Monday, November 28, 2022

Reverend's Interview: Spoiler Alert! Death and The Holidays Go Hand in Hand

Ah, the sights and sounds of the holiday season are upon us: Christmas trees, eggnog, traditional carols, Santa Claus, terminal illness. Wait, terminal illness? Yes, it strikes me that many of the most beloved Yuletide tales, both in print and on movie screens, involve the potential or actual death of a beloved character. Think of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol; the matriarchs played by Diane Keaton and Catherine Deneuve in The Family Stone and A Christmas Tale, respectively; suicidal George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in It’s a Wonderful Life; or Queen Latifah’s misdiagnosed department store clerk in Last Holiday. And don’t forget The Little Drummer Boy’s pet lamb!

Continuing this tear-jerking tradition is the new dramedy Spoiler Alert, opening in theaters on December 2nd. Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir, the film follows the 14-year love affair between the author, a Smurfs-loving entertainment journalist (played by Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory fame), and Christopher “Kit” Cowan (British actor Ben Aldridge). It was essentially love at first sight for the men when they met at a gay nightclub in 2001. Through Kit, Michael discovers the family he was robbed of as a child, from Kit’s small town parents (Oscar winner Sally Field and Tony winner Bill Irwin) to their circle of Manhattan friends.

Sadly, tragedy struck after 13 years of dating and marriage. Doctors diagnosed Kit with rare, stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer and he died in 2015 at the age of 43. Michael and his parents were at his side through it all. To process the final months of Kit’s life, Michael took to social media to share regular updates with friends and family. Little did he know that his posts would lead him to explore their bond in a whole new way. It would also allow him to share that bond with millions of people.

“A couple of months after Kit died, I was actually approached from an editor at Simon & Schuster who had followed some of the story on social media,” Michael Ausiello said more recently of the genesis of his memoir, Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. “I had been documenting Kit's cancer journey on Facebook among a close-knit group of friends. One of them, Rakesh Satyal, was an acquaintance at Simon & Schuster, and he was really moved by the story. He said, ‘Would you ever give any thought to turning this into a book?”

He was understandably hesitant. “I'd never written a book before,” Ausiello continued. “I was still grieving when I was writing it, so emotionally it was sort of a traumatizing experience reliving the details of, not only the year Kit was sick and his death, but the 13 years that came before. It was hard. But it got me thinking about what an extraordinary opportunity it would be to introduce Kit to thousands, potentially millions of people.” His memoir was published in 2017 and quickly optioned to be made into a film by the Emmy Award-winning Parsons and his producer husband, Todd Spiewak.

The book has been smartly yet sensitively adapted for the screen by gay actor-turned-writer David Marshall Grant and gay columnist-turned-screenwriter Dan Savage. Multiple scenes take place during Christmas festivities. Spoiler Alert, the movie, feels more authentic than many other movies I’ve seen that deal with a terminal disease prognosis. (Full disclosure: I work “by day” as a hospice chaplain so am aware of many similar, real-life situations.) Also significant are the tender lead performances by Jim Parsons, who co-produced the film, and Ben Aldridge.

“I’d known Michael Ausiello for many years,” Parsons recalls. “At some point, right before the book was released, he asked if I would conduct a Los Angeles Q&A about it. I said yes, and they sent me a copy. What’s funny is that it became such an important part of my life. I remember where it sat on this one bench in my apartment for a very long time until I was taking a vacation with my husband Todd [Spiewak] and picked it up. I thought it was a good time to read it. It was so traumatic, reading it. From that moment, Todd was the one, having watched me react to it, that asked if we should consider optioning it. He felt strongly that it would make a good movie. I was so moved and attracted to the material I couldn’t disagree.”

The producers next had to select a director and one name stood out for them: Michael Showalter. Showalter started out as an actor-comedian but has since become a prolific, Emmy-nominated director, writer, and producer. He directed the two-time Oscar-winning film The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an intimate look behind the extraordinary rise, fall and redemption of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. Jessica Chastain played Bakker and won the 2022 Academy Award for her portrayal. Showalter previously directed The Big Sick, which received an Oscar nomination for its screenplay written by Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, and Hello, My Name Is Doris starring Sally Field. On the television side, Showalter recently directed and produced Hulu’s The Dropout starring Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, for which she won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series, and Showalter was nominated for Outstanding Directing. Finally, but perhaps most importantly to its many fans, he is the co-creator of the Wet Hot American Summer movie and subsequent series.

This writer recently had the privilege of speaking with Showalter via Zoom in advance of his new movie’s release.

Michael Showalter

CC: Congratulations on your success last year with The Eyes of Tammy Faye and now with Spoiler Alert! I’m really interested in your journey from comedian and actor to producer-director of Oscar-winning movies today. Tell me a little bit about your journey.
MS: Let’s see, I started in comedy and am very much influenced by an absurdist kind of comedy, whether it’s the Zucker Brothers in their Airplane movies or Steve Martin’s early comedies, or Monty Python and what have you. I did sketch comedy in college and started a sketch group out of college. That was really my focus. I was doing a lot of writing of things to perform in and then wrote a movie, Wet Hot American Summer. I became interested after that in really learning how to write a well-made screenplay and, as a corollary to this, I originally when I went to college thought that I may be a Cinema Studies major. So, before I got into comedy I thought of becoming a Cinema Studies major because I had taken a class one summer about Alfred Hitchcock movies and was really interested in how he made movies. I thought: “Well, that would be really cool; I could write about movies and that would be my career.” I had always had an interest in not just comedies but all kinds of movies, all kinds of stories, and looking at film as a serious pursuit beyond just being comedic. And then there was kind of a period where I decided I didn’t want to be an actor any more, and I was in New York and I was predominantly teaching screenwriting at NYU Film School, the graduate school. I really enjoyed teaching and I found myself encouraging my students to pursue a certain kind of process that I knew I wasn’t doing myself, and so what ended up happening was I co-wrote a screenplay and really decided to put into action some of the things that I had been talking about and thinking about. That movie, Hello, My Name is Doris, was the first time that I actually put comedy and drama in the same thing without any quotation marks around it. It’s just a story about a person who is quite strange and has a lot going on, and it’s a very funny movie but it’s also a very dramatic movie and I realized “Oh wow, those two things can co-exist and I’m actually able to do that.” That was the beginning of the next phase of my career, so to speak.

CC: What drew you to Michael and Kit’s story in particular? I know you had read the memoir but what really grabbed you and made you say “I want this to be my next movie”?
MS: To me, it’s this incredibly sad story, this incredibly heartbreaking story that uses this sort of brutal, relatable honesty and authenticity about who these people really were and their deepest insecurities and their deepest foibles, and finding humor in that and wanting the world to know these things about us that we’re afraid to tell or show each other. All of the kind of secrets that we have, the things we have done that we’re embarrassed or ashamed about or aren’t sure about. That was all on display in this book that was ultimately about this group of people trying to cope with something that was so difficult, and that really made me feel just so connected to it and I fell in love with it.

CC: It seems to me that many holiday- or Christmas-themed films, including Spoiler Alert, often involve the terminal illness of a character or the death of a significant character. Do you have any thoughts about that trend or tradition?
MS: Yeah, I think that the holidays are a time for family, they’re a time for groups coming together, a time of reflection about what’s really important, about what really matters. There’s a kind of way in which the holidays remind us to be the best versions of ourselves, and to kind of come together and put our disagreements aside or what have you. I feel like there’s a lot happening underneath the holiday season that I think makes people think about togetherness and forgiveness and love, so that could be part of it.

CC: That’s great. You know, I had the pleasure recently of seeing Jim Parsons perform in A Man of No Importance in New York City.
MS: I’m dying to see it!

CC: It’s so good, and it’s great to see him doing more dramatic work, and in a musical! What was your experience like directing him and working with him as one of the producers?
MS: Oh, he and I (I hope he agrees) felt like we had a really deep connection in every sense in creating this character and telling this story. He and I were constantly in contact about every tiny little detail of it, and I think there was a lot of mutual respect between the two of us. We’re both people that have a lot of background in comedy but are also really interested in telling stories that have dramatic weight to them as well. I think we had a really, really great collaboration and I would love to work with him again.

CC: That’s awesome. Last question: You earlier mentioned Wet Hot American Summer and I’m a fan. Is there going to be a next entry in the franchise?
MS: Nothing planned but never say never. I mean, those characters definitely live on in my brain and I could easily imagine us revisiting them, you know, when we’re like 60 or something and then we’ll be playing like they’re in their mid-20’s or something like that, yeah.

CC: That’s cool. Thank you so much for your time and continued success to you!
MS: Thank you, I really appreciate it. Take care!

Spoiler Alert opens in theaters this Friday, December 2nd.

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

Monday, October 10, 2022

Reverend's Preview: Powerful LGBTQ Lives Celebrated at October Film Fests

If you’ve visited Chicago any time during the last 40 years, you may have put in an appearance at the city’s premiere gay bar, Sidetrack. I stopped by each summer between 1999 and 2003 while attending an annual conference. Until recently, however, I had no knowledge about the significant history behind Sidetrack and its two longtime owners/husbands.

Art Johnston and Pepe Peña, known locally as Art and Pep, are civil rights leaders whose life and love has fueled LGBTQ+ equality in the heart of the country. As founders and owners of the iconic Sidetrack, they have helped foster movements and create community for four decades in Chicago's queer enclave. Behind their business and historic activism exists a love unlike any other.

The Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) will be screening Art and Pep – Mercedes Kane’s terrific, enlightening and inspiring documentary about this dynamic duo – the afternoon of Wednesday, October 19th at the Big Newport 6 theater. Art and Pep themselves, who met 50 years ago and got married in 2011, are expected to attend. Advance tickets may be purchased here.

Founded in 1999, NBFF has emerged as the largest international cinema event in coastal Southern California. It annually attracts over 56,000 attendees to Orange County. This year’s fest will run October 13th-20th. Several new and acclaimed movies will be featured including Weird: The Al Yankovic Story starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, and Glass Onion, a sequel to the hit murder-mystery Knives Out. Gay-themed films to be shown include My Policeman, with pop music sensation Harry Styles as the closeted title character; the great doc All Man: The International Male Story; and Make Me Famous, about radical painter Edward Brezinski. A number of LGBTQ short films will also be screened.

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Art and Pep director Mercedes Kane in advance of NBFF. The longtime Chicago resident relocated one year ago to Atlanta, from where she Zoomed this writer.

CC: Thanks for your time! How or when did you first hear about Art and Pep?
MK: So, (Executive Producer) Kevin Hauswirth and I worked together sometimes. He owns a marketing agency and they do a lot of non-profit advocacy stuff. One day, we were having a meeting and he started talking about them because he’s known them for a really long time. He met Art because Kevin has five gay uncles, I think it is, and one of his uncles knew Art. Kevin started his early activism days in college recruiting fraternity brothers for some LGBTQ event, so his uncle was like “You really need to meet Art Johnston, you know he’s like the activist in Chicago.” So Kevin has been connected to him for 20-plus years. He was just telling me some stuff and I was like “This needs to be a film.” For one thing, the story of the LGBTQ movement is mostly told on the coasts and I didn’t really realize the rich history that Chicago has. I lived in Chicago almost my whole life but you sort of take it for granted a little that it is such a progressive state and city and all of the rights that are there, and not realizing the people who championed for them. And then it’s their love story too. As a filmmaker, I’ve never seen a story about a 50-year romance between two men. When I met them, I was just blown away by their love. They take such good care of each other and the way they look at each other still is something to aspire to. I fell in love with them in that moment. I fell in love with their love.

CC: You definitely see that in the film, especially in their wedding footage. It’s great that you can reveal that about them, it’s very touching. So what was the process, once you decided you were going to make this documentary? There’s so much vintage footage in the film. How much time did it take and how did you go about doing it?
MK: The first step was getting them to sign on. They trusted Kevin because they knew him and I think we connected when we first met, but they have never been the type of people to really like let their private life be public. Art’s very public when it comes to activism and everything he’s done and Pep is kind of the face at the bar, as you see in the film. But their relationship, their personal life, that was sort of like “uhhhh.” So I think it was just a matter of building their trust, that was the first step, and then we just kind of jumped into filming. 

We started shooting in November of 2019 and then COVID hit, and it was like “all right, we’ll just pack away our cameras and take a breath.” No one knew how long it would last. And then we realized very quickly that Sidetrack was this gay small business that was going through COVID and shutting down for the first time in their history, and they have 65 people on staff and people who come to the bar every single week. This shuttering of this community space that holds a lot of importance for a lot of people, so we started covering that. And then we started to see these parallels between the AIDS crisis and the COVID pandemic from this group of people who had gone through it, you know the similarities and the dissimilarities, and so we started exploring that as well. And then (as shown in the film), Art got really sick and that was totally unexpected and really scary. All of that was sort of a roller coaster that we didn’t really expect.

In terms of the archival footage, it was surprising that – for a video bar – Sidetrack didn’t have that much video of themselves and I think part of that is that back in the 80’s nobody was shooting photos or videos at gay bars. They had some stuff but then we started reaching out to a network and we got lucky because there’s a man, Rick Delaup, who made a film about Danny Sotomayor, who is the ACT UP activist who you see in the film. He had hundreds of hours of footage still from that, which was amazing. It was kind of like word of mouth, going through people’s personal archives and digging through what we could of Sidetrack. We also went through libraries and museum collections. It was quite intense but we got a lot.

CC: Oh my gosh, that is dedication on your part. So how long was the process in all? It sounds like a couple of years.
MK: It was a few years, and through a pandemic! But you know the interesting thing about the COVID thing was that it really brought us closer together with Art and Pep, because we basically bubbled up with them. And even going through that with Pep when Art was ill was a horrible experience but such a bonding experience. We would bring food over to Pep’s house or he would come over and eat dinner and just be emotional. It kind of forced us into that space in a really beautiful way. I consider them like family now, and I have two kids who consider them a third set of grandparents.

CC: Ah nice, that’s awesome! I assume Art and Pep have seen the finished film. What’s been their reaction? Were they happy with it?
MK: Yeah, they loved it. It’s always such a nerve-wracking moment but I think, especially because we got close, I really felt this responsibility to making a film that honored them and their story and was accurate. I think they were surprised at how far-reaching the story ended up going. They were so happy that other activists that they worked with are in it and that Danny was included. I think they were really pleasantly surprised about that. It’s funny because they were really hesitant to let us like in bed with them and I kept saying the importance of that. I was like “You know, if this was a film about a man and woman we would have these intimate moments with them. If we don’t have them in this film, that’s going to look purposeful in its own way and I don’t want to make that (potentially negative) statement. I want this to show who you really are as a couple and these moments are important to that.” And so they finally let us in, and then Art said “The best thing we ever did was let you in bed with us!” (laugh)

CC: That’s great! Now, is the Newport Beach screening going to be its premiere, or West Coast premiere?
MK: No, it actually premiered at Outfest in July, in LA. We were all there and it was pretty amazing. It got a really good response and we had actually two reviews. One gave it 3 ½ stars and the other listed Art and Pep as #2 among the 21 best films at Outfest. That was great.

CC: What led you to become a filmmaker or documentarian? What’s your story?
MK: What a great question. I got my undergrad in broadcast journalism and then played around in a few different communication fields, and then I ended up going back to get my MFA in independent filmmaking a decade ago now. I really love telling stories. I love real people’s stories, and not necessarily famous people but people who are doing their actual work in communities that matters and makes far-reaching change but don’t always get the spotlight for it. I have a passion for that and I really enjoy it. I’m actually getting another MFA right now in narrative non-fiction writing, so I’m also playing around with writing but it’s a really similar method of storytelling. The hope is to either have a publishable manuscript at the end of it or some long-form stories that will be published with articles.

CC: Wow, that’s cool. Is there anything else you want people to know?
MK: People ask me often what I want people to take away from (Art and Pep) and I think it’s a couple things, one of which is just to learn about the history of the fight (for equality) and who was leading the charge, and that the work is still not done. It will never be done, and I think that’s such an important part. And then also the importance and power of love, because it’s really Art and Pep’s love story that to me is the backbone that gave them the strength to do all the work that they did and build this community around them.

Another inspiring LGBTQ true life story will be celebrated during this month’s San Diego International Film Festival (SDIFF), to be held October 19th-23rd. The Inspection is based on writer-director Elegance Bratton’s experience as a young gay man who enlisted in the Marines during the tense “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. It stars out actor Jeremy Pope (Netflix’s Hollywood) in the lead role opposite Gabrielle Union as his homophobic mother Inez, with Bokeem Woodbine and Raúl Castillo (who played Richie on HBO’s Looking) as his drill sergeants.

Bratton made a splash a few years ago with his award-winning documentary Pier Kids. He said of The Inspection, his narrative feature debut: “This movie is completely authentic when it comes to the desires, fears and, ultimately, the primary goal of the main character.” The surrounding narratives are inspired by circumstances he witnessed while in training almost 20 years ago.

Bratton continued: “I made this movie first and foremost to heal myself from things I had been through. And I think the one thing that was most damaging to me is the idea that somehow by being gay and Black, I was basically a social pariah. The world had nothing to gain from me so, therefore, I didn't matter; I didn't exist. Then I joined the Marines and learned that I'm important because of my ability to protect the person to my left and right. And I felt like that lesson – that you're only as important as your ability to protect others – was really restorative for me. It gave me a purpose in life.”

The Inspection will have its gala West Coast premiere on Friday, October 21st. The acclaimed Belgian film Close, about two teenaged boys who have their friendship questioned, is another LGBTQ-interest feature that will be screened during the fest.

A number of LGBTQIA+ shorts films will also be shown during SDIFF. These include:

  • DIVR (USA, San Diego Premiere) The three founders of an exclusive lesbian sex app may be shattering the start-up world’s glass ceilings, but the pressures of success have begun to threaten the integrity of their friendship – and worse, their brand. A very funny short but with a serious edge.
  • Gender Outlaw, a bodysurfing story (USA, San Diego Premiere) A beautifully-shot documentary that navigates the tumultuous waters that Tyler Wilde, a transgender bodysurfer and teacher, has had to move through in his search for big surf, his true self, and his chosen family.
  • Queer Parivaar (UK, San Diego Premiere) Directed by Shiva Raichandani – a multidisciplinary, non-binary artist – this is a big, queer, colorful Bollywood mini-musical centered around a not-so-traditional wedding. A lovely and lovable short.
  • Roads Not Taken (Austria, World Premiere) Longtime friends Liz and Rachel run into each other in their hometown coffee shop. Having been out of touch for years, their unexpected meeting catches them both off guard and soon turns emotional as old wounds are ripped open and buried desires re-surface.
  • SWIM (UK, West Coast Premiere) A chance encounter at a swimming pool offers the possibility of a beautiful relationship between sexy guys Sid and Luke. But could it all be shattered when Sid decides to just be himself? This short should resonate with virtually all gay, bi or queer viewers.
  • Requiem (UK, North American Premiere) Set in 1605, against the backdrop of the witch trials. It's a coming of age story that follows Evelyn as she engages in a game of cat and mouse against her father, Minister Gilbert, in order to be with Mary, the woman she loves. Requiem will screen as part of the festival’s Student Showcase.
For tickets and full SDIFF information, visit their website.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

MD Review: The Gods Must Be Crazy

Who would have thought that the first Marvel Cinematic Hero to make it to a fourth solo flick would be Thor? The hunky hammer-wielder has evolved (devolved?) from a bleached-eyebrowed himbo to a buffoonish, beer-bellied bro since he debuted 11 years ago. And the latest adventure of the Asgardian Avenger, Thor: Love and Thunder, does little to change that. By Odin's beard, why did anyone ever tell Chris Hemsworth he was funny?

MD Rating: 6/10

Thor: Love and Thunder is now streaming on Disney+.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Reverend’s Preview: A Tale of Two LGBTQ Film Festivals

San Diego and Long Beach aren’t exactly sister cities, since they are separated geographically by 110 miles, but their LGBTQ communities may grow closer this September 8th-11th via the communal experience that movies provide. Both cities will be celebrating their long-running LGBTQ film festivals during the same weekend. They will also be serendipitously screening several of the same noteworthy productions.

FilmOut San Diego’s 22nd Annual LGBTQ Film Festival will feature award-winning films from the Sundance, SXSW and Berlin Film Festivals, along with independent features and a variety of short films. Events will be held 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. For complete festival ticket info, screening updates, sponsorships and volunteer information, visit the FilmOut San Diego website.

To the north, the 29th annual QFilms Long Beach is also set for September 8th-11th at the city’s historic Art Theatre and neighboring LGBTQ Center Long Beach on 4th Street. A panoply of LGBTQ+ onscreen representation will be exhibited through feature films and documentaries plus short films showing the lives of every member of the LGBTQ+ alphabet. Tickets to screenings, filmmaker Q&As, VIP experiences and parties are now on sale at the QFilms Long Beach website.

Among the movies both fests have in common is All Kinds of Love. It will serve as QFilms’ Opening Night event with writer-director David Lewis (who is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor at the San Jose Mercury News) and cast members in attendance. Amid the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to uphold marriage equality, a longtime gay couple gets divorced just as everyone else is getting married. After his commitment-phobic husband divorces him, stuck-in-his-ways Max tries to start over; actors and real-life couple Matthew Montgomery and Steve Callahan play the pair. When Max becomes accidental roommates with a younger hip nerd who is as romantically challenged as he is, sparks fly. All Kinds of Love is a fun romantic comedy that celebrates the endless possibilities of queer love, whether it involves an intergenerational romance, a middle-aged interracial throuple, or an artistic trans man looking for love in all the wrong places. It will screen as the Men’s Centerpiece during FilmOut San Diego on Saturday, September 10th.

Meanwhile, FilmOut SD will open with the athletically-inclined drama In From the Side on Thursday, September 8th. As the members of a gay rugby team in London try to push past rivalries to score an elusive win, a secret affair simmers among them. Following a drunken encounter, two players begin an adulterous relationship and must conceal their growing feelings or risk destroying the team they love. Mark (sexy Alexander Lincoln) finds himself unable to avoid the appeal of teammate Warren (the equally sexy Alexander King), who sets off every red (or in rugby, yellow) flag: the cocky attitude, the emotional unavailability, the long-term boyfriend. But the real drama occurs off the field as infidelities, heartbreak and unimpeded passions dominate the playbook. Visual effects artist Matt Carter makes a very impressive feature directorial debut. Not only did he direct and co-write it, he edited it, composed the music, served as cinematographer and co-produced!

The acclaimed, nostalgic documentary All Man: The International Male Story will be shown during both FilmOut SD and QFilms. In San Diego, it will serve as the grand finale Closing Night event on Sunday, September 11th. It will screen in Long Beach on Saturday, September 10th. While this writer was in a Roman Catholic seminary back in the early 1990’s, more than a few of us gay students had subscriptions to the homoerotic International Male. (And the straight women who worked in the seminary mailroom at the time definitely weren’t complaining!) The late clothing catalog, which actually debuted way back in the bicentennial year 1976, was decried by anti-gay cultural critics as “hedonistic,” “tasteless” and “selling sex.” As the documentary reveals in fascinating detail, it ultimately weathered those naysayers as well as the tragic devastation that HIV/AIDS wrought on the catalog’s staff and model pool during the 1980’s-90’s. I never expected to feel proud of International Male 30+ years later but, dagnabit, I do thanks to filmmakers Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed. Gay faves Matt Bomer, Drew Droege, Carson Kressley, Jake Shears and fellow LGBTQ critic Frank DeCaro also make welcome contributions to the doc.

Two other prominent features are also scheduled to be shared by FilmOut and QFilms. Michelle Ehlen’s Maybe Someday will be the Women’s Opening Night Film in Long Beach and the Women’s Centerpiece in San Diego. It tells the story of Jay, a non-binary 40-something photographer, who moves across the country to start their life over again in the midst of separating from their wife. Along the way, Jay takes a detour to stay with her high school best friend who she used to be secretly in love with. Jay also befriends a charismatic gay man who has long given up on love. Struggling to move forward with the next chapter of their life, memories of the past resurface as Jay grapples with the inevitable cycles of love, loss and letting go.

The award-winning documentary Mama Bears is an exploration of the journeys taken by Sara Cunningham and Kimberly Shappley, two conservative Christian mothers whose profound love for their LGBTQ+ children has turned them into fierce advocates for the entire queer community. It also focuses on Tammi Terrell Morris, a young African-American lesbian whose struggle for self-acceptance perfectly exemplifies why the mama bears are so vitally important. The movie uses social media posts, home movies, photographs, interviews and cinema verité footage to explore the complex intersections of politics, religion, faith and unconditional love.

For its Closing Night screening on Sunday, September 11th, QFilms has scored a coup: an advance screening of Universal Studios’ Bros, the first romantic comedy from a major studio about two gay men maybe, possibly, probably, stumbling towards love... emphasis on the maybe. Starring Billy Eichner, the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own major studio film, it features an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast including Luke Macfarlane, Ts Madison, Guillermo Díaz, Guy Branum and Amanda Bearse. Bros was directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) from his screenplay with Eichner, and produced by comedy titan Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids). Bros isn’t scheduled to open in theaters until September 30th, so QFilms will be one of the first places to see it on the big screen.

Not to be outdone, FilmOut will screen The Sixth Reel, a new comedy co-directed by and starring the iconic Charles Busch. A down-on-his-luck movie collector (Busch) discovers a legendary lost film and becomes entangled in an outrageous adventure to deliver it to the right hands before it is lost forever. Busch is an American actor, screenwriter, playwright and drag performer known for his appearances in plays and films (including Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommie, Die!). His best-known play is The Tale of the Allergist's Wife (2000), which was a Tony-nominated success on Broadway.

Numerous other recommended feature and short films will be screened at both festivals during their shared weekend, so be sure to visit their respective websites. According to Carlos Torres, executive director of The LGBTQ Center Long Beach: “While special interest groups try to legislate our existence away, it is more important now than ever to see representations of our LGBTQ+ lives on screen.” And to partially quote the opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times.” This will most certainly be true of FilmOut San Diego and/or QFilms Long Beach 2022.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2022

What's Squid and White and Yellow All Over? The 2022 Dorian TV Awards!

 And the winners of this year's Dorian TV Awards are...

Squid Game (Netflix)

The White Lotus (HBO)
Yellowjackets (Showtime)

Heartstopper (Netflix) 
Abbott Elementary (ABC)

The Other Two (HBO Max)
Melanie Lynskey, Yellowjackets
 Jennifer Coolidge, The White Lotus

Beyoncé, “Be Alive,” 94th Academy Awards (ABC)
The Andy Warhol Diaries (Netflix)
Ziwe (Showtime)
Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
Euphoria (HBO)
Girls5Eva (Peacock)
Jennifer Coolidge
Christine Baranski and...
Cassandra Peterson 
Jerrod Carmichael

Monday, August 8, 2022

MD Review: A Buzz Life

The Toy Story spin-off Lightyear bills itself as "Andy's favorite movie" from 1995 (the year the original Toy Story came out), although, let's be real here, no big budget Hollywood wannabe-blockbuster at that time would have gone near the gay-friendly subplot that, even in 2022, is getting this movie banned in certain countries. Like a lot of Pixar fare of late, Lightyear's story is a little too over-thought and it's characters are a little too broad, and one can't help but wonder how much more interesting this whole project would have been if it had been done in live action (imagine... Chris Evans in the flesh as a real Buzz Lightyear of Star Command). Still, Lightyear is an entertaining romp of 'sci-fi lite', better than one expects from a movie that nobody ever asked for or really needed.

MD Rating: 7/10

Lightyear is now streaming on Disney+.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Reverend’s Preview: Celebrating 40 Years of Outfest LA

40 years ago, during the summer of 1982, I was between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Ronald Reagan was president (ugh) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial became the biggest movie of the year. I was slowly figuring out I was gay, but sure as hell wasn’t ready to admit it to anyone!

1982 also produced three of the most LGBTQ-positive movies up to that point: Making Love, Personal Best and Victor/Victoria. Before then, most big-screen depictions of homosexuality or queer love were downright condemnatory. The 40 years since 1982 have seen amazing progress for all of us in the LGBTQ+ community, and much of this has been achieved with the help of filmmakers representing us in a positive light.

Not coincidentally, the Outfest LA LGBTQ+ Film Festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary and “40 years of changing the narrative” this week. Since its founding in 1982, Outfest has screened thousands of US and international films for audiences of well over half a million people. It remains the largest and longest-running film festival of any kind in Southern California. Outfest is also the leading queer media arts organization in Los Angeles, and possibly the world.

The fest is back in person and online in 2022. It will incorporate 11 days of LGBTQ+ films, television, special events, parties and more. In-person screenings will once again be held at the Directors Guild of America in West Hollywood plus at various venues across LA, including festival favorite outdoor venue, The Ford Amphitheater. Visit Outfest for tickets and more information.

Presented by Warner Bros. Discover and IMDb, the fest will run July 14th-24th. Opening night, held at Downtown L.A.’s historic Orpheum Theatre, will feature Tony Award winner Billy Porter’s directorial debut Anything’s Possible. The high school-set film follows a young trans student and her love interest as they navigate a romance during their senior year. It stars Eva Reign, Abubakr Ali, Simone Joy Jones, Kelly Lamor Wilson and Broadway star Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton). Porter will be joined opening night by his cast and producer Christine Vachon, who will present Porter with a special Achievement Award for his creative contributions over the years. The fest will also feature appearances by actors Kevin Bacon and Julianne Moore, filmmaker Todd Haynes, author Clive Barker, and Big Freedia, among others.

Outfest LA will conclude on July 24th with a celebration at The Theater at the Ace Hotel in Downtown LA. The closing night world premiere will be of playwright and screenwriter John Logan’s directorial debut They/Them. Oscar- and Tony-nominated Logan has been highly acclaimed for his previous work on the James Bond epics Skyfall and Spectre. His new slasher pic, set at an LGBTQIA+ conversion camp, follows the young residents as they band together against their counselors when an unidentified killer begins claiming victims.

Several centerpiece screenings will also be presented. These include a 20th-anniversary screening of Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven with Haynes, Vachon and star Julianne Moore set for an in-person Q&A; the documentary Mama Bears, about a community of Christian mothers with an unwavering love for their LGBTQIA+ children; and platinum centerpiece HeBGB TV, described as a “high camp tribute to late-night horror television in the vein of Elvira in which a retro cable box begins programming queer killer content into the home of a brother and sister who’ve stayed up past bedtime.” Yikes!

Reverend was able to preview two other standout films to be screened during the fest. Unidentified Objects, the US Centerpiece on July 20th, stars New Amsterdam’s Matthew Jeffers in a road movie/buddy dramedy. Jeffers plays Peter, a self-described “college-educated, homosexual dwarf who is balding and prone to illness.” His alien-obsessed neighbor, Winona J (not that Winona J), offers Peter $1,700 to drive her from NYC to Canada in 72 hours. We learn she is scheduled for a rendezvous with the interplanetary visitors who abducted her when she was 15, and she doesn’t want to miss it.

Naturally, Peter is dubious but he needs the money. He also needs to fulfill a promise he made to his late best friend, Shay, while he is in Canada. Peter and Winona (played by Sarah Hay) gradually bond, plus the prickly yet lovable Peter has an unexpected fantasy encounter with a hot Canadian at a local bar. Director and co-writer Juan Felipe Zuleta proves himself a talent to watch with his feature film debut. In addition, Unidentified Objects features striking cinematography by Camilo Monsalve and music score by Sebastian Zuleta.

While Reverend was in seminary back in the early 1990’s, more than a few of us had subscriptions to the homoerotic clothing catalog International Male. The straight women and gay students who worked in the seminary mailroom at the time definitely weren’t complaining! Outfest 40 will be also presenting the nostalgic new documentary All Man: The International Male Story on July 16th.

The late catalog, which actually debuted way back in the bicentennial year 1976, was decried by anti-gay cultural critics as “hedonistic,” “tasteless” and “selling sex.” As the documentary reveals in fascinating detail, it ultimately weathered those naysayers as well as the tragic devastation that HIV/AIDS wrought on the catalog’s staff and model pool during the 1980’s-90’s. I never expected to feel proud of International Male 30+ years later, but dagnabit I do thanks to filmmakers Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed. Gay faves Matt Bomer, Drew Droege, Carson Kressley, Jake Shears and fellow LGBTQ critic Frank DeCaro also make welcome contributions.

According to Outfest’s executive director Damien S. Navarro: “We’re excited to host audiences and fans across the city to celebrate just how far queer cinema and entertainment have come. The body of work we have curated from nearly every continent increasingly represents adventurous styles and genres, from vibrant romantic comedies – where the trans lead gets the boy – to horror films that balance the scares and the sexy.”

Congratulations on 40 years, Outfest, and blessings for many more!

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

MD Review: Pride and Prejudice

The whole 'upstairs/downstairs' crew of Downton Abbey have returned for A New Era... of withering snobbery, apparently. When last we reveled in the period ecstasy of The Crawleys and Co., they weathered through a Royal visit with cheeky aplomb. Alas, this time out they spend most of the time embracing tired clichés of the rich and the British, with one half of the clan looking down their noses at a silent movie crew on the home front, while the other half go abroad to show up the French ("so French!") on their own turf. Whereas the Downton gang's first big screen outing was like savoring a warm crumpet, the sequel is more akin to taking a big bite of stale custard tart.

MD Rating: 6/10

Downton Abbey: A New Era is now streaming on Peacock.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Dorian TV Awards Hail "Hacks", "Somebody Somewhere"

With a combined tally of 37, HBO and its streaming brand HBO Max lead in the recently announced nominations for the 14th Dorian TV Awards. Presented by GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (of which yours truly and Movie Dearest contributor Chris Carpenter are founding members), the Dorian TV Awards honor the best and brightest in television, whether it be broadcast, cable or streaming, such as the two HBO comedies with a field best total of 5 nominations each, Hacks and Somebody Somewhere.

HBO's Euphoria leads the drama categories with 4 nominations, followed by its fellow network series Barry, The Other Two, Our Flag Means Death, Succession and The White Lotus, along with ABC's Abbott Elementary, Netflix's Heartstopper, Apple TV +'s Schmigadoon! and Showtimes' Yellowjackets, with 3 nods each.

Winners for the Dorian TV awards will be revealed on August 17. And the nominees are (see comments section below):

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Reverend's Reviews: Gay Pride... and a Little Prejudice

Happy Pride, my dear online congregants! I've been amusing myself these past couple of weeks thinking about what early-19th century novelist Jane Austen might think of Fire Island (now streaming on Hulu), the new and very gay adaptation of her classic Pride and Prejudice. I expect she would be shocked by its few but fairly graphic sex scenes, titillated by the excessive number of fit men clad in tiny swimwear, but ultimately touched by its resolution of conflicted love stories. One story even features an unapologetically gay version of her famed, conceited Mr. Darcy.

Unfortunately, what Austen may find revolutionary by her esteemed standards seems quite cliché today. Director Andrew Ahn (who previously helmed the acclaimed Spa Night and Driveways) and screenwriter-star Joel Kim Booster (The Other Two) definitely get points for their more diverse approach and casting, but the film's situations and dialogue will be painfully obvious even to those somehow unfamiliar with Pride and Prejudice. Actually, Fire Island ends up having even more in common with the exploitative (though straight) "let's get laid" movie comedies of the early 1980's.

Booster heads the cast as Noah, a hot young New Yorker who reunites with his bestest friends for their annual trek to the title, offshore gay mecca. Among them is Noah's longtime BESTest friend Howie (played by out SNL standout Bowen Yang), who remains painfully insecure as a gay Asian man despite living in gay- and Asian-friendly San Francisco. During the course of one week, they enter into tentative relationships with, respectively, aloof lawyer Will (a.k.a. Mr. Darcy, well-played by delectable stage and screen vet Conrad Ricamora) and seemingly shallow pediatrician Charlie (cute James Scully). Thankfully, Margaret Cho is also on hand as the friends' entertaining hostess/voice of reason.

The cast of Fire Island is uniformly attractive and funny, even if Torian Miller is somewhat wasted as the lone/token Black friend in the group. I was hoping for more from this heavily promoted Pride month offering but others – depending on one's experience or perspective – could well find it revolutionary.

Another "gaysian" talent making a splash on streaming this month is Alex Liu, the 36-year old director and star of A Sexplanation (Herra Productions). This revealing first-person documentary follows Liu as he explores the numerous influences, both positive and negative, that have shaped his sexuality. In the process, he interviews his parents and grandmother plus friends, sex educators and researchers, politicians, Porn Hub executives and even a Roman Catholic priest!

Unsurprisingly, Liu concludes that American society is sexually repressed. Superficiality masks shame, which in turn creates or reinforces more shame. As one of his friends puts it, "Sex is shameful and what we should be most focused on." Liu shares that his shame over his homosexuality led him to consider suicide when he was younger. Along with this is a cultural fear of "the P word," pleasure, especially in regard to masturbation. One of the film's funny highlights is when Liu asks his parents about their masturbatory habits.

A Sexplanation is impressively personal and comprehensive, with Liu an engaging, likable host. As director, he also works in some good, fun visuals to illustrate various points. Nothing he learns struck me as particularly revolutionary, but the film reiterates a long-standing but still-important call for good, comprehensive sex education within families, schools, churches or religious groups and the media. Here, here!

Speaking of retro depictions of sex and related shame, gay filmmaker Terence Davies is back with his new biopic Benediction (Roadside Attractions). The celebrated writer-director of such modern classics as The Long Day Closes and Distant Voices, Still Lives here relates the life story of British poet Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon was also a decorated soldier on the Western Front during World War I.

Sassoon was attracted to men and had multiple gay affairs after the war. However, social conventions of the time being what they were, he married a woman and fathered a son. The film admirably depicts Sassoon as being open with his wife about his affairs with men before they got married. He continued to write poems, novels and an autobiography. Sassoon died in 1967 at the age of 80.

Typical of Davies' films, Benediction is elegantly directed in addition to being beautifully scored (largely with pre-existing music) and shot (by Nicola Daley). Its exceptional cast headed by Jack Lowden as Sassoon also boasts British stalwarts Peter Capaldi, Julian Sands, Gemma Jones, Ben Daniels and newly-minted Tony Award winner Simon Russell Beale. There are plentiful scenes featuring catty, early-20th century gays carrying on. Definitely recommended.

Reverend was also recently able to catch two new gay-themed movies from Italy. Mascarpone (Uncork'd/Dark Star Pictures) was the opening night selection at Connecticut's just-concluded Out on Film CT festival and is now available for streaming. It successfully combines several desirable ingredients: sexy guys, Roman landmarks and food! The latter are delicious-looking pastries baked by lead character Antonio, who enrolls in pastry school after his husband unexpectedly leaves him for another man. Antonio gradually creates a new life for himself with the help of a drug-dealing prostitute he ends up rooming with, plus a gym buddy turned first employer and then lover. A sometimes hard-hitting but ultimately hopeful dramedy.

Blessed Boys, also known by its Italian title La Santa Piccola, made its US premiere just last week during New York's Tribeca Film Festival and then screened during Out on Film CT. Set in Naples, it opens with a young girl, Annaluce, miraculously bringing a dead bird back to life. Soon dubbed "The Saint" by her priest and church members, she later confirms her abilities by resurrecting her seemingly dead mother.

All this religious attention presents challenges to Annaluce's brother, Lino, and his best friend Mariu. Their very physical, homoerotic-leaning friendship masks Mariu's secret longings for Lino as well as Lino's need to prostitute himself to local women to pay his family's rent. Things between the men take a dramatic turn when Mariu ends up participating with Lino and one of his clients. There is enough sex, Catholicism, and attractive men in Blessed Boys to please pretty much everyone!

Reverend's Ratings:
Fire Island: C+
A Sexplanation: B
Benediction: B+
Mascarpone: B
Blessed Boys (a.k.a. La Santa Piccola): B-

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