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

TRAVEL DIARY

Bus tours and hosted walking tours of cities are popular ways to learn what sights and stops to hit, but technology is making human contact so less relevant. GPSmyCity.com has developed smartphone apps for 180 international cities — with some gay hubs having gay-specific apps: Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Orlando,

Acapulco, Vancouver, Madrid, even Houston. The apps offer everything from “gay nightlife of B.A.” to “top-rated gay venues of Vancouver” and “LGBT entertainment in Madrid.” The apps cost from $3–$5 per destination.

Dallas Pride officially lasts only until Sunday, but you can road-trip it to nearby Shreveport, La., for a week-long film festival of queer cinema.

PACE (People Acting for Change and Equality) hosts its third annual North Louisiana Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Sept. 16–22 at its artsy Robinson Film Center. The festivities include an opening night appearance by Bruce Vilanch, who will introduce the documentary Get Bruce.  Other films screening over the course of the fest include Undertow, pictured, Wish Me Away and Thy Will Be Done. Visit RobinsonFilmCenter.org, NLGLFF.org and PaceLouisiana.org for more.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

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: ‘All Good Things’ in the Angelika

Murder in Texas?

Quick, name the artsy Ryan Gosling movie out now about a troubled man and his complex sexual relationship with a blonde — and they have sex in a shower. Yeah, maybe you said Blue Valentine, but you could have said All Good Things. Gosling’s character here trades up the social ladder but down the well-adjusted scale with AGT, inspired by the life of Texas-based killer (and sometime cross-dresser) Robert Durst.

Gosling plays the Durst character, here called David Marks, the scion of an abrasive, wealthy New York slumlord (Frank Langella). David reluctantly enters the family business once he meets Katie (Kirsten Dunst), basically serving as bag-man for his dad’s collections arm. Dad is disapproving of him, and looks disdainfully on Katie, which only exacerbates David’s isolation, as well as his spiraling psychological instability.

Read the rest of the review here.

DEETS: All Good Things. Rated R. 110 minutes. Angelika Film Center at the Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

Prisoner of love

The real Phillip Morris is a free man — but still smarting from how a bigoted Texas justice system railroaded him

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

BOYS BEHIND BARS   Ewan McGregor plays Phillip Morris, the real-life victim of an obsessive con man (played by Jim Carrey). The actual Morris loves the movie — even if his life didn’t seem so funny at the time.

4.5 stars
I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS

Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor.
Rated R. 100 mins.
Now playing at Angelika Film
Center Mockingbird Station.

…………………

An early review for the new queer romantic comedy I Love You, Phillip Morris couldn’t be more positive: “I absolutely love the movie,” gushes the review. “I think it’s wonderfully done. Very entertaining. It makes you laugh and cry and has everything. I had to separate myself from living it. I looked at it as if I wasn’t part of it.”

Yes, there really is a Phillip Morris from the title, a pixie-like gentleman with a lazy Southern drawl as sweet and sticky on the ears as molasses. “No one really knows the extent of what I went through and what Steven Russell put me through until you see it on the screen. A friend of mine [saw it] and hugged me with tears running down his face. ‘I never knew!’ he said. I said, ‘If you only knew what really happened you wouldn’t have been able to stop crying.’”

I Love You has endured a tortured journey from indie darling of Sundance in 2009 to not-with-a-10-foot-pole distribution hell. A Jim Carrey comedy should be a sure bet. But set in prison — and with a gay theme that the filmmakers don’t bat an eyelash in portraying? Adding to the discomfort factor: It’s true.

Well, sort of. Morris himself — he now lives in Arkansas, 14 years after meeting con man Steven Russell (Carrey’s role) in a Texas jail — says a lot of what happens in the film did not happen in real life. Yes, Russell sweet-talked his way into prison posing as Morris’ lawyer. Yes, Russell cheated people and businesses with the callow greed of a cat in a tunafish factory. Yes, Morris (played in the film by Ewan McGregor) was naïve and believed the lies he was told by a man he thought loved him, but whom he now perceives a merely obsessed with sociopathic tendencies. But much of it is, let’s say, “creative license.”

“Steve was not as humorous [as Carrey portrays], so I had to dig deep to realize what he did was very serious, but if you think about how he did it, it’s hilarious! I just love they way they did the comedy,” Morris says.

It would be understandable if he weren’t quite so forgiving of the liberties taken with his life story. Morris is still profoundly bitter about his incarceration, and how he felt railroaded by the Harris County D.A.’s office.

“When you’re 5-foot-3 and weigh 100 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes, prison is not a bed of roses,” he says with sudden grimness. “This movie will help shed light on what happened to me and how they screwed me in the state of Texas. It was bad enough I was lied to and used by Steven Russell, but I spend seven years in prison for what I did not do or even know about. Even though I’m not physically in prison, this is still hovering over me.”

Morris met Russell 14 years ago in county lock-up (not prison as portrayed in the movie, but he’s OK with that). They ended up spending eight months together, becoming lovers. And we’re not talking of the prison-bitch kind shown on Oz — it was deep, true, sincere affection, a fairy tale romance in leg irons (even if there were no slow dances and touching prison courtyard farewells — again, in the movie only, but that’s all right).

“I have no anger about the way it was portrayed,” he says.

What he does have anger over is how homophobia played a role, he’s certain, in how he was treated by the system.

Steven Russell forged Morris’ name, set up dummy bank accounts and bilked people out of millions, getting Morris in trouble with Texas law enforcement and landing him in prison for seven years, even as the prosecution knew he was innocent.

“Steve did what he did out of what he called love for me — if I thought for one second he did any of that with malice or intent to hurt me, I would hate the man so much it would tear me apart,” Morris says.

“But the D.A. told me the day of my trial that he knew I was innocent. But they went ahead and [pursued me] just to cover their asses. If I had been a woman — if I had been married to Steve or his girlfriend — they never would have indicted me. But you should have seen how they looked at me: They were determined to make this faggot go to prison. It was the good-ol’-buddy mentality dished out to me.” His bile rises as he recounts the story, still furious more than seven years later.

He felt abused again after Steve McVicker’s article [for the Houston Press] and eventual book portrayed him badly.

“I detest the writer of the book,” he says. “This mentality, the ignorance — that’s this writer. Although he lives in the middle of Montrose, he is one of the most homophobic idiots I’ve ever met. He misquoted me, called me a barfly even though I hate going to bars, called me a gold digger. Just lies. He is a cockroach. And you can quote me.”

The film then, even with its warm-and-fuzzy patina, finally captures the three-dimensionality of Morris. He feels like a real human being again.

“Ewan’s portrayal of me is dead-on. People who know me say they thought that was me up there! Ewan took the time to spend with me to learn my mannerisms and hear my story and the tender side of me. I’m a very sensitive and emotional person and I don’t hide that.”

As for his feelings about Russell, well — spoiler alert! — “We were as close and two human beings could possibly be. We never argued and were very affectionate and we really learned each other. But neither of us has written each other since 2008.”

Maybe one day he’ll resume communication with the man currently serving a life sentence in high security custody. If he does… well, that might make a pretty good movie, too.

………………………………………

The long con

I Love You, Phillip Morris rattled around for nearly two years looking for a release date (and occasionally a distributor), and it’s easy to see why: Despite being a Jim Carrey comedy, it’s one of the gayest bits of cinema this side of the porn industry — and it doesn’t apologize for it. Not one bit. What mainstream audience would want to see a romance with two guys?

The answer should be: All of them — or at least those who enjoy an excellent film, no matter what the orientation of the lovers happens to be.

I Love You is, in many ways, a traditional screwball comedy, owing as much to What’s Up, Doc? as to Brokeback Mountain. Steven Russell (Carrey) lives a normal, straight existence, but once he comes out, lives a lifestyle beyond his means. That entails scams, cons and ballsy ventures that eventually land him in jail where he meets Phillip (Ewan McGregor), a naive Southern boy smitten with the charismatic Russell. They plan a life together out of jail, but Russell’s sociopathic need for money and addiction to risk sets everything on a bad path.

Carrey’s performance is brave, and not because he’s playing gay: Because he throws himself into the head-over-heels love-struck mode so enthusiastically. This is still a Jim Carrey movie, but one loaded with more heart than usual.

It may not be for every taste, but there is a moment where the battle lines are drawn: When Phillip, seeing Steven moved to a new facility, runs through the prison like a starry-eyed heroine from a wartime romance. Some may dismiss it as hokum, but it’s something else really: Classic sentimentality with the twist that two men can be as in love as any hetero couple. If you allow yourself to get lost in it, you’ll buy it all. Rick and Elsa always had Paris; why shouldn’t Steven and Phillip always have Huntsville?

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Louisiana: Top & bottom

Part 2, profiling our gaybor to the East: Shreveport’s homespun gay appeal

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

KING OF CAKES
KING OF CAKES | The king cakes at Julie Anne’s are the best you’ve ever had, but all the baked goods soar. Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

We profiled the bottom of Louisiana as a travel destination earlier this month — now it’s time to hit the top.

With Southern Decadence right around the corner in New Orleans, nearby Shreveport-Bossier City doesn’t get the attention from gay travelers it deserves. But this neighbor to the east is making strides in cultivating its LGBT cred — and not just during Mardi Gras (although we like it for Mardi Gras a lot).

Much of the central business district is fairly compact and surprisingly lively. Less than a week after SoDec ends, Shreveport will gay up the state with the town’s second annual Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, sponsored by PACE (People Acting for Change and Equality) at the Robinson Film Center. The Robinson, like our own Angelika, is a mecca for artsy films (it was the only place in the region to show Milk a few years ago). It’s a beautiful, modern facility that, along with the ArtSpace across the street, gives Downtown an artistic vibe. That sense is augmented with John Waters in tow, which he will be for the fest.

Credit SBC’s progressives for standing up for gay rights. Last year, a city councilman threatened to yank funding for the Robinson because of the gay film fest. The reaction was large enough that not only did the resolution get nowhere, in December the city adopted a non-discrimination policy that covers sex and gender identity. (PACE is also sponsoring a mayoral candidate forum this Sunday.)

Walk or drive down toward the Red River to check out Sci-Port, an interactive science museum targeting families and especially curious kids, but an addictively entertaining place for nerds of all ages. The Sawyer Space Dome Planetarium inside offers everything from laser shows to calculating your weight on the moon (a boon to pound-conscious gays) and lets you show the stars on the day you were born. It also hosts the state’s only IMAX dome theater.

Just down the street, the Barnwell Memorial Garden and Art Center has a greenhouse that’s a hoot to wander through.

Farther away, but completely worth the drive, is the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, a huge museum of eclectic and excellent art, including “double elephant” Audubon portfolios and rotating high-end exhibitions. The self-guided cell-phone tour is an ingenious way to enjoy the art at your own pace.

Perhaps the most interesting attraction, though, is the Logan Mansion. Built in 1897, this private home (Vicky and Billy LeBrun live here full-time) is an architectural marvel bursting with history. It’s also full of believable ghost stories, which Vicky is more than willing to share. It’s one the best historic home tours ever.

Although SBC is not as famed as the Crescent City, all Louisianans know how to enjoy their food, and the culinary scene has several highlights.

Don’t miss the Wine Country Bistro, which deftly executes rustic dishes with French and American country influences. Try the perfectly seared scallops (the size of a fish) on a bed of bacon grits, a corn bread soufflé so sweet it’s more like spoon bread and a mixed berry cobbler with buttermilk ice cream that’s slap-yo’-mama good.

Bistro Byronz has branches in Baton Rouge and Mandeville, but the décor and fare cry out New Orleans, with traditional French dishes like cassoulet (a hearty white bean soup) and chicken paillard (a form of scallopini) in a casual setting that invites jazz music and mimosa.

Logan Mansion
GHOST TOUR | Logan Mansion offers one of the best hist- oric home tours anywhere. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

More formal and spacious, but just as delectable, is Giuseppe, an Italian restaurant with tons of private dining rooms for intimate parties. Try the Sunday “champagne symphony” brunch, which serves bottomless bellinis, mimosas or champagne for six bucks and has well-priced entrees. The razor-thin salmon carpaccio is a highlight, but the housemade pastas are unmissable.

OK, some of the food is more kitsch that cuisine — but even that is noteworthy. Julie Anne’s Bakery is home to the king cake, the signature confectionary of the Lenten season. If you’ve only choked down local grocery store versions, be prepared: They do ‘em right here (as many as 600 a day in the week before Fat Tuesday) and aside from being about as healthy a stick of butter, the flavors are heavenly. (There are other delicious baked goods here for the other 10 months of the year.)

On the other hand, it’s not a bad idea to plan a Mardi Gras season visit, where you can enjoy floats, a pet parade and maybe even get access to the pre-parade krewe parties where the massive moving structures are finished out. Some of the krewes are even gay — which goes to show NOLA doesn’t have a lock on queer-friendly Louisiana.

…………………………………..

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Wine Country Bistro
Wine Country Bistro

ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
ArtSpace, 710 Texas St. ArtSpaceShreveport.com.
Barnwell Memorial Garden & Art Center, 601 Clyde Fant Parkway. BarnwellCenter.com.
North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Sept. 10–16), NLGFF.org.
Logan Mansion, 725 Austin Place. R.W. Norton Gallery, 4747 Creswell Ave. RWNAF.org.
Robinson Film Center, 617 Texas St. RobinsonFilmCenter.org.
Sci-Port Museum, 820 Clyde Fant Parkway. SciPort.org.

DINING
Bistro Byronz
, 6104 Line Ave. BistroByronz.com.
Giuseppe, 4800 Line Ave. RistoranteGiuseppe.com.
Julie Anne’s Bakery, 825 Kings Highway.
Wine Country Bistro, pictured, 4801 Line Ave. Wine Country Net.com.

RESOURCES
PACE,
PaceLouisiana.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens