Brokeblack mountain

Posted on 04 Nov 2016 at 12:37pm

North Texas native Trevante Rhodes on the making of Moonlight, the most acclaimed modern gay romance since Brokeback Mountain


Trevante Rhodes, above, plays the oldest version of Chiron, who struggles with his feelings for his best friend Kevin, played by Andre Holland, below, in ‘Moonlight.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Not to sound overconfident, but as soon as Trevante Rhodes was cast in the indie film Moonlight, he knew he was making a hit. Not that he could predict the box-office receipts — who could? — but a hit in the sense of an instant classic, a cinematic winner … oh, hell, just call it what it is: A great film.

“As [arrogant] as it may sound, when I read it for the first time, I knew [it would work] because it’s so personal,” says Rhodes. “From Page 7, I knew this was something I had to do. I thought, I have to tell this story! I’m a romantic, and it’s an epic love story, man!”

And a love story in many unexpected ways: Between African-American men living troubled lives in the inner city of Miami. Moonlight — adapted by writer-director Barry Jenkins, from a semi-autobiographical story by MacArthur “Genius” Grant laureate Tarell McCraney — is told in three chapters, all centered around the same kid. In the first chapter, Chiron (now called “Little”) is about 8 (played by Alex Hibbert), and comes under the protection of a local drug kingpin named Juan (Mahershala Ali), who shelters him from his drug-addled mother Paula (Naomie Harris). Chapter 2 meets Chiron (Ashton Sanders) about 10 years later, as a moody high school kid grabbling with issues of sexuality. By the third chapter, Chiron is known by the street name Black (Rhodes), a badass drug dealer, finally hoping to find a way toward self-acceptance. Throughout, it’s Chiron’s friend Kevin who anchors him… and stokes his sexual longing.

20151116_015419_Moonlight_D25_0375.tifThe challenge facing Rhodes — a native of Little Elm who admits to falling into acting “by happenstance at the end of college” — was “summarizing” Chiron’s journey at the end … and doing so with little guidance from the first two chapters. “We shot in sequence, but Barry was really adamant that Andre Holland [who plays the adult Kevin] and I not watch the [footage of the earlier chapters],” he says. “We wanted to look for similarities in what they were doing, but Barry really wanted us to focus how we changed so drastically. I think that was liberating for me as an actor” to do that.

He had to fill in a lot of blanks about what happened to Chiron in the intervening years between his chapters, but he plays it close to the vest (“I won’t go too deep because it’s like a magician telling you his secrets,” he says), but “In my mind, he spent some years in jail and after that he developed this life and adapted to what the world’s mold of him should be.”

That is a large part of the message of Moonlight — should you conform to expectations society has of you, or break free? Rhodes says embodying Chiron’s inner conflict was something he related to — but for different reasons than the character he played.

“We all have identity issues and we all struggle with insecurity and with trying to find out who we are and what love is,” Rhodes says. “Yes, it’s a very specific story about gayness and blackness, but it’s about humanity — a human life. And we use these very specific topics as a conduit for a universal story. I dealt with issues not so much in regard to sexuality or my relationship with my mother, but I was bullied some and that spoke to me, But the differences were really enticing to me [as an actor]. Back in middle school and high school, I felt that being a hyper-masculine, physical being was my way of projecting success out into the world. I thought if I had this physicality about me, as well as being able to articulate myself appropriately, [others would think], ‘Hey, that guy has it all figured out.’”

Rhodes didn’t, of course. And that’s where he found the core of his character.

“Chiron is someone trying to find out who he is, and has to fortify himself to project what masculinity was to him,” he says. “I look at love on a scale of 1 to 10, and most settle for 6 or 7. But Chiron found his 10 when he was like 8 years old! [He needs to realize], I can be tough and gay and happy with the guy I love. I need to live my truest life or at least attempt to experience it.”

Moonlight opens today in North Texas. For a review, see Page 41.


‘Moonlight’ is the unmissible film of the season

Posted on 04 Nov 2016 at 6:00am

20151024_Moonlight_D09_C1_K1_0303.tifIn Greek mythology, Chiron was a centaur — half man, half horse. He was both wild and artistic, a hunter and a healer: Two identities within a single body.

That description begins to explain the character named Chiron in Moonlight, easily one of the best films of 2016 and the most poignant love story since Brokeback Mountain. We first meet Chiron (Alex Hibbert) as a sensitive 8-year-old, maneuvering the mean streets of Miami — trying to avoid bullies as well as his cracked-out mom (Naomie Harris, who’s amazing). The local drug kingpin, Juan (Mahershala Ali), takes notice of Chiron, and, with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae, who’s revelatory), becomes a surrogate father, even as Chiron wonders whether, as the other kids say, he may be “a faggot.” He’s not, Juan insists — he might be gay, but that’s not the same. He has strength.

The remainder of Moonlight — divided into two more chapters, with Chiron as a teenager (Ashton Sanders, pictured) and a young man (Trevante Rhodes) — is about Chiron coming to terms with those competing identities. Can he be a strong black man and in love with his best friend?

It would be nice to say that Moonlight plays out predictably along that course, but the truth is anything but. Writer-director Barry Jenkins fashions a surprising and sensitive and profound journey for this character and those in his orbit. Like Chiron, it’s tough and dense, but in search of the tender essence inside.

The performances are uniformly intense and heartbreaking. This is a film that dares to challenge its audience to dispel expectations and discover humanity in unlikely places. It’s as if Boyz n the Hood were recast with Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Moonlight is the unmissible film of the fall.

Five stars. Opens tomorrow. Read our interview with star Trevante Rhodes in Friday’s Dallas Voice.


Texan Rob Redding, on being out… on the sidelines

Posted on 02 Nov 2016 at 8:41am

Out trainer Rob Redding

In nearly 10 years of this column, we have reported on dozens of LGBT athletes and coaches. We’ve interviewed gay fan groups and referees. We’ve talked about the Gay Games, and the (largely) straight Olympics. But we’ve never done a story on athletic trainers.

In the wide world of sports, trainers play a key role. They work intimately with athletes, diagnosing injuries and shepherding young men and women through physical therapy to get them back on the field. Trainers’ jobs are hands-on — literally — while their training room is often a safe haven, where athletes can talk freely about their greatest worries and deepest fears.

So, like other therapists (psychologists, etc.), many athletic trainers do not talk about themselves. Particularly if that talk would involve same-sex partners. That makes Rob Redding unusual. He’s the athletic trainer at Henderson State University. It’s a Division II school in small-town Arkansas … and he’s completely out.

In some ways, Redding is a typical trainer. He grew up two hours south of Houston, in Victoria, Texas, where football was king. He played “one day” in junior high, but found his calling because the high school athletic trainer was a great role model. Redding followed suit, and earned a scholarship to Texas A&M University.

He spent four years after graduation working at a high school, four more at a junior college, then another four at California Baptist University. He’s been at Henderson State — a “much better fit” — for the past nine years.

Redding loves his work. He’d thought about practicing medicine, but realized doctors see patients for just 15 or 20 minutes, in an office setting. “There are no relationships,” he notes. “But athletes really talk to trainers. They’re in a safe space. It’s personal, and very fulfilling.”

Redding first thought he might be gay in high school. He was sure in college. He never had overt experiences with homophobia — but, he says, “It was a typical Southern atmosphere. I heard the jokes and the negative things. They get imprinted on you.”

At California Baptist, he made a conscious decision to stay in the closet. It was not a happy time. When he moved to Henderson, he knew he could no longer hide … or lie. “If anyone asked, I promised myself I’d tell,” he says.

Redding started by calling out athletes for making anti-gay comments in the training room. Soon, he says, “people probably knew” he was gay.

Redding was assigned to the football and baseball teams. He had a great relationship with head football coach Scott Maxfield — with whom he had worked at a previous school — on and off the field. About five years ago, on one of their daily walks around the track, Redding came out to him.

Maxfield had one question: “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Once Redding had the backing of the head coach — and his wife, whom he told the same night — the rest of the process was easy. It culminated in a story he wrote for Outsports last month. He wrote: “I am at every practice and travel to every game with my teams. I am responsible for evaluating and treating injuries to my student-athletes. A lot of time this requires close physical interaction with them. While I am very professional with all my interactions, I have long worried about how the athlete would feel if the guy doing a deep-tissue massage on his hamstring was gay.”

Those fears were unfounded. Redding realized that being honest allowed him to do his job even better.

Henderson State University is a safe place, “administratively, and with students and coaches,” Redding says. “There are a bunch of good people here.”

He’s been uplifted not only by Henderson’s athletes, who really don’t care about their trainer’s sexuality, so long as he gets them back on the field quickly, but by the responses of strangers to his Outsports story. A closeted trainer in Texas thanked him for providing hope. A Pac-12 trainer who is out to a small group of people called Redding an inspiration for showing what it’s like to be fully out.

Redding does not have many professional role models. But at an Outsports “reunion meeting” in Chicago this summer, he heard stories from gay student-athletes, coaches, administrators, journalists … and even a few athletic trainers. That helped him understand the power of openness and honesty.

This year, Redding will speak about diversity at an NCAA Division II administrators’ meeting. He’ll tell his story, and hopes it will inspire others.

Athletic trainers shun the limelight. “We’re support staff,” Redding notes. “We’re just here to help. But if I can help reach folks who are in the closet, I’m happy to do that.”

— Dan Woog


The Weeknd announces Starboy Tour, in Dallas next May

Posted on 01 Nov 2016 at 8:37am

tw_starboy_press_12-smRecording artist The Weeknd, who released his latest album, Starboy, just last month, has announced dates for his tour in support of the disc. Starboy: Legend of the Fall 2017 World Tour (Phase One) kicks off on Feb. 17, 2017, in Stockholm, Sweden, but will wind its way to Dallas on May 4, at the American Airlines Center. Presale begins this morning at 10 a.m.,  for Cici cardholders (check out if you are one), but general sales begin on Friday, Nov. 4 on (here’s a direct link).


LISTEN: Neil Patrick Harris sings as Paul Ryan in new song by the Lopezes

Posted on 31 Oct 2016 at 9:30am

neil-patrick-harrisThe public radio show This American Life commissioned the Robert and Kristin Lopez — the couple responsible for “Let It Go” from Frozen and other hit musicals — to prepare a Broadway-style ballad showing sympathy for House Speaker Paul Ryan in having to lead his party with a pumpkin-colored serial sex offender as its standardbearer. They took up the challenge, and tapped Neil Patrick Harris to perform the song. It’s beautiful and hilarious. Enjoy!


Cocktail Friday: Day of the Dead

Posted on 28 Oct 2016 at 1:58pm

hweenCocktail Friday is back, and just in time for the Halloween events aka Gay Christmas. We re-start with this Dia de los Muertos inspired tequila drink, called The Obsidian (created by Rael Petit).

1.5 oz. Casa Dragones blanco tequila

1/2 oz. fresh lime

3/4 oz. cinnamon star anise syrup

Edible charcoal powder


Making it: Combine tequila, lime juice and syrup in a shaker with ice, and add a dash of edible charcoal; shake; strain into a lowball glass with an ice cube. Top with splash of prosecco to taste. Garnish with a white flower.


Lady sings the truths

Posted on 27 Oct 2016 at 1:28pm

Eclectic & heartfelt, Lady Gaga’s ‘Joanne’ shows a master of her medium as musician & humanist



ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

gagaThe evolution of Lady Gaga — as an artist, as an icon — has been one of the joys of pop-music appreciation for the last decade or so. She’s proved she can do it all. From Madonna wannabe to kewl party girl to feminist anthem singer to Maria von Trapp and Tony Bennett duet partner. And somehow, on Joanne, she shows in one place how masterfully she does it all.

So we meet her in the lead-off track, “Diamond Heart,” where the queen of dance-pop experiments with unusual time signatures and unexpected chord progressions.

Before we can fully process that, she transitions immediately into “A-YO,” a honkytonk-ish number with infectious syncopation on the hand-clapping chorus that makes you wanna two-step and funk out. Then, with the title track “Joanne,” she floats into a folky-acoustic ballad that Marianne Faithful might have covered. Gaga is a maestro of defying, then meeting, then exceeding expectations.

She goes back to vocal-centric ballad on “Million Reasons” (which she knocked out of the park on Saturday Night Live last week), showing not only her tender, spiritual side but also a fierceness — a velvet glove over a stone fist. I bow down to pray I try to make the world seem better / Lord, show me the way to cut through all this worn-out leather / I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away / But baby I just need one good one to stay she implores the boyfriend she loves but cannot stand. There’s something almost literary about her emotions here — Taylor Swift could learn how to sound less whiny from Gaga. She goes for the humanity more than the politics with “Angel Down” — I’m a believer it’s chaos / Where are our leaders? Ohhhh… / I’d rather save an angel down / … Angel down, angel down; why do people just stand around? — a plaintive plea in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. (She dedicated it to Trayvon Martin.)

Not every song soars to rare heights or even represents her playing to strengths as potently — and with 13 tracks, how could they be? (A 15th bonus track is a work tape of “Angel Down” that sears the song into you, if it weren’t already.) She settles into more familiar territory on “John Wayne,” typically lyricized with twee metaphors and sound distortions; and “Dancin’ in Circles,” which calls to mind “Alejandro.” They are not her strongest tracks on this disc, but even meh-Gaga surpasses most radio-friendly pop, as, for instance, on “Perfect Illusion,” the already-dropped lead single, which shows she has a firm understanding of what gets gay men to move on the dance floor.

She pays homage to sounds of the past on several tracks as well. “Come to Mama,” with its wailing sax and  doo-woppy vibe, sounds like it could be from Billy Joel, or even The E Street Band, circa 1988; likewise, “Hey Girl” could be a mash-up of 1970s-era Elton John with some Motown soul thrown in (though on the chorus Gaga call-and-responses with Florence Jenkins from Florence and the Machine, which instantly updates it).

Gaga’s fans — and North Texas is Little Monsters Central — don’t need to be convinced that she’s more than just a blonde with good choreography and a fun Instagram account. She’s truly an artist in her medium. But it’s not just as a musician/singer/songwriter that she demonstrates her mettle; it’s as a humanist. She touches you in ways few recording artists do.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2016.


Horror movie hardbodies to die for

Posted on 25 Oct 2016 at 8:43am


friv101716johnnydeppEvery horror movie spectator chooses one character as soon as the story starts to unfold that they hope will make it out alive — and for us gays, it’s usually the one who’s most physically appealing. We know full well they’ll be among the first to meet the business end of a machete, meat hook, saw, pitchfork, [enter your weapon of choice here] about halfway through (after sufficient skin time on screen, of course), but that doesn’t deter us from pining for them any less. It’s what make us, us.

Here, I’ve compiled some of the more memorable scary-movie standouts — some still alive and kickin’ by the end, some six feet under — to remind us all just how precious life is when there’s a killer on the loose, especially when you have a pretty face.

The Cast of The Covenant. It only took a decade for Hollywood to deliver the male equivalent of The Craft, and The Covenant didn’t disappoint – so long as you judge this proverbial book by its cover and not its content, anyway. The movie’s main characters — all too-cool-for-school, pre-Gossip Girl-esque locker jocks (one of whom, Dallas’ Chace Crawford, would actually fulfill that destiny a year later) — spend so time emerging from swimming pools and standing around dripping wet in their Speedos (between casting spells and killing people, of course) that you don’t even notice how bad the film really is. Alas, the guys’ combined powers couldn’t save this dud from a 3-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, ranking No. 31 on the site’s “Worst of the Worst,” but their svelte, college-bound torsos still got 10s across the board.

Johnny Depp, above. Before Johnny Depp’s career took a sharp right toward cinema’s quintessential character actor, he played boy-next-door types who fancied crop-topped football jerseys and exhibited serious lack of judgment in his choice of mentally compromised companions. As a result, he was dragged through his own mattress by Freddy Krueger’s iconic claws before being splattered across his bedroom ceiling in an eruption of blood — leaving you scarred for life for the past 30 years.

Mike Vogel. You knew Mike Vogel — he of incredible ass-dom (which explains how his career got the jump off as a Levi’s model) — wasn’t making it out of Leatherface’s clutches alive in 2003’s remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. On his return trip from Mexico to buy weed with his friends — a decision that only added insult to injury (drugs are bad, kids!) — the group was intercepted by one of horror’s ultimate villains by whom his leg was expeditiously chopped off before he was impaled on a meat hook to dry out like a bag of beef jerky.

friv101716mattbomerMatt Bomer. This flick, a prequel to 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre — DOA among critics and fans alike — was the adorable Bomer’s second appearance on film after Flightplan, starring Jodie Foster. Despite succumbing to a chainsaw up the groin halfway through the movie, Bomer managed to grab screen time until the end … as Leatherface’s freshly skinned mask.

Selma Hayek. Queen vampire Santanico Pandemonium, played by Selma Hayek in Texas director Robert Rodriguez’s bloodbath of a cult hit From Dusk Till Dawn, wreaks havoc in more places than the movie’s Titty Twister strip club — like that special spot where lewd and lascivious intersect in every lesbian’s love box.

Jay Hernandez. Impossibly good-looking Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad) barely made it out alive in director Eli Roth’s torture-porn magnum opus Hostel — sans a few fingers — and serves just deserts to the Dutch Businessman bent on keeping the Elite Hunting Club’s devious secrets safe. But despite surviving the hellish events of the first film, Hernandez reprises his role briefly in Hostel 2 before losing his head — literally — in the first five minutes.

Ryan Phillippe. Phillippe, well-to-do and -on-the-eyes resident bad boy of I Know What You Did Last Summer (which, along with its ’90s predecessor Screa_, reinvigorated the slasher genre for a whole new generation), made homo boys in theaters across the country wiggle in their seats less for his dramatic stabbing during the annual Croaker Pageant and more for the locker-room scene where we were all treated to a little towel bulge and a generous helping of that terry-clothed ass.

Christian Bale. Listen, if you’re going to be hunted down by a naked chainsaw-wielding maniac, it might as well be a buff-as-ever Christian Bale. You know, right after he gets done satisfying your carnal proclivities and smackin’ you around a bit while he admires his own biceps. Best Saturday night you’ve ever had.

The cast of MTV’s Teen Wolf. OK, so MTV’s Teen Wolf isn’t a movie, but what it lacks in tight feature-length characterization and storytelling it more than makes up for in tight torso-ed supernatural creatures masquerading as students. Tyler Posey and Tyler Hoechlin, Dylan O’Brien and the Carver Twins all have proven themselves worthy of fanboy swoons, but at least in this article let’s all hail out-and-proud Colton Haynes, who became an object of our collective affection (for two seasons at least) as lacrosse team bully Jackson Whittemore — who can body check us any day.

— Mikey Rox




Electra-fying: ‘American Pastoral’ and a society gone mad

Posted on 21 Oct 2016 at 11:19am

AP_D27_10794.ARWI confess to having some trepidation when actors decide to become directors — especially “serious” directors. For every Eastwood or Beatty or Redford, there’s a Jerry Lewis or Sofia Coppola or DeVito (Death to Smoochy): Vanity projects doomed by ego. So when Obi-Wan Kenob… errr, Ewan McGregor, decided to make his feature film debut directing himself in an adaptation of Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel American Pastoral, I didn’t know whether to approach it with anticipation or dread. A somber period drama about Jewish Americans embroiled in the tumult of the 1960s, while touching on mental disorders and family discord? What would he bring to the table? An amazing amount, actually, in this powerful heartbreaker that recalls The Prince of Tides, The Deer Hunter, The Help and Roth’s own The Human Stain.

McGregor plays “Swede” Levov, the high school star athlete who marries the gentile beauty queen Dawn (Jennifer Connelly, looking breathtaking) and settles into a stable middle-class life in a Newark exurb. Swede and Dawn happily rear their daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning as a teenager), a sensitive girl with a stutter, in the cocoon of the American Dream. But the discord of the counter-culture revolution seems to impact Merry disproportionately; she becomes a not just a disagreeable teen, but a seemingly unstable one. She rails against her parents — blandly liberal Democrats — as if they personally ordered secret bombings in Cambodia. She misbehaves, taking up with “the wrong crowd,” even though dear ol’ dad is a model of tolerant permissiveness. Something deeper is as work here; Merry seems to be an avatar of all the insanity of a generation gone berserk with racial, social and political upheaval; Swede, meanwhile, cannot accept that the unrest has deteriorated the foundations of the idyllic life he has constructed — his American pastoral existence is just an illusion.

AP_D14_05366.ARWBecause this is Philip Roth, though, the metaphors aren’t as heavy as they can sound, and as a director, McGregor navigates these traps deftly. He’s not afraid to show characters, including his own, as dense, or weak, or self-deceived, but he taps into a humanity that fully resonates. You can’t help but see his side of the equation, even as you suspect he’s making huge mistakes. The love of a parent can be blinding. The performances are uniformly excellent. Connelly, who hasn’t done a lot worth noticing since winning an Oscar 15 years ago, plays the ageing pageant queen with maternal dignity hardening into icy self-absorption with measured steps. Fanning, so infuriating as the contrarian teen, simultaneously morphs into a pitiable figure with an Electra complex. Even Uzo Aduba as the Swede’s protective business assistant brings an urgency to her few scenes.

McGregor gives all of them standout moments, but his quiet unraveling is at the heart of American Pastoral, a serious and poignant story as well as a bright revelation for McGregor’s talents. The Force is strong with this one.

Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.