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

Oscar recap

The gayest film in this year’s Oscar race, The Kids Are All Right, went home empty-handed, but lesbian-themed Black Swan — with Natalie Portman as a sexually confused ballerina — took best actress and at least two openly gay winners ascended to the podium during Sunday’s incredibly dull ceremony.

Lora Hirschberg, co-winner of best sound mixing for Inception, sent a shout out to her wife, and Iain Canning, lead producer on best picture winner The King’s Speech, thanked his boyfriend during the three-hour-plus telecast that saw James Franco seeming as bored as the rest of us … although looking smoking hot in a white leotard at one point.

My own predictions proved fairly accurate, including the best live action short God of Love with a gay gag.

The only standing ovation I saw was for Billy Crystal, who hosted eight times. That was a signal: Let’s rise for the guy who actually did a good job hosting this show.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Walking into the future

READY, SET, WALK | AOC Executive Director Allan Gould and AIDS Walk Coordinator Penny Rowell are hoping this year’s fundraising walk will be the best yet. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

AOC’s 2011 AIDS Walk will kick off the agency’s 25th anniversary year

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Tarrant County’s AIDS Outreach Center marks its 25th anniversary this year, and a number of events are already scheduled to celebrate. The first of those is the center’s 19th annual AIDS Walk, set for Sunday, April 3.

Walk Coordinator Penny Rowell said this week organizers are working to build this year’s walk into the biggest and best ever to help celebrate the center’s milestone anniversary.

In the beginning

AOC Executive Director Allan Gould has been involved with the center in some capacity practically since its inception in 1986 as the Fort Worth Counseling Center.

“I was working for Radio Shack then, and the folks from the counseling center came to Radio Shack and asked for help in getting the computers and phone systems and so on set up. I have been an active participant since then, either as a volunteer or a board member or an employee,” Gould said.

That first year, Gould said, the counseling center saw only nine people, but “it was the beginning of an outreach and an effort to supply something [help for people with AIDS] that was sorely lacking then in Tarrant County.”

In the beginning, the agency focused on getting volunteers — “mainly counselors and social workers and attorneys” — to offer services for people with AIDS, he said.

“Back then, there were no AIDS tests. People were only being diagnosed when it was really too late. There were no drugs to keep them alive,” Gould recalled. “I used to keep a record of all the people I knew who died of AIDS. But when the list reached 300 or so, I just stopped recording the names.

“I couldn’t do it anymore; it was just too devastating,” he said.

“It was the immediacy of that moment, of seeing people getting sick and dying so quickly, that caused our community — the GLBT community — to unite and create this organization to reach out and try and give some comfort to those who were dying all around us,” Gould continued.

“There wasn’t much we could do, other than offer them counseling and legal help to get their affairs in order. But we did what we could.”

In 1988, the center changed its name to Community Outreach Center and received its first public funding — a grant from the state that allowed the agency to hire its first actual employees, a counselor and Thomas Bruner, its first executive director. The newly-renamed center focused its efforts then on offering counseling to those with AIDS and on educating the public about the disease and how to avoid contracting it.

The name changed again in 1992 when the agency became the AIDS Outreach Center. Although today there’s nothing unusual about that name, at the time it was a controversial move.

“It was necessary to include ‘AIDS’ in the organization’s name. Including it directly addressed the needs we were trying to meet in the community and made sure people knew exactly what we were doing,” Gould said. “But at the same time, it shocked a lot of people. There was still a lot of discrimination happening, a lot of bias and bigotry against people with AIDS.

“That name change was a double-edged sword in a lot of ways,” he added. “It put us out there and made it easier for the people who needed us to find us, but at the same time, it caused a lot of people who had supported us to kind of withdraw, especially in the African-American and Hispanic communities.

“They just didn’t want to be associated with an organization that had ‘AIDS’ in its title,” he said.

Gould said that withdrawal by some previous supporters caused the agency’s donations to drop, and it took some time to rebuild the center’s funding.

Evolution

Attitudes toward the AIDS epidemic and the needs of those with HIV/AIDS have changed over the years, and so have the center’s services.

“Our mission hasn’t changed so much as it has evolved,” Gould said. “We still have the same services we started out with — although most of the legal assistance is contracted out to Legal Hospice of Texas now — but we have continued to add services.”

The center’s counseling services today are “second to none,” and the center is top on the list of agencies to which Tarrant County MHMR refers clients with HIV seeking help, Gould said.

Among the first services to be added was social and medical case management, followed by outreach, education and prevention programs.

“The Nutrition Center came next, and it grew out of the efforts of Sandy Lanier, the wife of Dr. Bob Lanier,” Gould said. “She truly believed that good nutrition was the key to good health for people with AIDS — for everybody, really — and she literally started going around to the markets and grocery stores, getting them to donate food.

“Then she would put those donations in the back of her station wagon and drive around finding people who needed the food,” Gould said. “What she was doing eventually morphed into a more structured format and finally became our food pantry, which is one of our most used programs.”

The most recent evolution came in September 2009 when Tarrant County Interfaith Network merged into AIDS Outreach Center, adding the Guisel-Morris Dental Clinic to the center’s arsenal of services.

At the same time, AOC moved from its longtime home in a cramped and dingy space in Fort Worth’s hospital district to spacious new quarters on North Beach Street.

“That merger and the move was a big drain for us,” Gould said. “We had anticipated that it would take about half a million dollars to pay for it all, and we had gotten enough pledges, enough commitments from people to cover it.

“But then the recession hit, and a lot of those pledges didn’t come through, and we found ourselves with a real cash flow problem,” he continued. About six months ago, we realized we had to make some adjustments, and we ended up laying off four employees and cutting one to half time.”

The agency was able to absorb the duties of those missing employees into other remaining positions and in doing so, realized “a huge and immediate savings of about $130,000 a year,” Gould said.

And now that the economy has begun to recover, he said, so has AOC. Since the new fiscal year began last September, Gould said, the center has seen “a much larger outreach from individual donors than in recent years,” along with a larger outreach from corporations and foundations.

So even with what is expected to be about a 6 percent cut across the board in federal and state funds looming, AOC is able to maintain its $4.5 million budget and keep offering its programs. Gould said the center now serves about 2,000 clients annually on an ongoing basis, although “not every client uses every service we offer.” Two of the most widely-used services are the dental clinic, with about 900 active clients, and the nutrition center, with about 700 clients annually.

The Walk

The goal for this year’s AIDS Walk is $110,000 to $115,000, and while that doesn’t cover a huge portion of the agency’s overall budget, the funds are important. And just as important is the opportunity the walk presents to reach a wider audience with the center’s message of awareness and prevention.

Rowell said she is encouraged by the fact volunteers helping organize the walk are coming largely from a younger generation that “is more aware of HIV and AIDS than any other generation,” and that these young people are taking the message to a new audience.

“It’s opening a dialog with a new and larger demographic,” she said.

Rowell said she is also counting on some changes in this year’s walk to help bring in a new crop of walkers and volunteers.

“We moved the walk back to Trinity Park this year” instead of starting and ending at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center with a route that circled the Botanical Gardens, she said.

This year, the walk starts at the pavilion off 7th Street, then circles through the park to I-30 and back to the pavilion. The event begins at 1 p.m., and the walk itself steps off at 2:30 p.m. Anna DeHaro, Sunday morning radio host with KEGL radio station, will emcee the walk and will have Gould as a special guest on her radio show that same day.
Cooks Children’s Hospital is sponsoring the Kids Corner with special activities for the younger participants, and the Human Society will be at the walk with pets available for adoption. There will also be vendor booths set up near the pavilion.

Pre-registration is available for $25. Registration the day of the walk will be $30, and starts at 12:30 p.m. at Luke’s Locker, located nearby at 2600 W. 7th St. Luke’s Locker, Rowell said, is a sponsor for this year’s walk and has been extremely helpful in organizing the event.

She said the store specializing in gear for runners has “done a lot of advertising for us online and at every event they have participated in recently.”

Anyone who pays a registration fee will receive an AIDS Walk T-shirt. But those who bring in at least $100 more will get a canvas tote bag and a T-shirt. Those who raise at least $250 extra get the shirt, the bag and one raffle ticket, while those who raise at least $450 get all that plus one more raffle ticket.

Items donated for the raffle range include concert and theater tickets, dinners and more. Rowell said organizers are also working with representatives from the Texas Rangers baseball team to get a raffle prize donation from the championship team.

“We’re still looking for vendors and sponsors, and anyone who is interested can call me for information,” Rowell said. She can be reached at 817-916-5224 or by e-mail at pennyr@aoc.org.

Looking ahead

Gould said this year’s AIDS Walk — as well as a May 5 open house and the June 25 “Evening of Hope” gala — are just a few of the signs of the great things to come for AIDS Outreach Center.

“We are looking at the future, looking at ways to round out our programs to take a more active role in the overall care, medically speaking, of people with HIV and AIDS in Tarrant County,” Gould said, “We are always looking at new ways to serve and grow, and there are great things to come.

“Over the last 25 years, we have made some dramatic strides forward in offering services and programs to our community,” he added, “and this agency is poised to be here well into the future.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Queer Music News: Lady Gaga previews album cover; Culture Club getting back together

• Lady Gaga Twitpic-ed her album cover (right) for Born This Way and it’s already getting flak. Apparently it’s a Kylie Minogue ripoff. At least according to Entertainment Weekly. Whatever. Pop musicians rip off each other all the time.

The title song is now supposed to debut Friday instead of previous reports of Feb. 13.

• Boy George appeared on Larry Flick’s The Morning Show on Sirius XM OutQ gay radio Tuesday with some big news. At least big for ’80s music fans. The decade’s iconic band Culture Club is slated for a reunion marking the 30th anniversary of their inception. And they are going all out with a tour and an album. I just hope they make a stop in Dallas and that Mr. George isn’t so bitchy.

Listen to what he told Flick here. And after that, enjoy my favorite CC song below.

—  Rich Lopez

All THIS, THAT and the OTHER

SPOKEN WORD | As the artistic director of Fahari, Harold Steward helps celebrate the queer-identified black arts community of Dallas with monthly programming like the spoken word event Queerly Speaking. (Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice)

Dallas’ black gay arts scene gets a future as Harold Steward refers to the past

RICH LOPEZ  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Sometimes with death comes a birth — or maybe an outing.

When acclaimed author E. Lynn Harris died in the summer of 2009, Harold Steward, along with the rest of the gay black community and Harris’ fans, felt shock and sadness.

But with Harris’ death came the inception of an idea that is changing the face of arts in the Dallas African-American LGBT community.

“There had been nothing planned to memorialize him, so I approached View of Dallas [book club] about this idea,” Steward said. “I brought in the dance and poetry people while they read excerpts. We had about 30 people come … and Fahari was kinda outed at that point.”

Only 28, Steward speaks with the eloquence of a mature soul. In conversation, he throws in quotes from his heroes, and he often ends a thought with his go-to mantra: “All this, that and the other.”

But it is a wealth of passion and history that marks Steward as a visionary.

As the cofounder of the Fahari Arts Institute and the performing arts administrator at the South Dallas Cultural Center, Steward is in prime position to shape Dallas’ appreciation of its queer-identified African-American community and the arts that come out of it.

The road to Fahari began via his work at the SDCC. Queer artists constantly approached Steward about using the center as an outlet for their talents. In turn, arts organizations asked for references of artists to include in their shows or exhibits.

As the accidental conduit, Steward began looking for a solution.

“There was this disconnect. I wondered if I could be satisfied as a consultant and place people where they needed to be,” he said.

“There had to be a better way for this, but that led to me asking myself ‘What does a black, queer, LGBT arts organization look like?’ There couldn’t be much out there since I hadn’t heard about it.”

As it turned out, he was wrong — and gladly so.

In Steward’s research, he uncovered an entire culture of art and artists that overwhelmed him. He found movements that equated to a new renaissance.

A domino effect of research happened as he learned about one dancer that led to a singer that then led to writers, and so forth.

This not only nurtured the seed of an arts organization, it spoke to Steward himself.

“Finding so much history was affirming for me as an artist, and if I’m having this kind of experience finding these works, other people would too,” he said. “At the same time, I’m very comfortable in my position at the SDCC, so making Fahari happen wasn’t at the forefront.”

Steward grew up in the Singing Hills neighborhood in Dallas’ southern as the seventh of eight children. Instead of spending all his time playing on Sega or Nintendo like other kids, he spent his time demonstrating his artistic talents by drawing on the bathroom wall with his mother’s lipstick. And his parents encouraged his art — or he recalls it that way.

“First of all, I am a product of public schools when they worked, and I had teachers who cared,” Steward said. “I used to cover the whole wall with my imaginary thoughts. I think they [his parents] believed in me, even if they didn’t vocalize it, because they saw their child’s imagination at work.”

Steward didn’t discover his sexuality until middle school athletics, and despite moving over to the embracing arms of  Booker T. Washington arts magnet high school — where Steward found a mentor in his teacher, Vicki Washington-Nance — he struggled with being gay until his early 20s.

He had always been fascinated by his black culture, but hadn’t resolved his place as a gay man.

“I had a certain level of understanding in reading black literature. It was always a conscious thought to immerse myself in that,” he said. “Gay culture is something relatively new to me, but I saw a lot of parallel in my experience with the community.”

LADIES IN HIS LIFE | Steward pals around with his South Dallas Cultural Center director and boss, Vicki Meek and mentors Marilyn Clark and Vicki Washington-Nance. (Photo courtesy of Harold Steward).

When Steward began his research, all of his personal influences and heroes, such as James Baldwin, Langson Hughes and Alice Walker, were gay. When he discovered Haitian gay poet Assotto Saint, Steward found what he needed to proceed with Fahari.

“Saint talked about the importance of building cultural institutions and publishing houses and making sure they are not self-serving and they should out live you as a person,” Steward said. “He said we had to do this.”

Enter J.W. Richard.

Steward and Richard were acquainted because Richard had interviewed Vicki Meek, the director of the SDCC, on his Mandrake Society Radio program. Richard was in tune with the arts scene, as was Steward, but in varying degrees.

While Steward participated in the arts more, Richard highlighted and reported on them via his podcast. But Richard was more involved in political activism.

“When he [Steward] talked to me about the idea, it was on a learning curve and it still is,” Richard said. “I had not directly worked with anything much on the arts level even though I am an artist myself. This was such a unique opportunity.”

One thing was hanging on Steward’s mind. After the Harris memorial, he was intent on naming the still-forming idea of this nebulous arts organization. Perhaps giving it a name would give it weight, but he knew it needed to express so much in minimal fashion.

“I had been thinking about the program and titles are so important. And it is so easy to get tripped up on the right name,” he said. “We had names like Rainbow Connection but stuff like that is so played out. Fahari means ‘pride’ in Swahili. I wanted it to have a connection to our African community and it was perfect for, you know, all this, that and the other.”

Two guys, one idea — now came the hard part.

While Richard and Steward figured out what Fahari should offer, the answer unfolded amid Steward’s love life. He was dating a poet ,which drew him back into that scene of spoken word and slam poets, but it wasn’t one he liked all that much.

“It had become so sexist and misogynistic and that environment isn’t right,” Steward said. “So I wondered what a same-gender-loving-affirming event would look like?”

Queerly Speaking, a monthly event held on the fourth Friday, grew into such a success that it moved from its original home at the Backbeat Café downtown into the more accommodating SDCC. The growth was symbolic of a hunger for something more, whether it was in the gay community at large or in just a slice of the whole.

Fahari was onto something when the crowds showed up that were also unfamiliar to Steward and Richard. The impact began immediately.

But Steward acknowledges one important thing: He wasn’t the first. In Dallas’ history, many black organizations were making strides for their LGBT communities, such as the Legacy of Success and the DFW Senators. Without them or his heroes, Fahari may never have come into existence.

Steward expounded at length as if he felt the need to put his gratitude and sense of indebtedness out into the universe.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “The work they did set a platform, and if I’m able to be here, being interviewed about this work, it is a direct relation to their efforts.

“One of my things is to get black people to arrive and be known for our value. What would America and the world look like with no Alvin Ailey, no Color Purple, no Harlem Renaissance? Take all that way and people will understand who we are and what we bring,” he added. “I am standing on their shoulders because it is my responsibility.”

Steward didn’t realize that Fahari would hit the ground running although there was some personal frustration behind it. He tried to reconcile why Fahari had to happen now.

“It should not have emerged in 2009 as an entity in Dallas when it’s had such a history,” he said. “It is troubling when we’re the ‘first black’ this or that. When are we not going to be the first? But the stuff others and we are doing now is easy compared to what those before us did. See? It always ties to the history.”

Fahari’s other monthly event is the Queer Film Series every third Sunday that works in association with Black Cinematheque.

Local filmmaker Q-Roc Ragsdale was trying to start a film series highlighting queer directors. When Steward mentioned Fahari to her, the wheels turned. She became a key member, joining Richard and Steward to finish out the troika that pushed Fahari forward.

“It really was a marriage made in heaven,” Ragsdale said. “When the film series came to the point where I turned it over to Fahari, I knew it would be great. I still act as the curator and now so many black queer filmmakers will get some needed exposure.”

Born from that, two film festivals were added to its special programming: “The Marlon Riggs Film Festival” and “Short and Sweet.”

The latter is intended to open this summer featuring short films. The Riggs festival is a three-day event that had a successful run its first time out in February 2010.

The Fort Worth-born Riggs had profound impact with his revolutionary films giving black queer culture an identity, and that made an impression on Steward’s mission.

“I have these moments where I’m watching his film Black Is Black Ain’t and Riggs is on his deathbed due to complications from AIDS,” Steward said. “He says, on his deathbed, ‘as long as I have work, I am not dead.’ I couldn’t crucify or kill him all over again by not bringing his work to the forefront. AIDS wasn’t the end of him because in the end, his work will live on. I have to take up that personal charge.”

For Ragsdale, Steward symbolized something beyond the work he’s doing at this moment. This is more than just about Dallas’ black gay culture, it’s about the bigger picture.

“I really value him as a leader because he has extraordinary vision and great purpose,” she said. “The thing I love is how he makes sure Fahari is inclusive and so he actively invites lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and allies to the events and to the table.

“I foresee him being a leader in the overall queer community.”

Just don’t tell Steward that. If it were up to him, he’d likely return to his research, spending his late nights soaking in the history he so loves.

“I struggle with stuff like that, but I think of George Washington Carver. He said to start with what you have, make something of it and never settle,” Steward said. “I don’t know why it’s me in this position. There are days when I wanna throw my hands up, but I have to remember somebody paid the price for me to be here and so with that reason I do ask, ‘Why not me?’”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Gay Intergenerational ‘Inception’ Experience

Funny story… Partner and I went to see the very intriguing movie “Inception” last night. Well, he is a “snoring machine” as I’ve mentioned several times before on here. There was a really cute young gay couple who chose to sit several seats next to us on the same row. I recognized they probably deliberately chose to sit there after looking at us doe eyed, flicker of recognition then smiling knowingly like, “Awwww, that will be us in thirty years!” The interaction between old gay couple and new on our mutual “movie date” was cute.

Anyway, during the movie “the snoring machine” started doing his best vacuum cleaner impression. I was appalled. The young gay couple looked over at us with horrified expressions on their faces, and I grimly shook my head with a “Just wait, kids, this will be YOU in thirty years…” I then sharply elbowed him and he woke up absolutely furious with me because he had been DREAMING he was watching the movie, and wondered why I was harrassing him. Later, he thought the whole situation was just hysterically funny. I’m not going to spoil the movie for everyone, but anyone who has seen “Inception” will get the obvious situational comedy of this happening. I asked, “What level are you on right now?” when he finally came back to “reality.” Oh, and go see “Inception” it is really good.

Reader “Indigo” provides a “think piece” link via “Salon”. h/t and thanks “Indigo.”




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

‘Kids’ is a genuine popular hit

OK, this is pretty cool: The top grossing film at the box office last week was the second full weekend of Inception, which took in more than $42 million on 3,792 screens. That’s a lot, obviously. Second for the weekend was the debut of Salt, on 3,612 screens, with $36 mil. It goes on — from No. 3 Despicable Me (3,600 locales) to No. 10, Predators (1,846 screens) at about $3 million.

And then there’s No. 11: The Kids Are All Right. The gay-themed film, which we reviewed last week, took in about $2.6 million. But here’s the big news: It did so on 201 screens. Yep, less than a 10th of most of the films in the top 10. In the case of Predators, which has been in release the same length of time, that’s a per-screen average of about 10 times more for Kids. Per screen, it even beat Inception by a comfortable margin — $4,300 versus about $3,700.

Now, I’m not saying Kids is in the running to replace the big blockbusters as the top movie of the summer. (Kids has so far grossed about $5 million — the top film of the year, Toy Story 3, has made $380 million.) But I am saying there’s a lot of support out there for gay-interest movies that aren’t about oversexed twinks or 20-something lesbians getting it on behind their boyfriends’ backs. It’s a move toward normalcy that I like.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones