his mother spots Beyto at a Pride parade, his parents trick him into returning to Turkey and force him to marry a longtime female friend. It often plays like a 1950's melodrama but is sadly contemporary. Fortunately, love wins out in the end for all concerned. Beyto is directed and co-written by Gitta Gsell, a Swiss woman filmmaker. Her sensitive, respectful approach is a plus.


I also recommend the truly surprising Festival Spotlight film: Boulevard! A Hollywood Story. It is the latest work by out, Emmy-winning documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz. His previous queer-centric documentaries include The Fabulous Allan Carr, Tab Hunter Confidential, Vito and I Am Divine (the latter of which is currently streaming on Netflix). Additionally, Schwarz was the recipient of the 2015 Frameline Award, which honors those who have made a major contribution to LGBT representation in film, television and the media arts.

For Gloria Swanson, the iconic star of Sunset Boulevard, both the movie and the character of Norma Desmond provided a renewed spotlight. Seeing in Norma a portal back to the fame she once commanded during her early years as an actress in silent pictures, Swanson strategically began to envision a Broadway musical adaptation of the film in which she would star. Enter Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley, two young songwriters and closeted romantic partners. They found themselves caught in Swanson’s web when she hired them to write the more succinctly titled Boulevard, a musical version of her now-classic film. Life imitated art when Gloria fell for Richard, and the men found themselves living a real-life version of the movie!

Jeffrey Schwarz is well known to this writer from his previous appearances at the Long Beach QFilm Festival. I was thrilled that he let me be one of the first to view the final edit of his latest work, as well as to be the first journalist he spoke with about it. Here is a summary of our recent conversation:


CC: It was good to see you in the film! Is this the first time you actually appear in one of your documentaries?
JS: Yes, it is the first time and hopefully the last (laugh). I didn't intend to be in it at first, but I wanted to show the process of making the movie and ultimately realized having the camera follow me was the best way to do it.

CC: What inspired you to tell this story?
JS: I've always loved Sunset Boulevard and I've learned that, for gay people, our taste in movies comes out before we do. I also love learning about the behind-the-scenes drama of classic movies, and devoured film historian Sam Staggs' book Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard. It was here I first learned about Gloria Swanson's failed attempt to launch a musical version of Sunset Boulevard and the resulting creative threesome with her composers. It was a fascinating story. Part of what motivates me to make movies is to discover these hidden stories, especially from a time when LGBT people couldn't tell our stories openly. I initially was most interested in Swanson but became more interested in Richard Stapley and Dick Hughes. They were a gay couple but never acknowledged their relationship publicly.

CC: Why do you think Sunset Boulevard still holds such appeal, especially for gay men?
JS: That's such a great question. Gay people are drawn to these bigger-than-life characters and especially people like Norma Desmond, who is defiant and (even though she loses her mind) confident in who she is. There have been volumes written about this topic so this is my best summation. It's also just such a brilliant and cynical image of Hollywood, and not much has changed. The film is also a powerful testament to actresses over the age of 50 playing lead roles, which was pretty much unheard of then and is still difficult today.


CC: You interviewed the late (and gay) movie historian Robert Osborne for this film. How was that experience?
JS: I interviewed him for my last movie about Allan Carr. (Osborne died in 2017.) I was inspired to ask him then if he would say a few things about Sunset Boulevard. He was always so generous with his time and such a lovely man. I miss him a lot.

CC: I'll be curious to see if your documentary creates enough interest in the Boulevard musical that someone will yet produce it. What do you think?
JS: Who knows? It's hard because the Andrew Lloyd Webber version is so dominant. (A movie version of it starring Glenn Close is in the works.) I hope the story goes on. I hope to make a feature film about it someday. But who knows? Maybe some Broadway producer will get interested in it.

CC: I sure hope so! What's next for you?
JS: I have a few things waiting in the wings. One is a doc about the making of Showgirls. I'm busy editing that right now. I try to be working on a few projects simultaneously because you never know which are going to fly.

I hereby proclaim Boulevard! A Hollywood Story a must see! For complete festival info including tickets, sponsorships and volunteer information, visit the FilmOut website. You can also follow the fest on Facebook at FilmOut San Diego or on Instagram and Twitter at @FilmOutSD.

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

Monday, August 30, 2021

WandaVision Bewitches the 2nd Annual Dorian TV Awards

 

Disney+'s wickedly wacky WandaVision leads this year's Dorian TV Awards with three wins, including two for Kathryn Hahn as the Marvel mini-series' over-the-top antagonist Agatha Harkness. Hahn was victorious in both the supporting performance and musical performance categories, the latter for her character's unexpected hit theme song "Agatha All Along". WandaVision's decades-spanning period looks also earned it the Dorian for "Visually Striking" TV show of the year.

Other winners include Pose, Hacks, It's a Sin, I May Destroy You and Love, Victor. Voted on by GALECA, The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (of which I and fellow Movie Dearest critic Chris Carpenter are members) unveiled the winners of this year's Dorian TV Awards last night in a star-studded extravaganza that you can still watch – for free and on demand – on Revry TV.

Monday, August 23, 2021

MD Review: The Dirty Dozen (More or Less)

In the constantly rebooting morass that is DC Comics' attempts at their own "cinematic universe", James Gunn's The Suicide Squad falls right in step with its predecessors, this despite its creator's "rebel auteur" image among fanboys. The Warner-owned franchise's formula – hire a hip director to bring their "visionary" talents to the project and give them carte blanche to run roughshod over decades of comic book history – is on full view in this blood-soaked, hyper-violent and, ultimately, run of the mill anti-hero yarn. Only in a DC movie do they start the retconning during the end credits.
 
MD Rating: 5/10
 
The Suicide Squad is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max through September 5th.
 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Reverend's Interview: Hitting the Road with Joe Bell



Growing up as an LGBTQ teenager is not without its traumatic moments. Most of us weather them but, sadly, some have endured so much bullying that suicide is the only option they can see to have some peace.


Such was the case for Jadin Bell, a 15-year old Oregon boy who took his own life in 2013 after months of abuse from his schoolmates. He was bullied for being gay both in person and online. Though tragic, his death subsequently raised the national profile of youth bullying and gay victimization. This has led to greater precautions against these in schools and society.

Jadin's death also motivated his grieving father, Joe, to take a dramatic step to honor his son's memory. Joe Bell embarked on a walk across America in April, 2013. He intended it to last two years as he would speak about his late son's experience to whomever would listen to him. Joe's life would also end prematurely in October, 2013, when he was struck and killed in Colorado by a semi driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel.


Jadin and his father are being commemorated this month with the release of a major motion picture. Titled Joe Bell, it tells each of their stories in deeply moving yet ultimately inspiring fashion. Notably, the screenplay was written by Diana Ossana and the late Larry McMurtry, who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Brokeback Mountain in 2006. The film will be released in theaters this Friday, July 23rd, having had its world premiere at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Joe Bell garnered rave reviews, both for the film as a whole and for the lead performances by Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg as Joe and young Reid Miller as Jadin.

As Wahlberg states in the movie's press notes: "With movie theaters reopening, we are excited to partner with exhibitors to bring the extraordinary story of Joe Bell and his son Jadin to audiences around the country." Additionally, the film's producers note: "Joe Bell has always been a labor of love and a story that we feel is necessary and resonant, not only first and foremost for the LGBTQ+ community but universally for parents and caretakers at large."

Co-star Reid Miller, who is now 21 years old, has previously appeared in such TV series as Play by Play, You, The Fosters and Training Day. He played the lead role in the campy holiday-horror film, Santa Jaws, and has also written and directed several short films. Miller recently spoke with Reverend about this powerful new entry in the LGBTQ film genre.

REV: I've been researching you and you are a very talented young man. Congratulations on your success thus far!
RM: Thank you so much!


REV: Had you heard about Jadin and Joe Bell prior to this project? What was your reaction to the script when you first read it?
RM: I actually hadn't (heard about them). I remember hearing little things from my friends about Jadin taking his own life but no real details. When I read the script it was a visceral reaction, which feels like an understatement. I grew up in a small Texas town and endured isolation and bullying at that age. No one should have to go through that. It was hard reading about what Jadin went through to lead him to do what he did. It makes me mad at the people who made him feel that way. He was such a light in his family and in the community.

REV: What was the casting process like for you? Did you have to audition and do callbacks?
RM: Oh yeah. Auditions and callbacks. There was so much pressure to get the casting right. They initially wanted a name actor in the role, but Jadin was young and had a very specific look. Plus, I felt I understood what Jadin went through, at least parts of it. The process was pretty rigorous. I did an audition tape in early 2019 and got a callback right away. But then there was a change of directors (from Cary Fukunaga, who moved on to the new James Bond adventure No Time to Die, to Reinaldo Marcus Green) and I didn't hear anything for months. When I finally did, there was a series of meetings with the director and Mark Wahlberg at Mark's house. I felt like things were going well but didn't know for sure. Finally, Reinaldo said "You're the guy!"

REV: Speaking of Mark Wahlberg, you have great father-son chemistry on screen. How was your experience working with him?
RM: It was great. He's a very talented guy, a very nice guy. He also created a very safe environment where I felt safe to be put on the spot since I really had to express my own woundedness while playing Jadin.


REV: How have viewers responded to the film and your performance thus far?
RM: It's always been very powerful reactions, sometimes very visceral and emotional. Some have said how they feel I brought Jadin back to life, which is great to hear but especially from members of his family.

REV: What do you hope viewers take away from the movie or the Bells' story?
RM: I say this a lot but I hope people gain a greater sense of empathy and acceptance. There is so much hate right now, especially online where there is a lot of bullying. I wish people would just take a step back and say "It's not all about me." Empathy is so important.

REV: There is a lot of debate going on in LGBTQ circles about whether only LGBTQ actors should play LGBTQ roles. As an actor, what do you think?
RM: I've heard this a lot, especially in my circles because of my age. I think it all comes down to who is the best person for the role and the story. We're living in an intense time right now and everyone is so sensitive!

REV: I agree completely. So, what are you working on now? What are some of your goals as an actor and filmmaker?
RM: I have some stuff coming up, now that we're finally at a point where people are getting vaccinated and auditions and things are opening up again. I just finished a short film that I directed and wrote that I want to develop as a feature. I'm all about action! I want to be Tom Cruise! Or his son. Can't he have a kid in one of his movies? Can't he be a father for once? (laughs.)

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

Sunday, July 11, 2021

MD Review: Along Came a Spider

After a much too long (in more ways than one) journey to her own solo adventure, the first lady of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Natasha Romanoff, is finally front and center in Black Widow. And, as trite as it may sound, it was well worth the wait. From Russia with love and filled with femme fatales, non-corny humor (rare for the MCU) and a tatted-up David Harbour squeezed into a tight super-Soviet suit, star Scarlett Johansson and director Cate Shortland deliver a globe-trotting, high stakes espionage thriller to rival the best of Bond.

MD Rating: 8/10

Black Widow is now playing in theaters and streaming on Disney Plus with Premiere Access.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Reverend's Reviews: Pride Goes On with New Movie Offerings


Another Pride month has come and gone. Thankfully, this was a more in-person celebratory Pride than last year's Pandemic Pride nightmare. It also allowed for some of the LGBTQ and other film festivals that were either cancelled or strictly virtual last year to stage combo in-person/online hybrid comebacks!


Most prominent among these was New York's Tribeca Film Festival. Co-founded by Robert DeNiro, the fest celebrated its 20th anniversary June 9th-20th. Longtime DeNiro friend and collaborator Martin Scorsese offered himself as Executive Producer of a major LGBTQ-interest documentary that celebrated its world premiere. Building a Bridge focuses on Fr. James Martin, a Catholic priest who has made an international name for himself in recent years by daring to reach out publicly to LGBTQ Catholics.

As related in the film, Fr. Martin was inspired by the tragic 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and the apparent apathy of his peers to pen a book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. The book's publication and Martin's subsequent appearances on outlets from Colbert to Fox News made him a celebrity, beloved by many but denounced by many others who claim he's a heretic or worse.

Directed by Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post, their documentary follows the outspoken but good-humored Martin (who belongs to the more progressive Society of Jesus, i.e. Jesuits) as he speaks to packed houses across the US, often inundated by protestors. He also consoles queer youth and struggling parents, and ultimately journeyed to Rome. With the election of Pope Francis (a fellow Jesuit) in 2013 and his famous "Who am I to judge?" comment, it appeared the Roman Catholic church was finally beginning to accept the LGBTQ+ community. However, a Vatican statement issued on March 15th of this year barring priests from blessing same-sex unions has made Martin's mission more critical than ever. Paradoxically, he publicized in just the last two weeks a letter of support for his ministry from Pope Francis himself. Confusing, no?

As an openly gay Catholic priest (though no longer Roman) myself, I sympathize with Fr. Martin and appreciate his outreach to those LGBTQ members who are struggling to remain in the church. That being said, I realized while watching Building a Bridge that there is something disingenuous about the film and Fr. Martin's ministry. He has never publicly outed himself but I suspect he is gay. The best witness Martin could provide would be to come out publicly. Now more than ever, representation matters in all social settings. Fr. Bryan Massengale, a priest and theologian interviewed in the documentary, came out as gay in recent years and apparently suffered no disciplinary action. It also doesn't help Fr. Martin's credibility that he is forbidden from publicly endorsing same-sex marriage. He gives an uncomfortably coy response when asked about his personal stance on this topic.

The most interesting character in the film is actually Michael Voris, head of the right-wing conservative Catholic group Church Militant. Billed as "the American society for the defense of tradition," Church Militant is comprised of numerous dysfunctional individuals and families dedicated to countering "the legitimization of sodomy." Here's the thing: Voris is a "former" gay man and son of a bipolar mother. He has blamed the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests as the result of "the homosexual infiltration of the church." He actually threatened to out Fr. Martin at one point. The reformed/"recovered" queen doth protest too much!

I did find Building a Bridge to be inspiring but also frustrating. There's no doubt, though, that many LGBTQ Roman Catholics eager for acceptance by church representatives will appreciate this documentary.

A number of LGBTQ film festivals in the US made at least partially in-person comebacks during Pride month. Reverend was able to view several selections offered at two of them, NYC's NewFest and Connecticut's OutFilm CT. Here's my rundown of the best:

Boy Meets Boy: Kind of a gay version of Before Sunrise, writer-director Daniel Sanchez Lopez details the whirlwind, 15-hour romance between cute Berliner Johannes, a dancer, and the hot Harry, a tourist from the UK. They meet at a dance club and embark on a date that Harry describes as "my first time on a date without Tinder or Grindr." They have conversations about such wide-ranging topics as religion, modern relationships, and how "everyone's a cheese." Much of their dialogue seems improvised, to the film's benefit. Also similar to Andrew Haigh's 2011 Weekend, it is romantic and sexy, with a climactic edge of suitable melancholy.

Beyto: A Turkish twist on the familiar coming out story. The title character is a competitive swimmer in Switzerland, played by the very appealing Burak Ates. Originally from Turkey, Beyto falls in love with another male teammate. However, he remains closeted from his conservative parents. After one of his mother's friends spots Beyto at a Pride parade, his parents trick him into returning to Turkey and force him to marry a longtime female friend. The movie plays like a 1950's melodrama but it is sadly contemporary. Fortunately, love wins out in the end for all concerned. Interestingly, Beyto is directed and co-written by Gitta Gsell, a Swiss woman filmmaker. Her sensitive, respectful approach is a plus.

Potato Dreams of America: This is a 99% autobiographical saga according to its writer-director, Wes Hurley. Precocious 12- year old Vasili, affectionately nicknamed Potato, lives with his grandmother (a terrific, largely serious turn by Lea DeLaria) and prison-doctor mother in the USSR circa 1985. His near-religious devotion to American movies is hilariously personified by a movie-loving Jesus Christ. Potato and his mother are eventually brought to the US by an American man with whom his mother has had a correspondence. Once in 1990's NYC, Potato begins to define his homosexuality with the help of repeat viewings of Gregg Araki's indie gay classic The Living End. It's a funny, lovable flick and even features the occasional musical number!


Swan Song: Easily the best film on the current film fest circuit, and scheduled for theatrical release next month. Cult fave Udo Kier stars as "Mr. Pat" Pitsenbarger (a real person) in this lovely dramedy by Todd Stephens of Another Gay Movie, Edge of Seventeen and Gypsy 83 fame. He is a retired, unapologetically gay hairdresser living in a Sandusky, Ohio nursing home following a stroke. Mr. Pat leaves against medical advice after he receives a $25,000 request to do a newly-deceased client's hair and makeup before her funeral viewing. We follow him across town as he collects necessary supplies, visits his old haunts, and re-connects with other former clients as well as a protege-turned-rival played by the one and only Jennifer Coolidge. Other standouts in the cast are Linda Evans (yes, Dynasty's Crystal Carrington) as his deceased former client and Michael Urie as her grandson. But this is the 77-year-old Kier's show and he gives an excellent, unglamorous yet dignified performance somewhat reminiscent of Terence Stamp's in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I expect he'll be remembered come awards season.

Be on the lookout for all these gems in the coming months!

Reverend's Ratings:
Building a Bridge: B
Boy Meets Boy: B+
Beyto: B+
Potato Dreams of America: B+
Swan Song: A-

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

MD Review: Beyond the Sea

Take Pixar's tried and true (and maybe a little tired) buddy movie formula, add a dash of The Little Mermaid's interspecies envy along with a heaping helping of Italian "that's-a spicy meatball" tropes and presto! You've got Luca, a family-friendly fantasy that barely rocks the boat as far as creative originality or animated ingenuity goes but is nevertheless a charming and entertaining "fish out of water tale" (literally).

MD Rating: 7/10

Luca is now streaming on Disney Plus.

Monday, June 21, 2021

MD Review: Bodega Nights

Before Hamilton catapulted him into the zeitgeist, Lin-Manuel Miranda was the Broadway wunderkind behind In the Heights, his 2008 Tony Award winning musical about those who live and love in the Washington Heights neighborhood of NYC. The film adaptation, brought to the screen by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, is a dizzyingly giddy visual and aural fiesta that transcends the stage-bound original, sending its diverse cast of characters into swimming pools and up brownstones for its stunningly choreographed (by Christopher Scott) musical numbers. You don't need to know what a "piragua" is or ever crossed the George Washington Bridge to enjoy a hot summer night visiting these Heights.

MD Rating: 8/10

In the Heights is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max through July 11th.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Dorian Awards Strike a Pose with 2nd Annual TV Honors

With six nominations, the final season of FX's Pose sashays into the lead at the 2nd Annual Dorian TV Awards, presented by GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics. The Marvel Cinematic Universe's first Disney+ series WandaVision was close behind with five nominations, followed by a trio of HBO heavy hitters – I May Destroy You, It's a Sin and Mare of Easttown – with four nods each.

Saturday Night Live breakout Bowen Yang racked up an impressive four individual nominations (including two in the TV Musical Performance category), while other multiple nominees include I May Destroy You multi-tasker Michaela Coel, WandaVision's wickedly wacky scene-stealer Kathryn Hahn, HBO MVP Jean Smart (Hacks and Mare of Easttown) and The Queen's Gambit's leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy.


GALECA (of which I and fellow Movie Dearest critic Chris Carpenter are members) will reveal the winners of this year's awards for television fabulousness in a star-studded extravaganza on August 29th and you can watch it all – for free and on demand – on Revry TV.

For the full list of nominees, see the comments section below.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Reverend's Interview: International Gay Love from Eytan Fox


Steven Spielberg, Chloe Zhao, Kelly Reichardt and Martin Scorsese. These are four of my picks of the top five filmmakers living and working today. The fifth is writer-director Eytan Fox. He is also the only gay artist among this quintet.


Fox was born in New York City but grew up in Israel after his family immigrated there. He broke through internationally as a filmmaker in 2003 with Yossi & Jagger, a groundbreaking love story between two male Israeli soldiers. He followed it up with a moving 2012 sequel, simply titled Yossi. In between, Fox directed The Bubble, about a group of friends in Tel Aviv and a young Palestinian who comes to live with them; the superb Walk on Water, in which a hunky Mossad agent tracks the gay grandson of a Nazi war criminal; and the delightful Cupcakes, a musical comedy about friends entering an international song contest. His films have won 28 international awards altogether. Fox also developed the acclaimed Israeli television series Florentine, The Bar Mitzvah and Mary Lou.

His latest production is Sublet, which will be released in select US theaters on June 11th. It will also become available on VOD July 9th. The film follows Michael (played by current Tony Award nominee John Benjamin Hickey), a travel columnist for The New York Times. He flies to Tel Aviv to write an article about the destination pre-COVID, after he and his husband have suffered a personal tragedy. Michael is still grieving, so he just wants to do his research and return home.

He sublets an apartment from a young film student, Tomer (sexy newcomer Niv Nissim). Michael gradually finds himself drawn into the life of the city with Tomer's help. Superficially, the two men couldn’t be more different. Michael is surprised to find a city filled with fascinating contradictions and pulsing with life. But what really begins to turn things around for him is the unlikely and intense bond he forms with Tomer, which transforms both their lives in unexpected ways.

Fox's trademark compassion, humor and visual flair illuminate Sublet, which is his first movie in several years. Why the delay? As Fox writes in the film's press notes: "Besides the difficulties of making movies in the small Israeli film industry in which I work, it took me time to figure out who I was in the context of today’s quickly changing reality, and to express that as a filmmaker." The release of his finished film was then delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He continues in the press notes, poignantly: "I’m 56 and probably never going to have biological children. In a very real way, however, my films are my children. They are conceived, nurtured, and eventually set free into the world with the hope that they will find their way there safely. In sending Sublet out into the world, I’m hoping that this story of men from two generations facing their demons and finding a way back to love from grief will strike a chord with people, the way Yossi & Jagger did many years ago. Maybe it too will change the world a little in the process."


I recently had the great privilege of speaking with Fox via phone in advance of the release of his latest "child."

REV: Hello Eytan! How are you? Where are you calling from?
EF: I am in Tel Aviv, which is back to normal (after last month's violence between Israel and Palestine). It's been a crazy time but I am doing well, thank you.

REV: When did you first get interested in filmmaking?
EF: I always wanted to be some kind of artist. I was a dancer in high school, then discovered photography in college. After I completed my time in the Israeli army, I studied film at Tel Aviv University.

REV: Has it always been your intention to tell primarily gay or LGBTQ stories?
EF: It wasn't a conscious decision, but I realized I wanted to fill my films with all kinds of subjects important to me. When I started making films, the culture here was very homophobic and nationalistic. It was a therapeutic experience for me. After people saw my films with their gay characters, they naturally started to ask me if I was gay. That was my coming out. I still try to tackle issues very important to me, including my homosexuality.

REV: How did you select your two lead actors in Sublet, John Benjamin Hickey and Niv Nissim?
EF: John I saw off-Broadway in the original production of Love! Valour! Compassion! and it blew me away. I later saw him in the movie. He was wonderful in it and I started following his career. He seemed perfect to me for this role as a New Yorker, openly gay and an artistic guy. John came to Tel Aviv and we then had chemistry tests with several actors for the role of Tomer. With him and Niv, it was in many ways love at first sight. They became close on screen and off. Niv took John home to his parents for dinners (laugh). It was truly a case of life imitating art.

REV: This is your first film primarily in English. Was that much of an adjustment for you or your Israeli artists?
EF: Not really, no. I was born in the states and have America in me. I have John's character in me and it was easy for me to teach the character of Michael to him. I actually had to learn more about young gay people in Tel Aviv today. I showed the script early on to some friends and they said "You don't know anything about young people today" (laugh). So I had to go out to the modern clubs and gay centers and talk to younger gay men.

REV: Do you continue to receive much criticism from conservatives regarding the gay content in your films?
EF: Let me say it is much easier now than when I started. The achievements we (the LGBTQ community) have made worldwide are amazing. My early films in the late 1980's were either banned or I had a hard time raising money for them. It wasn't until my films started to be shown outside of Israel that it began to become easier. When I made Yossi & Jagger, the Israeli military would not give me any access. They said, "Absolutely not." When it got out that I was preparing the sequel, the military came to me and said, "What do you need?"

REV: Wow, that is amazing! So what's next for you? Or do we have to wait another 5 to 10 years?
EF: I'm working on a few different projects, mostly for television. I'm kind of sad to admit that. I'm afraid everything is moving to TV. I am developing a show in Israel about a gay rabbi.

REV: That sounds great! Anything else you want my readers to know?
EF: Sublet is going to be shown here this weekend (the last weekend of May), finally. And in a theater! I'm so happy that the film is finally being shown. We were supposed to premiere in April 2020 but the festival was cancelled due to COVID. I'm happy that those of us who made it are now able to have closure with the film. And I'm happy we can travel again! Sublet lets people see Tel Aviv but they can also come visit us. We are coming back to life! Now that I think of it, that's like the characters in the film. We're all coming back to life.

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