Saturday, November 11, 2017

MD Reviews: Five Came Back


From Twin Peaks to Will & Grace, nostalgic revivals have been all the rage this year on television and at the movies as well. Witness these five recent sequels, all spawned from originals that range in age from 21 to 84 years old.

T2: Trainspotting:
Yes, it’s been two decades since Danny Boyle first brought from the pages of Irvine Welsh’s novel to the big screen (and set to the driving beat of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”) the lovable losers Renton, Spud, Begbie and Sick Boy. But there’s a good reason for the long wait, as now the characters, having survived their drug fueled youth, are older… yet not necessarily wiser. New schemes are hatched, old scores are settled, and all without quite so much heroine in this slick and stylish, funny and fitting follow-up to 1996’s cult classic Trainspotting. (7/10)

Whoever smelt it dealt it

Kong: Skull Island:
More of a reboot/launch of the “big-ass monster cinematic universe” then a direct sequel, this umpteenth iteration of the iconic “8th Wonder of the World © 1933” boasts impressive visuals and a surprisingly all-star cast, including Brie Larson (in her first “cashing in on that Oscar” part), a proverbially over-the-top Samuel L. Jackson, and scruffy scene stealer John C. Reilly (in the Ben Gunn role). For what at first glance seemed like a cheesy cash grab actually turns out to be a pretty darn good popcorn flick with potential for a few sequels of its own. (7/10)

I love the smell of wet ape in the morning

Alien: Covenant:
Along with the unending adventures of Artimus Prime and Captain Jack Sparrow, the seemingly endless Alien saga just keeps trudging along, ever-increasing audience apathy be damned. Ridley Scott, who helmed the original film 38 years ago, returns again for this sequel to his prequel Prometheus, which confounded audiences five years ago. Covenant is less confusing but hardly engaging with its Passengers-like plot that keeps the aliens off screen for far too long. Of particular note for MD readers: Demián Bichir grieving his fallen husband, and Michael Fassbender’s Peter O’Toole-ian David macking on his android “brother” Walter, also played by Fassbender. (5/10)

Yep, Fassbender-on- Fassbender twincest… the fan fiction practically writes itself.

Blade Runner 2049:
Ridley Scott’s other sci-fi classic from last century finally got its long-delayed second chapter this year, albeit with Arrival’s Oscar nominated director Denis Villeneuve at the helm. Set 30 years later in a Los Angeles even more dystopian, the initial story – of a blade runner (Ryan Gosling, in a role perfect for his actorly quirks) who stumbles upon a potentially incendiary mystery surrounding the corpse of a replicant – seems distinctly removed from the original’s, yet slowly (granted, at times too slowly) reveals just how connected it truly is. As with the 1982 model, 2049 is thick with themes of identity and humanity, yet manages to outdo its grim predecessor in regards to emotionally resonance. (8/10)

Stayin' (artificially) alive, stayin' (artificially) alive...

War for the Planet of the Apes:
War is right. This conclusion to the Apes prequel trilogy lays it on thick with the Nazi/Holocaust allegory, not to mention cinematic allusions to such World War II epics as The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Great Escape. It also works overtime to set up its connections all the way back to the original 1968 classic; who knew that a Chevrolet subcompact would factor into the mythology of the Planet of the Apes? Andy Serkis’ now stoic ape leader Caesar leaves plenty of room for Woody Harrelson to go all “Heart of Darkness” crazy as the skinhead colonel tired of all this monkey business. (6/10)

Lots and lots of monkey business...

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Reverend's Interview: France's AIDS-Themed Oscar Contender is Already a Winner


A number of powerful films depicting the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis are rightly considered classics. Parting Glances, Longtime Companion, And the Band Played On and Philadelphia helped to open eyes and hearts before there were any treatments for HIV infection. We can now add to this list Robin Campillo's excellent BPM (Beats Per Minute).

The new movie (original title: 120 battements par minute), which is France's submission in the Best Foreign Language Film for this year's Academy Awards, will opens theatrically in Los Angeles and NYC this weekend and in other cities later this month.

It is a painfully vivid but life-affirming and inspiring portrait of the ACT UP movement in early 1990's Paris. A brave group of male and female activists goes to battle for those stricken with HIV/AIDS, taking on sluggish government agencies and major pharmaceutical companies in bold, invasive actions modeled after New York's ACT UP chapter. The activists, many of them gay and HIV-positive, embrace their mission with a literal life-or-death urgency.

Amid rallies, protests, fierce debates and ecstatic dance parties, newcomer Nathan (played by Arnaud Valois) falls in love with Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), the group’s radical firebrand. Their passion sparks against the shadow of mortality as the activists fight for a medical breakthrough. BPM is movingly intimate but boasts an impressive sense of large scale on a small budget, especially during its Pride scenes.

Any LGBT viewers alive at the time will recognize many of the issues and actions depicted in the film. These included sexually-graphic ad campaigns and spraying politicians with fake blood, although the recipients didn't initially realize the blood was artificial. Director/co-writer Campillo accomplishes the tricky task of showing ACT UP's excesses without denigrating the organization. This is significant since he knows them first-hand, as he revealed during a recent phone interview with Reverend shared with his two leading men.

"I was involved with ACT UP in Paris for for about five years starting in 1992," the Morocco-born Campillo revealed. "I came back toward the end of the 1990's so I was probably involved for ten years in all." At the time, there were approximately 6,000 new HIV cases in France each year. Like its New York chapter, ACT UP Paris's impact was ultimately blunted by infighting among its leader. This is shown in BPM but Campillo directs throughout with a riveting, non-judgmental verve.

Campillo is known to many viewers for his previous acclaimed films Eastern Boys, about a male Ukrainian prostitute, and the Oscar nominated The Class. He also wrote The Returned, a eerily effective French TV series about dead villagers returning to life that he helped adapt for American television. But BPM is a decidedly more personal effort for him.

"I came to ACT UP in 1992 but for many years I didn't realize I could do a film about it," he said. "I thought about doing a movie about the AIDS epidemic but only later realized it could be about my personal experience." Campillo has considerable insight into the health crisis both then and now, as evidenced by his finished film. This contrasts sharply with his two less-informed but nonetheless dedicated lead actors.

"I was 9 in 1992, so I did not remember ACT UP but I do remember the giant condom (they placed) over the obelisk in Paris," Valois recalled with a laugh. "I discovered AIDS in the movies or TV but fortunately did not have any family members or friends with it." His character in the film, Nathan, is equally naïve at first. Upon meeting Sean at an ACT UP meeting, Nathan asks "What's your job?" Sean replies in no-nonsense fashion, "I'm poz, that's all."

Valois's co-star, Nahuel (pronounced "Noel") Perez Biscayart, spoke of his similar upbringing. "I really dived into the story and script," he said. "I was 9 or 10 years old at the time depicted so I knew very little." Biscayart, who was born in Argentina, also admitted to not having any personal knowledge of someone living with HIV/AIDS. You wouldn't know his lack of first-hand experience from his intense performance, which necessitated considerable weight loss.

Valois and Biscayart have several steamy scenes together in the film, which I couldn't resist asking about. "It was a challenge (to film them) because its not just about the sex," Biscayart said. "It was about the characters really opening up to each other." There is a particularly graphic yet poignant scene between the two lovers toward the film's end. "The final scene at the hospital was not just a sex scene but was very emotional; it was very difficult," according to Biscayart. Valois immediately agreed with his co-star.

Those viewers fortunate to have lived to tell about the early days of the AIDS pandemic will find both nostalgia and modern relevancy in BPM. It reminds us of the once popular phrase "silence = mort (death)," which can certainly be applied to our current US political situation. As one character states in a sassy yet still-timely manner, "We don't want to die, darling."

Arnaud Valois, Robin Campillo and Nahuel Perez Biscayart at the New York Film Festival

Now as then, government agencies more often serve as a hindrance than a help to those dealing with HIV/AIDS on the front lines. There have been tremendous medical advances over the last 20 years but not all those infected have had equal access to them. BPM focuses in particular on the development of protease inhibitors, which were initially regarded with suspicion. "People will think they're better than AZT," one skeptical character says about the then-new medications. "I'll take any kind of hope," responds an infected woman.

According to Campillo, Biscayart and Valois, their film is being very well received thus far. "Its very popular in France, which we did not expect," said Campillo. "We had low expectations due to the subject and gay sex scenes; I did not think the film would be such a success."

Moviegoers too young to remember the time period depicted in BPM are also responding well. "Apparently, they are very moved and some are shocked at the beginning (of the film) because they didn't know so many people died from AIDS," said Valois. Biscayart seconded that by saying: "(Younger viewers) are going beyond activism and are excited about breaking taboos; girls are really excited about the gay sex scenes in the film (laugh)." Campillo and his stars are optimistic their work will be just as well received in the US.

With any luck, BPM will emerge as one of the five finalists for this year's foreign language Oscar. Even if it doesn't, though, this powerful movie should not be missed by moviegoers young and old, gay and straight. For more information about the film or to purchase tickets click here.

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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Dearest Review: This is Halloween, Part 2

Continuing our look at the latest fright flicks, all of which are now streaming on Netflix… call it “Netflix and Chill-ers”...

Click here for Part 1.

The Babysitter:
Meet Cole (played by the young Zac Efron-ish Judah Lewis), a nerdish 12-year old whose parents still hire a babysitter when they go out. You’ll understand why he doesn’t mind though when you see Bee (Samara Weaving): she’s every pubescent boy’s dream girl, a total babe who likes playing video games and eating pizza and watching kung fu movies and, most importantly, wants to do all that with him. But what does his incredibly hot babysitter do after he goes to bed? This being a horror film, that would be satanic rituals and virgin sacrifices… and now Bee needs the blood of an innocent. Yep, that would be Cole’s. Charlie’s Angels director McG doesn’t stray far from his usual pop art-y style, but it fits in the heightened reality of this goofy but gory story, a sort of millennial Scream complete with hat tips to scary movies past and an attractive young cast, including the pretty-much-shirtless-the-whole-time Robbie Amell. (7/10) Watch on Netflix.

Abs Fab

Did you know that French veterinary schools attract hordes of fresh-faced students willing to endure weeks of humiliating hazing rituals all so they can learn how to insert their arms up to their shoulders inside a cow’s rectum? No? Well, if Raw is to believed, boy do they, and that is only the beginning of the illogical absurdities piled onto its otherwise intriguing premise. Brainy vegetarian Justine is the newbie who, after being forced to eat rabbit kidneys (ew), develops an overwhelming hankering for raw flesh. Following an unfortunate pubic hair waxing accident that results in her sister’s finger being cut off (seriously), Justine chows down on the severed digit like it’s a chicken wing. But sis doesn’t mind so much because she too is a cannibal (one can surmise at this point that not just an interest in veterinary medicine runs in the family). This is that type of movie where the characters don’t say much to each other merely to keep the plot from unraveling. (3/10) Watch on Netflix.

Justine does have a hot gay/sexually fluid roommate, so at least there’s that.

The Dark Tower aside, this has been a great year for Stephen King film adaptations, what with the huge box office hit It and the following two Netflix originals:

Gerald’s Game:
Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood are Jessie and Gerald, a married couple taking a romantic weekend in the country to reignite the passion in their marriage. To that end Gerald's plan involves a bed, two pairs of handcuffs and a certain blue pill. What he didn’t plan was a fatal heart attack that leaves Jessie helplessly shackled to the solid wood headboard with no one to hear her cries for help… except a hungry stray dog, and perhaps a grim reaper. Upon succumbing to physical and mental exhaustion, Jessie is visited by her inner demons and haunted by a disturbing, life-altering incident from her childhood, her ordeal climaxing with a squirm-inducing act of survival that rivals 127 Hours in its visceral intensity. Director Mike Flanagan maintains a taut tension throughout, notable as the story mainly takes place in one location. But, thanks to her incredible performance, this is Gugino's movie all the way. You feel her pain, fear and, most of all, her will to live. (7/10) Watch on Netflix.

"(Sigh)... I knew I should never had let Gerald read Fifty Shades of Grey... "

The protagonist in Netflix's second King adaptation of the year, Nebraska farmer Wilfred James (Thomas Jane, employing an Ennis Del Mar accent), faces his own demons as well, but these are of his own devising. Sick of him and her life on the farm, his wife wants to sell the land she inherited from her father and move to the Big City. Ol' Wilf don't take too kindly to that idea, so naturally he plots to murder her, and he ain't above manipulating his son to help him do it. A sense of impending doom settles over the story like a fog once the deed is done... and the corpse is buried under a dead cow. This being a King story, such evil doings do not go unpunished, the dead come back to haunt the living (even if it may all just be in their minds), and there are rats... lots and lots of rats. There's nothing really new here, and it ends exactly as expected, but the effective atmosphere and Jane's committed performance make this a ghost story worth retelling. (7/10) Watch on Netflix.

"I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks..."

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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