QUEER CLIP: ‘Warrior’

screen-2There are worse ways to spend two hours in a movie theater than watching hulking, half-naked man-meat wail on each other — in fact, it’s hard to imagine a better way. That’s at least part of the appeal of Warrior.

Set in the world of mixed martial arts, it’s a fiction film (it’s from Gavin O’Connor, the director of Miracle, about the real-life 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team) about two estranged brothers who face off for the ultimate glory: One (Joel Edgerton), a family man in financial straights, the other (Tom Hardy), a troubled Gulf War veteran with something to prove. If that sounds cliched, just try watching it.

No really, do — because, as predictable and manipulative as Warrior is, it’s also damned entertaining, in the way only the hokiest of sports movies can be. I grew up in a sports household, so have long held a soft spot for movies like Million Dollar Baby, Rocky III and The Fighter, all of which this resembles more than passingly.

Hardy, a brooding slab of muscle, has Brando stamped all over his performance, and O’Connor effectively evokes the overcast, aimless depression of the Rust Belt occupied by contentious Irishmen. Add a serious dose of homoeroticism. and that’s a recipe — OK, a formula — for a feel-good film.

— A.W.J.

Three stars. Now playing in wide release.

—  Kevin Thomas

Stake & aches

‘Fright Night’ remake preserves original’s orgasmic bloodlust — and homoeroticism

FN-005
FOR REAL | Jerry (Colin Farrell) defies the power of the cross in the smart update of the ‘80s cult hit.

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

The original Fright Night was one of the most subversively gay films of the mid 1980s: The suburban vampire Jerry had a suspiciously familiar relationship with his Renfield-like companion and more rayon disco shirts than any straight man should own. He also was more than slightly obsessed with his teen-aged neighbor Charley, although you could attribute that less to pedophilia than survival instinct.

But the original was also of its age, like lots of ‘80s pabulum — can you imagine a remake of Lost Boys? — a cult horror-comedy that didn’t really scream to be revisited. But since they have done so, this question is: Worth it? Yes. Pretty much.

Unlike many remakes, this new Fright Night — arriving in the August discount bin, just like its progenitor — sticks surprisingly close to the basic plot, with some sensible updates. Gone is Renfield, but Charley (Anton Yelchin) remains the virginal Everykid; Jerry (Colin Farrell) is no longer the suave metrosexual but a brutish laborer in a wifebeater, exuding bad-boy appeal with a lizard-like stealth; vampire chaser Peter Vincent (David Tennant) isn’t a washed-up horror actor but a Criss Angel wannabe on the Vegas Strip, where Jerry culls his victims.

Like Scream, the Fright Nights exist in a post-modern world where the characters are aware of the mythology surrounding the supernatural, gleaned mostly from movies. They joke about the Twilight books

Not all of the updates are improvements. Changing Peter Vincent from a film actor to a magician undercuts the subtle tribute to B-film icons Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, though Tennant’s Russell Brand-like whack-a-doodle performance almost rescues it. And director Craig Gillespie dispatches some peripheral characters without much sense, and the humor is not as prevalent as it was in the original.

But Gillespie keeps key (the seduction of Charley’s girlfriend, the unnerving “Welcome to Fright Night … for real” line), and the splatter effects — especially the unexpected moment where a “turned” human bursts into flame when struck by sunlight, enhanced by the cheesy ‘50s-style fascination with 3D “moments” — give the film a campy sensibility. And there are worse ways to spend a scary two hours than imaging the hunky Colin Farrell orgiastically sucking on your … neck. Hey, it doesn’t take a cape and an accent to woo everyone.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

FILM REVIEW: ‘Devil’s Double’

Movies where actors play their own twin tend to be excruciating exercises in vanity, as the actor tries desperately set each character apart in subtle ways, but when it comes to Dominic Cooper as both Uday Hussein and his body double Latif Yahia in The Devil’s Double, subtlety isn’t called for: Balls-to-the-wall bravado is.

That’s because Uday, the son of Saddam, was a maniac who, according to one friend, “has always wanted to fuck himself.” So he hires an old school chum, Latif, to shadow him, including surgery to perfect his appearance, making Latif the target should any assassins choose to come after him. But there’s also a narcissistic personality at work; Uday seems obsessed with Latif as an object of admiration — a living self-portrait on which he can project his twisted, sociopathic tendencies.

The theme his hit home since Cooper is frequently naked throughout the film, providing a certain homoeroticism that the film gloriously feeds on. This is a wild retelling of the life of an historic-on-the-fringe figure, who runs around with drag queens and talks about Latif’s penis size and insists his guests (male and female) strip naked far more often than a straight guy should.

The style, a combination of Scarface, Blow, Casino and The Last King of Scotland, proves to be a showcase for the talents of Cooper, who appears destined for an Oscar nomination for his captivatingly complex and layered performance. It’s never difficult to tell when he’s Latif and when he’s Uday — and it’s not just the fake teeth. “One, he’s sober and two, he’s not foaming at the mouth,” Uday’s brother, Qusay, says in describing their differences. Cooper captures Uday’s mania in his eyes, his stance, his inherent instability, then reverses those qualities as Latif. It’s a star-making role in a brutal and deliciously overwrought story of madness and power — one of the best films of the summer.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: ‘The Hand,’ ‘Pippin,’ ‘Abe Lincoln,’ ‘Sexy Romp’

Mano a mano: The Hand

Two men — one showering naked — share an uncomfortable silence during their morning rituals in the bathroom. “When are you leaving?” one asks. Maybe it’s a trick gone bad.

But the other man — the poorer one — has no intention of leaving. Not without the rich man’s hand.

The Hand, a world premiere translation from Broken Gears Project Theatre, is a juicy, rather simple, short (45 minutes!) allegorical play, though what exactly it is an allegory for I’m still not quite sure: The poor man is missing his hand, having sold it to the rich man’s doctor three years ago for a transplant. Only now he wants it back. Class warfare? Obamacare? The idea of men touching each other with the same mitt but not being gay?

Actually, there’s an undeniable homoeroticism to the show as the men spend all the time wearing towels in bathroom. It’s especially apparent when Joey Folsom plays the rich man with a fey, continental air. (He and co-star Jeff Swearingen swap roles for each performance; during the final week, they will actually mount the show as a twofer: Act 1 with one cast, then followed by Act 2 with the roles reversed.) When Swearingen says to him, “I’ve come to ask for your hand,” you wonder if they’re living in Massachusetts.

(During the recent Horton Foote festival, Folsom appeared in a one-act playing a man who lost his arm to a thresher and demands justice from his employer. This is a weird companion piece to that.)

This is absurdist theater with a sickly twisted sense of humor: Waiting for Godot as directed by Quentin Tarantino. (Director Andy Baldwin even kicks it off with Tarantino-esque mariachi music.) It’s a deliciously evil mindfuck of a play, part Sleuth, part Bunuel film, where the concept of “a pound of flesh” takes on an odd meaning. It’s a great capstone to Broken Gears’ second season, where they have continued to reconfigure their space for a diverse slate of plays.

The three men involved here — Folsom, Swearingen and Baldwin — invest tremendous energy in this one-act, which gives it a momentum that is shocking and refreshing, like plunging your face in ice water. Give these guys a hand.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

3819 Fairmont. Through June 25. Folsom plays the rich man June 11, 14, 16 and 18; Swearingen play the rich man June 10 and 17; they will do two performances a night with each cast June 22, 23, 24 and 25. $15. BrokeanGears.weebly.com.

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Cirque du so lame: Pippin

The opening number of Pippin is called “Magic to Do.” Here’s thing: If it’s not magical, you’ve lost the audience for the rest of the show. (“Come and spend an hour or two,” is one of the lyrics; opening night got close to three hours. And still no magic.) It needs to wow you. But the circus-inspired production now at Theatre Three is played as if the entire cast had Epstein-Barre syndrome and had just decided to show up for a rehearsal. It’s on quarter-power at best. And with all the garish costumes and paste-white face paint, it feels more like the slo-mo feverdream on a mind-addled opium addict than a play.

It never recovers from the false start. Pippin is a part of a genre of musicals, popular in the early 1970s, that tried to take classical or historic stories from antiquity and gussy them up with Hair-like pop-culture relevance and a rockish score: Cyrano, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Candide, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar. They were all fine in their day, but once Chicago opened and turned a modern eye on the circus-atmosphere of the past, they immediately seemed dated, like a watching silent film in 1945 or making one in black and white today. With the possible exception of Candide, none are true classics (the latter two have staying power beyond their warrant). Despite a few passable songs (“Corner of the Sky, Just No Time at All,” “Spread a Little Sunshine”), Pippin really isn’t in need of a revival as much as a wake.

It feels like it is getting that. N. Wilson King, in the gender-bending role of Leading Player, is vocally unsuited for the part. She has a rich, gospelly voice, but not the Broadway-pop range to get the crowd going, as if Marlon Brando were playing a high school cheerleader. As Pippin, Max Swarner acts out every lyric with broad gestures, as if appearing in a children’s theater production of Green Eggs and Ham. It’s not his fault; director Bruce Coleman should have reigned in such limp choices, just as he should have tapped into King’s sense of fun.

Lee Jamison perks up Act 2; she has a strong comic sense that fits into the presentational style of the show. Bradley Campbell is fine as Charlemagne, and LisaAnne Haram gives a kicky rendition of a dotty grandma, but these are islands of competence floating in a sea of wrongheadedness.

A few weeks ago, Dallas Theater Center mounted a revival of Cabaret, creating a shabby, gaudy memory of a culture in decline that burrowed under your skin. There’s nothing intentionally unnerving about this version of Pippin — it’s just ugly and dull.

— AWJ

Theatre Three, 2900 Routh St. in the Quadrangle. Through July 2. Threatre3Dallas.com.

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Planet of the Abes: Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party

Four score and seven years may be the most famous lapse-of-time reference in history, but two hours and forty minutes seems like a close second. That’s the running time (not including two intermissions) of Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party from Level Ground Arts. This is one really, really long comedy. But you know what? It’s filled with so many pleasures and moments of delicious subversiveness that, other than a severe case of numb-butt, it’s not a bad trade.

This is a bare-bones production, with set pieces made of foam core. That’s not a jab — these days, some people don’t feel like it’s real theater unless a chandelier comes crashing over their heads or Spider-Man stunt doubles go spiraling toward near-death. Sometimes less is more.

The show is enhanced by a skilled young cast. It’s all about solid performances, a daring, sometimes-moving script and some old fashioned experimentation. The plot is surprisingly intricate. It all starts with a children’s holiday pageant about Santa Claus getting a presidential pardon. When one of the children (apparently played as special-needs, which is completely unnecessary) spouts off about Abraham Lincoln’s love of another man, the teacher is vilified by the conservative Illinois town and put on trial for indecency.

What follows the setup is far more interesting. Big Gay Dance Party presents the same story from three characters’ perspectives. Through the democratic process (natch) an audience member is chosen to select which character’s version we see first. So, theoretically there are six different ways the plot can unfold. It’s fascinating. The entire third act, I found myself wondering what the show would’ve been like had that one been first, or even second. All in all, it’s an enjoyable mechanism that fills in plot mysteries like pieces fitting snuggly into a puzzle.

Between scenes, during set changes, and just about any time they feel like it, the cast busts a move—sometimes with elaborate choreography and matching stovepipe hats and beards. This is a big gay dance party, after all. Glow sticks, sadly, are not included.

— Steven Lindsey

KD Studio Theatre, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway. Through June 25. Fridays–Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. $20. LevelGroundArts.com

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Logo, your next sitcom is ready: Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp

Alejandro de la Costa’s Outrageous, Sexy (Nekkid) Romp, MBS Productions’ latest show, could well be a pilot pitch for a TV sitcom. They could approach Logo with Two Gays and a Girl, or maybe Our Fairy Dragmother … but as a play … well, it’s complicated.

De la Costa wrote a semi-complex farce about relationships for a cast of four. He pits male couple Casey (Andrew Bryan) and Keith (Philip Gage) into an emotional whirlwind of a night. Drag queen friend Lovely Uranus (Sonna) is moving in temporarily, and happens to have hitched a ride with Casey’s ex-girlfriend, Lara (Emily Murphy). Yes, girlfriend. Upon Lara’s arrival, Keith is confused by his attraction and constant hard-on when she’s around. Could he be straight? Bi? Do we care?

Well, yes and no.

Set in the couple’s apartment, we’re introduced to the boys waking up to coffee and some potential morning sex. It doesn’t happen as Lovely is early with her belongings and Lara. Sure the coincidence is unlikely, but easy to ignore as merely plot device. Other things weren’t.

For whatever reason, the cast was clearly off this night. They flubbed several lines or ad-libbed to maybe cover up some forgotten ones. These nights happen, I get that, but a week into the run, you expect more mojo.

The chemistry of the male couple never coalesces. Even that Bryan and Gage come off wooden, they were at least awkwardly convincing as an item in the first half, albeit minus any nuances. Those charms somehow devolve completely in the second act. In the blowout after Casey and Lovely discover Keith and Lara having sex, arguments ensued that played like an acting workshop rather than a fighting couple. The closed lip kisses and strange hugs didn’t help, either.

Lovely Uranus is not the most glamorous of drag queens, but Sonna made the most out of facial gestures, lots of makeup and some really short lingerie. It didn’t make complete sense that he’d be in drag while moving, but it wasn’t a distraction.

Lovely is the loud conscience of the show, but not always successfully. Sonna’s big monologue veers into a somber, dramatic moment, but he nails it with delicacy that doesn’t stray too far from Lovely’s outlandish persona.

Two things really kept the play afloat for me. Despite the flubs, de la Costa’s clever script is conceivably ready for prime time. The wit is there, as is substance. He wrote a play that ultimately isn’t just about a gay guy having sex with a girl and the shenanigans around it. He brilliantly weaved a story that looked at how relationships are defined and the fluidity that goes with them (or maybe needs to go with them). He fit in discussions on open relationships, gay/straight labels, single versus partnered and even the sex appeal of drag without stuffing it in. One political jab disturbed the flow, but otherwise, de la Costa created a gem.

The second was the luminous Emily Murphy, a stunning actress with a body to die for. She’s part sexual predator, part bitch, but she puts it behind a smile. Lara has ulterior motives but also doesn’t confuse sex with feelings. Murphy delivers on all fronts in commanding fashion.

Romp unexpectedly had something to say. While some of the acting didn’t make strong impressions, I couldn’t get a lot of what de la Costa had written out of my mind. And that made it worthwhile.

— Rich Lopez

Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road. Through June 18. $18¬–$22. MBSProductions.net.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Screen Review: ‘The Eagle’

BIRDS OF A FEATHER | Shields and longswords give homoerotic meaning to the master-slave relationship in ‘The Eagle.’

Roman holiday

Homoeroticism fuels the beefcake battles of ‘Eagle’

STEVE WARREN  | Contributing Writer
thinhead@mindspring.com

The first great gay love story of 2011 is here, though you have to read between the lines to see it. The Eagle is part of the historical beefcake genre (formerly known as the sword and sandal flick), re-popularized by Gladiator and 300. Fans of the latter will be disappointed to see these Romans wearing more than those Greeks, though they do occasionally shed their tops and sleep in loincloths.

You might rather see Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell in a dance-off than playing a master and slave who exchange roles — or maybe you wouldn’t. At least they have choreographed battle scenes, and a fight that gives them an excuse to roll around on the ground together.

Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) is trying to restore the honor of his family and Rome by recapturing the symbolic eagle — the original gold standard — that disappeared 20 years before, along with 5,000 troops of the Ninth Legion under his father’s command. He volunteers for duty in Britain, near where the Ninth was last seen. When he arrives there’s a shot of some men checking him out that could have come from a prison movie. He immediately takes charge and orders the fort redecorated.

Wounded and transferred after a disastrous attack, Marcus saves that slave Esca (Bell) from a gladiator. That’s when Marcus’ uncle (Donald Sutherland), with a matchmaking gleam in his eye, assigns Esca to serve Marcus; Esca does so, “even though I hate everything you stand for.” They then meet Guern (Mark Strong), a survivor of the Ninth, who directs them to the “painted warriors” who have the eagle.

Those colorful natives have maintained their fighting skills, even though there’s no sign of anyone for them to fight. Esca and Marcus swap identities, with Marcus posing as the slave. The plot then comes down to the adage, “If you love somebody set them free.” And how far that love goes … well, that’s where the mind wanders wildly.

Tatum, though not a bad actor, is out of his depth here. It doesn’t help that he occasionally picks up an accent from one or another of his co-stars, who come from all over the Anglo-American map. Bell gives Esca the same fierce determination Billy Elliot had, but less ambiguity than the script demands.

That The Eagle was directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) explains why it looks like a class act. His battle scenes are the trendy chaotic sort, offering no context for individual close-up conflicts and making you wait until the dust clears to figure out what happened.

As serious historical fiction The Eagle doesn’t soar but neither does it crash. As a bromance … please! Closeted as it is, The Eagle may be the hottest gay love story until Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar has Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer going at it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘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