Movie Monday: ‘House of Boys’ in limited run at the Texas Theatre

Where the Boys are

House of Boys is basically Burlesque with men, Mohawks and leg-warmers (and without Cher) — an otherworldly allegory about humanizing the denizens of the gay subculture. As such, it’s both depressing and titillating. It convincingly recreates the era’s sexual openness, but also its dirty authenticity: Sex in the shower with a young punk may be hot, but you know the tub is moldy. (European films seem unnervingly comfortable portraying the murky reality of life — and Udo Kier in a gold bustier and blonde Marilyn wig is about as real and murky as life gets.)

For the entire review click here.

DEETS: Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. 9:20 p.m. 117 min. Not rated. Through Thursday. TheTexasTheatre.com.

—  Rich Lopez

QUEER CLIP: ‘House of Boys’


A teen with a Flock of Seagulls haircut and upturned collar pops a zit in a school mirror while New Wave music drones on in the background. If this sounds familiar, you probably lived through adolescence in the 1980s. If you didn’t live through it, you have the opportunity to — and beyond — with House of Boys.

Gay cinema nowadays typically falls into one of three categories: Romances about coming out; coming-of-age period pieces set in the late ‘70s, ‘80s or early ‘90s; and contemporary dramas about the travails of sex in the post-AIDS era. House of Boys combines aspects of each of them.

Frank (Layke Anderson) is a twink in the pre-meth days of clubbing who alienates his parents and his best friend, eventually winding up as a dancer at the House of Boys, a brothel-like club run by Madame (Udo Kier).

Frank develops a crush on Jake (Benn Northover), his straight roomate who goes gay-for-pay to make a living.

House of Boys is basically Burlesque with men, Mohawks and leg-warmers (and without Cher) — an otherworldly allegory about humanizing the denizens of the gay subculture. As such, it’s both depressing and titillating. It convincingly recreates the era’s sexual openness, but also its dirty authenticity: Sex in the shower with a young punk may be hot, but you know the tub is moldy. (European films seem unnervingly comfortable portraying the murky reality of life — and Udo Kier in a gold bustier and blonde Marilyn wig is about as real and murky as life gets.)

There’s merit to that, but while the emotions may be genuine, the plotting is pure genre cliché from start to finish. Frank resents that Jake prostitutes himself for every customer but won’t get it on with him. Jake eventually sees Frank as a threat, but also develops an attachment to him. Another dancer dreams of a sex-change operation, but he’s obviously a tragedy waiting to happen. And Madame presides over everything with Kier’s trademark Easter Island-esque cold gaze.

Director Jean-Claude Schlim doesn’t let a lot of light in. The House itself is a shadowy den of social misfits who live by night, and the tone is rarely buoyant, despite the cast of pretty young boys who drop trou with impressive regularity. Like the boys themselves, this House lacks a solid foundation.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Two stars
One-week engagement starts Dec. 2
at the Texas Theater.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Defining Homes • Peak pocket

An eclectic community finds solace in a tiny East Dallas ‘hood

Charlie Jenks, above left, and Eric White enjoy their front porch in the East Dallas neighborhood of Mill Creek. Sprawling back yards and Victorian homes such as Mack Anderson’s, previous page, dot the Peak Suburban district within Mill Creek. (Photos by Rich Lopez)

By Rich Lopez

On the whole, East Dallas has a solid reputation as the quirky part of town. Artists and musicians find cheap properties to rent and homeowners find a sort of refuge that’s not like any other. But look a little closer and the area is divided into several neighborhoods such as Munger Place and Junius Heights. As historic districts, they keep up the heritage of the area, but a street over and the denizens of Peak Suburban and Mill Creek do their own thing.

“We’re all a little off-kilter here,” Charlie Jenks laughs.

Jenks lives in a patch of neighborhood called Mill Creek with his partner of 25 years, Eric White. Sectioned off between Fitzhugh and Haskell avenues, the tiny area has been both a haven for Jenks and White as well as quite a find. The couple moved here from Baton Rouge and was intent on finding an older neighborhood. A friend told them to go east.

“It took a while to find this part of town,” Jenks says. “We knew we wanted to an old part of town. We had gone to Oak Cliff, looked in Oak Lawn because of the community, but we finally came to look here. This house being larger, we knew this is the one.”

That was 21 years ago. Beginning with what White describes as a teardown that was boarded up with no plumbing or even doorknobs, they have now renovated into exactly the home they wanted.

“When we moved in, there was lots of sketchy people around,” White says. “We couldn’t afford to buy this house now.”

The old neighborhood that was once spotted with substance abusers, homeless drifters and prostitutes evolved into an attractive area. With yuppies jogging in the streets and same-sex couples walking their dogs, Mack Anderson now sees a small utopia, but without the invasion of big stores and McMansions.

“It hasn’t really gentrified through the years here,” he says.

Anderson lives in the micro historic district of Peak Suburban within Mill Creek. A street away from friends and neighbors Jenks and White, Anderson revels in the overall feel of the magnificent trees, the different people and the big porches.

“Sometimes I just take my dinner out there and see what’s going on,” he says. “It’s better than TV.”

His Victorian home, which was also renovated, is thought to have been build in the 1880s.

Now retired, Anderson liked that his commute downtown was only five minutes. That factored big into his day-to-day living, but the texture of the area was a big selling point when he bought in the early ’80s.

“You don’t find that kind of diversity anywhere else, we all get along,” he says. “Here you have Irish, German, Hispanic and everyone gets along fine. It’s like the way the world should be.”

Add to that a bustling number of gay residents. The diversity and eclecticism of the area resonates with LGBT homebuyers and owners for similar reasons Oak Cliff does.

“I think we’ve always been here,” Anderson laughs. “I think us gay people want projects, want big houses and we’re the only ones willing to get things started. That makes a statement to others who follow the risk to bring up the neighborhood.”

Jenks and White feel good about being able to fit in and be proud.

“The flag goes up twice a year,” Jenks says. “There are several gay people around and the neighborhood associations and straight friends are all gay friendly, we’ve never not felt comfortable here.”

But while buying a home is not impossible in this is East Dallas pocket, Anderson makes a point about how great his spot is.

“If it has a good feel, it doesn’t matter where it is,” he says, ”so I found that the people who move here, stay here.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘Harry Potter’ and the deathly bore

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now playing in wide release.
One star

I have struggled for the better part of a decade to make sense of the appeal of the Harry Potter books and movies. Now, as the film series nears its conclusion with the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2 comes out in July), I’m more befuddled than ever. As it somersaults uncontrollably toward a necessary resolution, the series must contend with its greatest burden: 4,000 pages of characters and intricately plotted (but nonsensical) events — collectively, it all requires a scorecard to keep track.

Sadly, Part 1 comes with no such primer, and the director, David Yates (this is his third Potter film), has made no effort to remind us of who these people are. He should, as couching motives in shadow seems like the raison d’etre of the series. The first half-hour, in fact, feels more like the star credits that used to open The Love Boat: from forgotten Weasleys to Dobby the House Elf (who, to my knowledge, hasn’t been seen since the second film), the parade of former denizens of the Potterverse is mind-numbing.

But not nearly as numbing as the plot itself. Know what a horcrux is, or how it’s make — or, for that matter, how to find and destroy it? You’d better before entering this film. (I’ve seen the other movies and read the mythology and still feel flummoxed.) Like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the Harry Potter films have given over to infernal navelgazing. They are not interested in winning new converts, but catering to the obsessions of their core. It’s the GOP strategy writ in celluloid.

Of course, there are those who have a rabid enthusiasm for the series and who will flock to it, as well as some just caught up in the pop culture excitement of a Thanksgiving blockbuster. But I can’t worry about those. I’m just trying to make heads or tails of the story and the storytelling, and here, it’s nonexistent. (I’d tell you the plot, but have no idea what it was.)

There are long, boring parts in the middle where nothing much happens that fill in the short, boring parts that begin and end it, though seeing a cross-dressing Daniel Radcliffe as Harry in the opening scene is pretty funny. What’s not funny is Harry’s sincere

selflessness: He’s always saying, “I don’t want anyone to suffer just because of me.” You, you mean the only person who can kill the Dark Lord Voldemorte? You, who all of creation has put its faith in to rescue them from eternal darkness? You really think they want you to be in harm’s way? Harry seems not so much noble as indulgent. Accept your lot, and live with it.

Part 1 is among the shortest of the Potter films, but feels longer, even though the ball doesn’t move very far down the field. Or the snitch across the Quiddich court. Or something. Frankly, I’ve given up caring. Apparently, the filmmakers have, too.

…………………………

The Next Three Days

Now playing in wide release.
One and a half stars

I’m old enough to remember when Russell Crowe was actually a movie star. Remember his muscled torso in a short Roman chiton in Gladiator? Or sailing the seas with bravado in Master and Commander? The volatile cop in L.A. Confidential? Heck, even his mentalyl ill professor in A Beautiful Mind has the glam of Old Hollywood “Issue Picture” all over it. So when did he become the guy whose movie all sound like dull preposition phrases? State of Play. Body of Lies. Proof of Life.

The Next Three Days is more dangling clause than preposition phrase, though that doesn’t make it any better. It’s still a dark muddle about an ordinary guy who tries extraordinary things faced with unusual circumstances. When you think about it, that’s the plot of his last film, Robin Hood, too. … another day but moodless and sincere drama.

Here, Crowe is a milquetoast husband whose wife (Elizabeth Banks) has been falsely convicted of murder. He obsesses about getting  her out, but when his last appeal (and last dollar) is lost, he decides to break her out.

Writer-director Paul Haggis veers too often into action-movie parody without the sense of fun that silly actioners can possess. Want to be earnest and deep? Then do that and leave the cheesy coincidences in the first draft. The Next Three Days isn’t a horrible film, it’s just one with so little personality, it’s hard to like.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Ladies first

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas proves just why the city needs them

M.M. Adjarian  | Contributing Writer MMAdjarian@GMail.com

The Women’s Chorus of Dallas
LADIES FOR CHOIR | The Women’s Chorus of Dallas plans to go above and beyond on their next season.

GALA CHORUS CONCERT
With the Turtle Creek Chorale. Cathedral of Hope,
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Sept. 5 at 4 p.m. GalaChoruses.org or TWCD.org.

For more than 20 years, the Women’s Chorus of Dallas thrived, happily performing with  SMU’s Caruth Auditorium as its base of operation. But when the chance came last March to become one of the companies based in the new AT&T Performing Arts Center, the group leapt at the opportunity.

“It was pretty powerful when we first moved in there and had our first rehearsal,” recalls Melinda Imthurn, TWCD’s artistic director. “It felt like a different chorus. The women — I could just see it in their faces and hear it in their voices — felt [like] they were home.”

The chorus had arrived — in more ways than one. The move sent a clear message about TWCD’s importance as a Dallas arts organization, and “[as a specifically] women’s arts organization in the Arts District,” says Imthurn. The group does their part to let Dallas shine as part of this weekend’s Gala Choruses Annual

Leadership Conference and plays host, with the Turtle Creek Chorale, as the resident vocal groups of this area.

Like most music groups of its kind, the chorus —originally founded in 1989 as a lesbian community arts organization — started small. The Women’s Chorus has matured into a group with a diverse membership and a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic face reflective of the city’s denizens. Choral performers come from all walks of life and sexual orientations and bring with them a wide range of musical talents, abilities and skills.

That diversity doesn’t stop at the kinds of women who perform with the chorus. The group incorporates costumes, dancing and the spoken word into its concerts, enhancing the overall vocal vibrancy. As Imthurn explains, these performance extras, combined with concerts that are scripted to more resemble theatrical presentations, “make the music more accessible to people, especially those who might not have experience with choral music.”

And then there’s the superbly eclectic repertoire. Much of what TWCD performs at any given concert is choral music from the venerable European tradition. But there are the musical surprises that include everything from Billboard hits to Broadway show tunes to African folk songs … all presented without missing a stylistic beat. TWCD prides itself on being appropriate to each genre. “[It’s] something the chorus works hard at,” says Imthurn.

In keeping with its mission to promote the “strength, diversity and joy of women,” much of the material that the chorus presents is, one way or another, woman-centered. And it is one of the few organizations that gives voice, both literally and figuratively, to lesbian themes onstage. One of the upcoming projects that Imthurn is especially excited about for the 2010–11 season is a performance at the Texas Discovery Garden for Mother’s Day.

“What we’ll be doing for that particular performance is first [to] sing songs that honor mothers, grandmothers, parental-type figures, mentors, teachers and secondly [to sing songs] about nature,” Imthurn says. TWCD members will then encircle the garden’s butterfly sanctuary and 100 butterflies will be released.

TWCD also maintains a keen sense of social mission. It has actively raised awareness of issues pertaining to AIDS and domestic violence prevention; it also participates in fundraising for such organizations as AIDS LifeWalk, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

According to Imthurn, in everything it does, the chorus is clearly a group that takes the “art” in “heart” and brings it to a new level … which is what drew Imthurn — who started as a performer with TWCD in 2004 — to the group in the first place.

“What made me fall in love with the chorus was the heart of the chorus and the heart you can hear in the music,” she says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas