Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Monthly Wallpaper - May 2011: Twisted Pictures

This month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper comes with a SPOILER WARNING! For the month of May, we are taking a look at the most celebrated cinematic plot twists, surprise twists and twist endings of all time... that's right: Twisted Pictures!

So beware if you never got around to finding out what Rosebud meant or who Keyser Söze is... and stay away from the Soylent Green.

Just click on the picture above to enlarge it to its 1024 x 768 size, then right click your mouse and select "Set as Background", and you're all set. If you want, you can also save it to your computer and set it up from there, or modify the size in your own photo-editing program if needed.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Hop to That's What I Am

I seldom use adjectives like cute, adorable and charming to refer to movies; leading men, yes, but not movies. Well, that all changed on Easter Sunday when I finally treated myself to the bunny-blessed blockbuster Hop; not only does it feature adorable leading human James Marsden, but the film is as cute and cuddly as a plush, floppy-eared rabbit despite a character some may find offensive: a Spanish-accented chick named Carlos (voiced by Hank Azaria), who is secretly plotting to dethrone the reigning Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie of TV's House).

Carlos sees an opportunity when the Easter Bunny's son and overwhelmed heir, E.B. (a great vocal turn by Russell Brand, who in general is better heard than seen), unexpectedly leaves the family headquarters beneath Easter Island — simultaneously obvious and clever — for Hollywood. E.B. wants to be a drummer in a rock & roll band, not travel the world once a year delivering eggs and candy.

Once in California, he is hit by a car driven by jobless slacker Fred (Marsden). Fred actually spied E.B.'s father one Easter morning when he was a kid, but he is initially reluctant to believe the talking, jelly bean-defecating rabbit who insists on rooming with him is the Easter Bunny, Jr. Meanwhile, dad's all-female, Ninja-trained royal guard — the Pink Berets — are closing in on E.B. with orders to take him home.


While the film's plot and screenplay are far from complex (and actually bear several similarities to the 1985 Christmas-themed epic Santa Claus: The Movie), Hop boasts dazzling visuals inside the Easter Bunny's lair, which includes a fantastic jellybean fountain. Having him make his holiday rounds in an egg-shaped "sleigh" pulled by hundreds of little yellow chicks is also an amusing touch. It also features a fine supporting cast that includes Kaley Cuoco (so great on The Big Bang Theory), Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins. Director Tim Hill (nephew of George Roy Hill, who helmed The Sting among other classics of the 1960's & 70's) progresses naturally from Alvin and the Chipmunks to rabbits.

Finally, I'm glad to see a movie that draws inspiration from secular images and traditions associated with Easter. Each year, we get multiple Yuletide offerings at the cineplex, so why not make more films about Santa's springtime counterpart? And while I like religious-themed movies as well this time of year, I'll take Hop (even with its racial-stereotype villain) over The Passion of the Christ any day.


Although in a more serious vein, the new release That's What I Am (opening this Friday in LA and NYC) is a charming, inspirational indie about the hot topic of bullying in schools. It is appropriate for older children and families. Produced somewhat improbably by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the film's writer-director is Mike Pavone, the WWE's Executive Vice President.

That’s What I Am is essentially a coming-of-age story set in the mid-1960's that follows 12-year-old Andy Nichol (Chase Ellison of Tooth Fairy), a bright student who, like most kids his age, will do anything to avoid conflict for fear of suffering overwhelming ridicule and punishment from his junior high school peers.

Everyone’s favorite teacher, Mr. Simon (a terrific Ed Harris), decides to pair Andy with the school’s biggest outcast, Stanley a.k.a. “Big G” (impressive newcomer Alexander Walters), on a critical school project. Sporting thick orange hair (hence the "G" for "ginger"), a head too big for his body and ears too big for his head, Stanley has been an object of ridicule among the students since grade school. Embarrassed at first, Andy gradually takes a liking to Stanley and learns that there was truly a method behind Mr. Simon’s madness as to why he teamed the two up.


Whereas various students are bullied by others for an array of perceived deficits, Mr. Simon himself becomes the object of anti-gay bigotry. In this regard, That's What I Am couldn't be more timely despite its period trappings. Harris's real-life wife, Amy Madigan, beautifully plays the school's sympathetic principal, and WWE superstar Randy Orton makes an effective film debut as a homophobic father.

Pavone based the script on his own observations while he was in junior high, and it rings true. While the subject is deadly serious, Pavone works wry comic touches into the narration and dialogue that occasionally recalled for me Jean Shepherd's classic voiceover work in 1983's A Christmas Story.

Upholding as it does such time-honored principles as tolerance, human dignity and compassion, I recommend That's What I Am most highly.

Reverend's Ratings:
Hop: B
That's What I Am: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reverend's Preview: Hero Worship

Caped crusaders of various eras and genders will once again invade the Anaheim Convention Center, as the second Anaheim Comic Con runs there April 29-May 1. Presented by Wizard World, a multimedia company devoted to pop culture, the first Orange County event in 2010 drew a legion of fans, artists and collectors.

"Anaheim Comic Con was the most anticipated and attended new event of the Spring, and we are thrilled to come back to the Anaheim Convention Center with one of the hottest new shows going,” said Gareb Shamus, Wizard World CEO. “We will have an incredible array of celebrity guests, and many award-winning comic creators lined up.”


Superheroes have hit an all time high in terms of popularity. Whether on the printed page via comic books or graphic novels, on television (a new Wonder Woman series, starring Friday Night Lights' Adrianne Palicki, is due next season) or on the silver screen (see a list of upcoming superhero movies below), there is currently no shortage of fictional crime fighters vying for our attention. Their increased visibility in recent years seems to be a response to very real cultural needs such as the pursuit of justice and a heightened desire for national security as well as world peace. This may hold especially true for GLBT citizens. When we still don't have full equality in terms of marriage and other social benefits, or when homosexuality remains a criminal offense in some countries, who among us doesn't long for a hard-bodied man or woman with super powers in a form-fitting outfit to save us?

While nowhere near as gargantuan as the annual San Diego Comic Con that takes place each July, Anaheim's Comic Con will nonetheless feature many of the same talents and vendors that populate it. There are also more than 400 celebrity guests scheduled to appear during the Anaheim con's three days. Among these are the original TV Batman and Robin, Adam West and Burt Ward; John Schneider of The Dukes of Hazzard, Desperate Housewives and Smallville fame; True Blood's Michael McMillian; Nicholas Brendon from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and, for the ladies, the lovely Claudia Christian (Look) and Erika Eleniak (Baywatch).


One great benefit of the Anaheim Comic Con over San Diego's I discovered last year is that the celebrities are much more accessible for conversations and autographs. Whereas one can wait in line for hours in San Diego, I was able to walk right up to Star Trek's Nichelle Nichol and "Catwoman" Lee Meriwether last year and had very pleasant, unrushed chats with both. I also got to take pictures of a very sexy attendee wearing a Captain Marvel costume that left nothing to the imagination!

Fans can also meet their favorite comic creators and artists, including Judd Winick (Power Girl, Justice League), William Stout (The Dinosaurs), Mike Grell (Green Arrow, Green Lantern), Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin), Ethan Van Sciver (Green Lantern, Superman/Batman), Mark Texeira (Wolverine, Moon Night), Michael Golden (Batman, Hulk), Greg Horn (Spider-Man) and, last but by no means least, openly gay Phil Jimenez (Amazing Spider-Man, Astonishing X-Men).


Children and adult attendees are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite superhero, villain or pop culture personality for the chance to win special prizes in costume contests. Event-goers may also try their hand at interactive product exhibits and shop for collectible comics, movie and television memorabilia, toys and games at more than 100 dealer booths.

Anaheim Comic Con is the fourth stop on Wizard World's 2011 North American tour. Tickets are available in advance online at the con's official site at a savings over tickets purchased at the door.

SUPERHEROES EXPLODE ON THE BIG SCREEN

Over the next few months, the largest number of comics-based spectacles yet released in one movie season will arrive in theatres. Holding out for a hero? Prepare to be rescued!


Thor (opening May 6): The mythic Norse god makes his movie debut under the direction of Shakespearean pro Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing) and with a cast that boasts Oscar winners Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. Hot newcomer Chris Hemsworth plays Thor.

Priest (opening May 13): Paul Bettany (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) stars as a vampire hunter in this horror flick based on a Korean comic.  Star Trek's Karl Urban and Burlesque hottie Cam Gigandet co-star.

X-Men First Class (June 3): A reboot of the popular comics and movie series about warring mutants. Set in the early 1960's, the new film features younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy of Wanted) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender from Inglorious Basterds) up against the Soviet Union and a villainous Kevin Bacon.

Green Lantern (June 17): Everyone's favorite hunky movie star, Ryan Reynolds, plays a military test pilot turned intergalactic policeman after a fateful encounter with a dying visitor from outer space. Peter Sarsgaard (Kinsey, An Education) co-stars as the new hero's alien-infected nemesis.


Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22): Chris Evans has already personified one classic hero, Johnny Storm, in the two Fantastic Four movies. Here, he faces his greatest challenge as a physically-enhanced soldier during World War II who must save America from an attack by Hitler's henchman, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving of The Matrix).

Cowboys & Aliens (July 29): The title says it all in this big-screen adaptation of a graphic novel series. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig don't play superheroes, but they are the best hope for a wild west town besieged by nasty space invaders.

Conan the Barbarian (August 19): Hunky Jason Momoa is tasked with filling Arnold Schwarzenegger's loincloth in this new version of the classic sword and sorcery character.

And just wait until 2012, when new Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine and Superman movies are all scheduled to premiere!

Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Toon Talk: From HSM to NYC

Spin-offs are tricky; for every Frasier, there’s a dozen Joeys. The key to a successful spin-off is a character that is interesting and compelling enough to break out of the supporting ranks to become a full-fledged leading player. So when it came time for Disney to try to milk their hit High School Musical franchise even further, it’s no surprise that they chose HSM’s resident diva, Sharpay Evans.

As played by blonde wannabe-dynamo Ashley Tisdale in two Disney Channel movies and one theatrical feature, Sharpay was a teenaged drama queen to be reckoned with, a rising star… at least in her own mind. And now she is the star, of her own direct-to-video movie, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure (now available on Disney DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack).


Alas, this Adventure is not that Fabulous. Borrowing heavily from such previous “girl power” chick flicks as Legally Blonde and The Devil Wears Prada, Sharpay’s first solo outing is as predictable, clichéd and preposterous as the all-pink wardrobe of its leading lady...

Click here to continue reading my Toon Talk review of Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure at LaughingPlace.com.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Straight & GLBT Collide in New DVDs

It seems appropriate for three new DVDs exploring mash-ups of the hetero and homo/bi/trans worlds at the beginning of GLBT Pride season. First out of the gate is Breaking Glass Pictures' Straight & Butch, which was just released today. This intriguing documentary follows the multi-year odyssey undertaken by Butch Cordora, an openly gay Philadelphia TV host, to create a calendar in which he and an assortment of straight men would pose together nude. In re-creating iconic images including Janet Jackson's hands-on-breasts Rolling Stone cover, a nude John Lennon embracing Yoko Ono, and The Beatles' Abbey Road album cover sans clothing, Cordora hoped to find common ground between gay and straight men in the most intimate of photographic situations.

While a few of the subjects were personal friends or co-workers of Cordora's before shooting and a couple are professional models, most are regular guys from the Philadelphia area. The film notes that 59 exclusively straight men in all were asked to participate, but 48 said "no" and refused to state their reasons for doing so on camera. A few wrote that their wife or girlfriend would be uncomfortable with them posing nude, at least with another man.

Those models who agreed include the husband of one of the photographers, a Whole Foods grocery store bag boy, a pizzeria owner, a professional wrestler, and a heavily-tattooed artist. There is also a nice ethnic mix among them, including two Black men, a Latino originally from Colombia, and an Asian. The men's initial comfort levels vary, as do their body types, but all save one come away from the experience of being photographed nude with Cordora feeling good about it. As one model remarks, "(The project) says something about our country or, more importantly, where our country could and should be" in terms of gay-straight relations. While Straight & Butch gets a little long and repetitive by the final shooting session, it is well worth watching.


Meanwhile, a lesbian-themed movie out May 3 on Wolfe Video, Bloomington, is generally worth avoiding. The plot initially focuses on the adjustment to college life in the titular Midwest city of a previously home-schooled young woman who also happens to be the former star of a cult science-fiction TV series à la Star Trek (to really drive the comparison home, the character's name is Jackie Kirk). Jackie, played by the Miley Cyrus-esque Sarah Stouffer, has good intentions of leaving showbiz behind and studying law. Things start to change, however, once she crosses paths with Abnormal Psychology professor Catherine Stark (the beautiful Allison McAtee).

Stark's reputation as a "vampire lesbo" (in the unflattering words of one student) who sleeps with her students precedes her. It isn't long before Stark confirms she is lesbian and begins an affair with Jackie. It also isn't long before Hollywood starts beckoning Jackie back for a movie version of her TV show. Fearful Catherine starts drinking and inexplicably sleeping with a man, while Jackie apparently realizes she needs to "straighten up" and have sex with a male fellow student if she is to have a chance at headlining a blockbuster movie.

Bloomington, written and directed by Fernanda Cardoso, starts promisingly but is ultimately compromised by its characters' shifting allegiances and alliances. Too much of the film is hard to swallow, from the casual way it treats an ethically-questionable sexual relationship between student and teacher to its perfunctory ending. Like Jackie, Cardoso may need to get back to basics academically.


The best by far of these new DVD releases is Casper Andreas' hilarious Violet Tendencies, out May 24 from Breaking Glass Pictures. Mindy Cohn, lovingly remembered by many of us as the irrepressible Natalie on the 1980's series The Facts of Life, stars as "the last fag hag" in Manhattan. Violet is adored by her large circle of gay friends and spends virtually all her free time with them. This makes it difficult for her to find romance with a "fag stag" or other straight man, for which she desperately longs, despite late nights on the "Frisky Friends" phone chat line and resultant, aborted dates.

As much as she hates to do so, Violet cuts herself off from her boys once she meets Vern, an ex-Mormon architect from Idaho who reminded me a lot of Geoffrey Rush in Shine. But the boys will have none of it, devoted to Violet's happiness as they are, and begin to seek a more ideal partner for her... who may unknowingly be right in their midst.

Violet Tendencies kept getting away from me when it played last year's GLBT film festival circuit, and I'm so glad I finally saw it. The film is chock full of relatable, well-drawn characters, razor-sharp dialogue and witty observations (the screenplay was written by Jesse Archer, Andreas's frequent collaborator), and fabulous New York locations. Cohn's performance and those of the supporting cast are great, and there are cameos by such NYC gay icons as Hedda Lettuce, Michael Musto and Randy Jones, a.k.a. the Village People's Cowboy.

To quote Violet's dating advice-dispensing, food-deprived fashion model co-worker, Salome: "Get off your racket" and see Violet Tendencies ASAP!

Reverend's Ratings:
Straight & Butch: B
Bloomington: C-
Violet Tendencies: A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Reverend's Preview: TCM Fest Brings Classic Film Lovers Together

Thousands of fans of "Old Hollywood" gathered from throughout the US last year for the first ever Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. Held over one weekend at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and other historic sites, it was such a success that an announcement was made before the festival was even over that it would return in 2011.

True to organizers' word, the second TCM Fest is set for April 28-May 1 in Hollywood. Beloved movies will unspool on the big screen (some for the first time in decades) and big stars including Warren Beatty, Debbie Reynolds, Alec Baldwin, Leslie Caron, Mickey Rooney, Jane Powell and Shirley Jones will appear. Family members of the late Gregory Peck will also be on hand to introduce two of Peck's greatest films, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Guns of Navarone.


Caron will be on hand opening night for the world premiere of a 60th anniversary restoration of An American in Paris. The actress-dancer starred alongside Gene Kelly in this colorful musical directed by Vincente Minnelli (Liza's dad) and set to the music of George Gershwin. It won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1951, and the then-dreamy Kelly won an honorary Oscar for his achievements as an actor and choreographer.

Beatty won an Academy Award for his direction of the 1981 historical epic Reds (one of my all time favorite movies) and he is scheduled to introduce a special 30th anniversary screening of his masterwork during the festival. While it might not appear that Reds holds much appeal for GLBT viewers at first glance, it is important to note Maureen Stapleton's Oscar-winning performance as anarchist/Communist Emma Goldman. Goldman plays a significant role in GLBT history as an outspoken critic of anti-gay prejudice. She wrote in 1923, "It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life." As Magnus Hirschfeld said of Goldman, "She was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public." While this isn't directly referenced in Reds, the film and Stapleton's performance stand as fitting tributes to Goldman.


Several of Walt Disney's movie classics, both animated and live action, will be prominently featured at this year's TCM Fest. "Disney's Musical Legacy" will include a restored version of 1940's Fantasia, a showcase of Silly Symphonies cartoon shorts, and tributes to such Disney musical classics as Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. In addition, Disney's teenage discovery Hayley Mills will be present to introduce a special 50th anniversary screening of gay fave The Parent Trap, in which she stars as twin sisters who were separated by their parents' divorce but are reunited at summer camp. Mills will also present the rarely seen, non-Disney movie Whistle Down the Wind (1961), in which she plays one of several children who mistake an escaped convict for Jesus Christ. Whistle Down the Wind was subsequently turned into a similarly rarely-performed stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Other classic movie musicals to be shown include 1964's The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which will be introduced by its leading lady, Debbie Reynolds; Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel, starring Shirley Jones; a 50th anniversary screening of West Side Story in a 70mm print; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, starring Jane Powell; the unusual but noteworthy Pennies from Heaven (1981), with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters; and 1943's all-black classic Cabin in the Sky.


Also of GLBT interest during the fest will be a 50th anniversary restoration of Breakfast at Tiffany's, based on the story by gay writer Truman Capote. Although the film version was largely de-gayed, Audrey Hepburn's performance as Holly Golightly and a gorgeous young George Peppard as her admirer still resonate. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), adapted from Tennessee Williams' play and featuring a broodingly hot Marlon Brando, and 1935's The Devil is a Woman, starring Marlene Dietrich, will also be worth GLBT festival goers' attention.

Roger Corman's campy, low-budget classic The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) — later musicalized on stage and screen — will also be shown and introduced by Corman himself. Jack Nicholson made one of his first movie appearances in this horror-comedy about a carnivorous plant set on taking over the world. At the other end of the cinematic spectrum, a 70th anniversary restoration of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, generally regarded by critics as the greatest movie yet made, will be revealed during the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival.


Several same-sex couples walked the opening night red carpet at last year's fest, and many attendees were dressed to the nines in both classic and contemporary fashion styles. For the full schedule of screenings and other festival events and to purchase tickets or passes, please visit the TCM website.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reel Thoughts: Love Under the Big Top

Circus movies are a tough thing to pull off. The Greatest Show on Earth was widely considered the worst Best Picture Oscar-winner of all time (at least until Crash crushed Brokeback Mountain). Tod Browning’s Freaks was so disturbing for its time that it was banned for thirty years in England. Joan Crawford’s Berserk! was disturbing for a host of other reasons. And don’t forget Big Top Pee-Wee… oh, you already did. While Water for Elephants isn’t likely to spur a generation of kids to run away and join the circus, it is a handsomely-made, pleasingly old-fashioned love story set against the backdrop of a struggling circus during the Great Depression.

Robert Pattinson gives a strong, impassioned performance as young Jacob Jankowski, but to be honest, he gets a huge boost by being introduced as an older man played by Hal Holbrook. Holbrook’s haunted eyes do more heartbreaking acting than most young actors do with their whole performance, and it can’t have been easy playing a lonely widower so soon after losing his wife Dixie Carter last year. The older Jacob is found soaking in the rain by the manager of the Circus Vargas, apparently having been left behind by his nursing home bus. Charlie (Paul Schneider), the circus manager, gets into a discussion of big top disasters and discovers that Jacob was there in 1931 for the infamous Benzini Brothers catastrophe.


Caught off guard by a faded picture of a beautiful woman on an elephant, Jacob reveals that she was Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and that the ringmaster in the photo was her husband August (Christophe Waltz, in a brilliant, violent performance). In 1931, Jacob was a Cornell veterinary student with a bright future, but his parents were tragically killed in a car accident, leaving Jacob bereft, and as it turns out, without a home. His parents had spent everything and gone into debt to send Jacob to college, and the realization is more than he can handle.

Jumping a passing train, he finds that he has inadvertently “run away to join the circus.” The Benzini Brothers Circus is run by the dedicated but ruthless August, who rules his people as harshly as he does his poor animals. Despite its PG-13 rating, you may find it hard to watch his brutal attack on Rosie the elephant, August’s latest “star attraction”. Jacob and Marlena bond over their love of animals, first her prized show horses and later Rosie, and Jacob’s veterinary skills prove invaluable to the circus. It doesn’t take long before August’s violent outbursts drive Marlena and Jacob together, but getting away from August may prove deadly. Anyone whom he deems a threat or a financial liability is routinely “red-lighted”, tossed from the fast-moving train by August’s goons.


Witherspoon plays against her natural alpha personality to play the passive Marlena, but she demonstrates strength when needed as Marlena finds her independence. She effortlessly evokes Jean Harlow. Waltz proves that his terrifying Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds wasn’t a fluke. He mines complex depths from his villainous character, showing the scared and insecure man beneath the monster. Pattinson is a better actor than he’s given credit for, and he makes Jacob a fully-rounded hero.

Water for Elephants is gorgeously-rendered and emotionally satisfying, apparently streamlining Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel for the screen without losing any of its power. Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and director Francis Lawrence do a masterful job showing the hardships of the Depression against the tattered magic of the circus. Tai the elephant also deserves special mention, since Rosie is a vital part of the film’s success. Water for Elephants is not a film full of surprises, although what Marlena’s fate was and how Jacob ended up forgotten in a nursing home are questions you want to see answered. Sometimes, a well-made, romantic classic is just what the veterinary student ordered.

UPDATE: Water for Elephants is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Bag Hag

Most of us — gay and straight — would agree that bags under one's eyes are not a good thing. Turns out, though, that we should be much more worried about the damage being done to our environment and, subsequently, to ourselves by plastic grocery bags. This isn't news to the "green" among us but a new documentary, Bag It, is trying to reach those who haven't yet heard the message. It is currently airing on most local PBS stations and via nationwide theatrical screenings in honor of Earth Day (visit the film's official website for information about screenings in your area).

Award-winning director Suzan Beraza focuses on Jeb Berrier, a Colorado-based expectant father and "everyman" citizen concerned about the damage done by the proliferation of non-biodegradable plastic products since the 1950's. The statistics they report are startling. For example, Americans use 1 million plastic bags per minute, and 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide each year. Most of these end up not recycled but as trash dumped in the sea, where they are frequently mistaken by sea life as edible jellyfish. There is a growing epidemic of turtles, sharks and other marine animals necessary to the global food chain dying as the result of eating a diet primarily made up of plastic. The colony of albatross birds who call the Pacific's Midway Atoll home are also dying of plastic consumption.


In light of such dire findings, the United Nations called for a global examination of plastic shopping bags and ultimately condemned their use. US grocer Whole Foods Markets eliminated them in 2008, and Ireland imposed a 22-cent fee on each bag. As a result of the latter, consumption of plastic bags on the Emerald Island has dropped 90%. While most items made of plastic are recyclable, too many people still toss them in the trash instead of the recycle bin.

At a brisk, informative 79 minutes, Bag It easily holds one's attention. Berrier isn't the most attractive spokesperson and his anti-plastic enthusiasm can be grating, but he is balanced by the film's incorporation of expert interviews and commentary by other professionals. Many take what might be considered an extreme view of buying less in general and overcoming our consumerist, disposable mentality. Better to start with small steps, I think, and first start recycling our plastic bags and other items or purchasing the re-usable bags now sold by many stores.

Also of note: one study cited in the film found that exposure to a common component in plastic, Bisphenol A (also known as BPA), can result in "gender neutrality" in developing children. Could this also potentially result in homosexuality? Bag It doesn't go that far, but I find it interesting to consider. While I don't place the blame on anything or anyone for "making" me gay, what if my mother's or grandparents' plastic goods were at least partly at fault? No more Tupperware parties for me!

Reverend's Rating: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Behind The Boys in the Band

The tag line for the 1970 film adaptation of Mart Crowley's pioneering play The Boys in the Band jokingly declared, "It's not a musical." Be that as it may, an original cast album was released in 1968 based on the strength of the show's memorable dialogue. This is but one of many interesting facts recounted in Making the Boys, a fine new documentary about the evolution of the controversial play and subsequent movie. It opens this Friday in Los Angeles and will unspool in other cities this summer.

Produced and directed by Crayton Robey, Making the Boys incorporates interviews with Crowley, surviving cast members Laurence Luckinbill and Peter White, and archival footage from the play's first New York production as well as commentary by such luminaries as director William Friedkin (who helmed the film version); gay playwrights Edward Albee, Paul Rudnick, Larry Kramer, Terrence McNally and Tony Kushner; and actors Robert Wagner (whose late wife, Natalie Wood, was a close friend of Crowley) and Cheyenne Jackson. Judy Garland, Rock Hudson, Julie Andrews and Sal Mineo also appear in vintage scenes from home movies Crowley shot in the 1960's. If all this isn't enough gay "star power," out Oscar winning screenwriter-director Bill Condon serves as the doc's executive producer.


The Boys in the Band, for those younger readers who may be unaware, is set at a Manhattan birthday party celebrated by several gay men that quickly goes from happy to volatile. The birthday boy, Harold (a riveting performance by Leonard Frey), provokes his friends into revealing long-dormant secrets and jealousies. Alternately hilarious and uncomfortable (sometimes both at once), the play was embraced by many upon its 1968 premiere as an unflinchingly honest glimpse into gay lives, but it also angered many theatergoers for presenting what they felt were a number of gay stereotypes.

Crowley was concerned about this, according to the documentary, as well as whether his work was funny enough to be the comedy he primarily intended. In an attempt to console Crowley, the play's producer told him on opening night, "They've been laughing at gays since Aristophanes; they're not going to stop tonight." Crowley had hand-written the first draft of The Boys in the Band in five weeks and envisioned it as something of a gay version of Albee's Broadway and Hollywood smash Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Crowley needn't had worried: he became the toast of New York and the play ran for a then-unheard of five years in addition to spawning the more modestly successful movie.

In the two years between the play's debut and the film's opening, a significant GLBT milestone occurred: the Stonewall riots. Whereas the stage version of The Boys in the Band was heralded as an initial step toward making gay men and their concerns better known, by the time the movie came, out gay men were front-page news thanks to Stonewall, and Crowley's work already seemed dated.


The 41 years since have helped situate The Boys in the Band as a revelatory time capsule that made other, more compassionate gay-themed plays and movies like La Cage aux Folles, Making Love, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me and Brokeback Mountain possible. As original cast member Peter White says in the documentary, "The legacy of The Boys in the Band is in the eye of the beholder."

Sadly, White, Luckinbill and Crowley are the only members of the original production team still living. The play's director, producer and other actors all succumbed to AIDS in the 1980's-90's. Tony Kushner, who wrote the gay theatrical masterpiece Angels in America, notes "The play and movie were long before the epidemic but not untouched by the epidemic." Friedkin, director of the movie adaptation, is still living and went on to make such classics as The French Connection and The Exorcist. He also returned to gay territory (Friedkin is straight) in 1980 with the generally-reviled Cruising, which starred Al Pacino as a sexually conflicted serial killer.

The Boys in the Band was briefly revived on Broadway in 1996 and the movie was released on DVD for the first time last year to mark its 40th anniversary. Making the Boys covers some of the same material as the supplemental shorts on the DVD, but the feature-length documentary is able to go into much more depth. They make excellent companion pieces. As Luckinbill admiringly says in Making the Boys, "Crowley made gay people ordinary" with his work. We've come even farther since.

Reverend's Rating: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: The Princess and the Nun

It can be difficult even today for women to achieve equal standing in male-dominated religious settings, so imagine how tough things were in the 12th and 16th centuries! Two fact-based new releases, The Princess of Montpensier (now playing theatrically in select cities) and Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (out today on DVD from Zeitgeist Films), explore the challenges faced by two women caught between the religious conflicts and social mores of their times.

The Princess of Montpensier, directed by the fine French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier ('Round Midnight) and adapted from a 17th century historical novella, tells a tale of intrigue involving an innocent young heiress who becomes the apple of no less than four men's eyes during the reign of corrupt Catholic queen Catherine de Medici. The lovely Marie de Mezieres (beautifully portrayed by Melanie Thierry) is betrothed by her father against her wishes to Prince Philippe de Montpensier (played by the very cute Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet, who reminded me of a Gallic Jake Gyllenhaal and has a nude scene to boot). Marie loves Henri de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel of Hannibal Rising), who with the Prince frequently wages war against the Protestant Hugeuenots alongside Catherine's son — and the future King Henry III — the Duc d'Anjou (a charismatic turn by Raphael Personnaz).


In addition to these three men, Marie also unintentionally stirs the desire of Philippe's monk-like bodyguard, the Count of Chabannes (Lambert Wilson, most recently seen in the excellent, similarly fact-based Of Gods and Men). While the Prince is away at war, the Count empowers Marie by teaching her how to write and instructing her in science, theology, and matters of both state and the heart.

Thierry and the screenplay by Tavernier, Jean Cosmos and François-Olivier Rousseau imbue Marie with an intense longing for respect and equality even as she respects her father's demand that she "submit" to his plan to marry her to the similarly unwitting Philippe. Whereas the Count on one hand reinforces this with his observation of the heavens, noting, "The stars teach obedience to the laws of equilibrium and modesty," he is also a clearly conflicted man when it comes to his feelings for Marie and the raging religious conflict. As he muses in the presence of the Prince and Princess, "How can people of the same blood and faith kill each other in the name of the same God?" Marie takes respectful note of the Count's position.

Marie also confesses to the Count at one point, "This war, I don't know what it's about." Five centuries later, she may as well be echoing the thoughts of people the world over today who helplessly weather the ongoing "War on Terror" and other religion-fueled political skirmishes. The Princess of Montpensier is a potent, intimate romantic epic that satisfies yet frequently exceeds genre expectations.


Meanwhile, Mother Hildegard von Bingen endures as one of the most progressive (and criminally but tellingly non-canonized) Catholic women of all time. Claiming to receive directive, sometimes painful, visions from God, this Benedictine nun and mystic gained the favor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, her contemporary, as well as the Archbishop of Mainz, Germany. The local abbot, her immediate superior, bristled at Hildegard's frequent challenges to his government, especially when she decided to separate herself and her sisters from his hermitage in order to establish their own convent.

In addition to her notable leadership of their religious community — she famously insisted that the sisters vote for their new mother following the death of her predecessor, also over the abbot's objections — Hildegard is remembered for her voluminous writings (including a book on human sexuality), a number of musical compositions, and for being one of the first women religious to travel and preach extensively. To Hildegard, God was first and foremost "the living light" and love was "the greatest power given by God." She accurately defined envy, jealousy and desire for power as the greatest enemies of Christians and human beings in general.

Actress Barbara Sukowa (Berlin Alexanderplatz, Romance & Cigarettes) brings Hildegard to vivid life in Margarethe von Trotta's Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. It is an overdue and generally well-made but not entirely satisfying biopic. The script covers considerable historical ground much too quickly, and some cheesy zoom camera shots and quick-cut editing distract rather than augment. Still, Hildegard receives via von Trotta and Sukowa a greater tribute than she has to date from the Church she so remarkably served 900 years ago.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Princess of Montpensier: A-
Vision: From the Life of Hildegard Von Bingen: B

UPDATE: The Princess of Montpensier is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reverend’s Reviews: God Help Us

God of Carnage may just be the worst play ever to win the Tony Award. Having attended the April 13th Los Angeles premiere of French writer Yasmina Reza’s “comedy of manners… without the manners” (translated by Christopher Hampton), I came away fearing for the future of international theatre if this is the best we can currently do.

An A-list cast comprised of Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden play two married couples meeting to resolve one’s school-age son’s beating of the other couple’s son. Whereas their discussion begins civilly, it doesn’t take long for matters to degenerate among the adults to the level of playground politics. Cell phones get doused in water by angry spouses, freshly-imported tulips are strewn angrily across the set and, in what I believe to be a theatrical first, one unfortunate actor (Davis) projectile-vomits on stage.


Despite such a trailblazing moment, God of Carnage is a thoroughly predictable critique of post-9/11 American foreign policy. Reza is merciless in her allegorical condemnation, aided and abetted by British director Matthew Warchus. “Subtlety” is a word that doesn’t appear to exist in Reza’s and Warchus’s vocabulary. But maybe it’s just me, as many other audience members howled with laughter at the heavy-handed shenanigans, including recollections of the abandonment of a pet hamster on the street by Gandolfini’s rodent-phobic wholesaler. I hardly cracked a smile let alone laughed during the 90-minute, intermission-less running time.

The characters get inexplicably intoxicated by sharing no more than two-thirds of a bottle of rum. They revert to humankind’s Neanderthal roots and periodically pose ashamedly in front of the cave wall-esque backdrop to drive the comparison home. Their uninhibited, alcohol-and-vomit-fueled banter reminds one of Edward Albee’s similarly four-player but far superior Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? What God of Carnage lacks, however, is any sense of catharsis or redemption.

By play’s end, Africans have been referred to as “coons” and a child is called “faggot.” Such language is supposed to be shocking, and is, but even more disturbing is Reza’s and/or Hampton’s decision to include such dated, offensive terminology. The author(s) cross the lines of good taste and artistic license, and should be fined at least $100,000 as Kobe Bryant recently was for public use of the second term alone.


The actors’ performances can’t be faulted here, although one wonders what such respectable players saw in the material. They are all reprising their original, Tony-nominated Broadway turns for the LA run (Harden won the Tony for her performance). Davis is a lovely actress forced to demean herself during the play’s first half, but she is able to regain some dignity by its closing. The reverse is the case for poor Harden, one of my favorite contemporary performers on stage and screen. As the character deemed early on by the rest to have the most “integrity,” Harden is ultimately reduced to a crumpled, whimpering mess. It is painful to watch and (unlike many in the audience) I didn’t find it amusing in the least.

Gandolfini fits his “contemporary Neanderthal” role well from a physical perspective, and makes the easiest transition from initially-civilized father and businessman to raging, wife-hating xenophobe. I found Daniels, whom I would have thought the least interesting actor in the bunch, drawing my attention the most with his more understated performance. His character is also the most consistent in the play, if the least moral.


Since its cast members have significant film and TV followings, God of Carnage looks to be a huge hit in Los Angeles, having already extended its run by several weeks (through to May 29) thanks to robust ticket sales. I hope local audiences look beyond the superficial and see the play for what it really is: an anti-American diatribe that, like its characters, isn’t truly interested in dialogue about how to change things for the better. If you’ve seen the play and disagree with me, please do weigh in here.

Moisés Kaufman's 33 Variations, which just had a mounting at the Ahmanson with original star Jane Fonda, was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award but lost to God of Carnage. While 33 Variations is flawed, it is the better play, with a more interesting plot, relatable characters and considerably more significant things to say.

Moviegoers can also prepare for Roman Polanski’s upcoming movie version, starring Oscar winners Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz and Oscar nominee John C. Reilly. Hopefully, all involved will take a more sensitive and/or restrained approach to the text and yet uncover some true wisdom in it. In its present state, God of Carnage is messy and unpleasant as an unruly child’s graffiti, writ large in permanent marker on one’s living room wall.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reel Thoughts Interview: Carter Country

Lynda Carter may live outside of our nation’s capitol, but Arizona is never far from her heart. The Arcadia High School alum grew up in Globe and Phoenix, and started her career as a singer. Touring the state in a band before she was fifteen, the statuesque beauty gained national attention when she was crowned Miss World USA in 1972. Just four years later, she beat out scores of other actress in Hollywood to become TV’s Wonder Woman, the role that made her a household name and inspired many a schoolboy (and schoolgirl) crush. Carter was honored to be asked to be the Celebrity Grand Marshall of the 2011 Phoenix Pride parade, and she will be signing CDs and autographs in a VIP booth at the festival, which takes place today.

Not even a power outage in her Potomac, Maryland home could keep Carter from giving me an exclusive interview about her music and her strong views about equality. When asked if a lot of gay men (like myself) tell her she was a boyhood crush, she laughed. “I don’t actually. I hear a lot of “I wanted to be you.” But not so much that they had a crush on me. That’s unusual and extra special. Maybe you didn’t know why you (really) had a crush on me,” she laughed.


Before talking about her music, Carter was thrilled to discuss the news that President Obama had directed the Justice Department not to defend DOMA. “Okay, enough already,” she said, voicing Obama’s thought process. “Let me figure out how I can do this without having to go through all the crap of the legal fights, the Congressional fights... I’ll just work my way around this and it’ll be done. Don’t fight it. It will be done.”

She is also happy to see DADT relegated to history. “At the time it was enacted by Clinton in his first week in office, there was such savagery, it was so homophobic, there was no restraint,” she recalled. “Just getting used to the idea of (the issue being about) human beings, it took people a long time. The generation that came after had much more understanding, or if not understanding, at least it was 'What do I care?' People in their twenties think it’s outrageous that it’s a law.”


“It’s kind of like Women’s Rights. When I did Wonder Woman, there was not a single person on the set in any capacity that was a female. There wasn’t a single woman on television who had her own show except Carol Burnett, or other comedy or music shows. Sometimes the process you have to go through (for equality), unfair as it is, takes steps to occur. Under the Constitution, women still don’t have equal rights. The Equal Rights Amendment was never ratified by the states.”

She is hopeful about the future, however. “As children grow up and they have the internet with so much more exposure to information,” she said, the issues of inequality will diminish. “I just think that a lot of people think their acting as God, and everyone else is demonized. You can’t argue with them because they aren’t interested in what you have to say. It isn’t about strong faith; I have mine. But I have never had a single person ask me what I believe in, because they don’t want to hear you. They want to tell you. That’s what bigotry and homophobia is about. I get mad at injustice.”


“I love Gay Pride,” Carter exclaimed, noting that it is great to be invited back to where she grew up. “I’m there all the time, I just don’t do it publicly.” Her parents, siblings, nieces and nephews still live here, so she tries to get back at least a few times a year. “I’m an Arizona girl through and through.”

“I think it is about the archetype of the secret self and the hero inside you,” Carter responded, when asked why she thinks her Wonder Woman persona struck such a chord with GLBT audiences. “The good person with this hidden ability to fight those injustices that you see. I’ve never understood why people stand by, why teachers stood by for so many years for bullying, whenever someone is different. It’s hard enough being a teenager and coming to grips with all these impulses.”


Carter was so eloquent about her beliefs about equality, it was almost difficult to get her to talk about her love of music. In addition to her popular cabaret show, Carter played the intimidating Mama Morton in the London production of Chicago in 2005. She definitely prefers her cabaret work. “I want to sing all the songs in my own show,” she laughed. She is very grateful for her GLBT fans, and is thrilled that her popularity extends to men and women in the community. “I’m a crossover icon,” she joked. “I am like an iPod Shuffle,” Carter said, explaining that her musical tastes run across most genres except, surprisingly, Broadway show tunes. “I sing what I want to sing, I don’t want to sing all one genre.” She is excited for her fans to hear her upcoming CD, Crazy Little Things, which will have her “iPod Shuffle” of eclectic song choices. She admits that about half of her audiences are GLBT and considers them a key to her post-Wonder Woman success.

I asked Carter how she became such a passionate supporter of GLBT rights. She responded that the Religious Right needs to open their pea brains and accept that civil rights belong to everyone. “If you believe in God, then you have to believe that he intended to make people the way that they are. It’s not just about gay people. This is about all of us. Worry about our behavior and worry about our own marriages. Work on what we need to do. It’s about equality. It’s about simple, simple rights. Period.”

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.
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