Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, December 29, 2014

MD Reviews: Where the Boys Are



Riding high on Best Picture wins from both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Circle Awards, not to mention a slew of nominations from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and just about every other movie prize-giving group that pops out of the woodwork this time of year, Richard Linklater's Boyhood is poised for some degree of Oscar gold this award season. Necessarily twelve years in the making, this coming-of-age tale has quite the back story. However, its onscreen story is overlong and trite.


A dozen years ago, writer director Linklater (best known for Dazed and Confused and the Before Sunrise trilogy) began production on Boyhood (then titled 12 Years; a change was required following last year's big awards magnet, 12 Years a Slave). Centering on a then-seven year old Ellar Coltrane as the five year old Mason, the film follows him as he literally grows up before our eyes to the age of 18 (one assumes the sequel will be called Manhood). No recasting was done, Linklater and company met once a year to continue filming.

Patricia Arquette gives a strong performance as Mason's mom, even though she is saddled with not one but two alcoholic husbands, while Ethan Hawke is surprisingly likeable as Mason's absent father; Linklater's own daughter Lorelei rounds out the family as big sister Samantha. The film starts out strong, but once Mason enters his sullen teenage years, the pacing grinds to a crawl and the high school tropes start stacking up. By the time he goes to college as a proto-hipster I had lost all interest.

Boyhood is a compelling filmmaking experiment that nevertheless never quite gets past its central (for lack of a better term) gimmick. One wonders how much acclaim it would be reaping if the much-publicized making of the film was unknown.


From the overrated to the mostly overlooked, St. Vincent is a winning comedy/drama about a grumpy old man and his unlikely friendship with the boy next door. Bill Murray turns in some of his best dramatic work to date with his performance as Vincent, the meanest guy on the block who Melissa McCarthy's Maggie has the misfortune to move in adjacent to. In the midst of a messy divorce, Maggie is forced to accept the cash-strapped Vincent's offer of watching her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after school. The two form an odd partnership, with Vincent teaching the boy how to defend himself against school bullies (not to mention the finer points of betting on the horses), while Oliver slowly warms this Grinch's heart.

If it all sounds a tad sappy, director Theodore Melfi (who also penned the script) deftly avoids any gross sentimentality with gritty tinges of black comedy, mostly via Naomi Watts' acerbic Russian prostitute Daka, whose unfortunate pregnancy keeps getting in her way of turning a not-so-honest buck. Watts recently scored an unexpected Screen Actors Guild nomination, while Murray and the film itself rightly picked up nods from the Golden Globes. Here's hoping that these aren't the last laurels received by St. Vincent.


The Babadook, our final boy's tale, is a decidedly darker one. Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent makes an impressive feature film debut with this spooky supernatural thriller from Down Under, which again finds a young lad at the center of the proceedings. Still wracked with grief over the death of her husband on the same day she gave birth to her son Samuel, frazzled single mother Amelia (a raw to the bone performance by Essie Davis) is increasingly disturbed by the erratic behavior of the precocious boy (played by Noah Wiseman, who easily joins Damien and Regan in the esteemed ranks of Cinematic Creepy Kids). Faster than a trip from the frying pan to the fire, the situation escalates when Amelia reads Samuel the worst bedtime story ever, a mysterious pop-up book about a boogieman named the Babadook.

With excellent usage of disembodied sounds, pitch blackness and razor sharp editing, Kent expertly delivers the requisite willies, most successfully with the quick flashes of the title specter, with his London After Midnight top hat and Nosferatu fingers. And although the momentum lags a bit in the final third, and the climax isn't quite as big as it needed to be, you'll want to let in The Babadook next time you want your pants scared off.

MD Ratings:
Boyhood: C+
St. Vincent: B+
The Babadook: B

Reviews by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Girl (& Bird) Power


Whereas women still don’t receive equal treatment in some parts of the US when it comes to employment opportunities, pay (when compared with men who have had similar education and experience) and/or access to healthcare, things certainly have improved over the last 50 years. Mary Dore’s informative new documentary She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry takes viewers back to the pivotal 1960’s and 70’s when American women first organized and acted up for their rights. It opens this weekend in New York City and on December 12th in Los Angeles.


“There was no Internet; there was mimeograph and stamps,” says one now-elderly participant in women’s rights efforts that gained even greater momentum when they dovetailed with the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war sentiment and the gay rights movement, which was then in its infancy. They encountered not only great resistance from men, including FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (who termed the women’s rights movement “a national security threat”) and even some more left-leaning men’s organizations, but also from other women who regarded their pioneering sisters as “shameless hussies.”


Lesbians received similar condemnations from heterosexual women within the movement. “Why are we reviled by our own people?,” one survivor asks in the film. Rita Mae Brown, the lesbian author of Rubyfruit Jungle and other works, comes across as refreshingly circumspect about the movement and declares “it was a lot of fun” despite the hardships they faced. Ultimately, abortion rights (or “reproductive justice”) became the unifying issue for the various, often disparate women’s organizations that had formed across the US by the 1970’s, leading the Supreme Court to legalize abortion in 1973.

Dore focuses on a relatively brief but momentous period of time in She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. The director includes a quick glimpse of some archival footage from the suffragist movement of a century earlier, and my partner and I would have liked the film to incorporate more of that historical background. Not unlike modern-day LGBT people, women then and now continue to build on the foundation laid by those who fought for equality long before us. Dore’s film serves as an important reminder of where we have all come from.


I finally got a chance the other day to see Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), even though it has been in local theatrical release since mid-October. This existential dramedy about a former superhero movie star yearning for fulfillment has begun to rack up awards this week, including Best Film of 2014 at New York’s Gotham Independent Film Awards and Best Actor honors for star Michael Keaton from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review. An Academy Award nomination for Keaton is a well-deserved virtual certainty and would be the actor’s first.

While I generally enjoyed Birdman and was very impressed by the technical prowess with which director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, Babel) and his team make the film appear to consist of one uninterrupted shot even though the story takes place over several days, its screenplay by Inarritu and three other writers left me rather cold in the end. I found it more insider-ish and mocking than emotionally engaging despite the characters’ excellent, generally rapid-fire dialogue. Actors and other artists as well as industry types may find more to identify with in the film, which could be why it has been so well-received at film festivals and industry screenings. It is also a valentine to Broadway and the legitimate theatre, which may explain why NYC-based critics groups have embraced it (an initially-vile theatre critic in the film is redeemed in the end, which could also help explain the critical kudos).

In addition to Keaton, genuinely great performances are rendered by Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan. They help make the movie unavoidable, just don’t expect to be blown away by it unless you are an actor and/or New Yorker.

Reverend’s Ratings:
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry: B+
Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): B

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reverend's Review: Monstrously Good



There aren't many stage musicals that can get away with an entr'acte medley of its otherwise English-language songs translated into Latin. No, I'm not alluding to a theatrical adaptation of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (thankfully) but rather to the new US version of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, playing now through December 14th at La Jolla Playhouse. Somewhat surprisingly, this audacious entr'acte and other, more medieval elements of this adult-leaning treatment of Victor Hugo's 1831 novel and the 1996 animated film end up working splendidly.


Peter Parnell's book for the musical (see Reverend's pre-production interview with Parnell here) draws more from the original source than the Disney telling did, including restoring chief villain Claude Frollo to an archdeacon position in the Church rather than a secular judge and making the title character, a.k.a. Quasimodo, deaf from years of ringing the cathedral's massive bells with no ear protection. However, most of the film's exceptional, Oscar-nominated score by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz made the translation (only the gargoyles' comical "A Guy Like You" was axed) and has been augmented with a handful of new songs. Their new tunes don't make much of an impression, although "Top of the World," sung by Quasimodo (beautifully played with a minimum of makeup by out actor Michael Arden, a veteran of LA's acclaimed Deaf West Theatre) and seductive gypsy Esmeralda (the beautiful Ciara Renee), benefits from its staging atop Notre Dame and Schwartz's lyrics for "In a Place of Miracles," which was written for the movie but cut during development, feature resonant, timely sentiments of love and peace.

As Frollo, frequent Broadway heavy Patrick Page commands attention as the somewhat more sympathetically-drawn antagonist. He remains as anti-gypsy as before but has been given a back story about how his beloved younger brother fell in with a gypsy woman and subsequently died of disease, for which Frollo now blames all gypsies. Quasimodo is also given a more personal connection to Frollo, in light of which the stage Frollo treats his ward a bit more kindly than the movie version did. I'm not sure how faithful to Victor Hugo any of these storylines are, if they are at all, but they do help make Frollo less black and white moralistically-speaking than previously depicted.


La Jolla Playhouse's production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame benefits most dramatically from Alexander Dodge's breathtaking, stage-filling yet versatile set and director Scott Schwartz's (Stephen's son) impressive staging of the action therein with a reliance on old-fashioned theatrical sleight of hand instead of high-tech visual effects. While the space is somewhat limited for Chase Brock's simple yet energetic choreography, it nonetheless allows for a proscenium-filling downpour of hot lead, a genuinely "how'd they do that?" moment involving the beheaded Saint Aphrodisius (personified by Neal Mayer) stepping down from a stained glass window, and Quasimodo's classic rescue of Esmeralda from the stake by swinging through the square in front of Notre Dame. These are just a few examples of the show's virtuoso technical achievements.

In the end, though, the power of Hugo's classic story of love, hypocrisy and redemption shines through any theatrical tricks or Disney-fied treatment employed here. Hunchback is the most adult and un-Disney of any stage versions of the studio's films to date, which makes me very curious to see how well it will go over on Broadway if it makes it there. Given the instant standing ovation and rapturous reception it received at the mid-run performance I attended, I have a hunch it may do very well indeed.

Reverend's Rating: B+

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monthly Wallpaper: December 2014 - Let It Snow


Visit a winter wonderland every day in December with Let It Snow, this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper!

All you have to do is click on the picture above to enlarge it, then simply right click your mouse and select "Set as Background". (You can also save it to your computer and set it up from there if you prefer.) The size is 1024 x 768, but you can modify it if needed in your own photo-editing program.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Thankful To Be Alive



Along with family gatherings and holiday shopping, the long Thanksgiving weekend is always a good time for checking out new releases in theaters and on home video. A fascinating, must-see documentary for LGBT and straight viewers alike is Alive Inside now available on DVD.Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it explores the powerful effect that music is increasingly proving to have on memory loss and other debilitating symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. There are currently five million people living with dementia in the US, according to the film.


Director Michael Rossato-Bennett spotlights the groundbreaking work undertaken by Dan Cohen. As a nursing home social worker, Cohen was disturbed by the typical over-medication of patients with dementia, which hampered his efforts to communicate with them. I can attest to his observations in this regard, as I regularly deal with nursing home residents in my hospice chaplain ministry. Cohen began to notice that patients tended to become more alert and responsive when music they were familiar with from their younger years was played. With the use of individualized iPods, he then created personal playlists for each patient and was amazed at how dramatically their memory and communication ability improved in the wake of some time spent listening to their favorite songs. Several of these “before and after” moments are featured in the documentary, which was shot over three years as Rossato-Bennett followed Cohen, and they are truly impressive. As Cohen states, “all of a sudden, everything falls into place” in the mind of a usually-confused patient thanks to the strategic use of music. Other recent research studies have also attested to this.

The film poses the vital question, “Who are we without our memory?” Any of us who have had a family member or friend with dementia can easily echo this. Alive Inside offers great hope for anyone living or working with the memory-impaired. It testifies to the power music holds in helping one “re-acquire their identity” and, subsequently, their dignity. Rossato-Bennett and Cohen struck me at times as being perhaps a little too self-congratulatory, yet the significance of this beautifully-composed documentary and the breakthroughs it depicts can’t be denied. For more information, visit the Music & Memory website.


Another interesting but more problematic documentary newly available on DVD,Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason, takes us way back to 1966 and the 12-hour period Clarke and her team spent with a gay man as he recounted his life. Subject Jason Holliday, who reveals his birth name to have been Aaron Payne, is by turns flamboyant, down-to-earth, insecure (“I’m scared of myself ‘cause I’m a pretty frightening cat,” he confesses at one point), highly intelligent, obviously talented and increasingly drunk. This pioneering cinematic examination of a gay man’s triumphs and tragedies in his own words was surprisingly successful upon its theatrical release in 1967. Holliday enjoyed celebrity status and even had a brief recording career. However, both he and the film fell into obscurity eventually. Portrait of Jason was only recently restored and is now seemingly ripe for rediscovery.

Holliday’s experiences and perspective on gay life of the time won’t be surprising to gay viewers of his generation or older, but younger viewers should be warned that he and the verite-influenced Clarke don’t paint a rosy picture (it is also a frequently blurry, out-of-focus picture). The film serves as something of a time capsule, offering an increasingly — and thankfully — rare glimpse into a decidedly less LGBT-friendly era. I became upset watching the doc at how often the filmmakers ply Holliday with alcohol and seem to expect him to perform songs and funny recollections on demand. It is hard not to think of Portrait of Jason as exploitative, certainly by today’s standards. Then again, Holliday himself declares at one point “I go out of my way to unglue people.” The movie at least testifies well to his memory (he died in 1998) in this regard.


Gay viewers may be tempted to consider Snails in the Rain, now available on DVDfrom TLA Releasing, suitable for their post-turkey respite this weekend. Unfortunately, despite the participation of gorgeous Israeli actor Yoav Reuveni, the film is something of a disappointment. Writer-director Yariv Mozer revisits well-traveled territory in this 1989-set tale. Reuveni stars as Boaz, a seemingly straight university student who begins to receive love letters from an unidentified male admirer. He subsequently becomes suspicious of every guy he sees: fellow students, professors, gym mates, librarians. It isn’t long before Boaz’s girlfriend discovers one of the letters and becomes suspicious herself.

Mozer incorporates some awkward flashbacks to Boaz’s time in the Israeli military, when he and his fellow enlisted enjoyed group jack off sessions (!) and Boaz had at least some degree of sexual/romantic interest in another soldier. It ultimately doesn’t amount to much, and the ending of Snails in the Rain is a dud. Go see the inspiring gay history lesson The Imitation Game or Disney’s more mature but thoroughly enjoyable Big Hero 6 instead.

We wish all our Movie Dearest readers a happy Thanksgiving and festive holiday season!

Reverend’s Ratings:
Alive Inside: A-
Portrait of Jason: B
Snails in the Rain: C

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Singlets Scene


Though its dark true story may prove a turn off to some, Foxcatcher’s dream pairing of Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as wrestling brothers in form-fitting gear will no doubt appeal to gay viewers and others. This highly-touted new film by Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller opens in Los Angeles and New York this weekend and hopes to capture awards season attention. Indeed, Miller already snagged Best Director for Foxcatcher at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.


Mark Schultz (Tatum) and his older brother Dave (Ruffalo) both won gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, making them one of only two pairs of siblings to do so to date. Soon after, Mark found himself recruited by billionaire John du Pont to train the US freestyle wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Steve Carell plays the eccentric du Pont in Foxcatcher and in so doing gives a memorably dramatic, image-busting performance. Once Mark proves himself a disappointment, at least according to the film, du Pont hired Dave Schultz to co-coach his team. This leads to an explosion of the long-simmering rivalry Mark feels toward his brother as well as to Dave’s shocking murder in 1996 at the hands of du Pont, who was convicted and died in prison in 2010.


As always, Miller exhibits observant, masterful control as director and coaxes excellent work from his great cast (Vanessa Redgrave also appears as du Pont’s condemning mother). But I found the screenplay, by E. Max Frye and Capote collaborator Dan Futterman, problematic in terms of failing to provide much psychological insight into its tragic trio of lead characters. Though du Pont was eventually diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, this is never mentioned in Foxcatcher. Carell succeeds in making du Pont appear sketchy physically even if the beak-like, predatory false nose he dons (du Pont was a published ornithologist, among other things) is a bit excessive. Similarly, Mark’s conflicted feelings of love and hate toward the older brother who raised him are largely unexplained, which risks making them seem exaggerated as well.

There is palpable homoerotic tension in Foxcatcher, which seems natural given its wrestling backdrop, but little is seemingly known or revealed about the late du Pont’s sexuality. However, his impromptu, late-night demands of Mark for “practice in the gallery” in the film, with Mark wearing nothing but tiny workout shorts as du Pont rubs up against him, certainly invite speculation. I came away from this unquestionably provocative film (the pursuit of “the American dream” is also frequently evoked) feeling somewhat empty-handed despite the considerable talent on display.


Another stranger-than-fiction story newly available on DVDand VOD from Wolfe is Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story. It is also gunning for documentary awards consideration. The film opens disarmingly at a meeting of several transgender former military personnel, one of whom is Kristin Beck. A former Navy SEAL for over 20 years and born Christopher Beck, she came out as trans following her retirement in 2011.

Declaring “I’m not used to doing anything halfway,” Kristin has shared her experiences via numerous television appearances, online videos and public speaking engagements. She has largely received nothing but support from fellow enlisted, past and present, one of whom says of Kristin “that sister is my brother.” Most but not all of Kristin’s family members have also been supportive, including her older brother who tearfully contemplates “The shit he’s been through? Unbelievable.”

Co-directors Sandrine Orabona and Mark Herzog have obvious respect for their subject and her journey, which Kristin admits has been “more mentally and physically challenging than anything else I’ve done.” Honest and engrossing, Lady Valor demands attention.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Foxcatcher: B
Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story: A-

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reverend's Preview: Honoring LGBT on TV


Depending on when each of us came of age, the first openly LGBT figure on television we might have been familiar with was Billy Crystal’s Jodie on the 1970’s sitcom Soap. Or it may have been Will Truman (Eric McCormack) or Jack McFarland (the out Sean Hayes) on Will & Grace, or lesbian comedian/talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Two of my earliest role models as a kid were closeted actor Paul Lynde (of Bewitched and Hollywood Squares fame) and the histrionic, comically nasty Dr. Smith on Lost in Space (played by the late Jonathan Harris, who was somewhat surprisingly straight). This likely explains a lot to those who know me.


The Paley Center for Media is, according to its President and CEO Maureen Reidy, “the leading non-profit cultural organization that showcases the importance of media in our society” with offices in both Los Angeles and New York. Their annual Los Angeles gala, to be held on November 12th at the Skirball Cultural Center, will celebrate the critical role television has played in advancing LGBT equality over six decades. Such classic programs as All in the Family, L.A. Law, Roseanne, The Real World, The L Word and Modern Family will be spotlighted.

“Television has reshaped and redefined American identity and culture and has led to important social change,” Reidy said. “We believe this is the perfect time to celebrate television’s role in LGBT progress.” The November 12th event will benefit the Paley Center’s public, industry and educational programs.


Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi are serving as this year’s gala Co-Chairs. Celebrity presenters will include Sean Hayes, Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet, sitcom pioneer Norman Lear and out NBA player Jason Collins. An impressive array of sponsors and supporters has also been secured, with ESPN, Lionsgate, the David Geffen Foundation, Disney/ABC Television Group and HBO among them.

I inquired as to whether Reidy has encountered any opposition from corporations or individuals since announcing this year’s gala. “The Paley Center has received unanimous support – and tremendous excitement – from everyone who has learned about this event and the important initiative behind it, the expansion and preservation of our LGBT archive,” she replied. “The encouragement we’ve received from our Board of Trustees, the heads of so many major media companies, and organizations including GLAAD has been very gratifying.”


Reidy has ascended rapidly to her leading position, from Chief Marketing Office to President/CEO in less than two years. “The Paley Center for Media is a very special organization that produces an exceptional lineup of programming that, I believe, is unmatched,” according to Reidy. “Year round, we curate dynamic in-depth conversations by bringing together industry leaders, emerging influencers, top creative talents, and the public for insightful programs that provide a peek behind-the-scenes and explore media’s influence on our society and culture.” Among these is the annual PaleyFest, which has become a hot ticket among TV fans.

In addition to the previously mentioned shows and actors, there are several others who have been instrumental in furthering LGBT equality via TV and the media over the years. The Phil Donahue Show, Doing Time on Maple Drive, Queer as Folk, Glee, How to Survive a Plague, True Blood and Ryan Murphy’s short-lived The New Normal are but a few additional examples. Reidy singled out one classic television program and the people behind it in particular.


“The writing team of Richard Levinson and William Link, and director Lamont Johnson come to mind immediately,” she said. “They had the courage to write and direct the groundbreaking ABC Movie of the Week That Certain Summer in 1972, a film that was a pivotal step forward towards changing our perceptions about gay relationships. Their script about a middle-aged divorcé, living in San Francisco with his male partner, who must decide whether or not to be open about his life when his teenage son comes to visit included a father’s simple declaration to his son that he and his partner loved each other.” Award-winning actors Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen courageously played the gay roles. “It was a powerful and hopeful statement at the time, and it still resonates today.”

As part of its mission, the Paley Center for Media (which was originally known as the Museum of Television & Radio, founded in 1975 by CBS founder William S. Paley) plays a critical role in preserving, exploring, discussing and interpreting key issues as they appear in media. To this end, their LGBT Collection is one of many special collections that comprise the more than 160,000 programs in their curated archives in LA and NYC. These are accessible to educators, scholars, media creators and the general public.


The current 2014-2015 television season is shaping up to be one of the strongest to date in terms of LGBT visibility. I asked Reidy whether there are any new series she finds particularly noteworthy. “It’s a truly exciting and inclusive time in television and digital media,” she replied. “You can’t help but be thrilled with the success of shows including ABC’s Modern Family, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and Amazon’s Transparent, which have been a giant leap forward in terms of representation for the LGBT community.” Reidy continued: “It’s also been refreshing to see new series like The CW and Warner Bros. Television’s Jane the Virgin and Disney/ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, amongst other new shows with gay characters who are central to the storyline.”

I agree with her summation of How to Get Away with Murder, which has been unusually forthright in its depiction of gay sex and relationships. The superhero series Arrow and The Flash are also significant in their inclusion of LGBT characters and performers. Among the out actors who have appeared or will soon be appearing on these DC Comics-inspired shows are John Barrowman, Wentworth Miller, Victor Garber and Andy Mientus.There have also been persistent rumors that the most popular series currently on TV, AMC’s zombie thriller The Walking Dead, will be introducing or outing a gay male character (joining the out lesbian Tara, played by Alanna Masterson) before this season is out.

For more info about the Paley Center and its work, visit their website.

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

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Cowards, Heroes & Pelicans


Movies this time of year tend to evoke cold temperatures and snow-covered landscapes, but few will cause such thought-provoking chills as writer-director Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure. Now playing in select cities, it is Sweden’s entry in this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film and it has already won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.


Force Majeure’s premise is deceptively simple: a family on holiday confronted with an unexpected situation that throws off its seemingly secure balance. Tomas (an effectively confident-turned-troubled Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) have taken their two school-age children to a picturesque resort in the French Alps. While at breakfast one day, an allegedly planned avalanche threatens to grow out of control and engulf them along with other tourists. Ebba maternally grabs and covers her two children in an effort to protect them. Tomas doesn’t even witness this, since he unthinkingly abandons his family and runs to safety ahead of them.

Subjected to accusatory looks and the silent treatment from Ebba and the kids in the aftermath of the incident, the initially ignorant Tomas begins to spiral into embarrassment, guilt and self-pity. These feelings are heightened as Ebba openly shares their story with fellow guests, which leads at least one other reflective couple to discuss how they would react if they found themselves in a similar life-threatening situation. By film’s end, family dynamics and Tomas himself change in unpredictable ways.

Ostlund drew from accounts of how men have typically preserved themselves over women and children in real-life disasters, apparently throwing the old “women and children first” standard out the window, while writing his screenplay. The resulting film is a sharp, honest critique of what constitutes “manhood” and reveals how fragile a concept it can be. With its spectacular, CG-enhanced alpine setting as the icing on the cake, Force Majeure offers an engrossing (if occasionally slow-moving) treatise.


The mighty Hercules of Greek mythology would never be considered cowardly, although last summer’s latest big-budget take on the legend makes him more emotionally vulnerable than he has traditionally been presented. It is newly available on home videofrom Paramount. While the epic looks great on hi-def Blu-ray, it remains pretty routine from a storytelling angle.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, even more bulging and glistening than usual, stars as Hercules and holds his own among a largely British cast of veteran actors that includes John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Sewell and, best of all, Ian McShane. While there are some women in the film, this is a disproportionately and disappointingly masculine affair… even if most of the men are wearing skirts. A lawyer could put Hercules on display as the latest evidence of director Brett Ratner’s conflicted, occasionally homophobic approach to gay moviegoers.

While it garnered positive reviews from many critics, I found this Hercules to be as loud, unoriginal and ham-fistedly directed as most wannabe blockbusters. Fans of Johnson and McShane, which I am, will at least enjoy their presence.


Pelican Dreams, the latest avian expose by Judy Irving (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill), opens this Friday in Los Angeles and New York. It is also a contender for a slot among this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Feature. Irving and her cameras get up close and personal with a variety of brown (saltwater) and white (freshwater) pelicans living along the western coast of the US. They capture genuinely fascinating aspects of the birds’ lives including their mating rituals, first flights and diving practice. The film also covers its subject’s impressive comeback from DDT contamination in the late 1960’s while revealing newer threats to pelicans’ survival like global warming, oil spills and becoming tangled in excessive amounts of fishing tackle (be warned: some of this footage is upsetting for bird/animal lovers).

Although informative and well-intentioned, Pelican Dreams is a bit dull whenever the focus moves off the birds. This isn’t helped by Irving’s flat narration. The doc’s nice cinematography of pelicans in flight may be best appreciated with the sound turned off.

Reverend’s Ratings:
Force Majeure: B+
Hercules: C+
Pelican Dreams: B

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reverend’s Preview: Happy Holi-gays at the Cineplex

There are still 50-some shopping days til Christmas, but Hollywood's holiday season starts this Friday with the release of Disney’s animated Big Hero 6 and the sci-fi epic Interstellar. A number of these end-of-year releases are of particular interest to LGBT moviegoers.


The most prominent of these is The Imitation Game, which is scheduled to open in Los Angeles on November 28th and in other cities in mid-December. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch of the BBC’s Sherlock as Alan Turing, one of the 20th century’s greatest unsung heroes. Turing succeeded in cracking Nazi Germany’s seemingly-unbreakable Enigma machine codes by creating the world’s first computer. As a result, he is credited with shortening World War II by at least two years and saving millions of lives.

Turing was also gay during a time when homosexuality was still criminalized in Great Britain. He was arrested in 1952, convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to hormone therapy that basically served as chemical castration. Tragically, Turing ended up committing suicide at the age of 41. He received a posthumous pardon from Queen Elizabeth II just last year.


Cumberbatch gives a superb, ultimately heartbreaking performance and is considered a front runner for the Best Actor Academy Award along with fellow Brit Eddie Redmayne, who plays physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (opening November 7th), and Birdman’s Michael Keaton. Through an excellent inter-cutting of time periods in The Imitation Game, we learn about Turing’s doomed first love with a fellow student in his all-boys boarding school.

Although Cumberbatch will be heard and not seen, his fans will also want to line up for both Penguins of Madagascar (out November 26th) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (out December 17th). In the second, the actor reprises the voice of ferocious dragon Smaug in this final chapter of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy. Returning with him are out master thespian Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf and gay faves Cate Blanchett, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Manu Bennett and Stephen Fry.

We gays love our movie musicals, and Santa is bringing not one but two for Christmas this year. Into the Woods, the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s take on classic fairy tales, will arrive on December 25th. Helmed by openly gay director-choreographer Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine), the film’s all-star roster includes Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine. Christine Baranski will likely be bitchy fun as Cinderella’s wicked stepmother.


Meanwhile, the beloved stage tuner Annie will be receiving its second big-screen treatment on December 19th. The tale of the little orphan who gradually warms a wealthy power broker’s heart has been updated from the Great Depression to modern-day NYC by Easy A writer-director Will Gluck, with contemporary covers of the original Tony Award-winning score that includes “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” This new version also boasts a multi-ethnic cast headed by Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) with Jamie Foxx, Bobby Cannavale and Cameron Diaz as nasty Miss Hannigan.

An abundance of men in togas, loincloths and eye-liner will be on full display in Exodus: Gods and Kings, opening December 12th. Cinematic stylist Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) directs this latest telling of the biblical epic in which Moses (Christian Bale) leads his fellow Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. Joel Edgerton plays the ruling pharaoh, Rameses, while Scott semi-regular Sigourney Weaver plays Rameses’ calculating mother. If nothing else, the film’s costumes and art direction are sure to be top-notch.

A final holiday offering with a predominantly male cast and likely gay appeal is Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, out on Christmas Day. It recounts the inspiring, true-life adventure of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who served in the US Air Force during World War II. He became a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down by the Japanese and endured several years of torture by a sadistic prison camp officer. Eventually liberated, Zamperini was a popular speaker until his death just this past summer at the age of 97. Relative newcomer Jack O’Connell is receiving awards buzz for his performance as the hero.

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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Monthly Wallpaper: November 2014 - Literary Classics


The Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper for November takes a trip to the library to uncover our favorite cinematic classics based on the Literary Classics!

Spend this month browsing through the finest film adaptations of the works of Austen, the Brontës, Burroughs, Dickens, Hugo, Melville, Steinbeck, Stevenson, Tolkien, Tolstoy, Twain, Wilde and more.

All you have to do is click on the picture above to enlarge it, then simply right click your mouse and select "Set as Background". (You can also save it to your computer and set it up from there if you prefer.) The size is 1024 x 768, but you can modify it if needed in your own photo-editing program.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Reverend’s Review: Pippin Hot


The 2013, Tony Award-winning revival of Pippin proves an unusual pastiche of medieval history, 1970’s free love nostalgia and, new to the mix, Cirque du Soleil-style theatrics. It is now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles through November 9th as a stop on the revival’s national tour. While the circus acts are undeniably impressive and entertaining, they don’t always fit easily into a narrative about the quest undertaken by Pippin, young and naïve son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, to find his place in the world (or, more accurately in light of one of the musical’s several popular songs, his “Corner of the Sky”).


Pippin is guided in equal measure by his war-mongering father (John Rubinstein, who played the title role in the original 1972 Broadway production); his beloved trapeze-flying grandmother, Berthe (Tony winner Andrea Martin is reprising the role in LA before Lucie Arnaz takes over for the rest of the tour); and a seductive ringmaster identified only as “Leading Player” and embodied by Sasha Allen, who was a finalist on season four of The Voice and co-starred in the theatre-themed (as well as gay-themed) indie film Camp. Meanwhile, his conniving stepmother Fastrada (played by the sensational Sabrina Harper) strives to get Pippin out of the way so her own son, Lewis (hunky Callan Bergmann) can assume the throne post-Charlemagne. It ultimately falls to simple farmer’s widow Catherine (Kristine Reese, assuming the role played by a pre-stardom Jill Clayburgh in the 1972 Broadway production) and her son to teach Pippin what is most important in life.


In addition to Andrea Martin, who brings the house down and deservedly garners a mid-show standing ovation with her sing-along rendition of “No Time at All,” Matthew James Thomas is recreating his 2013 performance as Pippin in LA. His voice seemed a little shaky at the start of the show on opening night — perhaps due to nerves from performing in front of such A-listers as Steve Martin, Martin Short and Sean Hayes, among others — but he grew more confident as act one continued. The ensemble players were splendid both vocally and physically, with the various demanding circus acts they perform serving as particular tributes to the cast members’ dexterity and strength. I was especially impressed by a number of “how did they do that?” illusions devised by Paul Kieve that are presented during the show.

But it is Stephen Schwartz’s score, written when he was a mere 25-year old and three decades before his more recent success with Wicked, that is truly the star of this show. From the unforgettable opening number, “Magic to Do,” through the aforementioned “Corner of the Sky” and “No Time at All” and on to several other memorable tunes including “Simple Joys,” “Morning Glow” and “Love Song,” they are much more the source of Pippin’s enduring popularity than Roger O. Hirson’s vague, patchy book. Director Diane Paulus’ inspired decision to move the action away from traditional vaudevillian staging to a big top setting, while maintaining the style of original choreographer Bob Fosse, will no doubt ensure this touring production and future incarnations of Pippin a long, renewed life.

Reverend’s Rating: B+

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Haunted


Since bursting onto the indie movie scene with 1992’s controversial The Living End, out writer-director Gregg Araki has continued to make some of the rowdiest, no-holds-barred movies featuring gay and bi characters. The Doom Generation, Splendor, Totally F***ed Up and Kaboom are a few examples of these, and Araki has included gay if often troubled men in his more mainstream-leaning efforts like Mysterious Skin and Smiley Face.


Araki is back after a four-year hiatus with White Bird in a Blizzard, now playing in select cities and available though iTunes/On Demand. An adaptation of Laura Kasischke’s 1999 novel of the same name, the film stars Shailene Woodley (little Miss Deviant herself) and a number of A-listers who constitute Araki’s biggest-name cast to date: Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Thomas Jane, Gabourey Sidibe and, as a psychiatrist who is “more like an actress playing a shrink,” Angela Bassett. It is also truly the filmmaker’s most mainstream work thus far, despite some graphic dialogue about sex of the mainly heterosexual variety.

Woodley plays Kat, who is 17 when her mother Eve (Green) mysteriously disappears one day in 1988 while Kat is at school. Her father, Brock (Meloni, effectively cast against type), is at a loss as is Detective Theo Scieziesciez (Jane), the surly but hunky police investigator assigned to the case. Kat initially reacts to her mother’s vanishing act as a form of sexual liberation, acting out both with her “straight-C” neighbor/boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and Detective Theo. As the years pass, Kat goes off to college but is troubled by recurring dreams of her mother, speechless and naked in a snowy landscape. It is during a holiday break back home in 1991 when Kat finally unravels the disturbing truth behind her mother’s disappearance.


As a story largely centered on one’s repression of the truth, White Bird in a Blizzard is something of a piece with Araki’s earlier Mysterious Skin. Its plot also makes the film an interesting companion piece to the current hit Gone Girl, in which another woman’s mysterious disappearance sets off all manner of theories and allegations. Alas, White Bird isn’t as compellingly-crafted as Gone Girl, although Araki works in a degree of twists and surprise revelations. The main difficulty is that Kat isn’t shown to be a very likable person, despite the presence of bff’s played by Sidibe and Ugly Betty’s Mark Indelicato. She matures a bit once she hits college but remains something of a spoiled cipher, even as the talented Woodley gives the role her best. Most of the film’s other characters aren’t any more complex.

From a visual standpoint, though, White Bird in a Blizzard is Araki’s most accomplished and eye-pleasing film so far. He utilizes a vivid color scheme in the sets and costumes throughout, all the way down to the M&M’s on therapist Bassett’s coffee table. The snowscape in Kat’s visions is nicely stylized, and the 1970’s-early 90’s fixtures and appliances are period perfect. Araki also hits all the right notes musically-speaking, filling the soundtrack with retro tunes by Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode, New Order and the Jesus & Mary Chain, among others. If I can’t give the movie a rave review, I can at least recommend its soundtrack.

With just a week to go til Halloween, plenty of us are looking for spooky classics and new releases to watch. Hollows Grove, just released through iTunes, desperately wants your download attention. It contains a few effective scares but unfortunately ends up being overly familiar stuff.


Writer-director Craig Efros takes a found-footage approach to his tale of a documentary filmmaker, Harold Maxwell, who is following a ghost-hunting reality show crew as they investigate reports of sinister goings on at a long-abandoned orphanage. One of the show’s stars readily admits to Harold that the apparitions regularly encountered by S.P.I.T. (Spirit Paranormal Investigation Team) are rigged by a retired special effects master played by Aliens’ Lance Henriksen. It isn’t long after they all arrive at the old Hollows Grove Home for Children, though, that they begin to realize this haunting is the real deal.

Los Angeles’ actually-haunted Linda Vista Hospital served as one of the film’s shooting locations and this definitely gives Hollows Grove an aura of authenticity. What undermines the promising premise are the so-so acting, badly-improvised dialogue and an unnecessary framing device starring Mykelti Williamson of Forrest Gump fame. On the plus side, many of the movie’s “live” visual effects are excellent and much more convincing than the digital ghost FX. And while they tend to be irritatingly “bang” rather than bump in the night, the sound effects are suitably creepy. Hollows Grove isn’t a total waste of time, especially at just 80 minutes, but there are plenty of better chillers available to get one in the Halloween spirit.

Reverend’s Ratings:
White Bird in a Blizzard: B
Hollows Grove: C

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reverend's Interview: Having a Hunch(back)


Disney’s 1996 animated adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame may well be the storied studio’s most gay-relevant production to date. The movie was controversial in conservative Christian circles upon its release for that very reason, as well as for its inclusion of more adult than usual topics like faith, lust and religious hypocrisy.


While it was an international hit, Hunchback has taken a while to make it to the American stage, unlike such Disney predecessors as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. However, that is about to change as the theatrical version finally makes its US premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse from October 26th through December 14th.

A stage musical based on the Disney film ran in Berlin, Germany for three years starting in 1999, but has been completely re-worked for its California run. Academy Award-winning composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz have reunited for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and it marks their only stage collaboration thus far despite such prior, individual successes as Newsies, Little Shop of Horrors and Aladdin (Menken) as well as Wicked, Godspell and Pippin (Schwartz). Stephen’s son, Scott, is directing this Broadway-bound story centered on Quasimodo, the deformed bellringer of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, and his love for a persecuted gypsy, Esmeralda.


Acclaimed playwright and author Peter Parnell was selected to write the book for this new adaptation. Among Parnell’s past credits are the recent gay-inclusive Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, QED and the stage version of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules. Parnell also co-wrote with his husband, Dr. Justin Richardson, the 2005 book And Tango Makes Three. Its kid-friendly, illustrated depiction of the true story of two male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo who fathered a chick together has consistently landed this charming tale on the American Library Association’s Top Ten List of Most Banned Books.

“It’s been translated into many languages and only two months ago there was a controversy over it in Singapore, where homosexuality is illegal but not prosecuted,” Parnell revealed during a recent interview. “The Singapore government said they were going to remove all copies of the book from libraries and pulp them. There is a prominent court case there trying to make homosexuality legal, so there is a cultural push back from conservative forces. Our book has become a cultural touchpoint there, which is both good and bad. Ultimately, the government decided not to remove And Tango Makes Three but move it to another section of the library. Next year, we’ll be publishing a 10th anniversary edition.”

After sharing my admiration of the Disney film with Parnell, I asked him how he became involved in the stage musical of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “I have a similar feeling about the movie as you do,” he replied. “I had seen the premiere in New York and actor Tom Hulce (who provided the voice of Quasimodo for the film) is a good friend of mine. I think it’s an under-appreciated movie with an amazing score, a darker tone and great animation. I had met with Disney Theatricals a few years ago and when I heard they were moving on Hunchback, I really wanted to do it.”


Helping to cement the deal was Parnell’s association with composers Menken and Schwartz through the Dramatists Guild of America, which Parnell currently serves as Vice President to Schwartz’s President. Menken serves on the governing council of the esteemed organization. “They’re amazing,” gushes Parnell of his collaborators. “They are both extraordinary talents, obviously, but they are consummate professionals. They both work quickly but are very sensitive to others’ input and concerns. It has been a wonderful collaboration.”

Whereas much of their original, Oscar-nominated film score remains — including “Out There,” which became something of a gay anthem at the time of its release — Schwartz and Menken have written several new songs for the US stage production. “It’s very different (from the movie and German incarnations),” Parnell revealed. “The director, Scott Schwartz, wanted to take a different approach than the German version, which was very operatic and big. Scott wanted to focus much more on the four main characters — Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Phoebus (the heroic Captain of the Guard) and Frollo (Quasimodo’s villainous caretaker) — and kind of have them tell the story in simpler theatrical terms.” Even so, Hunchback remains very much a work in progress just a few weeks before its premiere. “We’ve done workshops of it and gotten it on its feet for a few days at a time, but we continue to re-think it,” said Parnell.


A terrific cast of Broadway heavy-hitters has been assembled for the La Jolla Playhouse production: Michael Arden (Big River) as Quasimodo; Patrick Page, who recently played the Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, as Frollo; Ciara Renee (Pippin and Big Fish) as Esmeralda; and Andrew Samonsky (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) as Phoebus. Parnell noted too that the story’s gargoyle characters, primarily used for comic relief in the Disney movie, live on in the ensemble of the new stage musical but have a somewhat more serious purpose.

Finally, Parnell assured me that his book retains the film’s pro-LGBT undercurrent. “I would say that the element of the outcast and the gypsys’ situation of persecution at that time (15th century France) is even stronger in the stage version.” This will undoubtedly make The Hunchback of Notre Dame more resonant for gay theatregoers than traditional Disney fare.

Tickets may be purchased by visiting the La Jolla Playhouse website or by calling (858) 550-1010.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Reverend's Interview: Erasure is on Fire


Andy Bell and Vince Clarke, a.k.a. Erasure, have been pioneering figures in both electronic dance music and LGBT visibility for nearly 30 years now. They have made occasional diversions into acoustic recordings, ABBA covers and even a Christmas album, but the pair has remained consistently dedicated to pushing musical and cultural boundaries.


Erasure is making a triumphant return to dance territory with their newly-released CDThe Violet Flame. I asked Bell during a recent e-mail exchange whether this was intentional. “It was totally intentional,” he replied. “Vince and I wanted to make a dance album. It was written on synth instead of guitar and piano in sunny Miami, which I think rubbed off on us.” From the opening track, “Dead of Night,” to its slightly more subdued finale, “Stayed a Little Late Tonight,” the duo’s 16th studio album is chock full of high-energy greatness.

They are currently on an international tour in celebration of The Violet Flame and will be making several stops in Southern California this month including San Diego on October 22nd and Los Angeles on October 24th and 25th. Full tour details can be found at Erasure's official website.


Bell was coy when I pressed him for intel about their upcoming shows, but he did allow “my costume is Disco Dickensian.” He was more forthcoming when asked about his and Vince’s obviously successful songwriting process.

“Vince will play through a series of chord progressions and I will ad lib top lines to these chords,” Bell shared. “Vince will arrange what we have and creates a demo. I will re-sing the completed song then go away to work on the lyrics. It is usually a mixture of fantasy-based reality.”

Since they burst upon the pop music scene in 1985, Erasure has had numerous Top 40 hit singles in their native UK and the US, and has sold over 25 million albums worldwide. The duo’s name is rumored to have been inspired by a sound technician who accidentally wrote “erasure” on the demo tape of what would become their debut single, “Who Needs Love Like That.”


Bell has been openly gay throughout his and Clarke’s three-decade partnership, and has also been outspoken in support of LGBT rights and marriage equality. I asked him how he felt about the growing legal acceptance of same-sex marriage in the US, something neither of us imagined would happen so quickly when I last interviewed Bell in late 2012. “It just goes to show that public opinion is usually swaths ahead of the government,” he wrote. “And those that are unwilling to get real and participate need a good shove.”

In recent years, several of Erasure’s contemporaries from the 1980’s have written stage musicals. These include Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots), Pet Shop Boys (Closer to Heaven), Dave Stewart of Eurythmics (Ghost the Musical) and, most recently, Sting (The Last Ship, scheduled to premiere on Broadway this season). What would be the chances of seeing Erasure on the Great White Way some day?

“I would love to do some kind of musical theatre collaboration but the road is very hard,” Bell replied. Perhaps he was thinking first and foremost of U2’s famously problem-plagued journey getting Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to the stage. Still, that show proved to be a hit in New York and a Las Vegas edition is reportedly in the works.

The Violet Flame arrives ten months after Erasure’s last, surprising albumSnow Globe, a sometimes joyous, sometimes cynical tribute to the holiday season. It combined electronic renditions of such Christmas classics as “Silent Night,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Silver Bells” with darker original tunes entitled “Blood on the Snow” and “There’ll Be No Tomorrow.” Bell and Clarke even produced some charming Claymation-inspired videos for some of the songs à la TV’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.


Bell stated there are no plans “as of yet” for a follow up to Snow Globe despite my argument that there are so many traditional Christmas songs out there begging for the Erasure treatment. “Maybe we’ll do an Easter record!” he teased.

It’s especially inspiring to see Bell and Clarke return to full-out dance mode on The Violet Flame since Bell has weathered some serious challenges in recent years. His longtime partner, Paul Hickey, passed away in 2012. “I am fine but (the loss) never goes away, especially when I am traveling for some reason,” Bell reports. He has also found new love with Stephen (last name unknown), whom Bell credits with helping to inspire the new CD.

Bell continues to live with HIV as well as avascular necrosis, an unrelated but debilitating condition. He has had to have both of his hips replaced, which is why he is no longer able to go “pogoing around” on stage as he regularly did during previous Erasure performances.

Looking to the future, Bell is excited about Erasure’s current tour, the upcoming holiday season and “hopefully finishing” a long-in-the-works album with DJ/remix king Dave Aude. I expect Erasure’s flame will continue to burn brightly.

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reverend’s Reviews: Men Behaving Badly


Actor J.K. Simmons has carved out quite a career for himself playing an array of characters we love to hate, including Oz's neo-Nazi gay rapist Vern Schillinger and hardboiled newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson in the first Spider-Man movie trilogy. Simmons reaches new heights with his ferociously manipulative, borderline bipolar performance as a university music professor with ethically-questionable teaching methods in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, now playing in Los Angeles and New York before expanding nationally. One of the rare winners of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, it is an intensely exciting, unforgettably dramatic ride.


Professor Terence Fletcher (Simmons), of the esteemed though fictional Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York, recognizes great potential in sophomore drummer Andrew Neiman (the most impressive turn yet by rising star Miles Teller, of Rabbit Hole and Divergent), who makes a naïve mistake in confessing "I want to be one of the greats." Fletcher accepts Andrew into his award-winning jazz ensemble and immediately begins a process of battering his pupil psychologically and even physically. Tears are shed, motivations are questioned, rental cars are wrecked and blood is vividly spattered on white drum heads by the time Neiman finally gains the upper hand on his well-meaning but deeply disturbing (and possibly closeted) mentor.

"Precision" is the name of the game in Whiplash, both on screen and behind the scenes. Between Chazelle's direction and tight script (expanded from his original, award-winning short film), the terrific lead performances as well as Paul Reiser's brief but impactful appearance as Andrew's concerned father, Sharone Meir's golden-hued cinematography and Justin Hurwitz's superb jazz score (arguably the best of its kind since Elmer Bernstein's for 1957's Sweet Smell of Success) there are few false notes/moves. Unfortunately, Andrew's budding relationship with movie theater snack bar attendant Nicole (Melissa Benoist) is the film's weakest element, especially since Nicole ultimately serves as little more than a pawn in the increasingly high-stakes chess game between her bf and Fletcher.

Chazelle writes in the film's press notes, "I wanted to make a movie about music that felt like a war movie, or a gangster movie, where instruments replaced weapons." In this unusual regard, he has definitely succeeded. Whiplash could well garner end-of-the-year awards attention, of which Simmons' performance is especially deserving.


Another male, real-life figure currently being shown behaving monstrously on theater screens in LA and NYC is Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Hitler's right-hand man before and throughout World War II. The Decent One (German title: Der Anständige), an extraordinary if necessarily unpleasant documentary by Vanessa Lapa, recounts Himmler's life story largely through his own words via personal diaries, letters and home movies discovered after he committed suicide.

Born in 1900 and raised Roman Catholic, the seeds of discontent were apparently sown in Himmler early on. "People don't like me," he wrote while a teenager. "I never reveal my troubled thoughts and struggling soul." This is also the time period when his radically nationalistic, xenophobic leanings began. Himmler's disgust of Jews and homosexuals (he especially abhorred the "idealization" of Oscar Wilde), despite his belief that "the man of the Nordic race is the most beautiful man," was honed during his college fraternity years.

Himmler joined the Nazi party in 1923 even though he accurately predicted their political stance would "lead to bloody war," and quickly found favor with Hitler. He organized the soon-to-be-Führer's early rallies and was appointed both head of the fearsome SS and Chief of Police. In this capacity, Himmler ordered construction of the first concentration camp at Dachau and ordered that all Communists and gay men (before Jews even) be rounded up and sent there.

Much of the archival footage in The Decent One is of excellent quality including, tragically, scenes of Jews being executed in mass graves. The documentary concludes with the horrific views of piles of dead, naked bodies that confronted Allied liberators of the camps, while voice over narration from a letter Himmler wrote to his wife during the war reads "Depite all the work, I am doing fine and sleep well." Insightful and infuriating by turns, Lapa's film is one of the most potent exposés to date — as well as one of the few surviving insider accounts — of Nazism and its self-described "decent" architects.


Meanwhile, both men and women behave badly in the current, deserving blockbuster Gone Girl. I am loathe to reveal any of the numerous twists and turns of David Fincher's film adapted from Gillian Flynn's bestseller, with Flynn herself providing an excellent screenplay. Suffice to say it is the best, most satisfying mystery/psychological thriller in a long time. It also works as a wicked satire of married life, police procedurals and modern media's tendency to report "the facts" without first verifying them.

Out actor Neil Patrick Harris plays a shadowy supporting role, and his gay fans may be shocked by both the (hetero)sexual lengths to which he goes as well as his character's ultimate fate. If you haven't seen Gone Girl yet, what are you waiting for?

Reverend’s Ratings:
Whiplash: B+
The Decent One: A-
Gone Girl: A-

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