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.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Reverend's Interview: A New Queer as Folk for a New Generation

Way back in 1999, LGBTQ audiences around the world were introduced to Stuart, Vince and Nathan, three young gay men in Manchester, England. The British TV series featuring this charismatic trio, Queer as Folk, became a sensation. An Americanized version soon followed and ran on Showtime from 2000-2005. Now, the TV gods have decreed it is time for a new Queer as Folk. It will premiere June 9th on Peacock, NBC’s streaming network. A vibrant re imagining of the groundbreaking original created by Russell T. Davies, the series explores a diverse group of friends in New Orleans whose lives are transformed in the aftermath of a tragedy.

Davies is involved as an executive producer of this new iteration. However, the primary roles of creator, writer, executive producer and director have been bequeathed to Stephen Dunn, a talented young filmmaker. He made a splash with his quirky, 2016 festival hit Closet Monster, in which a gay man comes of age with the help of his talking hamster, Buffy (lovingly voiced by the one and only Isabella Rossellini). Dunn seems a perfect choice to carry the QAF torch.

Stephen Dunn

“Like most queer ‘90s kids, I had a unique relationship with the original Queer as Folk,” Dunn reflects in the press notes. “Growing up, I was desperate for any sort of connection with people like me. I remember sneaking into my parents’ basement late at night to watch it in secret, volume turned low. It was the first time I really felt seen. The show offered a new paradigm – one where we could accept and celebrate queer love, families and communities on a global stage. It was truly iconic. I am honored that Russell T. Davies entrusted me to continue this legacy.”

Dunn’s update centers on several key characters. Devin Way plays Brodie, a charming and sometimes chaotic commitment-phobe. Fin Argus will play Mingus, a cocky high schooler whose confidence belies their lack of real world experience. Jesse James Keitel is trans, semi-reformed party girl Ruthie, who is struggling to grow up. CG is Shar, a non-binary professor navigating the rocky transition from punk to parenthood. Johnny Sibilly plays Noah, a successful lawyer who is not as put together as he seems. Last but certainly not least, Ryan O’Connell is Julian, a pop culture nerd with cerebral palsy who is more than ready for some independence. O’Connell is known to many viewers for his autobiographical Netflix series Special, which he wrote and starred in. He also serves as a writer and co-executive producer on the new Queer as Folk.

Ryan O’Connell and Johnny Sibilly

Among the numerous guest stars slated to appear are Sex and the City alumna Kim Cattrall as a martini-soaked southern debutant with trailer park roots; Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis as a single mom who is more of a friend than a parent to her teenager; Ed Begley Jr. as an emotionally distant father; deaf actor and activist Nyle DiMarco as a charming grad student; and Lukas Gage (recently seen on HBO’s The White Lotus) as a personal trainer.

In the words of Russell T. Davies: “I’m very proud of what we achieved in 1999, but in queer years that was a millennium ago! As a community, we’ve radicalized, explored, opened up and found new worlds – with new enemies and new allies – and there was so much to be said. Stephen (Dunn) pitched a brand new version of Queer as Folk with so much imagination, insight, and – crucially – joy that I simply couldn’t resist. I thought it was about time the title belonged to a whole new generation. The 2022 show is more diverse, more wild, more free, more angry – everything a queer show should be.”

Devin Way and Jesse James Keitel

I was thrilled to be able to ask Stephen Dunn a few questions in advance of the new QAF’s premiere.

CC: So, why another Queer as Folk now? What were some of the factors or thoughts behind this new iteration?
SD: It is really important to me to tell queer stories. Co-Executive Producers Jaclyn Moore (who is a trans woman) and Lee Eisenberg saw some of my movies at the Sundance Film Festival. We got to talking about Queer as Folk and how important that show was. I sought out that title because of how important it was to me growing up. Also, it is really hard to create queer content, so to get the process greenlit it was helpful to have this known title. I really wanted to lean into the word queer with this one. It’s about a community after a tragedy, and that was really important to Russell Davies to show that.

CC: New Orleans is an interesting choice of location. What went into that selection? Did you actually shoot there?
SD: Oh yeah, that is authentic. New Orleans is all over the show. It’s in the sets and the costumes, the people. I used to go to New Orleans all the time with my friend, (drag queen) Chi Chi DeVayne. Sadly, she has passed away (in 2020). It’s this liberal oasis in the Deep South. There’s a resilience there that I feel is at the intersection of the community and Queer as Folk.

Fin Argus

CC: The new cast is great, but many of my readers will likely be most excited about Kim Cattrall. How did she become involved and what was it like working with her?
SD: Oh my gosh, she is so incredible. I, like, from the get-go wrote this show for Kim. I knew where the character was going. I’d met her a few years ago, and then I wrote her a letter. She’s so sweet and so generous. I was so nervous because I love her so much and am in awe of her. She was so kind and excited to be there playing this new character. It was surreal. She’s also a brilliant improviser and came up with some of her best lines. She really should be part of the writers’ room.

CC: That is awesome! How best would you label or define the new Queer as Folk? Is it a reboot, a remake, a sequel...?
SD: The word that really feels right to me is re-imagining. We have a lot of respect for the original and there are references throughout, but this is a new generation and we’re taking things in a new direction.

CG and Jesse James Keitel   

CC: Were there certain characters, events or attitudes from the previous series that you wanted to recreate or reference in the new series?
SD: There are definitely references but we are really telling a new story. Family is a huge part of the original series but we broaden it. The new series also has a different tone to it.

CC: You previously made the well-received movie Closet Monster. What was the experience like of moving from an indie movie to a major TV series?
SD: It is so different! There is so much more volume of content. I’m mixing the last episode right now and it is a major undertaking. I thought it would be a less personal experience doing television, but it’s really been more personal than I expected. What I’m most excited about is the potential to tell more stories and keep going (with Queer as Folk). Plus, it’s nice to have a budget and money. (laughs)

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