Reel Thoughts: Forever Tilda

Tilda Swinton bears a lot in common with the character she plays in Orlando (available today in a new Special Edition DVD). Swinton’s Orlando is a British nobleman who barely ages over four centuries and who is so androgynous, he spontaneously changes sex halfway through the film. Swinton is so ageless, it makes the film seem practically new. Director Sally Potter’s 1993 adaptation of the novel by Virginia Woolf is a ravishing and elegant classic, a time-warping, gender-bending mind trip you’ll never forget.

Orlando begins his story as a young nobleman who is much favored by the aging Queen Elizabeth. Potter’s ingenious casting of queer icon Quentin Crisp as the Queen gives the film a surreal and wonderful quality. Orlando is granted favors and property by the ancient royal before her death, and is much in demand as a would-be groom to the nobility. During a freakishly cold winter, Orlando meets and falls in love with a Russian princess who breaks his heart by leaving. Each chapter of the film is introduced with one word, and Orlando’s next obsession is with poetry, then with politics.

Traveling to central Asia as an ambassador, Orlando feels at first freed by the desert life, but then is pressed into fighting alongside the locals. Unwilling to kill and not wanting to be killed, he awakens to find he’s become a woman. Unfortunately, women are not allotted the same rights and privileges, and Orlando finds herself being denied her rightful ownership of her estate and belongings. Time jumps forward throughout Orlando, and it’s best not to dwell on how or why it happens. Revel in Swinton’s magnetic performance and a romantic interlude with a pre-Titanic Billy Zane.

Potter’s creation is magical and engrossing, and her visual imagery (servants skating with torches, elegant English gardens with hedge mazes, etc,) is unmatched. The new DVD includes two hours of additional material, including fascinating features about trying to film in the newly liberated Russia and Uzbekistan, and a piece on Bronski Beat singer Jimmy Somerville entitled "Jimmy Was an Angel" (and in the movie, he is).

Even if you’ve seen Orlando before, you’ll love it more now.

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

Reverend's Reviews: Deplorable Expendables

With only a couple of artistic virtues and even fewer moral attributes to its credit, Sylvester Stallone & Co.'s new exercise in macho mayhem, The Expendables, is wretched. A throwback to the worst of the tough-guy adventures of the 1980s (remember Cobra, Red Scorpion or Commando?), its cast includes every major male action star of the last 30 years. In addition to Stallone, there's Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin and the Terminator himself, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a cameo. Only Jean-Claude Van Damme seems conspicuously absent.

The gang of former military goons that calls themselves "The Expendables" — the logo is emblazoned on their oversized motorcycles — is enlisted by a CIA functionary (a stiff turn by a strangely angelically-lit Willis) to take down a South American dictator. It becomes too quickly apparent that the seemingly ruthless General Garza (David Zayas, recognizable as the Latino gang leader on HBO's frequently homoerotic Oz) is a puppet of a rogue CIA agent played with sadistic glee by Eric Roberts.

Sadism runs high in The Expendables and ranges from the threat of beheadings to actual beheadings, bodies blown literally to smithereens by high-powered assault weapons, knives repeatedly thrown through the sides of people's heads, and the waterboard torture of a young female revolutionary (the appropriately noble Giselle Itie). This is the kind of movie where burning someone alive isn't adequate punishment; their charbroiled but still breathing body has to be stomped to death. To call the film's violence excessive would be a massive understatement.

The production's two not-quite-saving graces are (1) Mickey Rourke and (2) a pair of impressively staged action scenes. Rourke, who continues to enjoy a deserved cinematic resurgence after his Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler and this summer's Iron Man 2, both nails a tongue-in-cheek approach to this material that his castmates sadly lack and manages to pull off the one serious, heartfelt monologue in the whole movie. The latter actually seems out of place, but Rourke brings a desperately needed humanity and pathos to the film within just a few minutes. A fiery plane attack on a villain-occupied dock and a rowdy car chase through busy city streets with guns ablazin' are the film's two memorable set pieces.

Stallone, who also co-wrote the screenplay (with David Callaham) and directs, sports a waxy, veiny physique throughout as the Expendables' leader, improbably named "Barney." The actor who played his nemesis in Rocky IV, Dolph Lundgren, similarly looks like he's had bad plastic surgery. Statham comes off best as the vicious but semi-just Lee Christmas. At 37, Statham also has the distinction of being the film's youngest cast member. That being said, there is something inspiring about seeing a bunch of middle-aged men kicking ass, albeit with the help of stunt doubles and some good editing.

Make no mistake: The Expendables is crap. It makes Stallone's previous directorial efforts Staying Alive and Rambo look like masterpieces by comparison.

Reverend's Rating: D

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Reel Thoughts: Gag Yawn Snooze

It finally happened. I finally understand the abject agony straight, football-loving men feel when their girlfriends drag them to 27 Dresses, Made of Honor or Sex and the City 2.

I have survived Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts' seemingly endless cinematic version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s globe-trotting book, but I’m pretty sure I aged seven years and gained a funky white streak in my hair like JoBeth Williams at the end of Poltergeist. How could Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee (not to mention co-writer, actress Jennifer Salt of the 1972 Gargoyles!), and Roberts, one of the most magnetic actresses of our time, unleash such an excruciating, self-indulgent trudge through one not-at-all-interesting woman’s year-long quest to “find herself”?

The simple answer is that this is one book that never should have been made into a movie. I’m sure Liz Gilbert the person is a complex, relatable woman who struggled with real, soul-crushing lack of fulfillment, but that isn’t who ends up on the screen. Murphy and company’s abysmal script takes you places you don’t want to go with a bunch of people you don’t want to know … for two and a half hours!

As the movie opens, Liz Gilbert (Roberts) has it all — she’s married to a pod version of Billy Crudup, is best friends with Doubt’s Viola Davis (and a lump of bald flesh playing Viola’s husband), and travels the world writing inspirational stories while living it up in New York City. Crudup’s Stephen is a directionless dweeb, and when he tells Liz he doesn’t want to go to Aruba with her, she tells him she doesn’t want to be married. She embarks on an affair with James Franco, playing a Joey Tribbiani-type actor who starred in her awful play. We go through another draggy relationship trauma before Liz decides to head off to Italy (to Eat), India (to Pray) and Bali (to Love, although she’s got self-love down pretty well already).

In Italy, she meets a “colorful” group of friends straight out of a Carnival Cruise Line catalogue (who are just about as deep) and devotes herself to eating everything she can get her hands on. Don’t look for the “It’s my ‘No Carb Left Behind” diet” line — part of the sloppiness of the movie is that it feels like they filmed about thirty-four hours of people not doing much and just randomly selected vignettes to throw up on the screen. Did Liz really need to go to Italy to learn that Italians talk with their hands? Really? As far as a love letter to the joys of food goes, Julie & Julia was there first and did it much better.

For no particular reason, Liz packs up and heads to “picturesque” India, meaning that we see her drive through lots of horrid poverty that she promptly forgets about. This is the part of the film I call "The Black Hole of Calcutta". If you have any lists to prepare, paint swatches to choose or quantum physics equations to solve, this would be a good time to do that.

Otherwise, you’ll be subjected to Oscar-nominee Richard Jenkins play "Richard from Texas", a sour-milk version of his character from The Visitor. Liz didn’t seem that into Buddhism when David dragged her to his cult-y ashram in New York, but here she is, seeking enlightenment from his guru who, oops, is in New York. What travel writer doesn’t plan better than that? Liz and Richard (who’s kind of a dick) bicker and he spouts all manner of clichés and you feel like you’re stuck there longer than the four months that elapse. You’ll definitely pray for deliverance around this time, but sadly, you know that there’s a whole other third of a year to get through.

Off to Bali Liz goes, where she reconnects with a seventh-generation medicine man who gave her the idea for her quest in the beginning. Sometime around the two-hour mark, Javier Bardem shows up and runs a bike-riding Liz off the road. The set-up to that dust-up shows them each heading toward each other for what seems like five minutes — please, is there an editor in the house?! Of course, the way to a self-absorbed New Yorker’s heart is through her gashed knee, so the two fall into a passionate love affair.

Can Liz let herself love someone other than herself? I won’t say, but I will say “Thank God for Javier Bardem!” By sheer charisma alone, he brings what little life exists in Eat Pray Love, and he and Roberts share a light, fun-to-watch chemistry. Sadly, you’re so weary by that time, you’ll swear you have jet lag.

What went wrong with Eat Pray Love? It’s shorter to answer, “What went right?” because precious little does. Seldom have so many good actors, writers, the director and production designers worked so hard for such meager results. Despite Julia’s best efforts, Liz is an ungrateful pill. Her friends are tedious and there’s an unpleasant condescension about all the places Liz goes and the people that she meets. Now maybe they should have sent 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon on the quest and let Tina Fey write the script. That premise alone makes me laugh more than I did watching Eat Pray Love.

At the screening I attended, a man passed out and fell over right after India. Every other man in the audience (and quite a few women, I bet) wished they were him (after insuring that the man was okay, of course). I enjoyed the critically-reviled Sex and the City 2, and let me tell you, I wished I were back in Abu Dhabi with the gals, having all the fun that’s missing from this mess.

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

Reverend’s Reviews: Inspiring Figures Shine in New DVDs

Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling overturning Proposition 8 is the latest historic step toward full equality for LGBT citizens of the US. It is important to note, though, that it wouldn’t have been possible without the courage and persistence of a number of gay men and lesbian women who have prepared the way.

One of these figures, Charlene Strong, is the subject of the acclaimed documentary For My Wife: The Making of an Activist for Marriage Equality. The film will be released August 31 on DVD courtesy of Cinema Libre Studio.

Strong’s partner of nine years, Kate Fleming, was the victim of a tragic flooding incident in their Seattle home. As Fleming lay dying in a local hospital, medical personnel refused to allow Strong to visit since she wasn’t legally her partner’s next-of-kin. Strong subsequently fought for the establishment of hospital visitation rights for same-sex partners, and was instrumental in the expansion of Washington state’s Domestic Partnership laws.

For My Wife seems like a promo for GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) when it showcases the organization’s training program, which Strong went through; this unfortunately distracts from Strong’s inspiring story. So long as the film’s focus is on her and her memories of Fleming — who is heard at one point, eerily, via a recorded birthday message to Strong — For My Wife is a powerful testament to how LGBT love can translate into political power.

Another new DVD release, Off and Running (out August 17), spotlights the joys and challenges experienced within a family raised by a same-sex couple (the movie is also scheduled for a September broadcast on PBS; check local listings). It’s not unlike a real-life The Kids Are All Right: lesbian couple Travis and Tovah Klein-Cloud adopted three children of different races/ethnicities over the course of several years. “Our family nickname is ‘the United Nations’,” their African-American middle daughter, Avery, writes in a letter to her birth mother. Her older brother is of mixed race and their younger brother is Korean.

As the film begins, Avery has just been informed of the identity of the woman who gave her up for adoption while she was an infant. The discovery and Avery’s subsequent identity crisis launches the whole family on a journey that threatens at times to tear them apart.

Travis and Tovah, who are Jewish and who met after each had adopted a child, deserve special commendation, as do all couples who have taken in children needing a loving and secure home. They are naturally confused and concerned as Avery grows increasingly distant from them, and watch helplessly as Avery’s performance at school also suffers. As Travis says of their troubled daughter, “She’s deep in her own dramas.”

Off and Running is an excellent, insightful exploration of a contemporary American family, and is unquestionably more true-to-life than a certain current movie starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.

Playwright Tennessee Williams may not be as contemporary but has left a significant imprint on LGBT progress. The author of such classic works as The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire was adept at creating sympathetic portrayals of characters on society’s margins, including prostitutes, addicts, the mentally ill and homosexuals. A gay man himself, Williams passed away in 1983.

After his death, a number of unproduced writings were discovered among Williams’ possessions. One of them was a screenplay entitled The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Written in 1957, it finally made its way to the big screen in 2009, albeit in limited release. It is set for release on DVD and Blu-ray on September 7.

The film boasts an impressive cast: Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director Ron Howard, most recently seen as the vengeful vampire, Victoria, in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse); Chris Evans (who made a very hot Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies and will be seen next summer as Captain America); film vets Ellen Burstyn and Ann-Margret; and Mamie Gummer, who happens to be Meryl Streep’s daughter.

The central character in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is — true to Williams’ form — a disgraced young socialite, Fisher Willow (Howard). After happily living abroad in Europe for several years, Fisher is summoned home to Memphis, Tennessee by her imperious aunt (Ann-Margret) in the wake of a family scandal.

While the aunt connives to marry her niece off to a wealthy, respectable suitor, Fisher is drawn to Jimmy Dobine V (Evans). The handsome young man is penniless but is the grandson of a well-admired, former governor of Tennessee. Complications both dramatic and romantic ensue when Jimmy escorts Fisher to a Halloween party and the expensive bauble of the film’s title goes missing.

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond is beautifully photographed (by Giles Nuttgens), and Williams’ script includes such quotable observations as “A person of my kind never has enough money” and “Propriety is a waste of time.” There is also a moment when a man overtly checks out Jimmy’s manhood in a restroom, as well as a scene wherein Jimmy strips “to the skin” (off camera, unfortunately) so two men can thoroughly search him for the lost earring.

Sadly, though, there isn’t much else to recommend The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Jodie Markell’s direction is stilted and the performances are disappointingly one-note, save Jessica Collins as a waitress yearning for “release” from her dead-end life. Still, it’s good to know that Williams’ pioneering spirit lives on.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Reverend's Reviews: New International Films of LGBTQ Interest

Summer is traditionally a time for travel, both domestic and international. If you aren't able to get away this year, a number of new LGBTQ theatrical and DVD releases from different countries may yet provide a perfect, armchair travel escape.

Men for Sale is an eye-opening, hard-hitting documentary set for DVD release on August 31 by Breaking Glass Pictures. Respected filmmaker Rodrigue Jean spent a year following 11 male sex workers in Montreal, Canada. Through candid interviews with his subjects, Jean exposes a uniform, vicious cycle of childhood neglect or abuse, drug addiction and prostitution. Some of the men started having sex for money when they were as young as 12, usually after they started abusing drugs.

The revelations in Men for Sale become repetitious within a lengthy 145-minute running time, but this serves to underscore the tragic trap in which these men are caught. Although most are in their 20's and identify as heterosexual, one is a 40-something gay man who starred in several porn films starting when he was 16. The majority of self-professed straight subjects bolster their masculinity on-camera by saying they refuse to engage in anal intercourse. However, one of them tells Jean bluntly that this simply isn't true. The film makes clear that when the need for a drug high to ease the pain of a sad childhood is desperate enough, moral and/or physical taboos are easily shed.

Also of note is one sex worker's observation of his numerous political clients. "The guys who pass laws against us (re: prostitution/solicitation and homosexuality)," he says, "are the ones who come looking for us at night." Even in more liberal Canada, sexual hypocrisy is alive and well.

If you're looking for something more upbeat on your cinematic world tour, Spinnin', now available on DVD, is a thoroughly enjoyable dramedy from Spain. The film won the award for Best Feature Film at the Barcelona Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival. It opens with the love-at-first-sight meeting of two men, Garate and Omar (played, respectively, by the very attractive Alejandro Tous and Olav Fernandez), and recounts their subsequent efforts to find a surrogate mother so they can father a child.

The process doesn't go as easily as the couple had hoped, but they gain important insights and new friends in the process. While stylized and erratically edited, Spinnin' is a rainbow-hued movie that also takes on such wide-ranging subjects as Star Wars, soccer, HIV/AIDS and God's homosexuality (!). It is very well-directed and -written by the obviously talented Eusebio Pastrana, who has been described as a "rising auteur." I also found inspiring the numerous moments of physical (not necessarily sexual, although it has that too) and emotional intimacy in the film between even those characters who don't know each other well.

Finally, I would feel remiss if I didn't mention Brazil's From Beginning to End (Do Comeco ao Fim), even though it isn't yet scheduled for release in the US due to its controversial plot. Shown during the just-completed Outfest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Los Angeles, it is the romantic, sexy, crowd-pleasing, heart-warming love story of two brothers in love ... with each other!

Ok, the film's protagonists, Francisco and Thomas, are technically half-brothers but they share the same mother and were raised together. Their unusual closeness is noticed by their mother and Francisco's father while the boys are still young, but the parents assume it is a natural phase they will grow out of in time.

Following their beloved mother's death, however, the grown (and gorgeous) Thomas and Francisco feel "liberated" and their formerly chaste, brotherly love becomes sexual. Over time, they even exchange wedding rings! As one of them declares, "To understand our love they'd have to turn the world upside down."

Their relationship is tested, though, when Thomas is accepted as a member of Brazil's Olympics swim team, requiring him to go to Russia for three years' worth of training. Left behind and lonely, Francisco gets close to a woman. Will the brothers decide to live more "normal" lives? I'm not going to give things away. Suffice to say that the movie's writer-director, Aluizio Abranches, isn't afraid to go where few have ventured outside of exploitive porn/fetish films.

Most viewers will find the moral implications of the brothers' romance challenging, but it is hard to criticize their sincere love for one another or the desire to express it physically. Moving and thought-provoking, keep your eyes open for From Beginning to End when planning your next international movie experience.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Patrik's Day

The acclaimed Swedish gay family comedy Patrik Age 1.5 opens this Friday for an exclusive one-week engagement at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles.

Sven (Torkel Petersson) and Goran (Gustaf Skarsgård) are a legally married gay couple who relocate to a suburban village to fulfill their dream of adopting a child. In the face of disapproval from their neighbors, the happy couple forges ahead through a rigorous and daunting approval process. Just when all hopes seem dashed, news comes of an available child: Patrik, Age 1.5. The couple prepare excitedly for the arrival of their one-and-a-half-year-old baby boy, unaware that a decimal mistake was made on the paperwork. When Patrik (Thomas Ljungman) shows up, he is in fact fifteen, criminally delinquent ... and homophobic. Instead of the happy family they had envisioned, the couple must find a way to navigate through the challenges of housing a troubled and troubling youth.

From Regency Releasing, this hilarious and heartfelt comedy-drama was directed and written by Ella Lemhagen and had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and later was Centerpiece Film at Frameline San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, where it won the Best Feature Film Audience Award.

Reverend's Reviews: For the Bis

With the Outfest Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival just concluding one of its best events in recent years, it was nonetheless clear yet again that the "B" in LGBTQ too often gets short shrift. This isn't festival programmers' faults since few bisexual-themed films are currently being made, according to a panelist who spoke after the North American premiere of Bisexual Revolution at Outfest on July 10.

The French-made documentary (which is subtitled, in English, Bisexuality: Is It An Art?) is the best cinematic exploration of the subject to date, which isn't hard to conclude when last year's woeful Bi the Way is seemingly the genre's high point. Filmmakers Eric Wastiaux and Laure Michel interviewed bisexual men and women around the world and compiled the insights gained for Bisexual Revolution. The result was shown last year on French television and reportedly ignited overnight a national discussion and a resultant, increased acceptance of bisexuality there.

Wastiaux and Michel, who also participated in the post-screening discussion, confessed to being dubious of bisexuality prior to filming. Both came away believers, and Wastiaux even engaged in his first same-sex experience. The doc takes a broad approach to understanding bisexuality, with Dr. Alfred Kinsey's famed scale of sexuality a particularly helpful resource. Kinsey's research in the 1950's revealed that the vast majority of human beings are neither 100% heterosexual nor 100% homosexual. Rather, we fall along various points of sexual orientation depending on our life experiences, attractions and values. The concept and practice of human sexuality emerged as much more fluid than conservative politicians and religious leaders would have us believe.

Bisexual Revolution makes this 50-year old finding abundantly clear. People of various genders, nationalities, ethnicities and ages discuss their bisexuality on camera with wisdom and honesty. Among the interviewees are American filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell (of Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame), French pop star Yelle, and numerous prominent writers, artists and educators.

At a concise 61 minutes, the film provides a great overview while hardly presuming to be the last word on the topic. Indeed, it serves as a great conversation-starter as evidenced by the French broadcast's aftermath and the post-screening discussion at Outfest. Audience members didn't shy from revealing their own, less-than-100%-gay-or-lesbian experiences. One transgender viewer commented about how even more complex sexuality is from her perspective!

It is unfortunate that bisexuality remains an often confounding and even taboo subject in straight, gay and lesbian circles alike. Bisexual Revolution can only help to de-stigmatize it, thanks to the film's declaration of the great truth that human beings and sexuality are too intricate to be categorized or labeled.

Watch the trailer for Bisexual Revolution here.

Reverend's Rating: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Monthly Wallpaper - August 2010: 80's Hunks

It's hot outside, so this month's Movie Dearest Calendar Wallpaper has gone back in time to a certain totally awesome decade to bring you a sizzling collection of cinematic 80's Hunks!

From dirty dancers to bulging barbarians, American gigolos to international adventurers, these are the men of August.

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.

Reverend's Reviews: Frankenschtick

I will always remember fondly the day in 1975 when my mother picked my brother and I up after school and unexpectedly took us to see Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. The now classic spoof of old Universal horror movies made us giggle uncontrollably then, and continues to make me and many other people laugh at the mere mention of it.

Brooks, in the wake of his huge success with turning The Producers into a stage musical, has done the same with Young Frankenstein. Though not as well received as its predecessor on Broadway, its current US tour seems off to a good start. The production just made its Los Angeles debut at the Pantages Theatre on Tuesday night.

The LA run features several performers from the original New York production, most notably two Tony Award winners: the always enjoyable Roger Bart (The Producers, TV's Desperate Housewives) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the role Gene Wilder made famous in the film, and the physically imposing Shuler Hensley (Broadway's Tarzan and Jud Fry in the most recent revival of Oklahoma!) as his Monster. Both are thoroughly entertaining, and no less so than when they are recreating the movie's famous Master-Monster duet on Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz."

Other effective, crowd-pleasing performances in the tour include those of Broadway regular Brad Oscar in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and the Blind Hermit; Cory English as Frankenstein's devoted assistant, Igor; Joanna Glushak as Frau Blucher; and Anne Horak as Inga, the local Transylvania girl brought to life in the original film by Teri Garr. Unfortunately, the role of Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein's high society fiancée originally played by Madeline Kahn, wasn't as well-played or -sung by Beth Curry as the others (it may be worth noting that Megan Mullally also had difficulty with the part in New York).

It is equally to the show's benefit and its detriment that the book (co-penned by Brooks and Thomas Meehan) was adapted nearly verbatim from the original screenplay. The film's plot and best jokes — which are essentially all of them — have been retained and remain fresh, ensuring often-riotous audience laughter throughout; on the other hand, there is little in the show apart from the song score and a Starbucks reference that anyone who has viewed the Young Frankenstein movie hasn't seen or heard before. The horses still whinny in terror whenever Frau Blucher's name (which is synonymous with "glue factory") is pronounced, Castle Von Frankenstein's doors continue to sport their notable "knockers," and the Blind Hermit predictably sets the Monster's thumb on fire instead of his cigar. The musical is carried along more by familiarity with Brooks' schtick and nostalgia than anything original.

The songs, however, are a happy exception to this. The musically-gifted Brooks has actually improved on his score for The Producers with Young Frankenstein's more complex, beautifully orchestrated and (most importantly) very funny tunes. Highlights during the performance I attended included "Roll in the Hay," convincingly staged in a "horse"-drawn wagon; "Join the Family Business," a rousing chorus number that culminates in the on-stage assembly of a gigantic Frankenstein monster; and Frau Blucher's hilarious, S&M-tinged "He Vas My Boyfriend."

Young Frankenstein boasts more set changes than I can recall in a recent musical, especially for a touring company. Longtime designer Robin Wagner has done a masterful job, especially with Frankenstein's lab. The soaring, elaborate set includes working pullies and electric gadgetry as well as an operating table that rises to the rafters with the lead actors on it! Peter Kaczorowski's lighting effects and Jonathan Deans' sound design provide great support.

Susan Stroman, a double Tony-winner for her direction and choreography of The Producers, repeats those duties here but without as much success, especially in the dance department. Her dances are serviceable but not noteworthy, although a Russian-inspired segment during "Join the Family Business" and a "Puttin' on the Ritz" chorus line featuring oversized, taps-laden monster boots are impressive.

Brooks is reportedly working now on a musical version of Blazing Saddles. He's a brave man. Young Frankenstein has already shown that it is difficult to capture the same magic twice, let alone three times. If one is yearning, though, for an unquestionably entertaining evening of music and laughs, it's hard to beat Young Frankenstein.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Reverend's Reviews: Paid in Pleasure

A middle-aged, male escort and his younger, cross-dressing protégé are the unusual central characters in The Extra Man. Based on the novel by Jonathan Ames, the film opens this Friday in New York and on Friday, August 6 in the Los Angeles and San Francisco vicinities.

As the movie begins, Louis Ives (Paul Dano, of Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood) is being fired from his teaching position. Ives, who is devoted to 1920's literature and fears himself "unlovable," takes advantage of his unexpected freedom and moves to Manhattan to pursue a writing career. Fortunately, he not only finds a job quickly but also discovers a bevy of "tranny" bars wherein he hopes to indulge his fondness for wearing women's clothing.

Ives also secures himself a room in the residence of Henry Harrison (the irrepressible Kevin Kline), a failed playwright turned companion to wealthy, older women. To call Harrison "eccentric" would be an understatement. He proudly — and loudly — boasts of his disdain for sex, kissing, recycling, homeless people and feminism, while cherishing dancing and his Christmas ornament collection. After imposing a "no fornication" rule on Ives upon moving in, Harrison begins introducing the young man to his clients. Harrison insists he is not a gigolo but rather "an extra man" or "walker" for lonely women who don't return his attentions with money. Rather, he is "paid in pleasure" via dinners in high-end restaurants, nights at the opera and the use of beachfront vacation homes.

Some of the women become suspicious of Harrison's interest in Ives. As one of them, played by the always welcome Celia Weston, tells Ives: "People suspect Henry is a homosexual. He was in the theatre. Theatre types need to be a little homosexual so they can feel things more deeply." Also, Ives' age-appropriate co-worker, Mary (a nice, light turn by Katie Holmes), on whom he is crushing notes "Maybe he's in love with you" when Ives tells her of Harrison's kindness toward him. Meanwhile, Ives undertakes his own sexual exploration with the help of a spank-happy dominatrix (Patti D'Arbanville) and a women's makeover artist.

Chief among The Extra Man's numerous attributes is its excellent cast. Kline, harking back to his wackier characterizations in such offbeat 80's movies as The Pirates of Penzance and A Fish Called Wanda, is a delight. Dano more than holds his own against Kline as the hopelessly romantic Ives, who would have been more at-home in his skin during the 1920's. In addition to Weston and D'Arbanville, stage icon Marian Seldes appears as another of Harrison's lady friends and gives a lovely, more comical-than-usual performance. Only John C. Reilly, as a former roommate of Harrison's, seems off-key, which is amplified (literally) by his decision to speak in a higher octave.

Adapted from the book and co-directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who previously made The Nanny Diaries and the excellent American Splendor, The Extra Man has its more outré moments but is in general an enjoyable, pitch-perfect celebration of non-conformity.

Reverend's Rating: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

Reel Thoughts: The Cult of Showgirls

Few movies inspire such love and hate as Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 “morality tale”-slash-camp classic, Showgirls. Now you can recreate the fun in your own home with the brand new 15th Anniversary "Sinsational" Blu-ray, featuring hilarious extras like pole dancing lessons and a commentary by superfan David Schmader entitled "The Greatest Movie Ever Made".

Showgirls is the story of Nomi Malone, played by Elizabeth Berkley in a manner that can best be summed up as “petulant slut”. Nomi hitches a ride to Las Vegas packing a switchblade and a dream. “I’m a dancer,” she tells the first of many men who’ll use and abuse her on her rise to the top; or rather, the sort of sad, middling pinnacle that is headlining a Vegas topless review at a casino that has since been demolished.

Faster than you can lose at the craps table, Nomi is robbed and left with nowhere to go, until she meets and nearly vomits on sweet Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera), a costumer for Goddess, the “hit” show at the Stardust. Molly lets her crash at her trailer, where the two bond over their love of chips and tacky nails, and soon Molly introduces Nomi to the reigning Queen of Vegas, predatory lesbian Cristal Conners (played deliciously by Gina Gershon, who is the only actor who knows what kind of movie she’s in).

Like a naked All About Eve, Nomi uses her inexplicable irresistibility to become Cristal’s understudy and then her replacement. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched Berkley and Gershon spar at Spago over who’s a whore and which of them liked eating Doggie Chow more.

The film’s cynical take on the highs and lows of fame could be viewed as a sublime satire of women behaving the way men who know nothing about women think they do, if not for a truly awful and vicious rape scene toward the end. Shmader wisely advises you to fast forward through it, like he does when he presents his cinematic master classes on Showgirls across the country. Despite all the degradations Nomi endures (including her uproariously awful stint as a lap dancer at the Cheetah, a “Gentleman’s Club”), she leaves Las Vegas with her dignity, switchblade and a newfound self-awareness. Los Angeles, look out!

Why has Showgirls cast such a rhinestone-studded spell over lovers of camp and others? I asked numerous notable people for their opinions as to why Showgirls has become the Citizen Kane of trash cinema, and also asked them to share their favorite Showgirls moments or lines.

“Gosh, Showgirls,” replied Charles Busch, celebrated star and playwright of Die Mommie Die! and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. “You know, I've never actually seen it. Isn't that wild? I'm better versed on Lady of Burlesque with Barbara Stanwyck.”

Ron May, talented actor/director of numerous Arizona stage hits admitted, “Oh My God, Showgirls. It's ridiculous how much I love that movie. It's so deliciously awful. I think the only movie I laugh at as hard as I do that movie is Congo ... with Tim Curry and the talking monkeys.” He also divulged that he’s desperately tried to snag the rights to a “Sock Puppet Showgirls” that happened in New York a few years back. “Even though I have no idea if it's even any good or not.” He also highly recommends the blog Nomi Malone Can Read.

Joshua Grannell, the inspired filmmaker who hosts Midnight Mass screenings in San Francisco as his alter ego Peaches Christ, took time from promoting the cross-country tour for his outrageous new horror comedy, All About Evil (co-starring Natasha Lyonne, Mink Stole and Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson) to say: “My favorite thing about Showgirls is how totally committed the movie and everyone in it was to making it so extreme,” Grannell explained. “It's an extreme movie in every way, and I love it for that. I think it succeeds because it's so relentless and so much fun. It's colorful, outrageous, bizarre, hilarious, depraved, and provides for a wonderful group viewing.

Grannell, who is hosting a giant Showgirls event on August 7 in San Francisco, continues: "I think my favorite part of our Midnight Mass show is always the "Free Lap-dances With Every Large Popcorn". It's just so appalling and wrong watching an audience full of Showgirls fanatics get grinded on by drag freaks, monsters and lap-dancing mutants. And I also love bursting out of that volcano naked! That's a tradition at our show, and there's something so liberating about erupting onto stage that way.”

Zachary Jackson, host of Zack Attack Camp Cinema at the MADCAP Theaters, is a more sincere lover of Nomi and her pals. His favorite moment? “Nomi is sitting on the hood of her car above the flashing Flamingo sign — eating a hamburger nonetheless — overlooking the Las Vegas strip during sunset,” he explained, “The scene lasts less than a minute, but I don’t know …there’s something beautiful about it.”

Actress Angelica Howland wasn’t so enamored of Berkley’s mastication prowess. “My favorite part is when Elizabeth Berkley can't even eat a hamburger like a believable human being and then she throws the hamburger wrapper into the alley like she is tossing flowers into the air ... cuz, well you know ... littering is über-beautiful and outrageously sexy. My second favorite part is when she is thrashing around on Kyle McLaughlin's junk in the pool and he's barely able to hold on to her. The look on his face is hilarious — like, 'What the hell?! This gigantic, naked, Saved by the Bell psycho is gonna freakin' break my back and drown me!'”

The pool scene, complete with neon palm trees and spitting dolphin fountains was the stand-out scene for most people I interviewed, but the grand, gaudy grotesquery of the faux show Goddess ranks right behind. Many a backstage tale has made it to the screen, but none other feature exploding volcanoes, garlic-eating monkeys flinging poop on stage and a sassy showgirl berating the costumer with bon mots like “Molly, they're going to see a smiling snatch if you don't fix this g-string.”

Hard to believe, but Showgirls was primed to be a huge, groundbreaking event. Madonna was sought for Gershon’s role, and Drew Barrymore was the first pick for Nomi. Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Jenny McCarthy, Pamela Anderson and Finola Hughes all auditioned. Joe Eszterhas received an unheard-of two million dollars for his script.

Showgirls was the first big budget NC-17 film — and a highly anticipated release,” Jackson explained. “When it opened in theaters in 1995, it tanked. The reviews were beyond harsh and it practically destroyed Berkley’s career. The idea of paving the way for a new line of controversial adult filmmaking was brilliant; however the execution of Showgirls put a swift end to that concept.”

Monique Parent, the gorgeous redheaded actress best known for roles in erotic films like The Witches of Breastwick and Blood Scarab, as well as the new horror film, The Perfect House, related her disappointment. “I only saw Showgirls once, when it first came out. I really, really expected it to be a good film and wanted it to be a good film. As an actor who has appeared in many films with little or no clothing, I hate the fact that most people seem to believe that nudity in a film means it's bad or that only bad movies have nudity. I really wanted Showgirls to be the movie that proved that theory wrong. To be a film that showed beautiful women fully nude and still had strong writing and strong acting.

"But frankly, I hated it. I felt that Elizabeth Berkeley's character ran the gamut of acting emotions from A to B. Not even her fault. That's how the movie was written, as best I can remember.  I still believe a film can feature beautiful people fully nude and be a really good movie at the same time. But Showgirls is not it.”

What really sends Showgirls into the stratosphere of camp, though, is the dialogue, the glorious, mind-bendingly vulgar lines that people can’t stop quoting, from Cristal’s signature “Hi darlin’” and Nomi’s thudding endorsement “It doesn’t suck” to the aggressively unfunny stand-up comedy of Henrietta “Mamma” Bazoom (Lin Tucci). Here are the lines that inspire these notable Showgirls fans. Feel free to add your own.

Phillip Fazio (New York actor and director): Cristal: "I'm gettin' a little too old for that whorey look... "

Kirby Holt (writer/creator of Movie Dearest and The QuOD - The Queer Online Database) Al (Robert Davi) to former lap-dancer Nomi: "It must be weird, not having anybody cum on you."

Matthew Harris (actor and drag performer Rhianna Matthews): Cristal: "I want my nipples to press, but I don’t want them to look like they’re levitatin'."

Scott Pierce (actor and Snatch creator Pandora LeStange) Cristal: "We're all whores, honey."

Jimmy Asimenios (actor): Henrietta Bazoom: "Goddamn it! You're the only one who could get my tits poppin' right!"

Buddy Early (performer/former editor, Echo Magazine): Nomi, showing off her new dress: "I bought it at Ver-sayce!"

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

Reverend’s Interview: Puttin’ on the Ritz with Young Frankenstein

After the Broadway musical of his Oscar-winning movie The Producers won a record number of Tony Awards, comedy legend Mel Brooks naturally turned to another of his beloved films for adaptation. Young Frankenstein, though not as successful as its predecessor, is now on tour and making its southern California premiere. It will run at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood from July 27-August 8 before moving to the Orange County Performing Arts Center September 12-25.

The 1974 movie and 2007 musical both owe their inspiration to Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel, Frankenstein. However, there is little that is serious or scary in Brooks’ version. Young Frankenstein finds the mad scientist’s grandson, an esteemed New York brain surgeon, comically trying to live down his family’s reputation. He famously goes so far as to pronounce his name “Fraunkensteen.” Alas, he unwittingly finds himself in Transylvania and soon resumes the traditional family business of re-animating corpses.

I recently spoke with Stephen Carrasco, an out member of the touring company’s ensemble, about the production.

“I’m having a blast,” Carrasco said of his stint with the tour, which began in August of 2009. “It’s such a great show, and I love making people laugh every night.” He mentioned how much he is looking forward to spending time in southern California.

A “triple threat” who acts, sings and dances, the 26-year old Carrasco grew up outside Lansing, Michigan. He moved to New York in 2006, shortly after his college graduation, and soon found himself on Broadway in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

“I love to work and love being in the ensemble; that’s what I do well,” Carrasco said. “I’d like to do a couple more Broadway shows and would then love to assistant-choreograph a show.”

Young Frankenstein did not receive a warm welcome upon its New York opening despite the involvement of the creative team behind The Producers: songwriter Brooks, director-choreographer Susan Stroman, and co-writer Thomas Meehan. It was an enormously expensive production that became the first Broadway show to raise ticket prices to $125.

I asked Carrasco about the musical’s less-than-stellar reputation. “If you look at Broadway critics’ reviews over the last two years, they are really harsh” he replied. “They expect every show to be a Pulitzer Prize-winner. This isn’t a show to think about, but just to sit back and enjoy and have fun.”

Having listened to the original cast recording repeatedly over the last two years, I can attest that Young Frankenstein has much to recommend it musically. The songs are both funnier and more accomplished than those in The Producers, with such movie-inspired titles as “Roll in the Hay,” “Transylvania Mania” and “Please Don’t Touch Me.” The creepy house servant Frau Blucher, immortalized in the film by Cloris Leachman, sings “He Vas My Boyfriend,” and the Irving Berlin classic “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is naturally included in the stage version.

What’s more, contemporary Broadway stars Roger Bart, Shuler Hensley and Brad Oscar are headlining the tour. Bart and Hensley are re-creating their roles from the original production as, respectively, Frederick Frankenstein and the Monster. Bart is also well known for playing numerous gay roles over the years, including the flamboyant Carmen Ghia in The Producers (both on stage and in the 2005 movie version) and one-half of the gay couple in the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives. Oscar, who succeeded Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock in The Producers on Broadway, plays the wacky, one-armed Inspector Kemp.

As Carrasco noted, “It goes to show who Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman are; they can really bring out the pros.”

Carrasco also believes Young Frankenstein holds special appeal for GLBT theatergoers. “Ok, I’m going to go along with some stereotypes here, but there’s a lot of T&A in the show. It’s also a huge, lavish musical. I’m gay and I love that!”

“Also,” he continued, “gay and lesbian people are more liberal and know better than most how to sit back and enjoy life.”

On that note, Carrasco shared that he is “very single, and I love being single on tour.” If you hang around the stage door after a performance of Young Frankenstein, you may get the chance to meet this talented and attractive young performer.

For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the official website of Young Frankenstein.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.