Monday, December 18, 2023

Reverend's Interviews: Strangers No More

Suppose you suddenly feel inspired to visit your childhood home, as we sometimes do as adults. Once there, you greet your loving parents and hang out with them a while. There’s just one thing amiss: your parents have been dead for the last 30 years.

Such is the unusual scenario in which central character Adam finds himself in the new, gay-interest drama All of Us Strangers. The film is scheduled for theatrical release beginning December 22nd by Searchlight Pictures. Loosely based on Taichi Yamada’s horror-leaning 1987 novel Strangers, it was written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Andrew Haigh.

As adapted by Haigh, All of Us Strangers is set in contemporary London. Adam (played by out actor Andrew Scott) has a chance encounter one night with a mysterious neighbor, Harry (Paul Mescal, an Oscar nominee earlier this year for Aftersun). This punctures the rhythm of the reclusive Adam’s everyday life. As a romantic relationship develops between him and Harry, Adam becomes preoccupied with memories of the past. He eventually finds himself drawn back to the suburban town where he grew up and the childhood home where, to his surprise, his parents are still living. Mum and Dad also happen to look just as they did on the Christmas Eve they both died three decades earlier. Adam and his parents (super)naturally begin to catch up on their lost time.

Out filmmaker Andrew Haigh previously wrote and directed three award-winning feature films: Lean on Pete (2017), 45 Years (2015) and the explicitly gay Weekend (2011). He was also executive producer and lead writer-director on the popular HBO series Looking (2014-2016).

Recalls Haigh, “What I loved about the novel (Strangers) was its central conceit: What if you met your parents again long after they were gone, only now they’re the same age as you? It seemed such an emotional way to explore the nature of family. That became my starting point.” But he placed the story in a world more recognizable to his/our own. “Adapting the book was a long and sometimes painful process,” Haigh admits. “I wanted to pick away at my own past as Adam does in the film. I was interested in exploring the complexities of both familial and romantic love, but also the distinct experience of a specific generation of gay people growing up in the 1980s. I wanted to move away from the traditional ghost story of the novel and find something more psychological, almost metaphysical.”

Author Yamada and his family were respectful of Haigh’s vision, which changed the central character of the story to a gay man, and gave their blessing to make the film. The project then attracted the extraordinary acting quartet that is Andrew Scott (perhaps best known in the US as “Sexy Priest” from the Amazon series Fleabag), Paul Mescal (also acclaimed — and frequently naked — in the Hulu series Normal People), the ever-adorable Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) and the lovely Claire Foy (Women Talking, The Crown).

After watching All of Us Strangers, I was struck by not only how moving the story is but how delicate it is in terms of cinematic structure. I’ve rarely if ever used the word delicate to describe a movie, but it certainly fits here. This became a topic of conversation when I was privileged last month to interview several of the artists involved in making the film: director of photography Jamie D. Ramsay, SASC; editor Jonathan Alberts, ACE; and composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch. The following are excerpts from my Zoom conversations with these amazing technicians.

Ramsay is a South African/British Director of photography. He is known for his cinematography on the breakthrough, gay-themed South African film Moffie. He next helmed the period drama Mothering Sunday and then re-connected with Moffie director Oliver Hermanus to make the Academy Award- nominated Living.

CC: It’s nice to meet you! I want to say congratulations to you for your excellent work on this film but also Moffie and Living. They’re all great films and well-shot. What drew you to this particular project or this story?
JDR: You know, when you look at a project that you’re going to be spending your life force on and your time that you’ll never get back, this beautiful life we live, you need to pick it correctly. You look at the filmmakers involved and you look at the script itself and the project as a whole in regards to cast and everything that’s involved, and within that you develop your idea of the film. I think with this movie first and foremost was to work with Andrew Haigh, something I’ve always wanted to do, and then the blessing of such an incredible script that I couldn’t put down when I started reading it. It resonated with me on such a deep emotional level.

CC: Comparing this and Moffie, another gay-themed story, would you say your approach differed or varied between the two stories in any way?
JDR: The big difference for me between this film and Moffie is that Moffie is a story about unrequited love because of how homosexuality was deemed as a sin in the 80’s in South Africa. This movie that we’ve made, All of Us Strangers, is not that. It’s a love story. It’s not a gay movie, it’s a love story. It transcends being a gay film beautifully. You don’t watch the love scenes and think “it’s a gay love scene.” You watch a love scene, and this is a love story about forgiveness: about self-forgiveness, about the cathartic process of letting go of trauma, and for me that’s the big difference.

CC: Great, thanks for clarifying that. When it comes to your photography and filming All of Us Strangers, what were some of the factors or conditions that guided your choices?
JDR: First and foremost, Andrew and I wanted to make a movie that represented the concept of nostalgia, that represented the concept of being locked in a place in your life where your best memories were 15 or 20 years before. For us to embody visually this idea of memory and nostalgia was very important to us. It was very important to create a very subjective journey, a subjective experience of loneliness from the inside out. The camera always needs to feel as if it was the unseen friend in the room rather than an objective camera telling the story. All of our conversations were really about feeling, about the metamorphosis of the journey and what feeling we wanted to embody as filmmakers, and how best to do that very subtly from a visual perspective.

CC: I spoke with Emilie the composer and the editor, Jonathan, earlier and that word subtle came up with both of them. And also I described the film as being very delicate, a very delicate story and a very delicate film. It seems as if one factor — if the photography had been too dark or too bright, or if the music had been too loud or too frantic — the whole thing could have fallen apart. It’s just a perfect balance that you all found in that delicacy. Do you have any thoughts about that?
JDR: Thank you. Yeah, you know while you were saying that I was just thinking about how delicate our existence on this planet is. We have this human experience on this world but we ultimately are made from stardust; we are carbon atoms that have this soul within us. The fact that we breathe and we think and we love and we hate is just such a delicate holding together of things, and can be unseated so quickly by an accident or by a sickness or by this or that. But in (life’s) delicateness there’s a robustness as well that drives us and a tenacity that drives us, and ultimately it’s the pursuit of love. Love is the thing that generates us forward and that’s the glue, isn’t it? This movie, for me, is really about finding that love and finding it for yourself. And that’s what I’ve got to say about that. (laughs)

Jonathan Alberts, the movie’s editor, is an alum of McGill University and the American Film Institute. His previous films include Wristcutters: A Love Story and Like Crazy, Andrew Haigh’s previous films 45 Years and Lean on Pete, and Alan Ball’s Uncle Frank.

CC: Congratulations on not just this film but all your work that you’ve done with Andrew. It’s really significant and impactful, and you obviously work well together. Maybe first and foremost, some of my readers might not know exactly what an editor does, so can you say maybe just generally what the role of the editor is or what is your approach to editing a film?
JA: Sure. You know, I think a lot of people think that editing is about continuity, it’s about making things match, and there is an aspect of that but truth is I don’t think editing is anything about that. Editing is about how to tell the best story. The first thing that you put together is not what you end up with. As an editor, you’re thinking about “how do we tell this in the best way possible” using all the variables that you have with filmmaking, which is cinematography, performance, sound design, music. Those variables provide endless permutations, so as an editor I’m taking all those things together and I’m trying to understand how best to tell that story.

CC: In terms of this particular film or this story, did you do anything different in terms of approach? Did it challenge you or call you to do something different or reflect on the approach differently than other films?
JA: I think in some ways. So, every film presents a different set of problems. With (All of Us Strangers), it’s not just a straightforward drama. It has a supernatural element, it has this fantastic fantasy side, and I think we had to really think about the tone in terms of “how was this tone going to work.” It could have gone horribly wrong in a lot of different ways. We spent about a year editing the film and it was a long time of really experimenting, of really trying to understand what the film was. I mean, you know by the script what the story is about but all of the variables that I was talking about before change. It’s a different kind of alchemy that comes to the actor’s performances and the dialogue, so as an editor you’re often thinking about that.

CC: This is a very delicate film, and that’s not a word that I’ve typically used to describe a movie, but I think it’s very true. And I think the same is true of the editing. I really think there is a delicate quality to your work that really makes the story come alive. Do you have any thoughts about that?
JA: It’s interesting because as an editor, you know, before the music composer is on board you’re building a whole temporary soundtrack for the film, so I would talk to the director about what we want it to sound like. He would send me a playlist and I would take that playlist and start building another playlist and send it to him, and it was an interesting kind of thing. You spend a lot of time as an editor thinking and feeling “let’s try this piece,” and there was a crazy number of soundtracks I’m pulling from thinking “maybe this will work.” And then the composer comes on board and starts listening to this music you’ve put on it and they end up taking all of that off. (laughs) For this film, it was delicate. It’s such an intimate film and the music was a really hard thing to nail. I think Emilie did a great job, and we had many many conversations. She was so open and so inviting about trying different things. She had all these different ideas and she was so patient about finding the sound, but she found it and I think the soundtrack is absolutely beautiful and perfect for the film.

Speaking of, Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch is an award-winning composer and artist living in London. She scored last year’s Oscar-nominated Living, starring Bill Nighy. Her previous credits include The Forgotten Battle and The Strays, both for Netflix, and MGM’s Censor.

CC: Hi Emilie! Thanks for your time and thanks for your score on this film. It’s a lovely, delicate film. What drew you to this project or story in the first place?
EL: I saw an edit of the film before coming on board and I think I had a reaction that’s pretty similar to everybody. It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks and made me cry. I was also very impressed by how you can create a story that’s so specific but also touches on themes that are so fundamental to every human being’s experience. I just thought that was so impressive, and done in a way that was so subtle and with humor at times and yet so bold. As you say, it’s colliding so many different little elements and yet it works as a whole. But mainly it made me cry and I wanted to be part of it.

CC: I know you’re relatively new to composing for film but you have some impressive credits under your belt. How did you approach composing for this film and how was it different from or similar to other projects?
EL: An approach I have to a lot of the films I work on is, generally, I have to become emotionally really close to one of the characters. I really try to understand them because all of my music comes from a place of emotional truth, so I need to be able to feel what the character is feeling. And then I know that the music I am going to write from that place is going to be truthful for the character and truthful to the story. In All of Us Strangers, it was just really connecting with Adam, which was not hard for me because I love Andrew Scott’s performance. It’s just so subtle and all in the details. And then the next step is thinking more intellectually about what are we trying to do with the score, how the score should work. There was conversation with the director and editor about warmth, there was conversation about the nature of memory, and a more technical aspect was how are we going to use the score in order to gel a complex timeline and various genres into something that feels like a whole.

CC: Wow, that’s a fascinating process. Did I detect a love theme for Adam and Harry? I kind of heard bits and pieces but I wasn’t absolutely positive.
EL: That’s well spotted! Because of this idea of fragments that we had, because of the nature of memory and things like that, it was quite important to keep it really short. We have a few fragments; three different, very short melodies. The love one is at the very start of the film, when (Adam and Harry) are in bed having that long conversation, and at the very end of the film is the main moment when it comes back. They are very, very subtle and hard to grasp. It felt like if we had melodies that were very romantic and very hummable it would not be right for the film.

All of Us Strangers will have a limited release starting this Friday, December 22nd.

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Reverend's Reviews: Happy Holiday Theatre Roundup

Plenty of people travel to visit family and friends during this festive time of year. While I don't anticipate getting on a plane, I've recently been able to travel around the world thanks to several new, very good-to-excellent theatrical productions that I encourage all theatre lovers to check out.

The Prince of Egypt: The Musical
For religious folk such as myself, it was a little odd when 1998's animated movie The Prince of Egypt was released during the height of the Christmas season rather than during Passover/Spring. Well, go figure: the Steven Spielberg-produced musicalization of the Old Testament's Exodus saga became a box office hit and won an Oscar for its main theme song, "When You Believe."

Acclaimed composer Stephen Schwartz (who subsequently did a little show called Wicked) revised and added to his film score for a stage adaptation of The Prince of Egypt that played the Dominion Theater in London's West End for 6 weeks in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced its premature closure. The production re-opened in mid-2021 and ran through early 2022. It was captured on film before a live audience and, in honor of the movie's 25th anniversary, was just released December 5th to buy or rent on digital from NBCUniversal.

Directed by Scott Schwartz (Stephen's son), the musical's plot centers on two unexpected adoptive brothers: Ramses, son of Egypt's pharaoh and destined to become pharaoh himself, and Moses, the biblical savior who would lead his fellow Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery. (Credit for this dramatic development should go to 20th-century film producer Cecil B. DeMille rather than anyone actually involved in writing the book of Exodus.) Tensions grow between the pair and Moses ends up exiled. God appears to him in the wilderness and commissions Moses to return to Egypt in order to free his people. Plagues descend, seas are parted, but all eventually ends well for the Hebrews.

In the stage version's biggest departure from its cinematic predecessors, things end well for Ramses too. Schwartz Sr. and book writer Philip LaZebnik decided to let Ramses survive relatively unscathed rather than be marooned in the middle of the Red Sea a la the movie. While this may upset purists, it is organic in light of the musical's more bromantic depiction of the relationship between Moses (played by hunky Luke Brady) and Ramses (the charismatic Liam Tamne). They get to reconcile during the finale and even exit the stage with their arms around each other. Viewers can definitely quibble about this from both dramatic and theological/historical perspectives.

That being said, The Prince of Egypt: The Musical is impressive both musically and visually. In addition to five of the songs he wrote for the film, Stephen Schwartz has provided no less than ten new songs. The most memorable of these are "Footprints on the Sand" and the show-stopping, dance-oriented "Simcha." Sean Cheesman's energetic choreography is best employed when the dancers embody not only humans but horse-drawn chariots and even the famed Burning Bush! The production also boasts striking scenic and costume design. Whether viewed during Christmas, Passover or some other time of year, Reverend recommends it.

From Egypt, we travel to the "non-Confederate" (as stated in the play's subtitle) American South for the current and fantastic Broadway revival of the late Ossie Davis's Purlie Victorious. Its full, winking subtitle is A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch. Though set during the 1950's, there are plentiful indications that the Confederacy remains alive and well on the Georgia plantation the title character and other black characters grudgingly call home.

Tony Award winner Leslie Odom, Jr. (Hamilton) plays the Reverend Purlie Victorious Judson. As the play opens, Purlie has just returned from a trip where he recruited a gullible young woman, Luttiebelle (a delightful performance by Kara Young), to present herself as the next of kin to a late worker. By doing so, Purlie hopes plantation owner Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee will release some money the worker left. Purlie intends to use the money to buy a local, long-closed church in order to preach civil rights to his neighbors.

Purlie Victorious is first and foremost — and thankfully — a comedy. But playwright Davis intended it to make more than a few serious points about the state of civil rights in the US when it first premiered on Broadway in 1961 (it was adapted into a musical, simply called Purlie, a few years later). Many Southern cities were still segregated at the time, and their black citizens were frequently dehumanized. While some things have definitely improved since then, this play's current revival makes clear we still have a way to go. This is most notable in its depiction of white police officers who are under the sway of the enduringly racist Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee.

Odom, Jr. is charming in the multi-faceted title role. He gets to be both serious and comedic, plus he gets to preach and sing a bit. I fully expect him and the previously mentioned Kara Young to receive Tony nominations in 2024. While the entire supporting cast is great, recognizable character actor Jay O. Sanders is a standout as Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee, as is Billy Eugene Jones as Purlie's duplicitous yet hapless brother. Perhaps most impressive in this Kenny Leon-directed production is Derek McLane's scenic design, which features the ramshackle home set transforming into a stately church before audience members' eyes during the play's climax. Reverend truly felt like I'd had a religious experience.

Purlie Victorious is now playing at NYC's Music Box Theater through February 4th, 2024.

In terms of theatrical geography, I next traveled north via the aptly-titled new musical How to Dance in Ohio. Inspired by an award-winning 2015 documentary, it is the groundbreaking and instantly lovable tale of a group of young adults on the autism spectrum who are preparing for their first-ever Spring formal dance. It just began an open-ended run last week at the Belasco Theater in NYC.

How to Dance in Ohio breaks ground as the first Broadway production with actors on the autistic spectrum playing the lead roles. All of them — Desmond Luis Edwards, Amelia Fei, Madison Kopec, Liam Pearce, Imani Russell, Conor Tague and Ashley Wool — are making their Broadway debuts. Additionally, the show's creators and other talent involved are on the spectrum and/or have loved ones who are. The obvious compassion, dedication and talent behind the scenes spilled onto the stage in the preview performance I attended, and I have no doubt it will continue to do so during all performances.

To their great credit, neither the musical's book nor memorable songs lecture the audience on what it means to be autistic or on the spectrum. The challenges and intricacies facing these characters are periodically revealed through their personal reflections, lyrics or mannerisms. Also significant are the sensory-friendly accommodations provided in the theater. These include quiet "cool-down" spaces, the availability of finger fidget devices, and the absence of flashing lights and loud sudden noises. Special performances during which the theater won't be fully darkened and the volume level reduced are also being offered.

I definitely encourage prospective attendees on the autistic spectrum to see the show. It's terrific and I believe you will feel powerfully represented for the first (but hopefully not last) time on Broadway!

The last stop on our "international tour" of new theatrical offerings is Argentina. The native country of acclaimed director-choreographer Graciela Daniele, it serves as the setting for The Gardens of Anuncia. This new musical inspired by Daniele's life as well as directed by her is playing at Lincoln Center in the intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater through December 31st.

Daniele, whom I have long admired primarily for her work in the 1983 film version of The Pirates of Penzance, was raised by her mother, grandmother and aunt during Argentina's oppressive 1950's Peron era. Re-named "Anuncia" here as a reference to the Catholic feast of the Anunciation, she is depicted as a talented young dancer coming to terms with both her family legacy and her gifts as a performer. Daniele the director/co-choreographer (with Alex Sanchez) has assembled an all-star roster of Broadway actresses for this occasion. Eden Espinosa (Wicked) plays her mother, Andrea Burns (In the Heights) plays her aunt, and Mary Testa (Xanadu and many more) plays Granmama. Last but not least, Tony Award winner Priscilla Lopez (who played Diana Morales in the original run of A Chorus Line) serves as the older Anuncia/Graciela.

As written and composed by Daniele's longtime friend Michael John LaChiusa, The Gardens of Anuncia is a gorgeously scored and revealing piece. LaChiusa's work (which includes Hello Again, The Wild Party and Marie Christine) has often been described as "esoteric," but I dare say his songs here are his most melodic and engaging. During the performance I attended, Testa sang a bit too loudly and overpowered her castmates. Also, a bit of "magic realism" in the plot involving a talking deer (the very amusing Tally Sessions) was fun but also distracting. Anuncia/Graciela is magical in and of herself. Still, this show is well worth seeing.

And with that, Reverend wishes you all blessed holidays and a happy 2024!

Reverend's Ratings:
The Prince of Egypt: The Musical: B
Purlie Victorious: A
How to Dance in Ohio: A-
The Gardens of Anuncia: B+

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

Monday, November 20, 2023

Reverend’s Interview: Now Saving the Universe: Captain Faggotron!

The world is one big hot mess right now. Wars, pandemics, government dysfunction, natural disasters and increased animosity toward the LGBTQ+ community are taking a toll. We could use a hero, but Superman, Flash Gordon and Wonder Woman are apparently otherwise occupied. Who can we turn to in our time of need???

Enter the fantastic Captain Faggotron! The brainchild of filmmaker Harvey Rabbit, this new superhero for our community will be making his home video debut on November 21st courtesy of TLA Releasing. A low-budget but big-hearted and very creative movie, it wowed audiences earlier this year at numerous LGBTQ+ film festivals worldwide.

Captain Faggotron Saves the Universe is a campy comedy-fantasy about internalized homophobia, the tyranny of the closet, and fear of a gay planet. It was conceived by Rabbit as a direct (though admittedly absurd) response to multiple situations: the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; the persecution of homosexuality in Chechnya, Russia; the election of President Donald Trump in the USA; and the violence that unfortunately follows gay and queer people of all genders throughout our lives.

When Father Gaylord, a closeted Catholic priest living in Germany, loses his precious ring, he is forced to turn to Captain Faggotron for help. It turns out that the missing ring is no ordinary piece of jewelry. It is the mystical Ring of Oberon, which has the power to turn the entire population of Earth gay. Whereas Fr. Gaylord is horrified at this prospect, his nemesis/sometimes lover Queen Bitch excitedly declares “Soon, the world will be flooded with homosexuals!” Cue the maniacal laughter.

This movie truly has something for everyone: religion, furries, men used as footrests, sex demons, animated sequences, MAGA hats, full-frontal nudity, a song about Grindr and — naturally, in light of its German setting — sausages. The title character even gets his own theme song and a dance number! As Queen Bitch queries Fr. Gaylord at one point, “Why be normal when you can be extraordinarily fabulous?”

According to the film’s website: “Captain Faggotron Saves the Universe follows a tradition deeply rooted in gay/queer history and our ability to survive. Confronting ‘straight’ and heteronormative structures, camp exposes absurdities of the mainstream in a way that allows us to laugh. Humor is a weapon, and camp is a tool of joyful resistance.”

Harvey Rabbit, the film’s writer-director, is a transgender artist living in Berlin, Germany. He has a Master’s degree in dramaturgy and a Master of Fine Arts in Experimental Theater, both from New College of California. A campaigner for LGBTQIA* and sex worker rights, his activism dates back to the mid-1990’s. Using spoken word as his medium, Rabbit stormed the stages of Northern California, speaking about feminism, queerness and empowerment.

From 2013 to 2015, he produced, curated and hosted Varieté Ridiculous, a political cabaret in Berlin focusing on sex worker rights. Rabbit’s first short film, Slowdance, premiered at the 2016 Berlin Porn Film Festival and has been shown in queer film festivals in many parts of Europe, South and Central America, and the USA. In 2017, he produced We are the Fucking World, a short film for Erika Lust. Rabbit’s most recent work, The Chemo Darkroom (2018), was selected for the shorts competition in the
Berlin Porn Film Festival, Berlin Feminist Film Week, IKFF Hamburg, and the 2019 Hacker Porn Film Festival in Rome. Captain Faggotron Saves the Universe is his first feature film.

The spirited filmmaker recently spoke with me via Zoom from his home in Berlin.

Harvey Rabbit

CC: Hi Harvey! Congratulations on making such a unique, creative film. What has been the response to it so far?
HR: Well, we just won an award! Bishop Black (who plays Queen Bitch) won the Iris Prize in Cardiff, Wales for Best Non-Binary Performance. Mostly, people are loving this film. We’ve played both LGBTQ and international film festivals. Heterosexuals are loving this film and I didn’t make it for them! I’m here to convert people. (laugh) I don’t mince words.

CC: How and when did you first conceive the story?
HR: After the Pulse shooting in 2016 in Orlando, Florida. I went into a state of shock and didn’t want to leave my apartment. Then one day, the first 12 pages of the script just kind of came out of me.

CC: This is your first feature film, correct? What were some of the challenges you faced?
HR: Yes. It’s a 72-minute film and the entirety of our budget was 20,000 Euro (approximately $21,200 US). We also had two COVID lockdowns in Germany that postponed everything. We shot basically every weekend from July through the end of October, 2020.

CC: Wow, it sounds like a true labor of love.
HR: No, it was a labor of compulsion. (laugh) I had to do this movie!

CC: Your movie has a fabulous queer cast! Did you use a formal casting process, or just cast friends or people you knew?
HR: The roles of Captain Faggotron and Queen Bitch were written specifically for the actors, Tchivett and Bishop Black. If they had said no, I couldn’t have done it. I knew Rodrigo Garcia Alves (who plays Fr. Gaylord) from the community and bumped into him on the street one day. He’s from Brazil and I thought, “Hmm, he could play the priest.” (laugh) For other roles we had auditions and readings, and everyone did it for no money. Everyone involved was gay, trans or queer, with the exception of a cis-ish member of the core creative team.

CC: Talk to me about the religious content in the movie. Are you or were you Catholic?
HR: I’m Jewish. This is not my baggage. (laugh) I really don’t know where Fr. Gaylord came from. I knew someone Catholic who thought of becoming a priest but he was really closeted. My best friend as a teenager was Catholic. We were really bad. I would spend Saturday nights at her house and we would sneak out to go party. We would get back early Sunday morning and I would sometimes go to church with her family, like two hours later. I liked the music but was not religious so hated being there. I wish a Catholic priest would come out publicly. “Just come out,” as Harvey Milk said. My movie is a fantasia on religious and gay themes but I would love it if it inspired more openness.

CC: That would be awesome. What’s next for you?
HR: I’m looking for funding to write my new script, Cancer Made Me Trans. It also has comedy and fantasy elements like Captain Faggotron, and I’ll leave it at that.

CC: I can’t wait! Well, I wish you the best and much continued success.
HR: Thank you so much!

For more information about the movie, visit TLA Releasing.

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Reverend's Interview: San Diego Film Fest Exposes a Hidden Master

October brings not only Fall décor, cooler temperatures, and tricks (ahem) as well as treats to Southern California but also two major Southern California film festivals. Tales representing our international LGBTQ+ community will be spotlighted during both.

The 22nd annual San Diego International Film Festival (SDIFF) will run from October 18th-22nd. Produced by the San Diego Film Foundation, screenings of more than 100 feature and short films will take place in the Festival Village at AMC UTC 14 at Westfield Plaza. Other events include film panels, VIP lounges, receptions, and impromptu meet ups with filmmakers. Passes and tickets can be purchased at or by calling 619-818-2221.

Among the program’s LGBTQ+ offerings will be the San Diego premiere of Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes on Sunday, October 22nd. Lynes (1907-1955) began his career photographing celebrities, and it's those portraits along with his extravagant fashion work that he's best remembered for today. As this documentary reveals, however, Lynes' heart, passion and greatest talent lay elsewhere: his work with the male nude. This work, sensuous and radically explicit for its time, has only recently begun being fully discovered and appreciated for the revolution that it represents.

Directed by longtime art director turned filmmaker Sam Shahid, Hidden Master features a stunning collection of long-hidden photography from the 1930s-50s. Shahid literally exposes the life of Lynes less- known: his gifted eye for the male form, his long-term friendships with Gertrude Stein and Alfred Kinsey, and his lasting influence as one of the first openly-gay American artists.

According to the director, “George Platt Lynes was an artist endowed with an almost endless well of creative gifts. However, because of the restrictions – social, moral, artistic, legal – imposed upon him by the era in which he lived and created, he was unable to share his true talent with the public and, of equal import, future generations of artists who may have built upon and furthered his contributions to his genre. He was an artist who was never able to share what he considered to be his very best work, and more importantly what he considered his true craft.”

Sam Shahid has been leaving his mark on the world of fashion and advertising for four decades and counting. When he became the creative director for the in-house advertising agency for Calvin Klein in the early 1980s, he helped to turn the brand into the internationally recognized name it remains today with advertising campaigns that are remembered for their clean yet sensational visuals. In the early 1990s he did the same for Banana Republic before opening up his own creative design firm and advertising agency, Shahid & Company, in 1993.

Sam Shahid

In the years since, Shahid has created original and striking campaigns for brands as divergent as Versace, Perry Ellis, Gucci, Valentino, and Abercrombie & Fitch. He was also the Creative Director of Interview magazine, and he’s designed a library’s worth of fine art books for artists and photographers such as Bruce Weber, Kelly Klein, Herb Ritts, Joel Grey and Jessica Lange, amongst others. Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes marks Shahid’s feature directorial debut.

The energetic, affable director recently took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me:

CC: Congratulations on a great documentary and thank you for taking time to speak with me! How and/or when were you first introduced to Lynes’ work?
SS: I’d known his work for a while but I didn’t know about his life. All of us in the fashion world knew of his work, but I was asked to design a book about him in 2010 and thought “You know, there should be a film about this man! The world needs to know about him.”

CC: What made you decide to make him the subject of your first feature film?
SS: He was so brave. But it is so sad that he destroyed so much of his work. When I told people I was making a film about him, they said to me “Well, good luck.” We weren’t sure we would find enough info to make a feature film. He had so much courage to keep those male nudes because it was illegal at the time.

CC: How long did it take to develop or create?
SS: Since 2012. The project became like a client (laughs). It took 10 years to make it, mainly because it took so long to track down people who knew (Lynes) who were still alive. They’re all dead now except Don Bachardy. Then we lost two years due to COVID, of course, but I did read about 300 letters (that Lynes wrote) during that first summer of the shutdown.

CC: Someone in the film refers to Lynes as a “cross-pollinator,” which I like. Would you say this continues today?
SS: Oh yes, definitely. He was at the center of that art circle of the time which has continued to inspire artists. Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts were all influenced by George.

CC: You could say you’ve been pollinated by him yourself.
SS: (Laughs) Yes, you can.

CC: Has Lynes’ work directly inspired your career as an art director at Calvin Klein or Abercrombie & Fitch, or as a filmmaker?
SS: No, because I really didn’t know about his work beforehand. He did influence many artists I’ve work with though, including Bruce Weber and Don Bachardy.

CC: What do you hope viewers will take from Hidden Master?
SS: I hope the film will generate enough interest to mount a major exhibition of his work. That’s mentioned in the film by the Kinsey Institute representative as their hope as well. I didn’t want the film to come across as a competition between Robert Mapplethorpe and George Platt Lynes. The biggest surprise in the film is the final footage of George and writer Christopher Isherwood.

You know what’s exciting? The film has been selected to play the Lebanese Independent Film Festival (LIFF) in Beirut. George will soon be known in the Middle East! Isn’t that amazing?

The 24th annual Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) will be held just prior to SDIFF, from October 12th-19th at various Orange County locations. Tickets are on sale now at A number of LGBTQ+ feature films as well as short films will be screened. Among these are:


Asog: A tragicomic road film that follows a non-binary Filipino comedian pursuing their dream of becoming a pageant Queen. By day, Rey teaches high school students and by night they perform at bars as a proudly gay comedian named Jaya. En route to a pageant on a neighboring island, Jaya encounters a series of people living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. 100% of the cast members are Filipinos who survived Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest storm every recorded at landfall.


Egghead & Twinkie: After coming out to her parents, 17-year-old Twinkie takes off on a road trip to meet her online crush with the help of her nerdy best friend, Egghead. As they make their way across the country, Egghead wrestles with his unrequited feelings for Twinkie, while Twinkie learns to embrace her identity as a gay mixed-Asian woman.



The Mattachine Family: Thomas and Oscar are a couple very much in love. But after their first foster child returns to his birth mother, they find they have different ideas about what it means to make a family. The movie is co-produced by actor-director Zach Braff.





  • (In)convenience
  • Alive & Well
  • Blue Square Heart
  • Boundaries
  • Friends/Aikane
  • Get Up the Nerve
  • I Thought the Earth Remembered Me
  • Lambing
  • Mud Queen
  • Face to Face/Tête à tête
  • The External-Internal Monologue of an Interdependent Insomniac
  • West of Frank
  • Zenaida

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

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Reverend's Reviews: Sharks, Imelda Marcos and More Currently on NYC Stages

It's probably needless to say, but Steven Spielberg's breakout, 1975 movie Jaws became the template of the modern movie blockbuster. Adapted from Peter Benchley's novel about a massive Great White shark terrorizing a seaside New England community, the film has grossed more than $2 billion (adjusted for inflation) over the years off a production cost of approximately $40 million (also adjusted for inflation). It also famously made a generation of beach-goers, myself included, think twice before going into the water. As a kid, I was even afraid of going into my apartment complex's swimming pool for a while after watching Jaws.

The film notoriously went over budget during production due to inclement weather and the continuous malfunctioning of several mechanical sharks created for it. The Shark is Broken, an aptly-titled new play written by and starring the son of one of the movie's stars, is currently serving as a Broadway exposé of behind-the-scenes Hollywood mayhem. I attended a recent performance expecting it to be a comedic, potentially campy rehash of film-industry mythology, but was pleasantly surprised to instead find a heartfelt exploration of often tempestuous relationships between actors as well as between fathers and sons.

Spielberg teamed veteran actors Robert Shaw (his son Ian wrote the play, largely drawn from Robert's journals) and Roy Scheider with relative newcomer Richard Dreyfuss. Ian Shaw gives an uncanny performance as his father, honestly yet sympathetically depicting the senior Shaw's alcoholism as well as his hope to outlive his own, suicidal father (sadly, Robert was unsuccessful in this regard). Two-time Tony Award nominee Alex Brightman entertainingly plays Dreyfuss as a then-insecure wannabe movie star desperate for his co-stars' validation. The lesser-known Colin Donnell gives the play's most centered, Zen-like performance as Scheider, who just wants a free, solitary afternoon to work on his tan... yummily stripped down to a Speedo bikini in one scene. Donnell also has what is arguably the play's funniest line, when he vows as Scheider to never be part of a potential sequel. (Scheider headlined 1978's Jaws 2.)

Directed by Guy Masterson, The Shark is Broken is set solely on the Orca, the famed shark-hunting boat in the film. Some impressive projections are employed to make it look like the boat and the waters surrounding it are moving. It becomes an amusing guessing game for audience members to try to determine the various hiding places on the set where Robert has hidden his booze, which not even the actor/character himself can remember.

As a cinephile, I enjoyed this play's depiction of the tortured process that went into making the classic Jaws. But I also appreciated The Shark is Broken on its own theatrical yet deeply personal terms. I recommend as many people as possible see it during its current limited run at Broadway's Golden Theater through November 19th, 2023.

If they can mount a Broadway musical about the life of Argentinian first lady Eva Peron (Evita), then why not one about Imelda Marcos, notorious shoe-loving first lady of the Philippines from 1965-1986? Thanks to Talking Heads auteur David Byrne and master DJ-musician Fatboy Slim, Imelda is now a singing & dancing sensation in the pair's fantastic Here Lies Love.

First produced off-Broadway 10 years ago, it took heartfelt dedication to mount the version now playing at the Broadway Theater. Though one of NYC's oldest and largest theaters, director Alex Timbers and scenic designer David Korins removed most of the venue's orchestra seats to reconfigure the floor level into an interactive discotheque environment. Attendees can buy tickets to either stand on the floor and be part of the action or to be seated in the more traditional mezzanine section. I sat in the mezz and appreciated having a bird's eye view of the floor, including a central stage/platform that rotates 360 degrees. Dancers and even some of the lead actors still made their way up to the mezzanine, and the show's DJ got all of us up on our feet twice to teach us choreography for two standout numbers.

Here Lies Love is a sung-through, necessarily abbreviated account (100 minutes without an intermission) of Imelda's life. Continuous video projections courtesy of Peter Nigrini fill in some of the details but, for better and worse, the show leaves one wanting more from a historical perspective. Still, it is effective at showing how easily political popularity can turn to tyranny, definitely a timely lesson here in the good ol' Trump-infected US of A. It is also the first Broadway musical to feature an all-Filipino cast, which is its own historic achievement.

Many musicals send audiences out singing or humming some of their tunes. In my experience, though, Here Lies Love is the first to send audience members out literally dancing in the street! One must see/experience it, and I sincerely hope the show enjoys a well-deserved long life.

In light of the ongoing strike by Writers Guild of America (WGA) members, Pay the Writer is certainly an appropriate title for a new play. Written by Tawni O'Dell and directed by Karen Carpenter (no relation to myself), it is now having its world premiere through the end of this month at the Pershing Square Signature Center in NYC.

A starry cast headed by out actor Bryan Batt (Mad Men), Ron Canada (The West Wing) and Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives) definitely commands attention. The plot actually doesn't involve the current WGA strike, but it instead relates a decades-long relationship between (fictional) acclaimed author Cyrus Holt and his gay literary agent, Bruston Fischer. Cyrus (played by Canada) has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is trying to mend fences with Bruston (Batt) as well as his ex-wife Lana (Cross) and two adult children during his remaining time.

O'Dell's script entails many important topics including racism, homophobia, personal and professional legacies, the Vietnam War and its after-effects, and mortality. It's ultimately a bit too much content for a 2-hour play performed without an intermission, and could be improved with some further development and fleshing out of its characters. For example, we have no idea what Cross's character, Lana, does for a living or really anything else about her personal/professional life. Similarly, we don't know how Bruston spends his personal time aside from hanging out on the front stoop of Cyrus's apartment building. There is also mention of a horrible gay bashing/attempted murder incident Bruston endured that is too quickly brushed aside.

Still, Pay the Writer is worth seeing for its fine cast and their performances. In addition to the three leads, Garrett Turner is excellent as both young Cyrus and his son Leo, and Stephen Payne makes a memorable impression in his one scene as a nameless, homeless Vietnam vet with whom adult Cyrus crosses paths.

20 Seconds, a powerful one-man show, just opened on September 21st and is also playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Reverend was privileged to attend a preview performance on September 16th. Powerful might not be a strong enough word to describe Tom Sweitzer's autobiographical saga: I highly recommend the producers post a currently absent "trigger warning" on the play's website for its graphic descriptions of child abuse, spousal abuse and animal abuse, plus attempted murder and suicide.

This isn't to scare audiences away from the production. Sweitzer bravely, cathartically recreates his often-horrific upbringing by his physically abusive father and emotionally abusive mother. The actor-writer-music therapist plays all the parts in 20 Seconds. These include himself as a boy, his parents, the kindly church minister who takes him under her wing, and numerous other male and female characters. Sweitzer is openly gay and the play also addresses his coming of age in this regard.

He is impressive in many of these dramatic moments, but both the friend who attended with me and I came away feeling Sweitzer has taken on too much. 20 Seconds could potentially benefit from a more objective approach, employing multiple actors to portray Sweitzer and the other roles. There are moments in the current production when one fears Sweitzer is risking re-traumatizing himself... and traumatizing unsuspecting audience members along with him. That being said, I applaud Sweitzer for his courageous, ultimately hopeful work. One can catch it now through October 21st.

Last but certainly not least among NYC productions Reverend has attended recently is the off-Broadway sensation Titanique! I streamed an early, online version of this hilarious spoof during the COVID shutdown and loved it. But I finally decided to see the fully-staged production at the Daryl Roth Theatre after learning the fantastique Drew Droege was joining the cast. Droege — who has an extensive resumé that includes The Groundlings comedy troupe, numerous sitcom appearances and indie films, plus roles in acclaimed plays (several of which he wrote himself)— has been a friend since we crossed paths at Outfest Los Angeles approximately a decade ago. He is also well known for his sublime YouTube videos in which he portrays actress Chloë Sevigny, pontificating on various mundane topics.

In brief, Titanique recreates James Cameron's 1997 Oscar-winning film for which French-Canadian singer Celine Dion immortalized the song "My Heart Will Go On." But in this off-kilter rendition, Dion inserts herself into the film and even claims to have been physically present on the ill-fated luxury liner when it collided with an iceberg and sank in 1912. The very funny Jackie Burns has assumed the role of Dion from original star and book co-writer Marla Mindelle. I was especially amused by the multiple ways Burns intentionally mispronounces her diva character's name, including what sounds like "So-long" instead of "Celine." Though some die-hard fans might consider the show's depiction of Dion as disrespectful, it is actually quite loving even as it highlights some of the real-life singer's quirkier behaviors.

Droege is a hoot in the role of Ruth, Rose's bitchy mother (played by Frances Fisher in the movie). Also new to the cast is RuPaul's Drag Race alum Willam, although he was out the evening I attended. Now extended through January 7th, be sure to book passage on Titanique when in NYC!

Reverend's Ratings:
The Shark is Broken: B+
Here Lies Love: A-
Pay the Writer: B
20 Seconds: B-
Titanique: A-

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

Friday, September 8, 2023

Reverend's Interview: Dressed for Success in Bottoms

Many of us have been captivated this past month by season 2 of Heartstopper, the acclaimed Netflix series about a group of nice, largely well-behaved LGBTQ teens. Well, get ready for Bottoms, a raunchy, politically-incorrect new movie that serves as the virtual antithesis of Heartstopper but I still recommend. It is now playing in select theaters.

This comedy directed by Emma Seligman (Shiva Baby) focuses on two queer girls, PJ and Josie, who start a high school fight club in an effort to lose their virginities to cheerleaders. Their bizarre plan works. The fight club gains traction and soon the most popular girls in school are beating each other up in the name of self-defense, with some self-discovery worked in. But PJ and Josie soon find themselves in over their heads and in need of a way out before their plan is exposed.

Rachel Sennott, who previously starred in the similarly provocative Shiva Baby, headlines the cast as PJ and co-wrote the screenplay with Seligman. Ayo Edebira (also currently seen in Hulu’s The Bear) plays Josie, and British actor Nicholas Galitzine co-stars as a charmingly narcissistic football player. Galitzine is currently making viewers swoon as Prince Henry in Amazon Prime’s hit gay-themed romance Red, White & Royal Blue. Bottoms also boasts a music score co-composed by pop singer-songwriter Charli XCX.

There are an abundance of LGBTQ teen characters in Bottoms, which was actually titled Gay High School Fight Club while Seligman and Sennott were writing it. As Sennott recalls in the film’s press notes: “Emma had this idea to do a queer teen high school story, and I wanted to do a comedy where the women behave badly and the main characters are sort of unlikeable. We connected over that and spent the next few weeks outlining and brainstorming.”

Seligman described the inspiration behind the script. “Our initial references were Superbad or American Pie or the many other teen movies with male leads trying to lose their virginity,” she said. “Rachel and I felt that there are just as many flawed, superficial, horny teenage girls as there are flawed, superficial, horny teenage boys. Those were the initial references, then Wet Hot American Summer, Bring It On, Sugar & Spice and Drop Dead Gorgeous, and all these Y2K teen movies helped shape the tone of the movie.” While they aimed to have positive representations of queer teen sexuality, Seligman and Sennott really wanted to show just how messy women can be.

1999’s homoerotic drama Fight Club, which co-starred Brad Pitt and Edward Norton and was directed by David Fincher, is another inspiration referenced multiple times in the film. Ultimately, Bottoms has abundant heart as well as moments of bad taste plus a great montage set to Bonnie Tyler’s classic song "Total Eclipse of the Heart", an awesome finale, and some hilarious bloopers during its end credits.

Eunice Lee

Another standout element of the movie are its character’s costumes, drawn from influences spanning different time periods, film genres and dramatic tones by designer Eunice Lee. Lee began her career as a high-fashion stylist and a fashion journalist before entering the film industry. She is currently designing costumes for the upcoming Twisters, a big-budget sequel to/reboot of the 1996 tornado thriller Twister.

Lee recently took time out of her busy schedule to speak with me via Zoom:

CC: Hi Eunice! I’m really excited because in my 25-plus years of interviewing filmmakers and other talent, I’ve never interviewed a costume designer! Maybe for myself and the less familiar, can you kind of explain what exactly a costume designer does or how do you approach your work?
EL: Oh wow, sure! Costume designers are responsible for designing the overall look and every outfit for every character that you see on set or in the film.

CC: Where does the design process typically start for you? I know some directors will read scripts and they’re picturing certain actors in certain roles. When you’re reading a script, are you picturing the costumes or the fashions the characters might be wearing that immediately or does that come later on?
EL: Well, the first time I read the script I read it in totality so I don’t really think about the fashion. I think about who these characters might be. My process is really to create backstories for characters, like what makes each character a whole person and not just a character. We see them for an hour and a half to two hours and that’s not their full story, and to create something, or a person or a character, that doesn’t feel shallow you kind of have to understand what got this person or this character to this place to begin with. And so I just start creating these backstories for everyone.

CC: That’s cool, that’s interesting. And you got your start in fashion journalism, is that right?
EL: That’s correct, actually. I went to Parsons School of Design (in New York City) and while I was there getting my BBA I interned my way through Conde Nast. Then I moved to London and got my Masters at another fashion school in fashion journalism, and I kind of stayed in that high luxury fashion space for a very long time (laugh).

CC: So, what inspired you or led you into costume design?
EL: It’s more serendipity than anything else. Long story short, I suppose: After London and being in this very competitive space as a stylist, I went to Seoul for a holiday and I was introduced to this Italian filmmaker who felt very passionate about setting me up with this Korean-American director because he was in town prepping for his next indie film. I had never done a film before, I had never even considered it. But this director asked me to go to LA and meet with this designer that he had hired, and he let her know that he wanted me to be a part of this project. And so, a few months later, I was in Seoul and traveling around South Korea on that film and that’s where I met (actor-producer-director) Justin Chon, who I’ve collaborated on multiple films with including Blue Bayou and Jamojaya, which premiered at Sundance this year.

CC: That’s awesome. Yeah, serendipitous is definitely the appropriate word there. So, talk to me about Bottoms. How did this film or project find its way to you?
EL: It’s not very exciting. I got sent the script through my agents and I’d heard of Emma Seligman because she had just done this great film called Shiva Baby. I love dark comedies and I just felt like, “here’s this really young girl who just graduated NYU doing something.” I mean, she really had her finger on the pulse in terms of comedy and I thought she would just be really fun to collaborate with. So I really fought to be a part of this film and I really wanted to work on something that really highlighted the LGBTQIA community.

CC: Bottoms is a very funny movie and your designs for the women in the cast are certainly noteworthy, but one of the funniest things about the movie for me was the football players and how they’re in their uniforms the entire film. Was that how it was written or was that the director’s choice or your choice, or was there consultation about that?
EL: (Laughs) For sure. That was an Emma idea. We had multiple conversations about this but I really used Fight Club as an example for this film, not just for the obvious but because I love the way that Michael Kaplan, who designed Fight Club, utilizes the use of gender to signify or kind of juxtapose these really masculine, macho acts of fighting and beating each other up. But then you have Brad Pitt wearing women’s robes and these tight floral shirts and, like, these really camp glasses. It just kind of normalizes it as a masculine thing, and I loved the idea of making the silhouettes for these football players as feminine as it can get within the parameters of it still being a uniform. So, we used smaller padding. We used very, VERY tight uniforms. I mean, I sized down for everyone and it was a nightmare! (Laughs) Most days, we thought the seams were going to rip. The boys could hardly get themselves inside the uniforms. It took two costumers to help every football player.

CC: That is too funny! You mentioned Michael Kaplan and that raised a question for me: Are there other costume designers, either living or deceased, who have really inspired you or you really kind of admire?
EL: Oh, I mean I don’t want to leave anyone out but I love Sandy Powell (a 15-time Oscar nominee and 3-time Oscar winner). I think Heidi Bivens (Euphoria, Reservation Dogs) is very exciting; I think that she is just a phenomenal designer who really has her finger on the pulse. And Jenny Beavan (an Oscar winner for Cruella and Mad Max: Fury Road). There are so many, honestly, I just don’t even know how to answer that question. I think the one thing about choosing designers, for directors, is that everyone will bring a different perspective. You’re never going to have two separate designers who bring the same thing to the table.

CC: Hmm, that’s interesting to think about. In the film’s press notes, it mentions that you “connect with characters from diverse and LGBTQ communities.” Can you talk a little bit about that connection or attraction?
EL: Sure. I mean, I’m gay and I’m a Korean-American who grew up in Orange County in a very Christian, Korean bubble (laughs). It was suffocating for me but I luckily escaped. I moved to New York and, you know, just seeing different representation of our community there and then, furthermore, moving to London and getting to see the variety of style and types of people in our community just really opened my eyes to the diversity and the individuality of each person.

I also think the way that gay people are portrayed to mainstream media is so different from how we see ourselves and, sure, in the gay culture there’s going to be super-camp men or there’s going to be women who present themselves as super-butch. But the reality is that’s not the entirety of our community, and I really wanted to do a film where I could show that there’s this ultra-feminine character who you don’t know if she’s gay or not. And there’s another character who’s still trying to figure out who she is and her place in the gay community and how she wants to express herself to the world. I thought that it was really important to bring these different types of style and show each character as a full human as opposed to just a caricature or stereotype.

CC: Are there any other big-name or known filmmakers who you really hope to work with sometime?
EL: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to work with Wes Anderson (Asteroid City, Moonrise Kingdom, et al), which kind of feeds the stylized side of my brain, but there are other really exciting people. I think Jonah Hill is an incredible filmmaker. I loved what he did on Mid90s and that version of storytelling is really exciting as well. There are so many people I want to work with!

CC: I can see you working with Wes Anderson. I think your sensibilities and style would line up really well.
EL: Thank you! We’ll see, but I do think that things that are meant for you do come and things that don’t just aren’t meant for you. But it’s been exciting so far!

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

Friday, September 1, 2023

Reverend's Preview: FIlmOut San Diego - Glitter and Doom and Big Boys, oh my!

Summer may be winding down but it will hardly mark the end of big LGBTQ events. FilmOut San Diego’s 23rd Annual LGBTQ Film Festival is just around the corner. It will take place from September 7th–10th, 2023, at various locations including the San Diego Natural History Museum (THE NAT) and the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA). Both venues are located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park.

Award-winning films from the Sundance, SXSW and Berlin Film Festivals along with independent features and a variety of short films, will be featured. 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.”

FilmOut SD 2023 will kick off at 7:00 pm on Thursday, September 7th with the gay-themed musical romance Glitter & Doom. It was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tom Gustafson, who previously helmed fellow musicals Were the World Mine, Hello Again and Mariachi Gringo. His latest is set to songs by the iconic Indigo Girls and follows two guys who fall in love while trying to make it in the music biz. The star-studded supporting cast includes Ming-Na Wen, Missi Pyle, Lea DeLaria, Tig Notaro, Drag Race alum Peppermint, Broadway star Beth Malone, and the Indigo Girls themselves! The Opening Night screening will be followed by a fabulous party at THE NAT.

Other major screenings confirmed for the fest are:

Men’s Centerpiece: Shoulder Dance
Best friends Ira and Roger haven't seen each other in 24 years. When Roger arrives unexpectedly for the weekend, long-suppressed desires dangerously resurface. As the boundaries of friendship, love, and sex collide, the strength of Ira's long-term relationship with Josh is tested as never before. This sexy, provocative film stars TV alums Matt Dallas (Kyle XY) and Rick Cosnett (the conflicted Eddie Thawne on The Flash).

Women’s Centerpiece: Silver Haze
Fifteen years after she got burned when the pub she slept in as a child caught fire, Franky (now 23 and a nurse) seeks revenge because she still hasn't found any answers. Things get more complicated when she falls in love with one of her patients. Of note, Vicky Knight, who plays Franky, is a nurse in real life and this is her second film. The scars on her body are real, the result of a fire in her home when she was 8 years old. A powerful, potent tale by Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak.

Festival Spotlight: The Mattachine Family
A timely and moving film by Andy and Danny Vallentine. Longtime couple Thomas and Oscar are very much in love. However, after their first foster child returns to his birth mother, they find that they have different ideas about what making a family actually means.

International Spotlight: Three Nights a Week
Baptiste is in a relationship with cisgender female Samia when he first meets Cookie Kunty, a young drag queen from the Parisian scene who immediately mesmerizes him. This French drama is a must-see in light of all the current anti-drag sentiment in our good ol’ US of A.

Closing Night Film: Golden Delicious
When gay, basketball-obsessed Aleks moves in across the street, straight-seeming Asian-Canadian teen Jake finds himself trying out for the basketball team to get his attention. An enjoyable coming-of-age story for the iPhone/TikTok age by director Jason Karman.

A Closing Night Dessert Reception will be held at MOPA on September 10th from 7:15 pm to 10:30 pm. Throughout the festival, several filmmakers and other talent plan to attend the festival and participate in audience Q&A’s after their respective films’ screenings.

I want to recommend at least two other movies I’ve seen that will be screened during the FilmOut SD weekend. One is the lovely Lie With Me, adapted from the award-winning French novel by Philippe Besson. (Incidentally but interestingly, the English-language version of the book was translated by none other than beloved 1980’s “Brat Pack” actress Molly Ringwald!) Upon agreeing to be the brand ambassador for a famous cognac celebrating their bicentennial, gay novelist Stéphane returns to his hometown for the first time in many years. Once there, he meets young Lucas, who turns out to be his first love's son. Memories come rushing back to Stéphane: irrepressible attraction, bodies becoming one in the heat of desire, a passion that can never be revealed...until now.

Another standout is Big Boys, which relates the story of a precocious, 14-year old aspiring chef named Jamie (a terrific performance by relative newcomer Isaac Krasner). His dream camping trip is ruined before it even begins when he finds out that his beloved cousin Allie is bringing her new boyfriend, Dan. However, Jamie’s initial jealousy of the competent and confident Dan quickly turns into a “bromance” as they bond over cooking, games and both being “big boys.” As the weekend progresses, despite Jamie’s brother’s attempts to set him up with a girl staying at the campsite, all Jamie wants to do is hang out with Dan. As his burgeoning crush gets him into awkward scrapes and arguments, Jamie begins to come to terms with who he is… and who he desires.

Big Boys was written and directed by Corey Sherman, a 29-year old filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He grew up in Riverdale, a neighborhood in the north Bronx, just within New York City limits. Sherman later majored in Film & Television Production at the University of Southern California. He started making comedy short films when he was eight years old, and continues making them to this day. A long-time lover of animation, Sherman branched out from live action in college and created an animated web series titled Billiams, which was well-received online and led to a partnership with Matt Maiellaro, the creator of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He achieved a life-long dream when he wrote, directed, edited, and voiced a character on several episodes of Maiellaro's animated Adult Swim show, 12 Oz. Mouse. Sherman is also passionate about non-fiction filmmaking and recently edited Lawrence Kasdan’s documentary short, Last Week at Ed’s, which won the Audience Award for Best Marquee Feature at the 2019 Austin Film Festival.

Corey Sherman

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the talented young Sherman via Zoom:

CC: Big Boys is such a sensitive, unique coming of age story. What was its genesis?
CS: It was an idea that had been playing around in my head, to center a story on an unrequited crush. Those were really formative for me when I was growing up and coming to terms with my sexuality. There were a lot of guys I liked but none of them were interested in me because they were straight, they were older, they were just inaccessible in some ways. But they still had an impact on me because they taught me about what I liked, and they taught me the courage to be honest about how I was feeling. They were also my first experiences of letting myself get really excited about another guy, and going to that place emotionally — which was a really big step for me, to even allow myself to entertain the idea — so there was all this change happening internally. I wanted to make a movie that centered around that sort of turning point for someone like me.

CC: Wow, that’s really powerful. So what led you to decide on casting a larger-than-usual body type or protagonist?
CS: We were specifically looking for kids of that size because that’s who I was when I was a kid and it’s still who I am now. It’s something that we haven’t seen a lot of in movies before, where a character like that is allowed to take center stage and have a romantic plot. For them to be these three-dimensional characters that aren’t just like the friend or the total butt of a joke, and for the movie to respect their size and also respect that they have a personality that exists totally outside of their size. It was also important for him to be attracted to a bigger guy and not some thinner or more attractive twink, which is often the case in movies.

CC: Isaac Krasner gives a very impressive performance for a teenager! How did you cast him?
CS: Working with a really great casting director, Kristi Lugo. We put out a national casting call and Isaac was the first person we saw. He was remarkable. We wanted to showcase the experience of a chubby teen going through this life-altering experience and allow him to be a fully-developed, nuanced character instead of a stereotype. Isaac totally invested himself in the process and he brought really good ideas and perspective as a 14-year old. Lugo also helped us bring on top talent like Emily Deschanel (who plays Jamie’s mother), in addition to many other incredible actors who gave the performances in the film a lived-in specificity and authenticity.

CC: And how about the casting process for Dan, played by hunky David Johnson III?
CS: That took a lot longer (than casting Jamie/Isaac). Dan was the last role we cast. It took time to find the right combination of warmth and strength, but David really embodied both better than anyone else we saw. Dan is large but confident in his body, and over the course of the film teaches Jamie that there is nothing to be ashamed of about being a big guy. Even though it is often presented as solely a women’s issue, body shaming affects everyone. Young people of all genders are susceptible to body image issues, particularly now when there is an endless well of images to compare ourselves to online. We need more male role models of body positivity like Dan and Jamie to encourage viewers to stop comparing themselves to others and embrace their bodies no matter the size.

CC: What have been some of the responses to your film? Have any of them particularly surprised or moved you?
CS: I’ve been really touched by people, all kinds of people, telling me how personal the movie is to them. It’s clearly gotten an emotional reaction from people and they’re really moved. The story is accessible and universal. We made a film about a young man’s unrequited crush to shed light on this extremely common yet under-examined aspect of queer life. In most romantic stories, the object of the protagonist’s love eventually returns their affection. However, for many queer people like myself, growing up was full of unrequited crushes on straight or closeted peers. Yearning for someone we couldn’t have was frustrating enough, but not seeing any exploration of that experience in the media made it feel like a lonely failure. However, these experiences are extremely common and can be profoundly impactful. We figure out how to make peace with not getting everything we want. We learn to put ourselves out there and be honest even in the face of imminent rejection. Fortunately, these experiences aren’t always complete downers. Like any other love story, they are full of funny, thrilling, and tender moments. We hope that all viewers who can relate but have never seen their story on screen before Big Boys may feel more celebrated and understood.

Sherman will be in attendance at the Big Boys screening. For complete festival ticket info, screening updates, sponsorships and volunteer information, please visit One can also follow the event on Facebook at FilmOut San Diego or on Instagram/Twitter at @FilmOutSD.

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