Movie review: ‘Interstellar’

In Christopher Nolan’s newest sci-fi extravaganza, Interstellar, Einstein’s general theory of relativity is carefully explained: The closer you approach the speed of light, the slower you age relative to humans on earth. Well, I have a corophoto 1llary to this quantum hypothesis: The closer you come to Interstellar, the more likely it will seem that all activity slows … to … a … grinding … halt.

That’s surprising, considering how jam-packed with noisy activity this three-hour (yes!) adventure film is. There are rocket launches, beautiful trips through wormholes, breathtaking by-the-seat-of-your-pants landings and countless other mind-bending trips through Nolan’s inventive and VFX-fueled brain. Truth be told, though, Nolan has never been much of a storyteller. He’ll spend lots of time acclimating us to characters, then rush headlong through complicated technical points essential to the plot. (Does anyone but him really understand Inception?) Interstellar eases us into its story. We’re never told exactly when it takes place (though apparently later in this century), but eventually we learn that the earth is becoming a desert and mankind will die off unless other habitable worlds are colonized. Matthew McConaughey, a widower with a clingy daughter (played as an adult by Jessica Chastain), is chosen to lead the search alongside Anne Hathaway.Much of the mechanics of the mission are disregarded, though it’s altogether possible they were stated plainly but the editors deemed it far less important than Hans Zimmer’s intrusive score and pulsating sound effects that effectively drown out even the internal dialogue in your head. It’s a sonic assault.

Nolan makes a lot of peculiar choices: There are near countless shots of the outside of the spaceship, but usually seen only from the same angle along the length of the fuselage — it’s like having a window seat on an airplane and trying to figure out what your journey looks like from the outside. He also resorts to some heavy-handed imagery (a potential savior of the species named Mann? Really?).

Ultimately, though, Nolan is less interested in the science than in the humanity. The development of McConaughey’s character — across time and space — is poignant and highly emotional. But last year Alfonso Cuaron got us there in half the time (82 minutes!) with Gravity, while Kubrick explored the position of humankind in the universe a generation ago with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Interstellar isn’t as good as either of those films, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. “Good” may be the enemy of “great,” but don’t write it off entirely.

Three stars. Now in wide release.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Public input sought on non-discrimination amendment effort

Fairness Works Houston, a new organization formed to pass a proposed non-discrimination charter amendment in Houston, will hold a public meeting this Saturday, Feb. 25, to seek public input. As previously reported by Houstini, the proposed charter amendment, which is still being drafted, will remove discriminatory language added to the city charter in 1985 and 2001 and make it a crime to deny employment, housing or public accommodation to a person because of their “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The meeting, scheduled for 1 pm at the GLBT Cultural Center (401 Branard) in rooms 112/113, looks to identify community resources that can be used both topass the amendment and to gather the 20,000 signatures that will be needed to place the amendment on the November ballot. Scheduled speakers include Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and Jenifer Rene Poole who chairs the Caucus’ committee on the proposed amendment.

—  admin

Measure would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Houston

Charter amendment could also allow DP benefits for city workers

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Contributing Writer

HOUSTON — Long-brewing plans to place a city-wide non-discrimination policy before Houston voters became public this week.

Since December a coalition of organizations and leaders have been working to draft a city charter amendment that would make it illegal to discriminate in housing, employment or public accommodations on the basis of  “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.”

The amendment would also remove anti-LGBT language added to the Houston city charter in 1985 and 2001 — which could allow the City Council to vote to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who famously became the only out LGBT person elected mayor of a major American city in 2009, has declined to comment on the proposed charter amendment until the language is finalized. She told the Houston Chronicle: “I believe it’s important for the city of Houston to send a signal to the world that we welcome everybody and that we treat everybody equally, and depending on the elements of what was actually in it, I might or might not support it,”

According to Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman, the prospect of Houston voters approving the non-discrimination amendment has ramifications for efforts to pass similar measures in the state Legislature.

“Nondiscrimination in Houston builds a better case for us when we go for nondiscrimination in Austin,” said Coleman. “To be able to tell representatives that they represent areas that already support these efforts is very helpful.”

The cities of Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth all already have similar nondiscrimination ordinances and offer DP benefits to employees.

But Houston’s form of governance makes this effort unique. While the City Council is empowered to pass city ordinances covering issues of discrimination, they can be overturned by popular vote if those opposing the ordinance collect 20,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.

That was the case in 1985 after Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire pushed through the council the city’s first protections for gay and lesbian Houstonians (no protections were provided for the bisexual or transgender communities).

A coalition of right-wing voters led by Louie Welch, then president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce, was able to place the issue on a city-wide ballot, claiming the policy “promoted the homosexual lifestyle.” The group also recruited a “straight slate” of candidates to run against City Council members who had favored the protections, with Welch running against Whitmire.

The public vote on nondiscrimination was held in June 1985 and Welch’s forces prevailed, but the city’s temperament had changed by the time of the City Council and mayoral races in November. A comment of Welch’s that the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “shoot the queers” was aired on local TV and few in Houston wished to be associated with him after that. The “straight slate” failed to capture a single City Council seat and Whitmire remained mayor, but the defeat of the city’s nondiscrimination policy remained.

By 1998 Houston had changed: Annise Parker was serving as the city’s first out lesbian city council member and Houston boasted the state’s first out gay judge, John Paul Barnich. Mayor Lee Brown, sensing the change, issued an executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination. But the city had not changed that much. Councilman Rob Todd led efforts to fight the order in court, arguing that since voters rejected city-wide protections from discrimination in 1985, it was inappropriate for the mayor to institute them without voter approval. The city spent the next three years defending the policy in court, finally emerging victorious.

The joy of that 2001 victory would be shortlived, however. That year Houston’s voters approved another amendment to the city charter, this time prohibiting the city from providing domestic partner benefits for city employees. In a narrow defeat, just over 51 percent of voters decided that the city should not offer competitive benefits.

The current proposed non-discrimination amendment would remove the language added in 1985 and 2001. While it would provide non-discrimination protections it would not require the city to offer benefits of any kind to the spouses of LGBT city employees, leaving that question back in the hands of the City Council.

The organizers of the current effort are confident that this year is the year for victory.

Noel Freeman, the president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which is spearheading the effort, explains that the previous votes occurred in “non-presidential years,”when voter turnout in general is low, and conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate.

Additionally, polling by Equality Texas in 2010 showed that 80 percent of Houstonians support employment protections for gay and lesbian people.

In order to place the non-discrimination amendment on the November ballot the coalition supporting it will need to collect 20,000 signatures of registered Houston voters and submit them to the city clerk. Freeman says that the final charter amendment language is still under consideration and that once it is finalized the group will begin collecting signatures.

Even former Councilman Todd, who once fought the city’s policy of non-discrimination for LGBT employees, supports the current effort.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Remembering 9/11 from a first-hand perspective

Paul J. Williams

Earlier this week, I wrote this post here on Instant Tea about my personal memories of 9/11. And I had planned to write a second one about Mark Bingham, one of the heroic passengers of United Flight 93, who also happened to be gay. And I had planned a third about Father Mychal Judge, chaplain for the New York Fire Department, who had gone into the World Trade Center North Tower to tend to victims and was killed when that tower collapsed. Father Mychal was gay, too.

But then Hardy Haberman wrote this Viewpoints column for the Voice, and I decided doing those planned blog posts would redundant, since Hardy had already done it so well.

So instead, I want to share with you something that local comedian Paul J. Williams sent to me. Paul was in New York on 9/11, living in an apartment in Queens,  working in a Lower Manhattan during the day, and performing his comedic routines in the clubs at night.

Paul had a first person view of the tragedy of 9/11. He was there as history unfolded. Here’s what he saw, and did:

“On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, I was going through my usual “get ready for work” routine in my apartment in Astoria, Queens. At the time, I was working as a long-term temp secretary for a law firm in Manhattan, but I didn’t usually go in until 10 a.m.

“After taking a shower, my routine consisted of coming back into my bedroom and turning on the stereo to KTU for their morning show while I was getting dressed. It was a little before 9 a.m. Rather than the usual hilarity, the KTU DJs were very seriously discussing the fact that the World Trade Center has just been hit by a jet. I went into the living room to turn on the TV, still only half dressed.

“I sat in front of the television for the next few hours, getting up only to get my cell phone to try to call my parents, or to go to the door to talk to my landlords who lived downstairs. My roommate, who also worked in Manhattan, always left for work early in the morning and was already at his office in Midtown when the first plane hit.

—  admin