Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dearest Review: This is Halloween, Part 1



With trick or treat time looming at the end of the month, October is always a good time to catch up on all the latest fright flicks and this year is no different, with a bumper crop of spook fests so far, enough in fact to merit this two-part review… 


M. Night Shyamalan acquits himself quite well from the likes of his The Happening and Lady in the Water with this taut thriller as tightly wound as its protagonist, a man inflicted with a horde of multiple personalities who kidnaps three teenage girls in a plot that is gradually revealed to be a lot more insidious than one at first expects. Shyamalan is famous (infamous?) for his twists, and Split has its fair share but here they serve the story instead of supplanting it. James McAvoy is simply mesmerizing in a career best role that has him switching from persona to persona, such as a lisping preadolescent boy to a stern English matron and back again; in a just world he would be seriously considered for Best Actor accolades in the impending award season (along with Betty Buckley, in strong support as his psychiatrist), but the film’s genre trappings may hamper that possibility. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

"Nope. Not gonna happen."

Imagine that the answer to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was “The Stepford Wives and you’ll have a good idea about the plot of Get Out, TV funnyman Jordan Peele’s twisted directorial debut that was equally embraced by both critics and audiences alike earlier this year. Daniel Kaluuya stars as the boyfriend of a white woman (Allison Williams) who takes him home to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) only to find himself in a nightmarish situation where the only thing creepier than the black people he meets are the even creepier white people. Race plays a significant role in Get Out, which prompted pundits to fall over themselves to pile praise on Peele for his modern take on horror movie tropes. Yet don’t let all that hype set your expectations too high; at the end of the day, this is simply a smart and stylish scary movie. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

...not creepy at all...

If you ever wondered how The Omen would play as a comedy, has Netflix got the movie for you. Adam Scott plays Gary, the lucky guy newly married to Evangeline Lilly… and the unlucky guy to be the new stepfather to Lucas, a pasty young tyke dressed all in black with a penchant for leaving disaster in his wake, such as impaled science teachers and charbroiled party clowns. As a horror film its light on scares and it often feels like a slightly off-brand Halloween-themed Hallmark Channel movie. What sets Little Evil apart and makes it watchable is the unconventional character Al, Gary’s co-worker and fellow stepdad played by… actress Bridget Everett. How’s that for progress? Not only do we have a gender nonconforming character that is a non-issue, they also help save the world from a satanic cult led by Clancy Brown and Sally Field (in the Ruth Gordon role). (6/10) Now streamingon Netflix.

Just one of the guys.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… Following some kind of apocalyptic event, a small group of survivors hunker down in an isolated location where they must defend themselves from their new mortal enemy: their fellow man. Bleak nihilism saturates every frame of It Comes at Night, which relentlessly teases some sort of… paranormal?... extraterrestrial?... hillbilly??? threat that never appears, at night or otherwise. If that weren’t enough to send writer/director Trey Edward Shults to horror movie jail, than the multiple “oh wait, that was only a dream” fake-outs will. With its overly-familiar premise, incredibly unlikeable characters and especially its “fuck you, audience” ending, It Comes at Night can just go away. (2/10) Now available onDVD and Blu-ray.

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Reverend's Preview: TransNation Film Fest Embraces All


 

One could argue that the last thing Los Angeles needs is another film festival. However, last year's inaugural TransNation Film Festival succeeded as a more in-depth exploration of our trans community than even most LGBTQ events provide. The fest returns October 13th-15th at the Silent Movie Theater in West Hollywood.


Presented by St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, a community health center in LA that serves one of the largest populations of transgender patients in the country, the festival’s mission is to "honor our history and nurture emerging voices while celebrating and showcasing trans culture’s cinematic achievements and social impact throughout the world." Hosted by Zackary Drucker (filmmaker, artist and producer of Transparent), the TransNation Film Festival is a three-day event featuring an unique program of works by emerging and established filmmakers, as well as rare and under-seen repertory gems and classics that reflect the trans experience.

“I can’t imagine a more dynamic, challenging, and crucial time for us to build community around art and storytelling,” said Drucker. “We programmed this year’s festival to highlight filmmakers and subjects that keep us critical, galvanized and empowered. Moving through time and around the world, we’re featuring vintage and cult films alongside subversive and groundbreaking narratives of today."

Festival highlights will include an October 14th tribute to The Cockettes, the legendary San Francisco theatrical troupe, featuring photographs, an art exhibition, and screenings of three rare Cockettes-made films: Tricia's Wedding, Elevator Girls in Bondage and Palace. The screening of Palace will be accompanied by a live score by Kristian Hoffman. This exhibition of original Cockettes costumes and photographs will be shown for the first time in Los Angeles. Founding Cockette and photographer Fayette Hauser will be in attendance. Also, The Starbooty Trilogy, a cult classic from RuPaul’s early public access days, will screen with a midnight dress-up party. All those who dress up will be photographed on the red carpet and are invited to attend a pre-party contest on the patio.


Two new and acclaimed social justice documentaries that explore issues at the core of the mission of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center will screen. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, directed by Academy Award-nominated David France (How to Survive a Plague) will open the festival on October 13th. One of the film’s subjects, trans activist Victoria Cruz, will be present in conversation with St. John's CEO Jim Mangia, who knew Johnson. Also screening is Strong Island, the Sundance 2017 Special Jury Award winner for Storytelling. Yance Ford, the film’s director and subject, will attend and participate in a post-screening Q&A.

The festival’s ground-breaking shorts program features world premieres and new works by emerging and acclaimed trans filmmakers as well as those working with trans themes, including Rhys Ernst, Luis De Filippis, Rosie Haber, Rain Valdez, Harriet Fleuriot, Sarah Cockings, Wes Hurley and Nathan M. Mille.

Also screening will be the West Coast premiere of Trans Youth, a nuanced verité documentary following the lives of trans millennials in Austin, Texas, as well as a sneak peek of the forthcoming HBO documentary short film 15: A Quinceañera Story. The short will air in 2018 and follows transgender teen Zoe Luna getting ready for her quinceañera in Los Angeles. Luna and filmmaker Matthew O’Neill will be in attendance.


Not to be missed is a rare big-screen presentation of 1970's Myra Breckinridge. The first depiction of a trans character financed by a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox), this gender-bending comedy written by Gore Vidal is equally loved and loathed. Its eclectic cast includes Raquel Welch, John Huston, film critic Rex Reed, the great Mae West, and pre-stardom Farrah Fawcett and Tom Selleck. It will screen October 14th at midnight.

TransNation Film Festival is but one element of the TransNation Festival 2017, a week-long celebration of the trans community that also includes ELEGANZA, the official closing gala. It will be held the night of Saturday, October 21st at the Cicada Club in downtown LA. ELEGANZA will honor trailblazers in the trans community including Jazzmun Crayton, an actor and advocate for the trans community for more than 30 years who will be the recipient of the “Marsha P. Johnson Trailblazer Award.” Performers at the event include the evening’s emcees, Candis Cayne and Laith Ashley, DJ JD Samson, along with Peppermint, Shea Diamond, and Gia Banks.

Proceeds from the film festival and ELEGANZA will benefit the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center’s Transgender Health Program. Visit their website to purchase tickets or for more information.

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

Thursday, October 5, 2017

GALECA Names “Ten Best Films You Never Knew Were LGBTQ”


In the spirit of “We are all one,” GALECA, the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (of which Movie Dearest critics Chris Carpenter and Kirby Holt are proud members), has revealed its choices for The Ten Best Films You Never Knew Were LGBTQ.


GALECA’s nearly 200 members were asked which “straight” films through cinema history so mirror an LGBTQ sensibility — maybe they more than hint at what Joan Crawford would call “Sapphic” or feature an unusually intense bromance — they might as well be “gay.”

The final picks include well-known films featuring Tom Cruise, James Dean, Bette Davis and a baseball bat-wielding Madonna, as well as three Best Picture winners, two thrillers from the master of suspense and two so-called "chick flicks" from 1991.

Here, in alphabetical order, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics presents its Ten Best LGBTQA Films You Never Knew Were LGBTQ (entries written by GALECA members Sarah Toce and Jeremy Kinser):


All About Eve (1950)
“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Frequently described as the bitchiest film ever made, this Academy Award-winner's insightful peek into the mid-century theatrical world offered gay icon Bette Davis her most indelible role as that endlessly quotable Broadway diva, Margo Channing. Shocker: the script was penned by a straight man, writer-director Joe Mankiewicz. Even more surprising (or not), a recent biography of Mankiewicz revealed that Margo’s rival, conniving upstart Eve Harrington (memorably played by Anne Baxter), was originally conceived as lesbian. Even without this hindsight, it’s not a challenge to read certain characters here as LGBT. Take George Sanders’ Oscar winning portrayal of the acid-tongued columnist Addison DeWitt, perhaps the cattiest character ever committed to celluloid, a man prone to withering bon mots and squiring a pretty young beard on his arm (affording Marilyn Monroe an early role). And of course, there’s the title character, relentlessly obsessed with Margo well past the point of comfort (no wonder calling someone “Eve” has become a shortcut to describe a ruthless backstabber). The only time Eve shows genuine warmth toward another character is when a comely young female stalker breaks into her apartment and seems to make a pass at her.


Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker and Cicely Tyson star in this sisterhood of the senses, based on the Fannie Flagg novel about a group of close friends who mingle at small-town Georgia’s Whistle Stop Café. Make that very close friends in the case of tomboy Imogene “Idgie” Threadgoode (Masterson) and older, wiser Ruth Jamison (Parker). After Idgie saves Ruth from (sigh) an abusive husband, the two women raise a child together... and get riled whenever a man is near the other one. True, the two never profess their lust for each other, leaving some fans to marvel at their profound friendship, and others to imagine what might have been.


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Thomas Edward Lawrence is perhaps one of the 20th century’s greatest sexual enigmas. Although confirmation of his sexuality looms to this day, the pre-World War I intellectual has widely been thought by researchers to either be homosexual or asexual. In this epitome of sweeping epics — 1962’s Oscar winner for Best Picture — Peter O’Toole emotes dramatically as the British archaeologist, military officer, diplomat and writer (phew!) seeks to find peace by creating a new type of warfare during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Highly regarded as director David Lean’s biggest masterpiece, Lawrence is fascinatingly layered viewing for that backstory alone. And it’s a campy treat to see the (eye-liner-heavy) Brit flounce around as he tries on his ankle-length, silky and very flowy Arabian thwab for the first time.


A League of Their Own (1992)
In 1992, real-life friends Rosie O’Donnell (not yet out at the time) and pop diva Madonna showed fun screen chemistry as well in this fact-based comedy about the Rockford Peaches, an all-female baseball team in the 1940s. All the women (played by the likes of Geena Davis, Tank Girl’s Lori Petty and Tea Leoni) seemed to sport beaus in the movie, but Davis’ character, Dottie Hinson, was inspired by Josephine D’Angelo, an early lesbian hero who actually played for the South Bend Blue Sox. D’Angelo was fired from the team after she showed up to play ball sporting what she herself called a “butchy” haircut! While none of that backstory or outrage made it into League, a sense of uber-feminism prevails.


A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Likely the queerest mainstream horror film ever made, this sequel to Robert Englund’s surprisingly inventive spin on the slasher genre featured male protagonist Jesse (out actor Mark Patton) who screams repressed gay. For example, he wakes up from a nightmare and inexplicably wanders into a gay leather bar and bumps into his gym teacher. In an interview, Englund shared that this second Nightmare was “intended as a bisexual-themed film. It was early '80s, pre-AIDS paranoia. Jesse's wrestling with whether to come out or not and his own sexual desires (were) manifested by Freddy. His friend is the object of his affection. That's all there in that film.” It certainly is.


Rebecca (1940)
The only film helmed by Alfred Hitchcock to win the Academy Award for Best Picture is also one of the master director’s queerest. Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s best-selling novel, the story chronicles a nameless and naïve young woman (Joan Fontaine) who marries the mysterious Maxim de Winter (swoon-worthy Laurence Olivier), and soon finds herself competing with the specter of his glamorous dead wife. The most potent character, Mrs. Danvers (magnificently portrayed by Judith Anderson), is clearly a coded lesbian. She’s a servant slavishly devoted to (okay, obsessed with) the unseen title character to the point of longingly caressing the deceased’s lingerie. Danvers, doing her own version of “Nothing Compares 2U,” is also intent on preserving the first Mrs. De Winter’s memory by driving the second Mrs. De Winter, well, bonkers. Rarely has such morbid Sapphic longing been displayed on film.


Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Made at a time when being non-hetero was a crime, Rebel Without a Cause is perhaps the most "bisexual film" ever released by a major studio. Nicholas Ray (who some movie historians claim was bi) directed James Dean (ditto) in his most famous performance as Jim Stark, a tortured teen whose torrent of emotion resonated with young audiences as never before. Sal Mineo (who was actually known to be bisexual) costarred as Jim’s pal Plato, who kept a photo of handsome movie actor Alan Ladd in his locker and very obviously crushed out on Dean’s character. And, while Jim had a girlfriend (Natalie Wood), he definitely had a soft spot for Plato too. A landmark coming-of-age film for all, Rebel becomes even more poignant when viewers realize that all three leads died prematurely.


Strangers on a Train (1951)
Three years after starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s queerest film, 1947’s Rope, handsome bisexual actor Farley Granger added yet another super-queer film on his and the master’s CVs, a thriller adapted from a novel by lesbian author Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Price of Salt, which gay auteur Todd Hayne’s turned into the acclaimed Carol in 2015). Granger, who came out late in life, stars as a tennis champ who — after getting drunk, trading intimate secrets and establishing some uber-masculine camaraderie with Bruno (tragic actor Robert Walker) — is persuaded to swap murders with the charismatic stranger. That Bruno recognized him from the newspaper’s gossip pages is merely clue number one to the film’s pervasive gayness.


Thelma & Louise
 (1991)
Director Ridley Scott hit the nail on the head with this female empowerment film about the titular friends (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon) on the run from Thelma’s abusive husband, a journey that iconically ends with them agreeing to (26-year old spoiler alert!) fly their car off a cliff. Sure, the 1991 classic depicts both women in jeans and a penchant for danger, but that doesn’t make it a gay feature... or does it? No, it goes much deeper than clothing. GALECA’s barometer is set the moment these two ladies decide to risk all to live — or die — protecting one another. If that isn’t love, what is?


Top Gun (1986)
Ah, Top Gun. What makes slick director Tony Scott’s wild-flying Navy pilots drama so infamously queer? That double entendre-loaded title, of course. The characters’ testosterone-raging banter (“I want somebody’s butt, I want it now!”). And, um, the inexplicable rivalry between studly hotshot Iceman (Val Kilmer) and studly hotshot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise), two pilots who show off for each other in the skies and on the beach (via a volleyball match that has them sweating and staring into each others eyes). Those UFC tussles pales in comparison here! And when Maverick takes a wingman, it’s sure not his love interest, Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), who went by “Charlie” and wore a baseball cap! This sexy 1986 smash soared to in $356.8 million in US ticket sales — and inspired Saturday Night Live and Quentin Tarantino to spoof its (the writer has said) "unintended" homoeroticism. Hey, we didn’t ask, so they didn’t tell. But we can say this flick was this list’s top vote-getter among GALECA members.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Qfilms Brings Our Community Together



Now in its 24th year, Long Beach's QFilm Festival has grown to become one of the seaside city's preeminent social events.  It has also come to be regarded as the greater LA area's second-biggest exclusive showcase for LGBTQ movies, after Outfest.


The 2017 Long Beach QFilm Festival — often referred to as Qfilms for short — will take place September 7th-10th.  The historic Art Theatre located at 2025 East 4th Street will present all screenings, while the neighboring LGBTQ Center of Long Beach will host receptions and other festive gatherings throughout the weekend.  Both are located on Long Beach’s renowned “Retro Row” consisting of antique and vintage shops in addition to unique eateries and wine bars.


Long Beach’s longest-running film festival since 1993, the QFilm Festival annually presents narrative features, documentaries and short films that embody the rich diversity and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.  More than 1,500 attendees gather to savor a mix of West Coast, California and local premieres as well some of the most acclaimed features on the current film festival circuit.  Numerous filmmakers and cast members of the films to be shown will be present for audience discussions after many screenings.  Other festival events include nightly parties, a Saturday afternoon ice cream social, and a Drag Brunch on Sunday, September 10th.

This year's Qfilms will open the evening of Thursday, September 7th with the Long Beach premiere of The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, a new and acclaimed documentary about the longtime activist and author of the popular Tales of the City book series.  All fans of Maupin's writing will find this film inspiring.  The screening will be preceded and followed by an Opening Night party for all pass- and ticket-holders at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, located directly next door.


Two feature films will have their local premieres the night of Friday, September 8th.  The Feels is a hilarious yet heartfelt comedy about a woman who has never had an orgasm but receives unexpected help from her girlfriends during a lesbian bachelorette party. Cast member Ever Mainard won a Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress at July’s Outfest film festival.  The Feels will be followed by Something Like Summer, a romantic drama with musical interludes that explores the relationship between two gay friends over a decade.  It is based on the bestselling young adult novel.  A festive party for all attendees will take place at the Center between Friday night's screenings.

A number of great narrative and documentary features will screen on Saturday, September 9th.  They include The Lavender Scare (Los Angeles premiere), a revealing documentary about the persecution of LGBT employees of the US government during the Cold War; A Million Happy Nows (Long Beach premiere), in which a longtime lesbian couple confronts the challenge of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease; Extra-Terrestrials (Los Angeles premiere), a story about family secrets and the first feature film by award-winning Puerto Rican writer-director Carla Cavina; and Sebastian (California premiere), an enjoyable gay romance co-starring Katya from RuPaul’s Drag Race that results when a man falls for his boyfriend’s visiting cousin.


On Sunday, September 10th, the award-winning Saturday Church will have its Long Beach premiere.  This charmer is about a young queer boy experimenting with his sexuality and gender identity who finds refuge in an unusual church.  Additional Sunday features are Signature Move (Long Beach premiere), in which a Pakistani-Muslim woman and a Mexican-American woman discover romance, and Alaska is a Drag (official Los Angeles premiere), a delightful expansion of Shaz Bennett’s award-winning short film about an aspiring drag superstar stuck working in an Alaskan fish cannery.  A Closing Night party will be celebrated on Sunday starting at 5:30 pm.

QFilms 2017 will also boast four spectacular short film programs between Saturday and Sunday: Men in Briefs, Women in Shorts, Queer & Trans Shorts, and the festival's first ever Latinx Shorts Spotlight.  Jury and Audience awards will be given to worthy films in several categories.  All net proceeds from the festival will benefit the non-profit LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and its important community outreach programs.  Sponsors of the 2017 QFilm Festival include Here Media, the Arts Council for Long Beach, Anderson Real Estate Group, California State University Long Beach, Regal Medical Group and the Port of Long Beach.


Discounted full-festival and 5-film passes as well as individual screening tickets are now available for purchase at the Qfilms website.


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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: Opening Nights



Health and family issues conspired, sadly, to prevent me from attending an opening night at Los Angeles' storied Ahmanson Theatre since the end of last year.  Thankfully, I was able to break out of this vicious cycle last week in time for the LA premiere of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  Not only was this 2015 Tony Award winner for Best Play (in addition to several other Tonys) outstanding in virtually every way, but I was seated next to out actor-screenwriter Peter Paige (the US Queer as Folk, The Fosters) as well as just down from the fabulous, always friendly Wilson Cruz.  Cruz will soon be seen as one of the first two openly gay characters ever to grace a Star Trek TV series, with Broadway's Anthony Rapp playing his partner.


Curious Incident isn't a gay-themed play per se.  Adapted from Mark Haddon's bestselling 2003 novel by Simon Stephens, it follows the adventures of 15-year old Christopher Boone.  This intelligent British teen lives with his widowed father and is apparently on the autism spectrum, though this is never specifically mentioned.  Christopher has very particular likes and dislikes, doesn't relate well to other people and hates to be touched.  He has affection for his pet rat Toby, as well as video games, Sherlock Holmes detective stories and his neighbor's dog.

One night, Christopher discovers the dog next door dead in its yard, a pitchfork protruding from its side.  He sets out to discover who could have committed such a ghastly, seemingly unwarranted act.  The incident proves to be just the tip of the iceberg for Christopher, who ends up uncovering family secrets that lead him to travel alone (well, with Toby) beyond his home town for the first time.


The production is stunningly, engrossingly directed by Marianne Elliott, whose current London revival of Angels in America is drawing similar raves to her Tony Award-winning work on this.  Elliott and her design team do an impressive, at times overwhelming job of staging the action from Christopher's perspective.  It is frequently but necessarily loud, busy and visually irritating.  Audience members can't help but feel what life for someone living with autism or Asperger's must be like.

While the entire, notably diverse cast of the touring production is exceptional, young Adam Langdon was nothing less than amazing as Christopher during the opening night performance (Benjamin Wheelwright alternates in the role during Saturday and Sunday matinees).  It would be a demanding, challenging role for the most experienced actors but Langdon portrays Christopher beautifully, with both sensitivity and profound strength.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Ahmanson through September 10th and will then resume its national tour.  It absolutely should not be missed.


Speaking of opening nights, there is a fun, new, gay-interest film with that very title now available on DVD from Wolfe Video.  Opening Night finds a strong roster of both characters and actors occupying Isaac Rentz's backstage musical-comedy.  Topher Grace (where has he been?) headlines as Nick, the flummoxed stage manager of a new Broadway musical entitled One Hit Wonderland.  A celebration of such 1980's and 90's songs as "Rock Me Amadeus," "I Melt With You" and "Living La Vida Loca" ("Come On Eileen" is conspicuously missing) the show stars NSYNC's JC Chasez.  These and other musical numbers are energetically choreographed by Aakomon Jones of Pitch Perfect and Dreamgirls fame, assisted by Amy Allen.

Anne Heche plays the musical's Cher-esque leading lady but a backstage accident sidelines her.  Her understudy, who also happens to be Nick's ex-girlfriend, assumes the role to the initial chagrin of the production's high-strung producer (Rob Riggle).  Meanwhile, gay dancer Malcolm (the always delicious Taye Diggs) is battling a hilariously foul-mouthed Lesli Margherita for the attentions of the show's hot new male dancer.

The movie's plot doesn't amount to much but it serves as a great showcase for the cast as well as its retro song score.  Andre Lascaris's colorful, dynamic cinematography is also of note.  Opening Night is great for a quiet summer night at home, especially for fans of its showcased one-hit wonders.


My personal travails earlier this summer also prohibited me from reviewing two new-ish films that demand attention.  The Ornithologist, by gay, Portuguese writer-director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, isn't unlike a queer film as directed by David Lynch.  The film's hunky title character, Fernando (played by Paul Hamy), encounters all sorts of unusual people and adventures as he paddles down a river searching for rare birds.  Cute, deaf-mute Jesus (Xelo Cagiao) is memorable as a lonely goatherd who crosses Fernando's path with dramatic results.  There is also plentiful Catholic imagery at play, which naturally caught Reverend's attention along with the men on display.


And then there is South Korean filmmaker's Joon-ho Bong's Okja, now available on Netflix as well as in some US theaters.  Alternately delightful and disturbing, it is at heart an E.T.-like story of a girl and her beloved giant, genetically-engineered pig friend.  Young Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) embarks on a journey to the decadent old US of A when Okja is abducted by the evil corporation that created it, headed by Tilda Swinton in dual roles as the company's hilariously insecure CEO and her downright vicious sister.  Mija and Okja also become targets of an animal rights group and a demented TV host à la the late Steve Irwin, portrayed by a surprisingly whacked-out Jake Gyllenhaal.  The remainder of the movie's all-star, multi-national cast includes Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins and The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun.  Okja isn't for kids, despite its cute & cuddly star, but it serves as a potent adult fable.  Have some hankies handy.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (on tour): A
Opening Night: B
The Ornithologist: B+
Okja: A-

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Outfest 2017 Promises to be Fabulous


 

Nearly 200 LGBTQ short and feature-length films from around the world will be screened during Outfest 2017. That would be a lot of celluloid if movies were still released in non-digital formats. Running July 6th-16th at various venues in and around Los Angeles, the annual festival will be more fabulous than ever thanks to its roster of local premieres.


Outfest began as a three-day media conference on the campus of UCLA way back in 1982. 35 years later, it is the largest LGBTQ film fest in the world and the largest of the many film festivals that take place in LA each year. 40,000 attendees, filmmakers, community leaders and other bigwigs (in some cases, such as the screening of Suspiciously Large Woman: Bob the Drag Queen Comedy Special on July 10th, people literally wearing big wigs) participate in Outfest’s plentiful screenings, panels and parties.

Caftans might actually be fashionable this year thanks to the July 12th debut of The Fabulous Allan Carr. While his name may be unfamiliar to the under-40 crowd, plenty of us more mature gays recall the flamboyant producer of such big-screen musicals as Grease, Grease 2 and Can’t Stop the Music as well as the original Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles. Award-winning documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz (who previously made Vito, I Am Divine and Tab Hunter Confidential) crafted this loving expose of Carr, who also helmed the notorious 1989 Academy Awards ceremony before his untimely death at the age of 62.

“Growing up I was totally obsessed with the movie Grease, which came out when I was nine years old,” Schwarz confessed to me via email. “Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was a visionary producer responsible for making all this magic happen and his name was Allan Carr.”


Schwarz continued: “I was delighted to discover Robert Hofler’s Allan Carr biography Party Animals, and knew right away it had all the elements I look for when choosing a subject. A film adaptation would tie together themes of all my previous documentaries, (which are) stories of visionary mavericks who create larger than life personas to make their dreams a reality; all are stories of outsiders becoming insiders.”

Carr became a multi-millionaire with Grease, which remained the most successful live-action movie musical from 1978 until this year’s Beauty and the Beast. Sadly, he lost much of his fortune not to mention his reputation just two years later when he produced the uber-campy Village People biopic Can’t Stop the Music. “The challenge with The Fabulous Allan Carr was to look beyond the caricature and explore the inner life of a complicated, contradictory man,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz was able to secure the on-camera participation of many of Carr’s friends and collaborators such as Bruce Vilanch, Lorna Luft, Steve Guttenberg, Valerie Perrine, Maxwell Caulfield and more. “So many people wanted to be part of this film because they loved Allan but there were also some who wanted to make sure we saw him as a human being with his own faults and insecurities,” according to Schwarz. “Everyone we spoke to helped present a portrait of a man whose mission in life was to make people happy, but happiness in his own personal life was sometimes elusive.”

I found The Fabulous Allan Carr revelatory in addition to just plain entertaining and can’t recommend it enough. Beyond Outfest, people can follow the film on its website as well as on its Facebook and Twitter pages.


The term fabulous can also be applied to Billy Bloom, the central character of Freak Show. Based on James St. James’ acclaimed novel, Freak Show will serve as this year’s Closing Night Gala screening on July 16th. Making the comedy-drama even more noteworthy is a rare big-screen appearance by newly-anointed Tony Award winner Bette Midler as Billy’s eccentric mother. Laverne Cox and Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine herself, are also featured.

Billy (played by the extraordinary Alex Lawther) unexpectedly finds himself shipped off to live with his conservative father. His new high school, Ulysses S. Grant Academy, doesn’t take well to Billy’s larger-than-life personality and fashion sense. Just when all seems lost, he finds a friend in the school’s super-cute star football player, who is secretly a budding artist. Newly empowered, Billy goes up against Breslin’s bitchy Bible-thumper for the title of Homecoming Queen. Freak Show is a visually dazzling crowd-pleaser thanks to the participation of legendary cinematographer Dante Spinotti (Beaches, The Mirror Has Two Faces and L.A. Confidential, among many other credits).

Speaking of visually dazzling, there are probably no two more gorgeous men to be found on screen during Outfest than out actor Russell Tovey (of Looking and Pride fame) and Arinze Kene (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). They co-star in The Pass, screening July 7th, as fellow pro athletes who end up having a complicated relationship. It is a thoroughly unpredictable, ultimately bittersweet romance, and it doesn’t hurt that both in-shape actors are minimally dressed throughout.


This year’s festival isn’t without a fabulous movie musical! Hello Again is a polysexual song and dance saga adapted from Michael John LaChiusa’s celebrated off-Broadway show. The film will have its LA premiere on July 11th. An all-star cast including Martha Plimpton, Audra McDonald, T.R. Knight, Rumer Willis (especially good) and Cheyenne Jackson play an assortment of intertwined lovers who cross paths over the course of 12 decades. Tom Gustafson, who previously helmed the 2008 Outfest hit musical Were the World Mine, directs.

Opening night on July 6th will feature the LA premiere of Sundance award winner God’s Own Country, a love story between a British sheep farmer and a Romanian migrant worker. Also, openly gay TV producer Bryan Fuller (American Gods, Hannibal and Pushing Daisies) will be presented with the 2017 Outfest Achievement Award.

All in all, Outfest 2017 is going to be fabulous. Visit the Outfest website for the full festival schedule and to purchase tickets.

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Plenty of Sweet Stuff at FilmOut 2017


 

The Southern California LGBT film festival circuit kicks off in San Diego this month, and it promises to be a tasty experience whether or not one gorges on candy, ice cream or other sweet treats during its 37 screenings. FilmOut, now in its 19th year, will take place June 9th –11th at the historic Observatory North Park Theatre. 


Several world, American, West Coast and California premieres are included, as well as award-winning features from both the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals along with a variety of LGBTQ short films. Many filmmakers and cast members will be in attendance and participate in question & answer sessions with audiences.


This year’s Opening Night film is especially worthy of attention. It will be the San Diego premiere of Del Shores’ long-awaited A Very Sordid Wedding. A cinematic sequel to 2000’s hilarious, gay classic Sordid Lives (there was also a short-lived TV series follow-up in 2008), it reunites original cast members Leslie Jordan, Bonnie Bedelia and Ann Walker while adding Whoopi Goldberg, Caroline Rhea and Alec Mapa, among others. Writer-director Shores and many cast members will be in attendance for the movie’s June 9th screening. They can also be found at the fest’s Opening Night party at the Sunset Temple directly across the street from the theater, which will run from 10:00 pm to midnight.


Jennifer M. Kroot’s fascinating and inspiring documentary The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin will serve as the fest’s Closing Night film as well as the film’s West Coast premiere on Sunday, June 11th. It explores the life and work of its celebrated, title author/activist. The screening will be followed by a Closing Night party at West Coast Tavern (how appropriate) in the upper theatre lobby from 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm.

In between Friday and Sunday nights are such attention-grabbers as the Girls Centerpiece film Signature Move, about a Pakistani, Muslim lesbian who falls in love with a bold Mexican woman (West Coast premiere); Josh Howard’s timely documentary The Lavender Scare, detailing the US government’s history of persecuting LGBT citizens (Festival Spotlight); and the poly-sexual tale Even Lovers Get the Blues from Belgium (West Coast premiere and International Spotlight).


After nearly two decades of success, FilmOut San Diego continues to “annually affirm the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories,” according to a press release. The festival’s Board of Directors believes its work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBT community in San Diego County.

Rage is proud to once again serve as a sponsor of FilmOut, as well as to co-present the 2017 Boys Centerpiece screening, Something Like Summer. A West Coast premiere, this romantic drama with musical moments will screen the evening of Saturday, June 10th. Cast members as well as Carlos Pedraza, one of the film’s producers, will be in attendance. (See interview with Pedraza below.)

My personal favorite of the men’s films selected for this year’s fest that I have previewed is the Irish crowd-pleaser Handsome Devil. It will be screening at FilmOut on Sunday, June 11th prior to its local theatrical release. Reminiscent of early 1990’s gay coming-of- age movies from the UK like Beautiful Thing and Get Real, it is about two roommates at a conservative all-boys school who gradually connect on a deeper level. Acclaimed and super-cute actor Andrew Scott (Spectre, Professor Moriarty on the BBC’s Sherlock) plays the school’s new English teacher, who has a secret or two of his own.


Something Like Summer is shaping up to be one of the most popular entries on this year's LGBT film festival circuit.  This ambitious romantic-drama traces the 12-year relationship between handsome young Ben and Tim.  Ben (played by Grant Davis) is an aspiring but shy singer when the pair first meets in high school, while Tim (Davi Santos of recent Power Rangers fame) yearns to be a painter.  The film explores their developing talents as well as their tumultuous, on again-off again affair. It even includes seven songs performed powerfully by Davis.

Carlos Pedraza serves as one of the movie's producers.  The Bogota, Colombia-born filmmaker has a number of gay and mainstream credits to his name, including the award-winning 2011 feature Judas Kiss and two popular Star Trek web series.  He recently spoke with me prior to the West Coast premiere of his latest at FilmOut.

How did this project come together?
One of the producers, Tom Ly, created his own production company to acquire the rights to the book, written by Jay Bell.  He came across us (Pedraza and partner J.T. Tepnapa) when Judas Kiss was playing festivals and brought us on board.  We began the process of development and fundraising.  It took five years in all for the film to get made.

The film is beautifully shot by its director, David Berry.  Isn't it unusual for the same person to serve as both director and cinematographer?
It was sort of a decision that was forced upon us but it was a happy accident.  J.T. had been slated to direct but became ill a few days into shooting so David stepped in to take over.  He was already shooting the film so he had been well prepped.  He did a great job in both capacities.

And is Something Like Summer properly termed a musical?
We struggled with that in pre-production.  It has songs but not really full-blown production numbers.  We ultimately embraced it since so many people were referring to it as a musical.  Since it was filmed even, there have been so many other musical films and network TV episodes that it kind of makes sense now.  Glee was still on when we first started developing the film but that was about it.


How did you find such a great young cast?
We did a traditional casting process for the two leads with auditions and postings.  One of our producers knew Davi's agent so there was already a connection there and he was the first we cast.  We cast a wide net for the role of Ben, looking all across America and even Australia and England, as well as for the female lead.  We were so lucky to get Ajiona Alexus (who plays Allison, Ben's best friend), who currently plays the younger Cookie on TV's Empire and is in Netflix's 13 Reasons Why.

There is a sequence in the movie set in Paris, France.  Did you actually shoot in Paris?  It seems like that would have cost a lot.
That was actually shot in Portland, Oregon, with the help of CGI.  I lived in Portland and am very familiar with the city.  One side of the river in Portland was Paris and the other side was Chicago (laughs).  I was familiar with a local French restaurant that we used for the restaurant scene.

Would you say there is a moral or message in the film you would like viewers to take away?
Yeah, there's a couple of things.  I would say at the center the theme is courage.  It's about coming out and not being afraid.  Even though Ben comes out as gay in the 9th grade he has to handle other things in his life with courage, like singing and relationships.  The other message is about finding and defining who you are.  That's a process that friends and other people can help us with but each of us has to decide for ourselves.

What's next for you?
There are three or four things that we're exploring right now.  Two are adaptations, one is a biopic and one is a science fiction project.  We are looking to see how much financial interest we can get from Something Like Summer, which is working out well so far.  The trailer has really taken off and is generating interest everywhere.  It has over 1,000,000 views in the Philippines of all places (laughs)!
For the full fest schedule and to purchase tickets or an all-access VIP pass, visit the FilmOut website.

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: Handsome Devils, Then & Now



I was just starting to come out 30 years ago.  Therefore, my similarly-inclined friends (including Movie Dearest editor, Kirby Holt) and I were pretty desperate at the time for big-screen depictions of gay life. Fortunately, the mid-1980's were a time of transition to more positive representations of gay men via such productions as Prick Up Your Ears, Parting Glances, Kiss of the Spider Woman and My Beautiful Laundrette.  Most positive of all, though, was 1987's lavish Maurice by the lauded filmmaking team of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, who were also longtime life partners.  A beautifully restored digital print of the gay romance is opening theatrically in Los Angeles this Friday.



Maurice (pronounced "Morris") was adapted from E.M. Forster's semi-autobiographical novel, which he allowed to be published only after his death in 1970 at the age of 91.  It was the second of three highly-acclaimed Merchant-Ivory productions based on Forster's works, the others being A Room with a View and Howard's End (David Lean's 1984 epic A Passage to India was also based on a Forster book).  While Maurice only received one Academy Award nomination (for costumes) unlike the multiple nods these other adaptations received, it may actually be the best remembered and most influential of them all. This is certainly the case among gay men over 40, once you figure in the film's initial release on home video.




As the story begins, its title character (played by towheaded hunk James Wilby) is a young student at England's Cambridge University during the first decade of the 20th century.  There he befriends the darkly handsome Clive (one of Hugh Grant's early performances) but it isn't long before the pair, influenced by their studies of classic Greek culture, realize they are in love with one another.  Alas, same-sex relations were criminalized then, a fact which hits uncomfortably close to home for Maurice and Clive when one of their classmates is sentenced to prison for "crimes against nature."  Clive ends their relationship and ends up marrying a woman while Maurice, after attempting to go straight with the help of an American hypnotist (a hilarious Ben Kingsley), runs away with Clive's rugged gameskeeper (played by the dreamy Rupert Graves).


The film's exceptional supporting cast is a virtual who's who of 1980's British acting royalty including gay actors Denholm Elliott and Simon Callow, Billie Whitelaw and, in a cameo, Helena Bonham Carter.  In typical Merchant-Ivory style, Maurice is leisurely paced and somewhat overlong but it proves ripe for discovery by younger LGBTQ viewers, who are actually more accustomed to longer running times and frank depictions of homosexuality than I was back in 1987.  Maurice lives on!


Also opening in LA this weekend is the Irish crowd-pleaser Handsome Devil, written and directed by John Butler.  Additionally, it will be screening at San Diego's FilmOut on Sunday, June 11th and is my personal favorite of the men’s films selected for the fest that I was able to preview.

Reminiscent of 1990’s gay coming-of- age movies from the UK like Beautiful Thing and Get Real, it is about two roommates at a conservative all-boys school who gradually connect on a deeper level. Acclaimed and super-cute actor Andrew Scott (Spectre, Professor Moriarty on the BBC’s Sherlock) plays the school’s new English teacher, who has a secret or two of his own.

Between these two releases and Wonder Woman (finally), let's all have a big gay weekend at the movies!

Reverend's Ratings:
Maurice: A-
Handsome Devil: B+

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dearest Review: Beasts of the Northern Isles


 

A giant tree man and a menagerie of magical critters make up the latest, literary-inspired British invasion. 


A Monster Calls:
With his mother (Felicity Jones) terminally ill, young Connor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) is visited by the wooden behemoth of the title (voiced and mo-capped by Liam Neeson), who tells him three stories and expects a fourth from Connor himself. The monster’s morality tales, cleverly brought to life via stylized animation, are not-so-subtle life lessons for the boy to help him deal with his stern gran (Sigourney Weaver… yep, Sigourney Weaver is now playing grandmothers), the requisite school bully and, ultimately, the fate of his beloved mum.

Even with its unique fantasy elements A Monster Calls still feels overly-familiar and there is a befuddling disconnect along the way that leaves the film cold and distancing, this despite an emotion-stirring final act that makes one wish the rest of the film lived up to. (6/10)

Tree's Company

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
As if eight Harry Potter movies weren’t enough, Warner Brothers is back to milk even more out their magical cash cow with this spin-off franchise, the first to be written directly for the screen by J.K. Rowling herself. Set long before Harry, the title refers to a Hogwarts textbook written by “magizoologist” Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who has traveled to New York City with a Mary Poppins-ish suitcase brimming with all manner of, well, fantastic beasts (that’s where you find them!). Naturally, some of the creatures escape and wreak havoc on the Big Apple, which catches the attention of the local wizard’s council, who are none too thrilled by the risk of being exposed to the world of “No-Majs” (the American version of “Muggles”, i.e.: non-magical people).

One would think that after, what, five zillion hours of the original series they would want to try something a little different, a little fresh for these original adventures. No such luck. Director David Yates, who helmed half of the Potter films, returns with the same muddy, turgid style that turned the latter Potters into such a chore to sit through. Redmayne doesn’t help much with his uninspired performance that consists mostly of one blank, mirthless expression through most of the film; the character is supposed to be odd, but it should be in a whimsical, Dr. Dolittle way, not in a creepy, Dr. Oz kind of way.

Fantastic Bore

Bloated with computer-generated effects (a practical effect here and there would have been nice), Fantastic Beasts is un-shockingly left open-ended to make way for the already announced four sequels, the only ray of hope of which is the addition of a young and (fingers crossed) openly gay Dumbledore, to be played by Jude Law. (4/10)

This Monster and these Beasts are only the latest examples of an increasing, frustrating trend plaguing today’s fantasy films. Modern filmmakers have every technological tool at their disposal to bring these fantastic tales to the screen, but they are forgetting the most important thing: a sense of wonder, the surprise of something wholly created by the imagination brought to living, breathing life right before your eyes.

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dearest Review: The Dead Zone


 

If you, like me, have long-since grown tired of all the never-ending shenanigans on The Walking Dead but still hold out hope for a decent zombie flick, then thank god for Netflix, for they are now streaming an awesome import that seems to have been tailor made for the phrase “roller coaster ride”.

A monster hit in its native South Korea, Train to Busan places you on its titular transport just as some kind of viral outbreak takes over the country, turning the recently dead into herky-jerky reanimated corpses with a helluva hankering for fresh flesh. Populated with your typical disaster movie cast of characters, director Yeon Sang-ho still has you rooting for the good guys to make it even as he continually places them into increasingly perilous (yet creatively fresh) action set pieces.


While Train to Busan may be the best zombie apocalypse movie you’ve seen in a long time, less successful is the intriguingly premised yet ultimately disappointing The Girl with All the Gifts. This recent Blu-ray/DVD release takes place in a world gutted by a mysterious fungal infection that (what do you know) turns its victims into carnivorous cannibals.

Humanity’s last hope lays in Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a precocious young girl who, although super smart and cute as a button, also craves human flesh. Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close (yes, that Glenn Close) play the adults protecting her once their post-apocalyptic military base is overrun by a horde of “hungries” (yes, seriously, that is what they call them). Alas, the film slowly devolves as the lapses in logic pile up, eventually bottoming out into complete silliness by the time a gang of feral “lost children” right out of 60’s-era Star Trek show up.

Bottom line: take the Train (rated 8/10) but return the Gifts (6/10).

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Reverend's Preview: Awards Give Voice to Our Community


Artwork by David Kawena

 

Many of us, myself included, prefer singing in the shower to singing on stage in front of hundreds of people. Fortunately, the 270 active members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) have no such fear, especially when it comes to using music to support voice-less and even bullied LGBTQ youth.


GMCLA's 6th annual Voice Awards gala will be held on May 20th at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles. Featuring a silent auction along with incredible musical performances, the event benefits the chorus's youth outreach initiatives including the Alive Music Project and the "it gets better" Tour. Attendees include a diverse audience of over 700 guests ranging from corporate, entertainment industry and business executives to celebrity friends and noted philanthropists. The gala has raised $1.5 million since 2012 and hopes to add significantly more this year.


Founded in 1979, GMCLA has grown to be one of the largest all-male choral organizations in the United States. It has also become one of the largest LGBT advocacy organizations in the world, boasting a diverse and inter-generational membership. Now under the leadership of new executive director Jonathan Weedman, GMCLA "has a deep history of service within the LGBT community, singing at countless memorials, making and commissioning music that helps the community to mourn, to celebrate, to dream, and to prepare for victory" over social and political forces that still oppose LGBT equality. The chorus's members donate over 60,000 volunteer hours annually to make GMCLA’s mission of musical excellence and community partnership a reality.

The annual Voice Awards honor those who, according to their press release, "advance our world, refute silence, lend a voice to the oppressed, exhibit leadership and give hope to those living under the weight of silence." 2017 Community Leader Voice Award will be presented to Gwen Baba, who has a long history of involvement with both the Human Rights Campaign and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, while the Visionary Voice Award will go to the Logo TV channel.

Renowned composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz will be the recipient of the 2017 Vanguard Voice Award. Schwartz has written the scores for such popular stage hits as Wicked, Pippin and Godspell. He won Academy Awards for the animated films Pocahontas and The Prince of Egypt, and received additional nominations for Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Enchanted.


"I'm very proud to be receiving the GMCLA Vanguard Voice Award," Schwartz told this writer via email. "I had a wonderful experience with the chorus when they performed my choral piece Testimony, which is based on interviews for the "it gets better" project, and it meant a lot to me when they brought performances of that piece into schools around the country. It's not easy for writers to have a social impact, but organizations such as the GMCLA help make that possible."

Indeed, GMCLA operates two innovative community projects that offer education and outreach to over 50,000 middle and high school youth in our public school system. The Alive Music Project is a music education and outreach program focused on LA-area middle and high schools. It will be expanding this year to incarcerated youth throughout Los Angeles. The "it gets better" Tour, meanwhile, educates youth and reduces incidences of bullying and violence across the US where over 85% of LGBT students are physically or verbally abused each year. In addition, GMCLA supports the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, an organization with the mission "to fiercely empower trans and gender-expansive people to love their voices and perform with courage and strength."

Support of the Voice Awards helps GMCLA fund its general operations and continue offering these very important programs.

To purchase Voice Awards tickets or sponsorships or for additional information, visit the GMCLA website.

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

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