Alan Cumming: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

Alan Cumming does it all well: actor, screenwriter, director, novelist, singer... hell, he even has his own fragrance. I got the chance to sit down with Cumming (that's my hand on his shoulder) when he was in town for the showing of Suffering Man's Charity at the San Francisco gay film festival back in June.

As these things often work, the interview is done in the afternoon on the day the movie is screening, so you basically interview him about a movie you haven't seen, and then once you see it, he's out of town. I was holding the interview to time it with the long-passed DVD release of "Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In All The World," which never seems to show up in my mailbox. So, I figure, we'll just run the interview on Thanksgiving, since Alan is someone for whom the community is thankful.

In Rick & Steve, Cumming plays the elderly, HIV-positive Chuck, who adds a lot of un-PC color to the amazingly funny proceedings. Back when I reviewed that, a few of you did the math regarding his four-year relationship with his 19-year-old boyfriend, and were rightfully appalled. Hopefully LOGO goes for another season of Rick & Steve, which is just amazing work from queer cinema wunderkind Q. Allan Brocka.

Of course, like a true theater queen, I start the interview with the Cumming that I know best, the one who injected an amazing amount of fresh energy into Cabaret for its restaging on Broadway a decade ago. His Tony-winning role as the emcee ratcheted up the role's sex appeal and the good news (possibly an Oasis exclusive?) ... he might be hitting the boards again for the show's anniversary:

Race You To The Bottom: DVD Review

By dykehalo

Nathan and Maggie have many things in common: they are both in their 20s, they both have boyfriends, and they both have a weird, complex love for one another.

Nathan is a writer who gets an assignment to write a travel article about Napa Valley and its romantic hot spots. He invites Maggie to go with him.

On the way, the two stop to visit Maggie's best friend and ex-boyfriend. While Maggie is inside making dinner with her friend, Nathan is outside making "friends" with her ex.

After catching up with old friends and making some new ones, the two continue on their travels. Maggie tries to reconnect and get closer to Nathan, but he seems to keep her at a distance.

Mika, Live in Cartoon Motion: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

Live in Cartoon Motion is a perfect document of Mika's quick rise to fame. In a world of YouTube celebrities, gossip playing a bigger role than talent, and further examples of ADD culture, Mika actually made his name with infectious tunes, a fun live show, and of course, playing the "is he or isn't he?" game with the gay press. (I think the prancing around onstage and sheer bombast of his songs answers the question.)

The DVD features a live concert taped in Paris, an hour-long documentary as Mika travels through Europe, all of the music videos off his first album, and three songs performed acoustic. Seeing that he only has one album to his credit, the Paris show is pretty similar to the show I saw in San Francisco, building up to "Grace Kelly" and closing with the naughty-sounding bubblegum pop of "Lollipop." The concert is almost as much fun on DVD as it was in person. He really throws himself into the songs and projects such amazing, fun energy onstage.

Seeing as Mika was sick and having throat problems while they were filming the documentary, presumably for the Paris show, and when I saw him in San Francisco, it really makes me wonder how good his concert would be if he were feeling well. If this is him on a bad day, it certainly makes you wonder.

Eternal Summer: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

Eternal Summer is a Taiwanese film that explores the friendship of straight-laced Jonathan and the more rebellious Shane. They are first paired off by a teacher in grade school, with the hope that Jonathan will serve as a good influence. Ten years later, that pairing is still in effect as the two near the end of their high school years.

Everything changes when Carrie, a new girl in school, appears and goes after Jonathan. He doesn't return her romantic feelings, and we start to realize we are in what is very familiar territory on this site: the straight crush. Rebuffed, Carrie ends up going after Shane instead, which only intensifies Jonathan's longing and clarifies Shane's feelings for Jonathan. Are they shared? Will it work out? Can't say.

What I can say is that the movie really takes time to breathe and build big drama out of small moments. Motorcycle rides with Jonathan holding onto Shane don't advance the plot all that much, but we all have some idea how much they mean to Jonathan.

Michael Tolliver Lives: Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

Reading "Michael Tolliver Lives," the latest installment of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series (though the author decries such classification), something is amiss.

Now, truth be told, I'm a bit of a drama queen. So, when I moved to San Francisco more than 11 years ago, on my first day in town I bought a trade paperback version of Tales of the City at A Different Light, the gay bookstore on Castro Street, and started to read about the city as I was first discovering it myself.

Then, I was reading about a city that no longer existed, with the sexual revolution pretty much dead and the ravages of AIDS having hit urban areas pretty hard. But, there was still magic in those books and you can still see some of that magic when you look hard enough. (If you want to cheat, go to a gay bar here during gay pride, tourists drop their guard about how amazing this place is much easier than the embittered locals.)

The series painted a picture of an amazing city, a group of friends, and over the course of many books, we saw their lives intertwine, separate, and change direction. The series was never more than Maupin's simultaneous diary and love letter to the city. So, reading this latest entry, there are too many things that I know are about Maupin, and it was too hard to rejoin the world of Michael "Mouse" Tolliver on this journey.

The Life of Reilly: Movie Review

By Jeff Walsh

The Life of Reilly is a new film based on, well, the life of Charles Nelson Reilly, who is largely known for his voluminous game show appearances in the 1970s although he did have prior success as Broadway performer and television actor.

I was fortunate enough to see Reilly perform this show, then called "Save It For The Stage," in San Francisco. It was one of those shows where it probably went more than two hours, but if it hit four you'd never even look at your watch. He was an engaging performer working off a rich life with a loose script and clearly in his element. The show was also the first time Reilly ever publicly discussed his not-so-secret-but-never-confirmed homosexuality.

The film actually captures Reilly last performance of "Save It For The Stage," and the last time he appeared onstage before his death this past May. The film is a bit uneven, though.

The God Box: Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

"Dear Lord, please take away these feelings. You know which ones. In Jesus' name I ask you. Thank You. Amen."

Paul writes these words on a slip of paper, folds it, and puts it into his God Box. The maple box has the Serenity Prayer carved into its top, and a place into which you slide your prayers, giving them up to the Lord.

In Alex Sanchez's new novel, "The God Box," Paul is a Christian high school senior trying to avoid confronting his sexuality. He has a long-time girlfriend, belongs to Bible Club at school, and wears a red "What Would Jesus Do?" rubber wristband at all times. When he wakes up from a sex dream, presumably about a boy, he pulls back the band and snaps it against his flesh.

When he sees Manuel for the first time in homeroom, it's no surprise that Paul is going to have a sore wrist in no time. The new kid in school, Manuel has both his ears and his left eyebrow pierced and, over lunch with Paul and his friends, casually asks if this school has a GSA. When they ask if he's gay, he just says "Yep."

DRAMA! Everyone's a Critic: Book Review

By dykehalo

With most series, I find the second book usually isn't quite as good as the first. But with Paul Ruditis's DRAMA! series, that is not the case. Everyone's A Critic is definitely better than the first book.

The characters are exactly the same as before: Bryan the gay guy; Hope the goth; Sam the poor over-achiever; Alexis and Belinda the evil step-sisters; and Holly the evildoer.

The school year has ended but, at Orion, school doesn't end when summer begins, a mandatory two-week theatre camp for all drama majors makes the school year last a little longer. Normally they put on a play, do a few acting drills and help the soccer players. This year Hartley Blackstone, a famous Broadway director, is using these two weeks as an audition for his summer apprenticeship, which would mean some of the best actor training available and having many doors opened for the future. The catch is there are only two spots available: one male and one female.

Celebrity Detox by Rosie O'Donnell: Book Review

By Jeff Walsh

As a Rosie O'Donnell fan, I tore into my review copy of "Celebrity Detox" as soon as it arrived. Prior to her joining The View, I would only watch when I liked one of the guests or I'd occasionally read along with the subtitles on the TVs at the gym. Upon her arrival, I set the show to tape every day on my TIVO, watching the opening "Hot Topics" segments over breakfast and usually deleting the rest.

Her charm has always been her lack of a filter. Of course, when she had her own show, she still had one big filter: the closet. She only came out right at the tail end of her successful run. But, it seemed once she came out, she couldn't be bothered with any filters anymore. Whatever she thought, she said.

"It has always been of absolute importance to me to speak my mind, for better or for worse," she writes in the book. "Because I don't actually have a choice. It's my mind. It's not a car I can trade in for something slicker, or smoother, or sweeter. It's all I have to offer."

Which is what she serves up, as anyone will learn upon reading "Celebrity Detox." It is almost charming to see such an unedited manuscript be published, as you get to see her thought process flit from one random thought to another throughout the book. The book certainly has the feel that it wasn't overly-polished or edited, that we are getting Rosie's take on things and not in the abbreviated cryptic prose she favors on her blog.

The Color Purple: Theater Review

By Jeff Walsh

It's hard for me to review the Oprah Winfrey-produced touring production of "The Color Purple" without starting at the end and working backwards.

I should point out that since this musical is based on a 24-year-old novel by Alice Walker and a 22-year-old movie by Steven Spielberg, I will be making no attempt to write around "spoilers." If you don't know the story, and don't want to, stop reading.

I don't know that I have ever seen a more compelling musical to trumpet atheism than "The Color Purple," though it is packaged as a spiritual show. The final words sung in the show are "Look what God has done. Amen."

To which the only rational response could be: If that's God, you can keep Him.

Noel Alumit: Interview

By Jeff Walsh

My first exposure to Noel Alumit was seeing him onstage, performing his one man show "The Rice Room: Scenes From A Bar" that explored the lives of gay Asian men. His second show "Master of the (miss) Universe" explored his gay identity as well as the world of beauty pageants. In between those two shows, Alumit became an accomplished novelist.

His first novel, "Letters to Montgomery Clift," has young Filipino protagonist Bong Bong Luwad searching for his mother. As he goes through hardship, Luwad begins to interact with dead movie star Montgomery Clift as a coping mechanism, writing him letters, seeing him appear during periods of crisis, and even making love to him. The character expresses his innermost thoughts to Clift, but not to the people in his real life. Until Luwad finds out what happens to his parents, who disappeared during the Marcos regime after sending him to America, he seems unable to move forward with his life.

His second novel, "Talking to the Moon," shows the effect of a hate crime on a Filipino family in Los Angeles. The book is based on an actual incident where a Filipino postman was killed, although Alumit's book uses the notion of a hate crime as a jumping-off point to explore how tragedy affects a family. The rotating narrative shows the courtship of Jory and Belen Lalaban, as well as the relationship of their son Emerson to his Taiwanese boyfriend, Michael. The story explores how the family moved from the Philippines because they were "cursed," and examines the fragile tendrils that keep people connected to one another.

Alumit also maintains a blog, The Last Noel, which tracks his eye through the literary world, his writing process, and his life.

I recently spoke with Alumit about his career to date, his exploration of the gay Filipino experience through his performance and writing, and what inspires him as an artist. Here's what we said:

The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros: DVD Review

by Jeff Walsh

Wow, I was completely surprised by the Filipino movie "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros," which stars a 12-year-old as a very feminine gay boy (trans girl?). It is such a charming movie, although the sexuality/gender identity of Maxi is really one element of this multi-faceted story.

Maxi is pretty much running the now-motherless household that also includes his father and two older brothers. He cooks, cleans, patches up their clothing, but more like a spunky housewife than Cinderella. His sexuality is just part of who he is, although his brutish family do refer to him jokingly as female, although given his outfits, hair accessories, and demeanor, he definitely seems more like a girl than a feminine boy.

Maxi lives in a poor part of Manila, where his father sells stolen cell phones in their stand on the street as well as running betting pools and other illicit things.

Times Have Been Better: DVD Review

by Jeff Walsh

In "Times Have Been Better," Jeremy is a 33-year-old, successful banker who is moving into a new loft with his boyfriend. To mark the occasion, he decides to finally tell his parents that he's gay.

Unlike most movies where the gay character and his journey would be the main focus of the movie, Times Have Been Better shows how Jeremy's revelation rattles the very foundation upon which the family relationships have been built. Once the family members get a taste of honesty, they start questioning their own lives and the relationships they maintain out of convenience.

His mother and father almost stop talking to one another. His mother befriends her bitter queen of a co-worker and rejects the friendships she's maintained for years. His father cringes at every question about his son's sexuality, and at the homophobic comments his friends make that never bothered him before. And his brother finally gets undesired attention now that the successful, older brother in whom the family had rested their hopes isn't seen as impervious anymore.

Special Thanks to Roy London: DVD Review

by Jeff Walsh

When Brad Pitt and Geena Davis won their top acting awards, one of the people they were sure to thank was their acting coach, Roy London. London, who died of AIDS in 1993, had been a successful Broadway actor, playwright, and character actor, but he really found his passion in life teaching other actors.

This DVD is an oral biography, told through the people who knew London best: his students, lovers, and friends. He never allowed his acting classes to be recorded, never wrote down his acting methodology, and, save for two brief interviews shown within the documentary, his legacy only lives on in the hearts and minds of his students... and now this DVD.

It is telling that when describing London, the interviewees (featuring Patrick Swayze, Geena Davis, Sherilyn Fenn, and Garry Shandling) can barely come up with similar basic information about London, such as his height or weight. It becomes clear during the film that his method was about being the teacher each student needed him to be and gladly inhabiting that role to watch them grow as people and actors.

The Masseur: DVD Review

by Jeff Walsh

The Masseur intercuts between two extended storylines. In the first, we see Iliac as a 20-year-old masseur that is having a session with a slightly older gay man. The other storyline in the movie focuses on the death of Iliac's father, which occurred on the same night, and he goes back to his small hometown in the Philippines for the funeral.

While sex work is always a dramatic backdrop for gay films, it does seem that we are missing a normal view of what gay life is in the Philippines. The guys working in the massage parlors always seem to be smart and mature, and their clients lonely and needing intimacy, but most of the time I am left wondering why he can't make money as something other than a sex worker, and why his client can't find a relationship.

I'm not extrapolating here. Iliac doesn't seem to enjoy being a sex worker, and his client does talk about wanting a relationship. But is it because there are no jobs for Iliac in Manila? Is there not much of a gay life there, which prevents his client from exploring his sexuality elsewhere? These are the questions raised that don't really get answered.

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