Friday, May 10, 2024

Reverend's Reviews: Outsiders and Elephants on Stage


I went into the May 4th performances of new Broadway musicals The Outsiders and Water for Elephants knowing they bore a few similarities to one another. Both are drawn from beloved literary works that were adapted into generally successful movies. Both productions were directed by women — Danya Taymor (Julie's niece) and Jessica Stone, respectively — and they have both been nominated for this year's Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical. Finally, both musicals are nominated for the 2024 Tony Award for Best Musical.


But they also share a few things in common of which either I was not aware or did not remember from their source material. Somewhat oddly but tragically, both The Outsiders and Water for Elephants feature a central protagonist who recently lost their parents in a fatal car crash. They both incorporate musical scores written by a conglomerate of composers: the Pigpen Theatre Company (Water for Elephants) and Texas-based band Jamestown Revival with Justin Levine (The Outsiders). And finally, both shows employ significant, impressive theatrical techniques in telling their stories. Water for Elephants boasts a menagerie of circus animals brought to life via puppetry, while The Outsiders has both an onstage church fire and a rain-soaked fight scene to keep viewers engaged.

Apart from these various similarities and attributes, however, both musicals end up being fairly standard or good-but-not-great. The Outsiders, based on S.E. Hinton's acclaimed novel about class differences among youth in 1960's Oklahoma, benefits from a strong first act but unfortunately suffers from its over-long and sentimental second act (though it isn't as mawkish as Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 movie, thank God). The fact that the story's teenaged characters are being portrayed by actors in their 20's-30's also makes a negative impact. That being said, Brody Grant in his Broadway debut is an affecting, Tony-nominated Ponyboy.

At least The Outsiders has some still-potent social commentary on its side. The plot of Water for Elephants proves dated apart from its "be kind to animals or they might kill you" message. Headliner Grant Gustin, best known as The Flash on the long-running TV series, was sadly out sick the night Reverend attended. He plays one third of the story's love triangle, with Isabelle McCalla as the circus performer object of his affection and her husband, abusive ringmaster August (played by Paul Alexander Nolan). But these characters aren't particularly well-developed, which allows the show's puppet animals and real-life circus performers to justifiably take center stage.

Perhaps most critically of all, neither musical's songs are particularly memorable. Ponyboy's Dickens-inspired "Great Expectations" and Water for Elephants' second act opener "Zostan" made the biggest impressions on me. Audience members around me, though, responded strongly at the end of both shows with The Outsiders taking a noticeably emotional lead. Will this translate into Tony Award success come June 16th?

Reverend's Ratings:
The Outsiders: B
Water for Elephants: B-

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

Friday, May 3, 2024

Reverend's Interview: We Love You, Mommie Dearest


Where were you when you first watched Mommie Dearest? Acclaimed and reviled in equal measure upon its release, the movie has been a camp phenomenon in some segments of our LGBTQ+ community for over four decades now. Watching it has become a rite of passage for many.


My late, beloved grandmother Phyllis was a fan of Hollywood legend Joan Crawford, and I fondly remember attending an opening weekend screening of the movie with her in September, 1981 (I was a mere 14 years old at the time). I recall we both thought it was well-done, even if a few over-the-top scenes strained credibility. But I also recall seeing a report on TV’s long-running Entertainment Tonight just a week or so later about how the movie was becoming a cult experience, with some male viewers dressing in drag as Joan and wielding wire coat hangers. If you’ve seen the film (and if you haven’t, you must watch it ASAP) you know what that’s all about.

Mommie Dearest was adapted from an infamous autobiography of the same title published in 1978 by Joan’s adopted daughter, Christina Crawford. Her mother had died a year earlier at the age of approximately 73 (Joan was notoriously cagey about how old she was) and had left Christina and her adopted brother, Christopher, out of her will. Christina subsequently felt compelled to write about her physically and emotionally abusive relationship with her late, Academy Award-winning mother.

A. Ashley Hoff

Her book became a bestseller but also tarnished Joan’s image, justifiably so. Now, a new book exploring this history is being published on May 7th. With Love, Mommie Dearest: The Making of an Unintentional Camp Classic, by A. Ashley Hoff, details the writing and selling of Christina's book and the aftermath of its publication as well as the filming of the motion picture, whose backstage drama almost surpassed what was viewed onscreen.

Hoff is also the author of Match Game 101: A Backstage History of Match Game and My Huckleberry Friend: Holly Golightly and the Untold History of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He previously worked for talent agencies in Chicago and Los Angeles, and has written articles on Hollywood for The Advocate and Films in Review. Hoff has also been interviewed about numerous pop culture subjects on various talk shows and podcasts.

During a recent phone conversation with Hoff, this writer asked him when and where he first saw Mommie Dearest.

“I had known of its reputation, but the first time I saw it I was in high school and it was on cable TV,” the author replied. “It was really cut up with some scenes missing, including the bathroom scene. I took it seriously, as a horror movie and not as camp.”

IRL: Christina and her "mommie dearest" Joan Crawford

He continued: “The first time I saw it on the big screen was at the Music Box Theater in Chicago in 1997 or ’98. They had a ‘Mother’s Day with Christina Crawford’ event. She was there, and it was kind of creepy watching this movie about her abuse knowing Christina was in the lobby. So, I went out and talked to her. We had a nice conversation.” Hoff subsequently kept in touch with Christina and excerpts from a 2021 interview he conducted with her are in his book.

Indeed, With Love, Mommie Dearest contains many interviews and anecdotes from people involved in the movie’s production. Readers will learn that, shortly after her book was published, Christina was approached by producer Frank Yablans for the movie rights. In addition to buying the rights, Yablans agreed to pay her to write a first draft of the screenplay. She did so but he did not use it.

“The sad part about Mommie Dearest was that I really wanted to make a film about child abuse and the manner in which child abuse can occur,” Yablans wrote in his later, unpublished memoir cited by Hoff. “Child abuse can also happen in extremely wealthy homes with extremely powerful people… That was what compelled me to make the movie, and it was well ahead of its time because today child abuse is a much bigger issue than it was in 1981.”

When the movie was released in US theaters on September 18th of that year, Christina Crawford was unable to enjoy its initially successful reception at the box office. She had suffered a massive stroke one month earlier and was given a one percent chance of survival. Thankfully, she recovered within a couple of months following risky surgery. Once again, Christina proved herself a survivor.

Faye Dunaway as Joan in Mommie Dearest

Both directors and lead actresses came and went during the film’s pre-production process. Ultimately, Academy Award-winner Faye Dunaway was cast as Joan. It is her performance that largely drives the movie’s reputation as a camp classic, and it negatively affected her career.

I asked Hoff more about this. “Does she give an over-the-top performance? Absolutely,” he replied. “Does she chew scenery? Absolutely. But she gives a truly operatic performance, which is what the director (Frank Perry) wanted. To be fair, she gives a phenomenal performance!”

Some agreed with this at the time: Dunaway placed second as Best Actress of 1981 with both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. But she also “won” the Golden Raspberry Award, or Razzie, as Worst Actress of the Year for Mommie Dearest (to be fair, Dunaway actually tied with Bo Derek’s non-performance as Jane in Tarzan, the Ape Man.) Even today, some reputable critics including Leonard Maltin and yours truly admire the film for its groundbreaking depiction of child abuse.

“I recently showed the film to two friends of mine who had not seen it before and they were riveted by it as a serious depiction of abuse,” Hoff told me. “Their response was not what I expected. They did not see it as camp. And then I know some people who have watched the film hundreds of times and will always enjoy it as camp.”

Diana Scarwid as Christina in Mommie Dearest

So what makes Mommie Dearest so campy to some people, especially gay men? Well, the exaggerated moments in Dunaway’s performance are definitely one factor, and none more so than when she angrily crosses her eyes while her face is smothered kabuki-like in white cold cream. The screenplay also features some enjoyably harsh dialogue spoken by both mother and daughter Crawford that is undeniably fun to shout out with them.

In his book, Hoff quotes critic and Palm Springs resident Marc Huestis regarding the film’s popularity in the gay community to this day. “Gay guys have a thing for their mothers, let’s face it,” Huestis said. “I had a relationship with my mom, who was in show business as well, that was very much physically abusive like the one in Mommie Dearest; my mother actually did hit me with wire hangers… So just seeing that scene, the laughter was a release from the ghost of not only Joan Crawford but my own mother.”

Whether we love it, hate it and/or laugh at it, Mommie Dearest continues to stand the test of time for various reasons. I highly recommend reading A. Ashley Hoff’s new book for his detailed, insightful exploration of these… but not before you’ve trimmed your rose bushes in the middle of the night and/or bought stock in Pepsi Cola!

Author photo credit Atila Sikora.

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

Monday, April 29, 2024

Reverend's Reviews: Women Rule On & Off Broadway


Good for you if you've seen the award-winning musical Six, either on Broadway or on tour. But that show proves to be soooo 2021 when compared to three bold, female-centric new musicals currently reigning over the NYC theatre scene. They've also been nominated for multiple New York critics' awards in recent days, with potential Tony Award nominations pending for two of them later this week.


Teeth, adapted from Mitchell Lichtenstein's generally acclaimed but definitely challenging (especially if you are male) 2008 film, recently had its world premiere at Playwrights Horizon. The movie's plot involving a teenage girl who develops a rare case of vagina dentata hardly screams out "musical material," but co-writers Michael R. Jackson (of A Strange Loop and White Girl in Danger fame, both of which I loved) and Anna K. Jacobs ran with the possibilities they perceived.

Their graphic yet humorous adaptation follows the film closely until the final third, when it becomes an over-the-top, dystopian tale of newly-empowered women avenging themselves against men... by chomping off their penises and making them obedient zombies! Jackson's lyrics for songs with such titles as "Modest is Hottest" and "According to the Wiki" are typically clever, and the musical is well supported by Sarah Benson's direction and Raja Feather Kelly's choreography. Jeremy Chernick's special effects, which include a climactic onstage inferno, are also worth noting.

Sorry for the short notice, but Teeth did close yesterday after being extended twice. I'm hopeful it will have a robust life in regional and/or community theaters in the future.

Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly also has a sizable hand in Lempicka, the truly stunning musical that just opened on Broadway. It is inspired by the dramatic life of early-20th century painter Tamara de Lempicka, about whom I knew very little when I entered the Longacre Theatre. I exited the theatre 2 ½ hours later thoroughly enlightened, inspired and entertained.

A revealing book and stylistically diverse songs, both co-written by Carson Kreitzer and Matt Gould, depict the title artist's journey from Revolution-era Russia to Paris through World War II. She ultimately ends up elderly and unknown in 1970's Los Angeles. Lempicka was married to a man, with whom she had a daughter, but also enjoyed relationships with women. Last but not least, she became and is remembered today as a groundbreaking painter.

Director Rachel Chavkin (an award winner for both Hadestown and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) applies her typically bold, engrossing style to this bio-musical. Kelly's choreography is stylish and energetic, although the use of dance struck me as fairly constant and overly busy during the first half of act one. The actors, however, are the true stars here, which is as it should be. Star Eden Espinosa was out of the performance I saw due to illness but her standby/understudy, Mariand Torres, was sensational even though she reportedly had little full-show or full-cast rehearsal time beforehand. Amber Iman, as Lempicka's model/lover Rafaela, was no less potent. Other standouts among the hard-working cast were Andrew Samonsky, George Abud, Natalie Joy Johnson and, of course, Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel in a couple of roles. Leavel reduced the audience to tears with her beautiful 11 o'clock number, "Just This Way."

It's a bit early to know how Lempicka might fare long-term. Successful musicals not based on a movie, a book and/or a political figure are pretty rare nowadays. A significant number of Tony Award nominations on April 30th would help raise its profile. I certainly wish this important, exciting show a long run on Broadway, on tour, and beyond.

Suffs is the other estrogen-fueled, newly-opened Broadway musical. Its title is short for suffragists, those early-20th century American women who fought for the right to vote when only men were allowed to do so. Readers of a certain age may have previously learned about them via the "Sufferin' Til Suffrage" Schoolhouse Rock cartoon and song.

This new musical was written by singer-songwriter Shaina Taub, who also headlines the all-female and non-binary cast (taking a cue from last season's Broadway revival of 1776) as real-life suffragist leader Alice Paul. Taub doesn't have the most commanding stage presence but plenty of dramatic electricity is provided by her fellow cast members Nikki M. James (a Tony winner for The Book of Mormon), Jenn Colella (a Tony nominee for Come From Away) and others. I also applaud director Leigh Silverman for casting some disabled actors.

Suffs is a more traditionally scored and staged production than the other shows reviewed here, which perhaps makes it more crowd-pleasing. I expect it to make a strong showing when Tony Award nominations are announced tomorrow. Taub's songs are serviceable if not particularly memorable save for the climactic "Keep Marching." Ditto re: Mayte Natalio's choreography. I highly recommend the show, though, as both a valuable history lesson and a pleasant theatre-going experience.

Reverend's Ratings:
Teeth: B+
Lempicka: A
Suffs: A-

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

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Reverend's Reviews: Two Great New Movies to Ring in Spring


Spring has officially/meteorologically sprung, although you wouldn't know it here at Reverend's rectory in New England. Other parts of the country are likely having earlier indications that the seasons have changed. This is especially true based on some local movie events.


In northern California, the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) is being celebrated this weekend! Proving that Sonoma has more to offer than just fine wine, this fest is presented each year by a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to promoting the best in independent film and filmmakers from around the world. SIFF hosts its annual festival each March, getting a jump on the US film festival season, as well as year-round events and special screenings. For passes, tickets and more information, visit sonomafilmfest.org.

Extremely Unique Dynamic will be having its World Premiere as the fest's Gay-La Spotlight Film on tonight with a party hosted by fabulous actor-writer-director James Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rabbit Hole, Shortbus). The movie will have an additional screening at 1:00 pm on Saturday, March 23rd. A smart meta comedy, it follows Ryan (Harrison Xu) and Daniel (Ivan Leung), two childhood best friends and aspiring actors. They are spending one final weekend together in Los Angeles before Ryan moves to Canada with his fiancé. Wanting to create a lasting memory, they decide to make a movie… about two guys making a movie… about two guys making a movie. In the process, bottled-up secrets arise as they unpack their decades-long friendship and prepare for the next chapters of their respective lives.

Things were seemingly just as meta behind the scenes. Read this carefully: Extremely Unique Dynamic is directed by Xu, Leung and Katherine Dudas (who plays Juniper) from a screenplay by Xu, Leung and Dudas, and is produced by Xu, Leung and Noel Do-Murakami. Both Leung and Do-Murakami identify as LGBTQ+. Also of note and beyond acting, Ivan Leung is celebrated for his comedic rap finesse that was notably showcased in the viral hit "Taco Loving Asian Guy." Also appearing in the film are Hudson Yang (well-known from the groundbreaking sitcom Fresh Off the Boat) and, making his film premiere, internet personality Nathan Down (3M YouTube followers and counting).

Leung and Xu give endearing performances in this often very funny movie. Wherever and whenever you see it, be sure to watch all the way through the end credits for additional meta wackiness.

The hands-down best film I've seen thus far this Spring/new year is Thomas Cailley's The Animal Kingdom (in French: Le Regne Animal). Co-written by Cailley and Pauline Munier, this visionary, provocative new sci-fi/queer thriller drops viewers into an extraordinary world where mutations in human genetics are causing people to transform into hybrid creatures. These mutants become disparagingly referred to as "critters" or, worse, "monsters." François (Roman Duris) does everything he can to save his wife, who is affected by this mysterious condition. As some of the creatures disappear into a nearby forest, François embarks with their 16-year-old son Emile (Paul Kircher) on a quest to find her with unexpected help from a local police officer (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Alas, Emile also soon begins to succumb to the unusual transformation.

The Animal Kingdom had its world premiere as the opening film of the Un Certain Regard section at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It was subsequently nominated for a leading 12 Cesar Awards and won an impressive 5 Cesars, including Best Visual Effects. The film is now playing in some US theaters and is streaming for a $6.99 as I write this. It is well worth the ticket or rental price, between its LGBTQ-relevant plot and Paul Kircher's impressive, affecting performance.

Reverend's Ratings:
Extremely Unique Dynamic: B+
The Animal Kingdom: A-

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

Friday, March 8, 2024

Reverend's Preview: March Brings Major Movie Awards

 

Illustration by Olly Gibbs, ollygibbs.com

Hollywood’s biggest night this year will be this Sunday, March 10th, when the 96th annual Academy Awards are scheduled to be bestowed upon the best films, actors, actresses, directors, etc. of 2023. Nominations were announced on January 23rd and include several LGBTQ+ contenders. Getting a head start on the celebration, however, are GALECA’s newly-announced Dorian Award winners for 2023.

GALECA: the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics was founded in 2009 and currently consists of 500 members (including yours truly). Each year, the group honors the best mainstream and LGTBQ+ film, television and Broadway/Off Broadway productions via their Dorian Awards. A 501 c 6 nonprofit, GALECA also advocates for better pay, access and respect for its members, especially those in our most underrepresented and vulnerable segments. GALECA’s other efforts include the Crimson Honors, a college film/TV criticism contest for LGBTQ women or non-binary students of color.

Among the LGBTQ-interest film honorees recognized by both GALECA and the Academy among their initial nominations this year were out actor Colman Domingo for his performance as the title, trailblazing gay activist in Rustin; out actress Jodie Foster as the dedicated friend and coach to a record-breaking lesbian swimmer in Nyad; lead actress Sandra Huller, screenwriter Justine Triet, and their keep-‘em-guessing courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall; and the touchingly queer, anime-inspired animated movie Nimona.

Somewhat surprisingly, GALECA completely snubbed actor-director Bradley Cooper’s biopic Maestro, about bisexual composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein. But then, GALECA nominated the popular, Oscars-neglected queer comedy Bottoms in multiple categories.

Also notably absent among this year’s Oscar nominees was out filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s pretty much universally-acclaimed All of Us Strangers. This metaphysical/supernatural tale of a gay man reuniting with his long-dead parents while embarking on a romance with a mysterious neighbor is beautifully made and truly haunting. Actors Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal were both nominated by GALECA for their deeply moving performances.

Similarly neglected by the Academy were the LGBTQ favorites Saltburn and Passages. All this being said, the single coolest Oscar citation this year in my opinion is composer John Williams’ 54th nomination at the age of 91! He was recognized yet again for his score of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. (Williams actually turned 92 since this year’s nominees were announced.)

GALECA’s 15th annual Dorian Award winners, including several new categories, were just announced. We are honored to include them here:

Film of the Year: All of Us Strangers (Searchlight Pictures)

LGBTQ Film of the Year: All of Us Strangers (Searchlight Pictures)

Director of the Year: Greta Gerwig, Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Screenplay of the Year- Original or adapted: Samy Burch, May December (Netflix)

LGBTQ Screenplay of the Year (new award category this year): Andrew Haigh, All of Us Strangers (Searchlight Pictures)

Non-English Language Film of the Year: Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

LGBTQ Non-English Language Film of the Year (new award category this year): Anatomy of a Fall (NEON)

Unsung Film of the Year- To an exceptional movie worthy of greater attention: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Lionsgate)

Film Performance of the Year: Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon (Apple, Paramount)

Supporting Film Performance of the Year: Charles Melton, May December (Netflix)

Documentary of the Year: Kokomo City (Magnolia)

LGBTQ Documentary of the Year: Kokomo City (Magnolia)

Animated Film of the Year: The Boy and the Heron (GKIDS)

Genre Film of the Year - For excellence in science fiction, fantasy and horror (new award category this year): Poor Things (Searchlight Pictures)

Film Music of the Year: Barbie — Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt, et al. (Warner Bros.)

Visually Striking Film of the Year: Poor Things (Searchlight Pictures)

Campiest Flick: M3GAN (Universal)

“We’re Wilde About You!” Rising Star Award: Ayo Edebiri

Wilde Artist Award - Recognizing a truly groundbreaking force in entertainment: Todd Haynes

GALECA LGBTQIA+ Film Trailblazer Award - For creating art that inspires empathy, truth and equity: Colman Domingo

Timeless Star (Career achievement award) Honoring an exemplary career marked by character, wisdom and wit: Jodie Foster

For the full list of nominations and more information about the Society of LGBTQ+ Entertainment Critics, please visit galeca.com.

Monday, February 26, 2024

And the 2023 Dorian Film Award Winners Are...

ALL OF US STRANGERS

 Film of the Year, LGBTQ Film of the Year and LGBTQ Screenplay of the Year: Andrew Haigh

BARBIE

Director of the Year: Greta Gerwig and Film Music of the Year

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

Film Performance of the Year: Lily Gladstone

MAY DECEMBER

Supporting Performance of the Year: Charles Melton and Screenplay of the Year: Samy Burch

ANATOMY OF A FALL

Non-English Language Film of the Year and LGBTQ Non-English Language Film of the Year

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET.

 Unsung Film of the Year

KOKOMO CITY

 Documentary of the Year and LGBTQ Documentary of the Year

THE BOY AND THE HERON

Animated Film of the Year

POOR THINGS

Genre Film of the Year and Visually Striking Film of the Year

M3GAN

Campiest Flick

AYO EDEBIRI

"We're Wilde About You!" Rising Star Award

TODD HAYNES

Wilde Artist Award

COLMAN DOMINGO

GALECA LGBTQIA+ Film Trailblazer Award

JODIE FOSTER

Timeless Star Career Achievement Award


Friday, February 9, 2024

Reverend's Interview: Guillermo Diaz is Here to Stay


Out actor Guillermo Diaz will be commanding movie screens this month as the star of You Can’t Stay Here. Directed by longtime, underground filmmaker Todd Verow (Frisk, Tumbledown, Goodbye Seventies), it will opens this week at theaters in Los Angeles and elsewhere.


The plot of You Can’t Stay Here was inspired by real events in early 1990’s New York City. The AIDS crisis hangs in the air and cops are targeting gay men in well-known cruising spots. This doesn’t stop aspiring art photographer Rick (Diaz) as he spends his days and nights cruising in Central Park. After he witnesses the murder of a gay man, though, Rick is drawn into a dangerous and sexy game of cat and mouse with the magnetic killer that leads him to question his own sanity.

Diaz is great in one of his few leading man roles to date, and it’s always good to see Verow back in action. The movie was actually shot in Central Park with the city’s permission. Verow wrote about the origins of his latest production for the film’s press notes.

“During the COVID pandemic, I heard that the Ramble (the notorious cruising area in New York’s Central Park that featured prominently in William Friedkin’s film Cruising) was jumping,” Verow recalls. “I went there to investigate and indeed it was full of queer people engaging in all sorts of intimate activity, not all of it sexual. Most of the cruisers were wearing masks, which only intensified the eye contact and intimacy.”

The filmmaker continued: “We had been locked down, curfew-ed, and burned out on Zoom sex and the harsh coldness of Grindr, Scruff and other hookup apps. We needed physical contact... or at least proximity... with other human beings. This got me thinking about cruising and cruising places around the world. These are sacred spaces and, no matter how the police or governments try to beat them back, they will always be cruising areas.”

During this time, Guillermo Diaz was in New York City working on a TV series. He contacted Verow saying he was a fan of his work and wanted to make a film with him. Verow was also a fan of Diaz’s work, especially his portrayal of La Miranda in the 1995 film Stonewall, and messaged him back immediately. They got together for lunch and Verow told Diaz about his recent experiences in the Ramble and how he wanted to make a film about cruising there. Diaz liked the idea.

The screenplay for You Can’t Stay Here was written by Verow and his writing partner, James Derek Dwyer. “I wanted the film to take place in the early 90’s, before social media and smart phones and during the height of the HIV/ AIDS crisis, when homophobia, both external and internalized, ran rampant,” Verow shared. “The script is loosely inspired by real events during that time but also on the timelessness of cruising and the otherworldliness of the Ramble itself. Real life cruisers rarely, if ever, speak. Everything is conveyed through their eyes. Guillermo’s eyes convey so much; I could photograph them all day.”

In addition to his early, star-making turn in Stonewall, many viewers know Diaz as Huck from his many seasons on the ABC hit series Scandal. He is also recognizable from such movies as Bros, Half Baked, Party Girl, High School High and Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal. In addition to his feature film credits, he is well-known from Showtime’s award-winning series Weeds (where he played the role of Guillermo, coincidentally/appropriately enough) and NBC’s Law & Order: Organized Crime. He can also be seen with Britney Spears in her video "I Wanna Go" and in Beyonce and Jay Z's video "Run" alongside Sean Penn and Jake Gyllenhaal. Diaz made his directorial debut with the documentary short film Valley of the Undocumented, which was produced by Russell Simmons and Mark Zuckerberg for Immigrant Heritage Month. Born and raised in NYC’s Washington Heights, he currently resides in Los Angeles.

Diaz recently sat down to speak with me about You Can’t Stay Here and other aspects of his impressive, 30-year career. (Note: This interview has been edited for length and/or clarity.)

CC: Congrats on the movie! It’s good to see you front and center in the whole movie.
GD: Thanks. Yeah, it was nice.

CC: You really got this project rolling. What led you to seek out and work with Todd Verow when you did?
GD: I had booked a recurring role on a show so that brought me to New York for a year, year and a half. Because it was recurring I would work two days a week, sometimes one day a week, and I was like “Oh my god, I’m going crazy.” It was a procedural show and it wasn’t very challenging creatively, and so I started to think “Who do I want to work with? Who’s out there, like an indie director that excites me and I would want to collaborate with?” And I thought of Todd. I followed him on Instagram so I thought “I’m just going to message him. Why not? It’s 2023, right?” (laugh) So I sent him a DM and told him that I was a fan of his work and I would love to work with him. I’m also a huge horror film fan so I told him I would love to do something in the horror-thriller genre and would he be into it? He was, so we met up and the ball started rolling from there.

CC: That’s great. Are you happy with the finished film?
GD: I am, I am. It’s a classic Todd Verow-style movie. I knew he was a guerilla filmmaker. The way he works is very guerilla style with very few takes, and so when I saw it I was like “Ok, this is a true Verow film.” It was kind of exciting because I believe it was the first time that Todd worked with SAG actors and dealt with the union, if I’m not mistaken, so I was able to bring in actors that I love and wanted to work with. It was really exciting and collaborative, which I loved.

CC: How have audiences been responding to the film?
GD: It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s OK. You want everybody to love your movie, but everybody walks away from it wanting to have a conversation and having questions, wanting to understand certain things. That’s good, people always wanting to talk about it. That’s definitely a plus.

CC: In what ways are you like your character, Rick? And in what ways are you different?
GD: I’m like him in so many ways. I grew up in New York City, I’m Latino. I was in my 20’s in the 90’s and I experienced meeting guys through cruising on the street or in a park or what have you. It’s not like now. I think this generation and the previous generation don’t really know what that’s like, so in that sense I’m a lot like (Rick). I lived that experience, not to the extent that Rick in the movie does. I was very much in the closet as well so that was a similarity. Some of the stuff that happens to my character in the film were experiences that either I had or Todd had. The ways that I’m not like him? I feel like I would have not gotten caught by the character people are now calling “The Vampire.” I feel like savvy Guillermo in the 90’s would have been like “What if I punched him in the face and ran?” (laugh) In the film, Rick gets sort of infatuated by him. He’s frightened by him but at the same time infatuated by him. I feel like I wouldn’t have been that way if I was in that situation, but who knows?

CC: You came out publicly in 2011, according to Wikipedia, which was still pretty rare for a well-known actor at the time. What was the reaction like?
GD: I’m so bad with years but I think it was before 2011. I came out in a magazine called Genre in like the late 90’s. It was when I did Stonewall. My management team told me “You’re going to be asked non-stop if you’re gay once you start doing press, so you’ve gotta figure out if you’re gonna be honest or if you’re gonna be in the closet and say you’re not.” But I was like, “Nope, I’m not lying.” I was 27 when I officially came out to my parents, which was the hardest to do. I had already been out to my friends and I had a boyfriend at the time.

CC: Are there any challenges or obstacles today for out, gay or LGBTQ actors, in your experience?
GD: Honestly, I can only speak for myself and from my experience but if there have been obstacles I haven’t been privy to them. I move forward and do my work and audition for a ton of stuff. Some I get, some I don’t. I honestly try not to think about that. I’m sure there have been some projects that have come up that possibly the producer or director or someone finds out I’m gay and they’re like “Nah, we’re not gonna work with him.” But again, I’m not privy to that so it’s not my problem, it’s their problem. I’ve experienced no problems, no push-back really. I’ve been super fortunate. I think what’s been good for me is that I haven’t kept (being gay) a mystery. I’ve been able to say “This is me, take it or leave it.”

CC: Good for you. What’s your advice for any young LGBTQ actors who want to make it in the industry?
GD: Quit acting right now and go do something else! (laugh) It is such a hard, difficult business to be in. If your heart isn’t in it 150,000% you should stop doing it and think about something else. Truly, like seriously, I’m only in this business and became an actor because I knew in my heart and my soul that I was gonna make it no matter what, and I never had any doubt. Regardless of all the rejection from auditions, which is a normal thing. But it’s difficult and again my advice is if you don’t want this a million thousand percent then go figure out something else, because that’s what it takes. And sleep with as many producers as you can. (laugh) I’m joking!

CC: Well, on that note: What are you working on now? What do we have to look forward to?
GD: (Laugh) I just directed — oh my god, it’s already been about two years — but I directed my first feature film, so now I’m in the post-production process. It’s a movie called Dear Luke, Love Me that a friend of mine, Mallie McCown, wrote. It’s sort of a dysfunctional relationship drama. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We raised all the money ourselves through a Kickstarter campaign, shot the movie for like a month, and then we did the editing and now we’re in the post-production process. We’re starting to submit it to festivals and stuff so hopefully I’m going to be doing the festival thing for a little while, fingers crossed. And then Todd and I are talking about doing another movie together which, knowing how Todd works, that’s probably going to be the first movie that comes out. He works so fast. You’ll be interviewing us for that movie like in a month. (laugh)

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

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Reverend's Reviews: New Play Pride House Explores Fire Island's History


The LGBTQ+ mecca that is Fire Island, located off the coast of New York's Long Island, has served as the setting of numerous movies (Longtime Companion, the aptly-titled Fire Island), plays (Lips Together, Teeth Apart) and TV series (American Horror Story: NYC) over the years. This makes sense, as the summertime resort destination has been attracting members of our community for well over a century.


TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), NYC's oldest LGBTQ+ theater company, is currently celebrating the start of its 50th season with the world premiere of Pride House. It runs through this Saturday, February 10th at the Flea Theater. Please visit their website for full info and tickets. Playwright Chris Weikel explores the dramatic, and comedic, dynamics among a microcosm of Fire Island inhabitants during the globally-tumultuous years of 1938-1939.

The play's setting is a Cherry Grove cottage owned by Beatrice "Bea" Farrar, which she shares with her ex-husband Thomas and two Jewish children they are temporarily sheltering from the growing spread of Nazism in Europe. Bea is happy to count among her friends a number of gay men who also make frequent use of her home. Her ex-husband is also gay, but Thomas has remained on mostly friendly terms with Bea. Weikel, the cast, and director Igor Goldin evoke numerous challenges that impacted real-life Fire Islanders at the time including the Great Depression, homophobic neighbors, racism and, last but not least, the Great Hurricane of 1938.

Alas, Pride House ultimately suffers from trying to tackle too many issues and incorporating too many characters. While addressing the rampant antisemitism of the time (with definite parallels today) is noble, the inclusion of the two Jewish children proves to be one issue and two characters too many. I feel the play would be more focused and effective if it concentrated specifically on Bea and the colorful gay men in her life. Even the homophobia they confront via Bea's neighbors could be alluded to rather than personified. These excesses also make an already lengthy play feel that much longer.

On the plus side, Pride House features an excellent, fully-committed cast led by Jamie Heinlein as Bea (and in spite of some flubbed lines during the February 3rd performance I attended). Also deserving of specific mention are Jessica Disalvo as an Italian ex-patriot lesbian named Natalia and London Carlisle as Edwin, a black Broadway dancer. Best of all is the hilarious Jake Mendes as Stephen, the deliciously sardonic sidekick to shrill theater queen Arthur (played by Tom Souhrada). Evan Frank's set design and Ben Philipp's lovely, period-accurate costumes are similarly praise-worthy. Here's to TOSOS and another 50 years!

Reverend's Rating: B

Reverend was also privileged to recently attend Jonah, another world premiere play in NYC. Rachel Bonds' potent work isn't a biblical tale and there are no whales involved, but it does include a powerful religious message. Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, it is running at the Laura Pels Theatre through March 10th.

It's difficult to describe the plot of Jonah without revealing spoilers. Gabby Beans (a deserving Tony Award nominee last year for her turn in Lincoln Center's revival of The Skin of Our Teeth) headlines the play as Ana, a young woman dealing with the unpredictable aftereffects of sexual abuse. Beans is riveting, especially since she never leaves the stage during the 100-minute performance. She is very well supported by Samuel H. Levine, Hagan Oliveras and John Zdrojeski as the various men in her life, some of whom may be imaginary/fantasized.

Danya Taymor (who is a niece of The Lion King director Julie Taymor) provides engrossing direction, utilizing various sleight-of-hand techniques in the lighting and staging to keep audience members on their toes. However, my friends who attended the performance with me and I had issues with Wilson Chin's unchanging set, which serves as multiple locations in multiple time periods. More variation in the set design or decor would have been helpful in this regard.

I also have concerns, as an ordained priest-bishop, about the play's critique of Confession or the sacrament of Reconciliation as practiced by both Catholics and Mormons/LDS. God knows there have been many abuses of the sacrament over the centuries but I can attest to the beauty of the practice, as both confessor and confessee, when it is done or celebrated in a legitimate, non-exploitive way. Still, I appreciate playwright Bonds' serious treatment of this and other spiritual/theological matters. All in all, Jonah is excellent and demanding of patronage.

Reverend's Rating: A-

While the general population is currently focused more on movie-related awards and top-ten lists, Reverend was excited to realize recently that last year was the first year I attended a substantial number of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions since moving from California to Connecticut nearly 6 years ago. Subsequently, I was moved to identify my picks of the 10 best NYC theatre productions of calendar year 2023 (in alphabetical order):

  • & Juliet
  • Camelot (revival)
  • Dear World (revival)
  • Here Lies Love
  • How to Dance in Ohio
  • The Jerusalem Syndrome
  • Purlie Victorious (revival)
  • 1776 (revival)
  • The Shark is Broken
  • White Girl in Danger
Honorable Mention: Titanique
This musical spoof of James Cameron's Oscar-winning movie has been running off-Broadway nearly 3 years now, but last year was the first time Reverend saw it in person after watching an early, streamed performance in 2020 at the height of COVID-19. It was/is an utter, must-see delight.

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

All of Us Strangers Leads Dorian Film Awards Nominations


With a leading nine nominations, Andrew Haigh's All of Us Strangers dominated the just announced nominations for the 15th Annual Dorian Film Awards. In addition to Film of the Year and LGBT Film of the Year, the intriguing romantic drama picked up three acting nods (for Andrew Scott, Claire Foy and Paul Mescal) as well as nominations in the new categories LGBT Screenplay and Genre Film of the Year. Box office behemoth Barbie and arthouse faves May December, Past Lives and Poor Things join Strangers in the Film of the Year race.

Presented by GALECA: The Society of LGBT Entertainment Critics (of which I and Movie Dearest contributor Chris Carpenter are long-time members), the Dorian Award winners will be announced on February 26th. See the comments section below for the full list of nominees.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Beau Is Afraid, M3GAN Among Golden Scythe Horror Award Winners

 

The winners of the 2nd Annual Golden Scythe Horror Awards, whose voters included our own Chris Carpenter, were recently announced. Ari Aster’s Beau is Afraid earned the most awards during the ceremony, taking home a total of six including one for Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor and Ari Aster for Best Director. Danny and Michael Philippou’s Talk to Me took home the biggest award of the night, Best Picture, which also earned Sophie Wilde the Best Actress prize. This year’s supporting acting winners were Nicolas Cage for his batshit crazy turn as Dracula in Renfield and Patti LuPone for her performance in Beau is Afraid.


The complete list of winners follows:

  • Best Picture: Talk to Me
  • Best Director: Ari Aster, Beau is Afraid
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role: Joaquin Phoenix, Beau is Afraid
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role: Sophie Wilde, Talk to Me
  • Best Supporting Actor: Nicolas Cage, Renfield
  • Best Supporting Actress: Patti LuPone, Beau is Afraid
  • Best Original Screenplay: When Evil Lurks
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Evil Dead Rise
  • Best International Film: Infinity Pool
  • Best Cinematography: Beau is Afraid
  • Best Production Design: Beau is Afraid
  • Best Costume Design: Five Nights at Freddy’s
  • Best Original Score: Evil Dead Rise
  • Best Editing: Beau is Afraid
  • Best Sound Design: No One Will Save You
  • Best Use of Visual Effects: No One Will Save You
  • Best Use of Practical Effects: The Last Voyage of the Demeter
  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling: The Last Voyage of the Demeter
  • Best Poster: When Evil Lurks
  • Best Trailer: M3GAN
  • Best Horror Movie Moment: M3GAN dances in the hallway, M3GAN
  • Best Kill: Trampoline Kill, Thanksgiving
  • Best Slasher: Scream VI
  • Best Title Sequence: Evil Dead Rise
  • Best Remake or Sequel: Evil Dead Rise
  • Best Marketing: M3GAN


Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Reverend's Reviews 2023: A Queer Year for Movies


Last year presented unusual challenges for Hollywood and the global film industry. Strikes by both writers and actors halted production for months and delayed the release of some movies. New entries in time-honored franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Indiana Jones, Disney-Pixar animation and Mission: Impossible underperformed, especially in light of their expensive budgets. And then there was the "Barbenheimer" phenomenon, although that turned out to be one — make that two — of the year’s box office success stories.

 

One could say it was a queer year for movies, both in terms of the historic definition of queer as “strange” or “unusual” and its modern, positive usage by our LGBTQ community. Several of the year’s best productions boasted LGBTQ stories, cast members and/or filmmakers.


Here is this critic’s rundown of the best and worst cinematic offerings of 2023. Please note: As usual, there were a few acclaimed releases I wasn’t able to see before press time including Poor Things, Wonka and Killers of the Flower Moon.

1. Taylor Mac’s 24–Decade History of Popular Music (Telling Pictures and HBO/Max). A simply stunning documentary/theatrical recording of this queer artist’s now-legendary 2016 stage show. Performed over 24 hours but effectively edited down to two while adding intimate backstage moments (including fabulous costume changes), this is the closest we will get to attending Mac’s event that covered American music from 1776 to 2016. Not to be missed and now streaming on Max.

2. Maestro and Rustin (both Netflix). Two revealing, inspiring biopics about queer icons. With Maestro Bradley Cooper directs and stars as conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein, and the film doesn’t shy away from depicting Bernstein’s relationships with men as well as the more challenging aspects of his longtime marriage to a woman. Meanwhile, out actor Colman Domingo was riveting as gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who suffered and sacrificed much behind the scenes of the 1963 March on Washington but is finally getting his due.

3. Barbie (Warner Bros). I still can’t believe Mattel approved Greta Gerwig’s meta, patriarchy-skewering take on the toy company’s iconic doll but I’m glad they did. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling were perfectly cast as Barbie and Ken, as were the members of the film’s extensive ensemble playing additional Barbies and Kens. Candy-colored, smart, and utterly delightful.

4. All of Us Strangers (Searchlight Pictures) and Past Lives (A24). A pair of achingly romantic tales that span time, geography and even the philosophical/metaphysical. In the first, a gay man unexpectedly grows in not only a deeper connection with his handsome neighbor but with his long-dead parents. In Past Lives, two childhood sweethearts originally from Korea reconnect at different points through subsequent decades. Both films are beautifully directed, written and acted.

5. The Zone of Interest (A24). Life is perfect for Rudolf Hoss, his wife Hedwig and their children. He is well-paid and well-respected at his job, and they have a lovely home with a spacious adjoining garden. That their home is next door to the Auschwitz concentration camp where Rudolf serves as Commandant serves as the chillingly ironic core of Jonathan Glazer’s gorgeously horrific adaptation of Martin Amis’ novel. Its depiction of how easily nice, intelligent people can do evil things in the interest of a political cause serves as a timely warning today.

6. The Lesson (Bleecker Street) and Saltburn (Amazon MGM). Two sharply written, memorable critiques of class differences that also happen to share the always welcome British star, Richard E. Grant. In both, eager young men become manipulated and/or manipulators in their desire for the best things in life. These films also offer a fair share of homoerotic tension courtesy of attractive actors Daryl McCormack, Stephen McMillan, Jacob Elordi, Archie Madekwe and Barry Keoghan. Keoghan’s climactic “victory dance” in Saltburn is alone worth the price of admission/rental.

7. The Holdovers (Focus Features). Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne returns to the academic setting of his previous hit Election (1999) for another superb, comedic-dramatic take on interpersonal relations. Paul Giamatti is great as usual as a curmudgeonly teacher who gradually softens after being saddled with a homeless student during Christmas break. This could well become a holiday season classic over time.

8. Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One (Paramount). I’ve long enjoyed this venerable film series led by superstar Tom Cruise, although the last two entries fell a little flat for me. However, this latest entry — in which Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his crew are pitted against an elusive AI bent on world domination — was smart and thrilling. It also features amazing stunts and special effects set pieces. I can’t wait for Part Two!

9. The Blackening (Lionsgate) and Slotherhouse (Gravitas Ventures). These riotously funny horror-comedies took me by surprise. Out talent Dewayne Perkins co-wrote The Blackening’s satiric take on serial killer tropes, while Slotherhouse co-stars both a queer/non-binary actor as one of its sorority girl subjects and an amusingly convincing puppet as its adorable — though psychotic — killer sloth!

10. American Fiction (Orion/Amazon MGM). Jeffrey Wright is typically terrific as a frustrated writer and professor who writes an outrageously stereotypical, black-themed novel out of spite. He then grows even more frustrated when his book becomes a bestselling award-winner! Cord Jefferson makes an impressive feature debut with his direction of this thought-provoking movie as well as his screenplay adapted from Percival Everett’s 2001 novel Erasure.

Of course, not all movies can be so great, sadly. The 2023 movies that most made me want my money and/or time back after watching them are:

1. Cocaine Bear. Though allegedly inspired by a true story, this was simply the most ridiculous film of the year and a waste of several talented actors including the late Ray Liotta, not to mention director Elizabeth Banks. The bad CGI used to create the bears also didn’t help.

2. Fair Play. This has received some acclaim from fellow critics, but I found its plot about partnered/engaged co-workers whose relationship takes a nasty turn after one of them is promoted over the other at work, misogynistic and thoroughly unpleasant.

3. 65. A.k.a. Jurassic Park meets Back to the Future, in which advanced aliens crash land on Earth during our prehistoric past and quickly find themselves dinosaur food. Redundant and ludicrous.

4. Meg 2: The Trench, The Nun II and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. A trio of repetitive sequels no one needed.

5. Evil Dead Rise. Gruesome, urban-based reboot of the demonic horror series that, to my knowledge, no one asked for.

Here’s to a happy and cinematic new year!

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