Gay documentary wins award at AFFD

PJ_RAVAL-headshotThe Asian Film Festival of Dallas continues through tomorrow, and they’ve just released the jury award winners. Among the honorees is Before You Know It, which screens tonight at 5:30 p.m. and won best documentary feature. (And congrats to our winners of the ticket giveaway to attend the screening!) The film is about three gay seniors, including the owner of Robert’s Lafitte gay bar in Galveston, and how they cope with retirement and aging in the gay community. The filmmaker, PJ Raval, pictured, will be in attendance tonight.

Other award winners:

Shorts

Narrative short: Sahasi Chori (Brave Girl)

Documentary short: Han Rock

Animated short: Couch & Potatoes

Special jury mention: Stronger

Features

Narrative feature: Ye-Zai

Animated feature: Block C: The Last Dark

Special festival prize for acting: Guo Shu-yao, Step Back to Glory

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Bridegroom’ at USA Film Fest

Bridegroom-3Shane and Tom were the cutest twink couple you’ve ever seen. From the time they first met, it was a real connection: Both were from small Midwestern towns; both had conservative families; both loves to sing and perform and listen to Garth Brooks. Only Shane’s folks understood when he came out that being gay wasn’t a choice, and supported and loved him unconditional.

Tom’s parents were not so understanding. They claimed Shane “converted” (and perverted) Tom. That it was a sin. Tom’s dad even threatened to come to California and “gut” Shane for what he did.

Shane and Tom were stunned, but they kept on, traveling the world and vlogging about their adventure in Macchu Picchu and the Great Pyramids.

Then Tom died.

Bridgegroom, which is just one of the gay-themed films at the USA Film Festival this weekend (it plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Angelika Mockingbird Station), traces they tragic but beautiful relationship as they struggled to achieve marriage equality and combat homophobia. The documentary, directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (creator of Designing Women), is brief (less than 90 minutes) but punchy, filled with tons of video diaries, home movies and personal interviews (the best with Shane’s sassy great-grandma) explaining their struggles (when Tom is taken to the hospital, Shane is excluded for not being a relative) and Shane’s recovery from the pain of his loss, including his conflict with Tom’s parents. It’s a plainspoken and deeply moving story that strikes many familiar chords. Try leaving the screening with a dry eye.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Man up

Glenn Close’s Oscar-nominated role as a gender-bending Irish butler with a secret fuels the fascinating ‘Albert Nobbs’

Glen-Close

HIDDEN LIFE | Glenn Close received her sixth Oscar nomination — alongside nominated co-star Janet McTeer, opposite — playing a gay woman living as a man in turn-of-the-century Ireland in ‘Albert Nobbs.’

Twenty-four hours before The Golden Globes ceremony, where she was in the running for best actress in a drama for Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close is doing some last minute press from her Four Seasons hotel room in Los Angeles. While she ultimately didn’t take home a statuette the next night, Close’s performance is a bona fide winner — and represents “closure and joy” for a passion-project 30 years in the making.

Playing a woman who for decades has camouflaged herself as a man to work as a hotel butler and survive in 19th century Ireland, Close, who also produced and co-wrote the film (and its Globes-nominated, Sinead O’Connor-performed original song, “Lay Your Head Down”), turns in a vulnerable, kindly, enigmatic and multilayered performance — quite literally so, with subtle facial prosthetics to butch up her features. Nobbs also co-stars Janet McTeer as Hubert, a swaggering lesbian whom also poses as a man, and Mia Wasikowska as Helen, a beguiling maid to whom Albert takes a romantic shine.

Albert represents a polar opposite of the role that has come to define Close in recent years: Iron-fisted, manipulative lawyer Patty Hewes on the DirectTV series, Damages, which wraps its fifth and final season this year.

Via telephone — before she learned of her Oscar nomination earlier this week — Close discussed gender-bending, wrapping up Damages, and a whole bunch of queer stuff.

— Lawrence Ferber

Albert Nobbs is now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

Dallas Voice: You first played Albert Nobbs in a 1982 off-Broadway production of the play and have toiled for years to bring a film version to screen. Do awards matter to you, both for this performance specifically and in general?  Glenn Close: In what way? It sounds kind of disingenuous when I talk like this, but I honestly think that you’re almost a winner when you’re nominated and the whole craziness around who wins and doesn’t win I just can’t buy into. For the winner, yes, it’s wonderful, and it would be wonderful to win everything, particularly because this is the most I have been invested [in a film] and it was an incredible journey for me. But the journey itself had great closure and was challenging and satisfying in every way. So I don’t feel like awards would change that. Of course, I would love for a lot of people to see it. That’s where the nominations are very helpful.

ALBN-GClose-JMcTeerWere you a fan of movies about gender-bending characters, like Yentl and Victor Victoria, before Nobbs?  Yeah. I remember seeing Yentl onstage with Tovah Feldshuh [in the 1970s]. It blew me away. But those were different from Nobbs. What was really important to us was to make the characters in the movie not seem oblivious for thinking this character is a man. I wasn’t convinced that Julie Andrews was a man, and I don’t think necessarily that Barbra Streisand was the most convincing of men. It was very important for us to be authentic and find ways of subtly changing Janet’s and my faces so that would be believable to the people within the story.

Did you and Janet have some fun with it when you were in your male drag?  Yeah. Janet accosted Brendan Gleeson, whom she’d played opposite as Lady Churchill in the HBO series Into the Storm, and he didn’t have any idea who she was! I tell you, it would have been fun to get all duded-up and walk through Dublin. But I just didn’t have time to. I liked being Albert. I liked surprising myself every time I passed a mirror, and to be on the set looking like a guy is different from just acting.

The scene in which Janet’s character Hubert, whom Albert initially thinks is a biological man, catches her and realizes she’s a woman is so painful. Albert looks so scared. Was that a tough scene for you to act?  No. I just had to think of how dire it would be for Albert if she was discovered and thrown out. She thinks her life is over and wouldn’t have a job. I think one of the hardest scenes for me was when I asked Helen out for a walk for the first time, because I didn’t know what to do with my face. Albert is starting to look up more than she ever had, but it’s still not comfortable for her to look into people’s eyes. The tricky thing about the whole part was the dilemma of somebody who has been stoic and behind a mask all those years — how much does she show on her face as she starts to look up and out at the world again?

Did you consider adding a new character, a young woman pretending to be a teenage boy, so you could cast Justin Bieber in it? Think of the box office dollars that would reap!  [Laughing] Ah, Justin Bieber. He’d probably be very good at that. I don’t know if it would be convincing in a period movie in Victorian Dublin, but you never know!

While researching the time period in which Nobbs takes place, did you learn whether living as a male was typical for lesbians to do back then?  My research mainly turned up women who did this either to fight in wars, have a job or go on adventure. And then there are cases of people who married women, and the women found out later [their husbands] were women and not men. So I don’t know. It was a mixture, and whether they were lesbians are not, homosexuality was against the law. I’m not sure whether lesbianism was also against the law, but it was certainly considered aberrant and something to hide.

You famously played lesbian military vet Margarethe Cammermeyer in the 1995 TV movie, Serving in Silence. When ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, was it a big moment for you? And did you two talk about it?  Yes, it was, definitely. I was in touch with Grethe when that all happened and I would’ve loved to have gone to D.C. for that, but I just wasn’t able to. We talked about how proud we were that, back then, we did Serving in Silence and to think of the time that’s gone by since and the lives [military policy and DADT] affected in an unfortunate way. But thank God DADT doesn’t exist anymore. Not that everything’s going to change, but at least it has on the books. I think, ultimately, [gender and sexuality] shouldn’t matter. I’ve said this about our film. In some ways, gender should be irrelevant. It shouldn’t matter who someone is connected to and finds love and a life with. I hope [full federal equality] will come to be a reality for the LGBT world.

You’ve called Patty Hewes the role of your life. What can you tell us about this last season of Damages?  Oh, it’s a good, juicy season. Patty goes after a Wikileaks guy, like Julian Assange. She’s prosecuting him and Helen is defending him, so it’s pretty good.

Does the season come to a conclusive, all-tied-up end, or does it leave things open so there could be a Damages movie later down the line, a la 24?  I don’t know necessarily how our writers are going to end the season. We’ve had some general conversations about it, but knowing them I doubt it would all be in a tight and nice package with a bow.

If you were in a legal pickle, would you want Patty to represent you?  Absolutely! We couldn’t afford her, but I’d like her to represent me, yes.

You lost Oscars in the past to two other gay favorites, Cher and Jodie Foster. Are you hatin’ on them?  Funny, I didn’t think of that. I don’t hate them at all. Are you kidding me?

It would be great to see you three together in a project.  Oh, that would be wild. That would be good.

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•online exclusive

For a review of Albert Nobbs — and to read more about the Oscar nominations — visit DallasVoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Movie Monday: Gus Van Sant’s ‘Restless’ at the Angelika

Get a little Restless today

Any other director would almost certainly have turned Restless into a maudlin tearjerker (even the disrespectfully crass Judd Apatow made the mawkish disaster Funny People). But Van Sant operates on about two settings: Crazy genius (Milk, To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy) and disastrous boondoggle (his misguided Psycho remake) …. though he throws some impenetrable art films in as well (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). Restless is really none of those, though it is very good — a lighthearted look at death that never seems off-beat for its own sake.

Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Starring Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska. 95 min. Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

Dallas Video Fest gets a little queer

The Dallas Video Festival kicked off Wednesday, but they saved the gay content for this weekend. Here are some highlights.
For a complete schedule and more information, visit VideoFest.org.

Our New Family. Dallas-based documentarians and life partners James Dowell (pictured far left) and John Kolomvakis (pictured near left) have made movies about other gay people (Sleep in a Nest of Flames about poet Charles Henri Ford, The Stages of Edward Albee about the playwright), but they turn the cameras on themselves for this memoir of their efforts to become fathers through surrogacy well past middle-age.

Through archive footage, which shows James and John as handsome young hippies at the dawn of Stonewall, the film tracks their family histories, as well as how the conventional mores of 1950s Texas shaped their understandings of family identity. Those scenes are juxtaposed against their efforts to conceive with a generous surrogate, who eventually gives birth to twin sons. Including interviews with local gay luminaries like Dennis Coleman, Our New Family is part home movie, part social document tracking “the love that dare not speak its name” up to same-sex marriage. With the repeal this week of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” it brings into relief just how far we have come.

Screens Sept. 24 at noon at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

Fourplay: San Francisco. A trans “therapist” visits a dying heterosexual man, to give him a bi-curious experience before he passes. This unusual and occasionally sexually explicit short turns what is basically an escort call into a poignant and oddly romantic encounter, aided by a lush and soaring musical underscore and honest performances.
Screens Sept. 24 at 3:45 p.m. at Hyena’s Comedy Club at Mockingbird Station with the “Strange Ones” shorts program.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Princess of Persia

The lesbian romance “Circumstance’ breaks many taboos, but for director Maryam Keshavarz, it was simply a story that had to be told.

The Arab Spring has meant a significant liberalization in Middle Eastern countries. But political freedom is one thing; artistic expression is still quite another. And, for that matter, Iran is not Egypt or Libya.

Not that the revolutions in those countries mattered to Maryam Keshavarz, who made the dauntingly radical film Circumstance. Although shot in comparatively open Lebanon (where it is still illegal to be gay), the story tells a tale of two Iranian woman who enter into a romance.

Keshavarz chatted with critics recently following a screening of her film to discuss how the film was made, the price she and the crew had to pay and what it’s like taking on taboo subject matter in a country where her film cannot even be shown.

Opens Friday at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

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Question: How much of the film is autobiographical? Maryam Keshavarz: It is not an autobiographical film, but the girls navigating the underground world is my experience as a teenager with my cousins. The structure of the family is based on a very liberal uncle I had that was at university in America, went back to Iran in 1979 and got stuck there. Since he was very liberal, I wondered what it was like for him to raise his family in a very conservative environment.

Where was this movie made, when and how? The film was completely shot in Lebanon. We could not shoot in Iran due to the subject matter, but I wanted to shoot in the Middle East. Even shooting in a liberal country, like Lebanon, was still difficult. It is still illegal to be gay there. Also there is a lot of tension in the country.

As a filmmaker, did you run into backlash or difficulty making the project? There was a lot of risk in making the film. I had serious discussions with the actors that we likely couldn’t go back to Iran after making the film.

What has the reaction to the film been like in Middle Eastern countries? Unfortunately, we cannot show the film in Middle Eastern countries. The only countries that will show the film are Turkey and Israel. But we are trying to screen in other countries soon. There have been a lot of Middle Eastern immigrants who have seen the film and their reaction has been mostly positive, but some extremely negative. In terms of the young Middle Eastern and gay Middle Eastern, it has been extremely positive.

What has been the response from the gay community? The response in the gay community has been amazing. We won the audience award at Outfest and the Jury Award at New Fest.

What were your cinematic or visual cues that inspired the look and feel of the film? In terms of the visuals, I worked closely with my director of photography. I met him at the Sundance lounge in 2007. We created an 80-page look-book where we mapped out the entire course of the film. The beginning is open and airy, with smooth dolly shots, but as the film progresses, as the brother becomes more intrusive, the image becomes more crowded and darker to make a sense of unease.

Any specific films or filmmakers you modeled the film after? Or was it mostly intuitive or organic? I love Lucrecia Martel and Atom Egoyan.

Were you pressured at any point to walk your audience more explicitly through mile-markers of Iranian history and social context? I trusted the audience in making the film. In terms of when I write, I try to write scenes that resonate with me both as an Iranian and an American. I wanted people to feel the social context, not necessarily be told about it. We painted those strokes with camera and music. There are specific references to political ideologies. There’s the whole scene from Milk.

Did you always plan for dance and music to play such central roles? Yes, music has always been a major character in the film. Especially the use of Persian hip-hop in contrast to the Persian classical music. In the beginning of the film, there is a lot of music and joy. As the environment becomes more oppressive, the music that does appear is discordant. Gingger Shankar and I worked on the music cues even before we shot the film.

How open is the broader society to that kind of Persian hip-hop? Does it ever tackle these subjects directly in the music socially? Persian hip-hop is highly political. It’s all underground, but the lyrics are very political and it’s very popular with the young people in Iran. We will be releasing the soundtrack in November and there will be a booklet with the translations of the songs.

Can you talk about your upbringing? Are you able now to go back to Iran? I grew up going between New York, New Jersey and Shiraz. Since my parents came to the U.S. in ’67, I never had any issues going between countries. I had two passports. My uncle was killed in the war between Iran and Iraq. Because of this, my mom moved my brother and I back to Iran, so I actually went to second grade in Iran. I also did some of my graduate work at the university in Iran. I love that toggling back and forth.

How important was the influence of Marjane Satrapi [Persepolis] on you? I think Marjane and I both speak to a lot of Iranis’ experiences. I think what she did was only possible in animation. The broad historical analysis of a little girl.

Were there any specific challenges or issues with filming in the Middle East? Was production ever halted? I’ve shot two films in Iran before, so I know shooting in the Middle East is a very delicate matter. It’s about flying under the radar and picking the right team. We encountered some obstacles in terms of shutting down the production, but we were able to overcome them.

I like how we don’t know at first what headmistress means by “people like you,” and how you raise issues of wealth/class. Can you say more about that? “People like you” refers to Shireen’s parents’ political background. She’s been marked because of this. In terms of class, the film shows that the girls are on parallel paths until they are arrested. This is where circumstance of class comes in to play. Atafeh’s parents can buy her way out. Shireen’s choices are much more limited.

Did you specifically try to find a beautiful cast? Casting was a huge problem. I auditioned 2,000 girls for the roles of Atafeh and Shireen. I was looking for girls that were over 18, but looked under 18, had two passports, were good actors and weren’t afraid to tackle the subject matter in the film. It’s both girls’ acting debuts.

What are men most afraid of in regards to women in a culture like Iran? Women in Iran — it’s a touchy subject. Because it’s an Islamic state, women occupy a largely symbolic position in the culture. If women show too much of their hair or dress too promiscuously, this is an assault on the state. Women are largely more harassed in the culture. But it also creates very strong women as a result. The film is sort of a love poem to strong Iranian women, who in their daily lives and small acts stand up against the state.

Given the environment, why is there not a mass exodus of women? That’s not to say women don’t create their own spaces for freedom of expression. You have a sense in the beginning of the film that despite all the surveillance cameras, the girls have found a way to still live their lives. They ride around in the city, still see their friends — like typical teenagers. The family has done quite well for themselves. The mother is a successful surgeon. So in any oppressive environment, safe spaces are created. But I was trying to evaluate, when are those safe spaces compromised?

Are you currently working on any new, similarly risky projects? I’m working on a trilogy on Iran.

Surveillance cameras have become a way of life in all countries and cultures. How do you think this changes us fundamentally as human beings? It’s only when the threat comes from within that tragedy strikes. It’s when the brother brings the state [surveillance] into the sanctuary of the home that everything starts to fall apart.

Given Mehran’s arc, are you comfortable with viewers seeing his newfound fundamentalism as its own form of addiction? Is that too pat or a viable read of the character? Mehran’s not truly a fundamentalist. He’s attracted to religion because it comes with power in Iran. His extremism is another form of articulating his addictive character. But he’s quite lost and lonely. He’s disempowered. I don’t see him as a villain. Just as someone trying to find his place in the world.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Far from Brokeback

With ‘Hold Your Peace,’ SMU grad Wade McDonald adds his name to a budding local community of queer filmmakers

SO HAPPY TOGETHER | Soon-to-be-marrieds Max (Tyler Brockington, above left) and Forrest (Blair Dickens) trigger mixed feelings from Max’s ex in the new film from local filmmaker Wade McDonald, on set right, opposite page.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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HOLD YOUR PEACE
Angelika Film Center, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane. Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. Free (passes at Buli or Skivvies). HoldYourPeaceMovie.com.

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When Southern Methodist University alum Wade McDonald set out to make his debut feature film, the one thing he didn’t want to do was make a “typical” gay film: No naked boys as the selling point, no ridiculous gay-angst drama, no coming-out story. McDonald loves romantic comedies and wanted to make his own — just with men.

His plan worked. The result, Hold Your Peace, seems to have resonated with audiences.

“We finished in April 2011 and started applying to film festivals right away,” McDonald says. “We premiered in Philadelphia and it snowballed form there to San Diego and even a non-gay film fest in Rhode Island. We got a distributor before the film even premiered! It was crazy.”

Dallas audiences get their first chance to screen Hold Your Peace at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station on Tuesday — just in time for Pride.

“It hadn’t shown here yet, but a friend of our audio editor, Terry Thompkins, was kind enough to pay for a screening,” he says. “I’m so excited it’ll show at the Angelika because I love it there.”

McDonald describes Peace as a meditation on relationships where shenanigans ensue after Aiden is asked to be the best man at his ex Max’s commitment ceremony. Only Aiden isn’t too keen on going alone, much less going at all.

What McDonald strived for was not a “gay movie” per se, but a film where characters happen to be gay. Anyone gay or straight can identify with the situation of unexpressed love and torch-bearing. At the same time, it was important to create a fun and easy watch that fairly portrayed queer men.

“It’s a very human and very honest film. This is a portrayal of normalcy,” he says. “I’ve had straight people tell me they didn’t think they would like this film. It plays a bit safer and I think more people can relate to it.”

McDonald funded Peace mostly on his own, making it on a $200,000 budget. By Hollywood standards, that’s nothing, but it’s high for indies. But he knew he had to make the production high quality. As a cinematographer by day, he had both the know-how and the equipment to shoot a film that looked polished. But he holds the entire cast and crew responsible for putting out a quality product. Don’t call him the film’s auteur — this was completely a team effort.

McDonald is intent on making his mark in queer cinema. Hollywood can take care of itself, he says, but he feels at home in Dallas. A burgeoning community of local gay filmmakers has left him with the sense there’s something special going on around here. He joins Israel Luna, Shawn Ewert, Robert Camina, Yen Tan and Mehul Shah as current or recent Dallasites forming a budding cinema community, turning Dallas into a Mecca of queer film. Hey, it could happen.

“I think it’s something that’s unique to Dallas,” he says. “We are starting something here and if we begin producing enough content here then we can create an industry. Something that can let people quit their day jobs to work on something they love.”

McDonald has no intention of moving to Los Angeles or New York for his movie career. He grew up here, went to SMU for school and he now lives with his partner in Plano. McDonald is the local boy done good, but who hasn’t moved away. He prefers to keep it that way.

“I’m proof positive you can do it in Dallas,” he says. “I could move to L.A., but my personality doesn’t mesh there and that’s fine. It’s inexpensive to shoot here, we have a great support system and I’d love to continue making films right here.”

For now, McDonald is gearing up for his initial Dallas screening. He showed it to cast and crew already, but now the general public gets to see his finished product. For any filmmaker, putting his work out there is nerve-racking, but McDonald and team already see the film taking on a life of its own.

“It’s your baby in a way and you don’t wanna be told you have an ugly baby,” he says. “I’m very proud of what we accomplished with Hold Your Peace and everyone worked their butt off. We’re not setting out to make great literature, just a film that’s fun to watch. You’re just supposed to enjoy it.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

QUEER CLIPS: USAFF Short Film Showcase

Hello Caller: A suicidal woman calls a help line only to find the man on the opposite end (gay filmmaker Tom Lenk, pictured, who produced and wrote the script) seems not to understand the situation. A gem of a comedy with very dark undertones and a great twist.

Clara’s Carma: A psychiatrist (Dallas native Stephen Tobolowsky of Glee) deals with a flaky patient and unexpected expenses on his new car.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Short Film Showcase plays April 29 at 9:15 p.m. with short film awards presented May 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  John Wright

Movie Monday: Oscar nominated ‘The Illusionist’ at the Angelika

Slight, off-hand: Oscar-nominated ‘The Illusionist’ aims for twee more than wow

The French filmmaker Jacques Tati was a latter-day Chaplin with Gallic sensibilities. In just a handful of nearly silent films in the 1950s — 30 years before the Griswolds — his guileless M. Hulot got embroiled in a cascade of fiascos that delighted audiences at the time, and some film enthusiasts since.

That was half a century and a full continent ago, and closer in time to when he wrote The Illusionist than when animator Sylvain Chomet adapted it to the current feature-length cartoon, just nominated for an Oscar. You can see why it was nominated: The faded, painterly images evoke the best of 1960s Disney animation, like 101 Dalmatians: Hand-drawn art, not computer-generated commerce.

But just being old school doesn’t quite get you there, entertainment-wise. The Illusionist is sentimental and twee, with a melancholy tone that feels less earned than foisted upon audiences.

Two and a half stars. Read the entire review here.

DEETS: The Illusionist. Rated PG. 80 minutes. Now showing at the Angelika Film Center, Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

‘The Fighter:’ ‘Rocky 2.0’

With all the homoeroticism (and lesbian subplot) in The Wrestler two years back, I was hoping The Fighter — with an always-buff Mark Wahlberg, above left, as an aspiring welterweight — might, Rocky III-esque, idealize the male form for gay audiences. No such luck. We have to settle, instead, for a gritty and highly watchable character study set in the world of boxing. I’ll adjust.

In many ways, The Fighter is the obverse of Black Swan: One is about a girl in the arts that lures you in with cliches about ballet films, then turns out the be something totally different; the other is about man in sports that avoids a lot of cliches until, about three-quarters through, turns out to be Rocky in disguise. (Both films also have the hand of Darren Aronofsky in them, who also directed The Wrestler.)

Such misdirection works in the film’s favor, because it allows the story to unfold with the immediacy of a family drama, and this family is full of drama. Mom (a fabulous Melissa Leo) coddles her seven useless harpy daughters while offering up her son Micky (Wahlberg, more heartfelt than ever), the only one with potential, in a series of bad bouts.

Even worse: The entire town of Lowell, Mass., idolizes Micky’s crack-addict brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a has-been who spends more time getting high than helping his little brother achieve what he couldn’t.

That may sound like a familiar plot, and it is familiar — you think of On the Waterfront, and are tempted to call it Rocky 2.0 — but the approach is cattywampus, almost disorienting. You think you know where it’s headed, but it surprises you.

With its cinema verite look and painfully authentic performances — especially by Leo and Bale, who’s gaunt and scary as a tweaked-out loser — conjure up everything that’s frightening about poisonous relationships of all kinds. It’s the season’s most unexpected crowd-pleaser.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Three stars
Now playing at the Angelika Film Center — Mockingbird Station

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens