Review: ‘The Totalitarians’

Posted on 26 Nov 2015 at 5:00pm


Imagine a politician as stupid as Michele Bachmann (complete with the gay hubbie), who speaks in Sarah Palin word salads as she pontificates racist screeds like Donald Trump full of the bat-shit crazy ideas of Ben Carson, and you have the hysterically scary demagogue Penelope Easter (Tina Parker) in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s The Totalitarians, given an hilariously snappy production courtesy of Kitchen Dog Theater. Penny, at least, isn’t running for president; she’s more Jodi Ernst, a gun-totin’’, under-educated kook in the corner of Nebraska running a hopeless campaign for lieutenant governor in a state with more cows than voters.

Hopeless, that is, until her campaign manager Francine (Leah Spillman) — a disgruntled James Carville wannabe stuck in the Midwest because that’s where her milquetoast husband Jeffrey (Max Hartman) set up his medical practice — stumbles upon a slogan that resonates with the cornfed proletariat. She  writes a stump speech that, despite its stream-of-consciousness nonsensical rants (“My opponent, with his bullet-proof Cadillac and access to medicine, doesn’t understand you!”) makes a player out of Penny … and potentially starts a Fascist movement to take over the country. (“Don’t feed the plants!” Little Shop of Horrors warned us; “Don’t feed the politicians!” is the message here.)

Nachtrieb excels at absurdist theater that eventually goes over the top, but remains grounded enough in the real world that we can clearly see the targets of his genial venom. When Jeffrey and one of his patients (Drew Wall, doing psycho as well as anybody) realize they may be the only ones who recognize the danger Penny poses — and Francine for that matter, who is made craven by the sweet nectar of long-delayed success — they launch a 12 Monkeys guerrilla movement.

The tight, four-actor cast are all playing their wheelhouses, from Parker’s fearless, endlessly funny mania tinged with innocence (she’s as physical a comedian as any actress in Dallas) to Spillman’s uptight Modern Woman to Hartman’s sardonic schlubiness. Director Christopher Carlos has never been so nimble with comedy, and milks every last laugh out of Nachtrieb’s smart script, which is more timely than seems possible. Indeed, at this point in the election cycle, it’s both a salve and a fright to see that satire doesn’t just play out on the stages of North Texas; it’s also on the national stages of the Republican debates. Be afraid.

The Green Zone, 161 Riveredge. Through Dec. 19.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27, 2015.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Posted on 26 Nov 2015 at 10:14am


Still don’t know what you’re eating Thanksgiving Day? Here are some dinner options

Posted on 25 Nov 2015 at 11:58am


If you’re family isn’t around and you don’t know how to cook, or just don’t want to, there are a number of restaurants that are either open for a Thanksgiving meal or provide some take-home options. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Meddlesome Moth. The Design District gastropub, pictured, will be open 10 a.m.–3 p.m. for a Thanksgiving brunch from chef Richard Graff. It’s a traditional plate, with turkey, chestnut stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce; plus pumpkin break, gravlax on a bagel with crème fraiche; frittata; steak frites; and lump crab salad.

Oak. The Moth’s neighbor, Oak, will also offer a selection on Thursday from 11 a.m.–2 p.m., including an entrée of turkey, ham or prime rib, and family-style selections of appetizers, sides and desserts. $75/adult.

The Second Floor. Chef Scott Gottlich, who just opened his latest restaurant in Oak Lawn, is doing a full service Thanksgiving dinner from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. at his Galleria eatery. Offering more than 10 pies, a carving station, entrees from pumpkin pasta to braised short ribs and even sushi. $68/adult. Reservations required.

Y.O. Steakhouse. For the first time ever, chef Tony Street will offer a full Thanksgiving Day, three-course dinner from 11 a.m.–9 p.m. The same menu will also be offered Wednesday and Thursday. Appetizers include venison tamale, quail or lobster bisque; entrées are traditional turkey or filet mignon or venison chops; and dessert.

Greenville Avenue Pizza Co. For something more casual, GAPCo. has a turkey calzone available now through Dec. 20. (It’s not open Thursday, so come any other time.)


6 ways to lessen the gut-busting effects of your Thanksgiving binge

Posted on 24 Nov 2015 at 8:47am

ThinkstockPhotos-76730742Thanksgiving is a holiday of gratitude and family, indulgence and indigestion. Embrace the former while ditching the latter with these actionable ways to limit your belly-bulging binge at this month’s high-calorie celebration of appreciation and appetite.

1. Stop training yourself to overeat at holiday meals. Yes, Thanksgiving food is awesome. Especially if you have a mom or grandma (or whoever the cooking guru is in your family) who blows out that spread like fireworks at a Katy Perry concert. But remember that it’s not the last meal you’ll ever have, and it shouldn’t be the first one of the day, either. Start the holiday by having a sensible, healthy and filling breakfast — like an egg white-and-spinach omelette with turkey sausage and mixed berries — so you’re not apt to snack all afternoon then dive into a piled-high plate of smorgasbord staples like you just got out of prison. Little piggies belong in a pen, not face-first in the pumpkin pie.

M2. Drink water to trick yourself into feeling full. Just like you do (or at least should do) at restaurants when you’re in danger of overeating, drink water before taking your seat for the main event. Baltimore-based certified strength and conditioning specialist Roy Pumphrey recommends “downing a giant glass of H2O about 30 minutes before the meal begins to help quell the hunger pangs for a fuller feeling.”

3. Choose protein and freens over heavy carbs. Unless you’re running a post-Thanksgiving marathon (or partaking in Dallas’ Turkey Trot), there’s no reason to stuff your face like Wilson Kipsang gunning for another medal. Fill your plate with the healthy proteins and greens available at your family’s fete and limit the space on your plate for waist-widening comfort foods like mac-and-cheese and creamy mashed potatoes.

“Many of a food binge’s adverse effects come from carbohydrate overloading and the subsequent ‘carb crash’ that occurs due to spikes in our insulin levels,” says Dr. Linda Anegawa, founder and medical director of OSR Weight Management. “I always advise my patients on Thanksgiving to go for lean white-meat turkey, green beans and salad, and avoid marshmallow-laden sweet potatoes, simple-carb dinner rolls and sweets.”

Adds Pumphrey, “The protein will fill you more and be more satiating than stuffing or bread. Plus you’ll feel less bloated and awful later.”

ThinkstockPhotos-865251894. Stay active. You exercise on ordinary days when your food intake is normal, so it only makes sense that you should fit in a workout before you settle in for this cornucopius supper.

“It is a busy time, but schedule into your calendar one hour of some type of physical activity daily,” Anegawa advises. “This won’t offset a giant food binge but it will help keep metabolism and appetite somewhat in check, and chances are you may not be as tempted to binge if you know you’ve put in the effort to exercise.”

5. Mind your alcohol and choose drinks wisely. For some, alcohol at holiday time is a special treat; for others, it’s a necessary coping mechanism to prevent a brutal bloodbath at the family manse. For whatever reason you partake in libations, choose your drinks smartly and set a limit on how much you’ll consume.

“If you must drink alcohol, enjoy a low-sugar, low-carb concoction,” says Anegawa. “Steer clear of cocktails with loads of simple syrup, such as premade mixes, and instead enjoy a vodka tonic made with Stevia-sweetened tonic or a glass of dry chardonnay.”

Red wine also is low(er) in calories compared to other types of booze, and packed with beneficial antioxidants when enjoyed in moderation. Two glasses is the sweet spot; any more than that and you’re entering iffy territory. As a general life rule, drink one glass of water — flat or carbonated — between alcoholic drinks to prevent from getting sloppy and waking up with a killer hangover.

6. Plan a post-binge fast to burn fat. After you’ve had your fill and finished the meal, it’s time to do damage control. As an alternative to exercise — because who wants to do that on a gluttonous gut? — prepare to fast for at least half a day.

“When you’ve just downed a big meal, making sure you fast for 16 hours right afterward is a good way to kick your body into fat-burning mode,” according to certified personal trainer Rui Li. “The simplest way is to skip breakfast so that half of your time fasting is during sleep.”

In other words, your body will start eating itself, which — let’s be honest, ye of expanding pants size — is a welcomed change of pace.

— Mikey Rox


BREAKING: Oak Lawn’s Kin Kin closing, will soon reopen as Bite

Posted on 23 Nov 2015 at 3:17pm


IMG_3187Kin Kin Urban Thai, the Southeast Asian-themed restaurant from Fort Worth’s “Chef Eddy” that opened along Oak Lawn in the old Cyclone Anaya’s space this past summer, has closed, but neither it, nor the space, are gone for good.

The Kin Kin concept will relocate to Preston Forest, as well as Richardson’s CityLine area. And the Oak Lawn space will reopen as Bite on Dec. 9.

“Bite [will allow] me to cook a wide variety of cuisine, not just Thai food,” Chef Eddy says. “We feel that Bite better serves our clientele locally.”

I was about to publish a full review of Kin Kin, which I enjoyed. Hopefully some of the recipes — as well as the excellent drink menu — will stay put at Bite.


Dallas CVB: ‘As #DallasBig as it gets’

Posted on 23 Nov 2015 at 2:40pm

Screen shot 2015-11-23 at 2.36.10 PM
Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau offers up this look at Dallas in 2015.
Go #DallasBig!

2015 Year in ReviewBIG things happen here. 2015 was as #DallasBIG as it gets!

Posted by Visit Dallas on Sunday, November 22, 2015


WATCH: Attention nerds! Gay-fronted Pentatonix does ‘Star Wars’ at the AMAs

Posted on 23 Nov 2015 at 8:26am

Screen shot 2015-11-23 at 8.24.08 AMThe Force Awakens comes out next month, and to get us in the mood, the American Music Awards aired a tribute to film composer John Williams last night, with the gay-led a capella group Pentatonix performing the score in pure vocals … and costumes. Enjoy!


Cocktail Friday: Holiday classics from Knife

Posted on 20 Nov 2015 at 12:35pm


Charlie Moore, the head bartender at Knife at The Highland, has come up with a few recipes that give twists to classic holiday potables. Try some of these at home, or stop by Knife and have Charlie make them for you at the bar.

Hobnoggin (classic egg nog with a touch of chocolate and mint)

1.5 oz. Cognac

1/2 oz. creme de menthe

1/2 oz. creme de cacao

1/2 oz. simple syrup

1 oz. heavy cream

1 whole egg

Making it: Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously for 30-45 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a mint leaf. Pairs well with desserts.

Winter in Nassau

Winter in Nassau

Winter in Nassau (a twist on the hot toddy)

1.5 oz. Appelton Estate rum

3/4 oz. mango black tea honey syrup

3/4 oz. lime juice

4 dashes Chinese five spice bitters

Hot water

Making it: To make the syrup: Add 2 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar and 2 mango black tea bags in a pan and bring to a oil; let cool. Combine syrup to taste in a mug with other ingredients and stir; garnish with a lime wheel.


Irish Holiday (a seasonal twist on an old-fashioned)

2 oz. banana-infused Irish whiskey

Irish Holiday

Irish Holiday

1/2 oz. vanilla syrup

1 barspoon of fall tincture

Making it: To infuse the whiskey, as one cup of dehydrated banana chips to one liter of whiskey; allow to sit for 5–7 days. To make the syrup, combine 2 vanilla beans, 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of hot water; stir until all ingredients dissolve; cool and bottle. To make the tincture, combine 10 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks and the peels of 2 oranges into a cup of high-proof whiskey and let sit 30 days (get started soon!). Combine into a highball glass over ice.


Crime and punishment: ‘Trumbo,’ ‘Secret in their Eyes,’ ‘By the Sea’

Posted on 20 Nov 2015 at 6:15am

secret-in-their-eyes-S-004_SITE_07318R_rgbYeah, The Hunger Games wraps up its arc this week. Big whoop. There are also smaller films opening this week, and while not all are impeccable, they offer more insights into the human condition than you’ll find in all of Panem.

Somehow, American adaptations of films set in foreign countries often don’t fit right. Martin Scorsese won his only Oscar for directing The Departed, a dandy crime thriller adapted from the Hong Kong actioner Infernal Affairs, but despite the Boston setting, it still felt like someone else’s movie. The same director, George Sluizer, made both the American and original Dutch version of his film The Vanishing, but the changes to the remake felt tacked on — a betrayal of its source material. And it never seemed authentic.

Secret in their Eyes, the new adaptation of the Oscar-winning Argentine film El Secreto de sus Ojos, suffers from a similar fate. The original was a disturbing, violent portrayal of obsession; this version, while well-acted, feels false.

The broad strokes of both films are the same: In 2015, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a former FBI agent, thinks he has tracked down a man who disappeared 13 years earlier, the chief suspect in the murder of his then-partner Jess’s (Julia Roberts) daughter (seen through multiple flashbacks). The man slipped through the system before, and fell off the grid; Ray wants the new D.A. Claire (Nicole Kidman) to reopen the case, and bring justice and closure finally to Jess. But Ray’s return is tinged by the unrequited love between him and Claire.

There’s a lot going on in this movie, and while it felt artsy, even ethereal, in Spanish, now it just seems unfocused and overwrought. The system of flashbacks seems like it’s intended to add psychological layers, but comes off more as a shell-game — how much can we hide, and how sympathetic can we make the characters before you learn some truths about them? Ray, for instance, is a dogged cop, but as we soon learn, not a very good one. The script relies repeatedly on him flying off the handle, or doing shoddy police work. (How many times does he have to shout at the suspect from 30 feet away, “Hey! You!” before he thinks to sneak up on the guy instead?) Police procedurals are tricky in a culture weaned on Law & Order, and this one seems like it was written for a 1950s audience. (It’s also fraught with silly coincidences, cliches and functional characters that don’t feel real.) The PG-13 rating also softens much of the more dire and shocking aspects of the original. There’s less meat on the bones.

Even so, the acting is solid, especially from Roberts as a shaken, broken woman. There’s a hollowness in her eyes and her largely un-made-up face. When Ray says, “You look about a million years old,” you realize, yes, the Pretty Woman can play character parts, too. Too bad she’s not in a better movie.

TR_01117.dngIf Secret is about seeking justice, Trumbo is about its perversion. During WWII, the U.S. and the Soviets were aligned; within a few years, however, the Cold War was heating up and the Communists who had once been our allies were now our enemies. That meant any American liberals who sided with Marxist philosophies (such socialistic ideas as The New Deal, collective bargaining and free speech) were labeled as undesirables, if not outright unpatriotic. A single instance of spying by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg painted everyone of their ilk as terrorists and enemies. (Sound familiar?) And some of the first tainted by the sobriquet “disloyal” were Hollywood liberals … especially the writers, who came up with the ideas and put them on the page.

The blacklist (and the HUAC hearings that caused it) is one of the most shameful betrayals of American ideals of the 20th century. So tense was the political atmosphere that Americans and their leaders willingly turned on the First Amendment in favor of witch hunts. And the biggest target was slapped on the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). Trumbo was an outspoken Communist, an intellectual floating in a sea of morons. He was the studios’ highest-paid wordsmith, and seen as indispensable. He wasn’t. When he refused to “name names,” he was sent to prison and banned from writing for a decade. To pay the bills, he uses “fronts,” other, less controversial people who could sign their names to his screenplays and share the fees. He won two Oscars that way … though others’ names appeared on the statuettes.

The blacklist is an inherently cinematic and thrilling era to bring to life, so it’s a shame that Trumbo lacks the scope and ambition it needs to be great. It’s directed by Jay Roach, whose feature films are marked by the Austin Powers comedies but who has tackled politics in several well-received TV movies for HBO (Game Change, Recount). His style is more suited to the small screen than the big; everything about Trumbo seems pre-digested and safe — a perfectly adequate way to spend your Sunday watching television, but not bold enough to bring you to the theater.

Cranston is a star on the small screen, but blown up to 30 feet and carrying a film, he feels overly broad and one-dimensional. His Trumbo is confident to the point of smugness; the entire role reminds you of the haunting line from Anne Frank’s diary that people are essentially good, even as their most evil natures are about to destroy you. “Do you need to say everything like it’s going to be chiseled in a rock?” asks one of Trumbo’s frustrated colleagues (Louis C.K., who also shouldn’t be allowed free reign to act in features). Cranston just grins obliviously behind a cloud of smoke. (If they gave an award for Best Supporting Cigarette Holder, Trumbo would win.) The story is compelling, but the film never rises about predictable. Dalton Trumbo would never write a film as ho-hum as this one.

It’s time we all acknowledge that Angelina Jolie Pitt (as she’s now known) is a damn gifted filmmaker — probably better at writing and directing than acting. Her first feature, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was a gripping portrait of survival in the Bosnian War; her second, last year’s Unbroken (which she directed only) proved that women other than Kathryn Bigelow know how to tell a brutal story of war with smarts and understanding. She goes in an entirely new direction with By the Sea, a new chamber character study starring Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt. The style and setting is a woozy throwback to the artsy indie and European films of the 1960s and ’70s. Roland (Brad) is an acclaimed novelist looking for inspiration in a remote seaside village in France; his wife Vanessa (Angelina) is moody and remote. There’s something wrong with their relationship (we suspect an infidelity), but we can’t quite tell. They never talk about it.

Vanessa becomes obsessed with their neighbors in the hotel, two newlyweds whom she’s able to spy on through a hole in their common wall; she watches them have sex and argue. Eventually, Roland joins her, and their relationship seems reborn by their voyeurism. But everything has to end.

By the Sea has no chase scenes, no lurid sex (though a fair amount of nudity), no melodramatic excess (at least until the end, which doesn’t quite work). Instead, it’s a study not of people, but of a marriage. It revels in mood and style, like The Happy Ending or Rachel Rachel or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; you could imagine Roman Polanski making it with Catherine Deneuve in a parallel universe.

I suspect, though, that many people won’t appreciate its retro qualities, its seamlessness or its thoughtful, leisurely pace, and merely look for insights in what it says about two movie stars married in real life; others will dismiss it as a vanity project for an actress who, admittedly, can often project a self-satisfied hautiness. That’s too bad. Taken on its own, By the Sea is a dreamy romantic drama, the kind nobody makes any more.

All films are now playing.


9 ways you should not to come out over the holidays

Posted on 19 Nov 2015 at 4:19pm

Last year, I wrote a rather pointed column for the Frivolist called “9 reasons why coming out on a holiday isn’t a good idea,” which detailed the consequences of revealing your sexuality at an already stressful time of year, and it drew a fair amount of criticism (Dallas Voice wouldn’t even publish it). I stand by that piece, despite that I was branded a homophobe for it — though, I did provide my rebuttal to that misnomer — but this year I decided to take a lighter approach. So, sure, go ahead and come out around the holidays if that’s what you want to do. Just please, pleeeease don’t do it these ways.

Grindr1. Sneaking in a Grindr trick in the middle of the night. Nobody wants to get caught with their pants around their ankles while grandma sneaks down to the kitchen for a midnight slice of pie. Keep your tricks in the bag while you’re at home for the holidays, or at least be courteous enough to bang it out in a nearby parking lot and send him home with a parting gift.

2. Asking your gay uncle to do your bidding. OK, so your mom and your gay uncle are super-close. They trust each other, love each other, and there’s nothing that could drive a wedge between them. Until you came along, that is. Avoid this situation by resisting the urge to ask your gay family members to come out for you. Certainly you can ask them for support, but your coming out is just that — yours — and it’s not fair to put someone else in an awkward position if you don’t have the courage to do it yourself. If that’s the case, wait to come out when you’re confident and ready. You’ll have a better experience that way, and you won’t feel guilty by causing a potential rift in a perfectly good relationship.

3. Performing a short holi-gay skit. If your family wants to see a show, they’ll go to the community theater; no need to perform a three-act play on all the ways you’re gay right before lighting the menorah. If you crave attention that badly, and a thunderous applause for coming out, do it among friends at another non-specific time of year so you’ll have their undivided attention and they’ll have something to reminisce about for years to come.

427081.TIF4. Bringing your boyfriend or girlfriend without notice. Bringing a same-sex guest whom you’ve courted to a holiday meal without notice is not only a blind side, it’s rude as hell. In fact, this tip applies to all people — LGBT or not. Unless you’ve RSVPed for the additional person, you should arrive alone. If an exception needs to be made last minute — and, OK, it happens — call the host in advance to ask permission. If it’s your boyfriend or girlfriend you’d like to bring, at least that gives everyone a chance to process the impending situation a couple hours before it’s in their face.

5. Cueing up the adult video you star in. Sexting is fairly commonplace now — just ask everybody on Tinder and Snapchat — as is making private videos on your phone or computer. There’s nothing wrong with it either, so long as it’s consensual. I can guarantee, however, that the guests at your family’s holiday table don’t want to watch you get stuffed harder than that Thanksgiving turkey as they sit down to eat a delicious meal. Thus, refrain from cueing up your sex videos to break the coming-out ice, and steer clear of any professional videos you’ve made, too; despite the higher production value, it won’t make those giblets any more appealing.

6ThinkstockPhotos-477714048. Getting held up at the airport because of your dildo. If you thought telling your family that you’re gay will be difficult, just wait until you have to explain your penchant for big black rubber cock.

7. Preparing a monologue on all the ways everybody already dhould’ve known you’re LGBT. Quell your inner Robert Shaw and resist the urge to dramatically lambaste your family members for not recognizing the innumerable ways you’re gay. In fact, your sexuality may be a non-issue for your family — maybe they couldn’t care less about who you’re sleeping with as long as you’re healthy and happy — so just get to the point so they can all move on… to dessert.

8. Inviting your family to your local drag show. Nobody’s ready for that tragedy.

9. Leaving subtle hints, like filling the DVR with Rob Williams movies. As much as I love Rob Williams movies (Make the Yuletide Gay is a totally cute Christmas flick, and you should watch it), filling your DVR with his repertoire of sexy but seriously gay work is a cop out to coming out. Set aside some time with your family to speak for yourself and come out in a manner where all members can process the information, ask the questions they need to ask, and move on. Besides, there are so many other awesome gay things on this time of year — like the drunk AF “Judy Garland Christmas Special” — and you’ll need all the free space you can get.

— Mikey Rox