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

Movie Monday: ‘Black Swan’ in limited release

Darren Aronofsky’s ballet movie ‘Black Swan’ luxuriates in weirdness.

Based on my vast inside information about the behind-the-scenes world of professional ballet — which I have culled exclusively from watching The Turning Point, The Company, parts of Fame and now this film, Black Swan — not much about dance has changed over 35 years, at least in New York City. Dancers still live in cramped walk-ups and take the 3 train from Lincoln Center to TriBeCa (or worse, the NRW to Queens) and exit only at ill-lit and ominous stations. They still wear leg-warmers and wrap their gnarled feet in worn slippers. The corps is always led by a shriveled Russian crone, her silver hair pulled tight into a ponytail, her wattle buried behind chunky jewelry. There’s also always a priggish, demanding European choreographer-artiste, possibly the only straight man in all of dance who belittles then sexually exploits every new ballerina.But there’s also always one tortured aspirant, whose drive and talent are her salvation and her undoing.

Yes, in the first half hour of Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky and writers Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman and John J. McLaughlin, don’t miss a single cliché either visually (uppity versions of Flashdance) or plot-wise. And then something remarkable happens: The film becomes Hitchcockian — or rather, early Polanski, who stole from Hitch better than anyone, and delves into areas of insanity and fantasy you don’t expect. It doesn’t erase all that came before it, but it leaves you with an unsettled feeling that’s difficult to shake.

Four stars. For the complete review, click here.

DEETS: Black Swan. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel. Rated R. 105 mins. Now playing at the Magnolia and the Angelika Film Center–Plano

—  Rich Lopez

There will be blood

Darren Aronofsky’s ballet movie ‘Black Swan’ luxuriates in weirdness. Wow

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

MIRROR, MIRROR | Nina (Natalie Portman) sees a lot of strange things looking back at her in mirrors, but none stranger than the movie itself.

4 out of 5 stars
BLACK SWAN

Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis,
Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel.
Rated R. 105 mins.
Now playing at the Magnolia and the Angelika Film Center–Plano

…………………………..

Based on my vast inside information about the behind-the-scenes world of professional ballet — which I have culled exclusively from watching The Turning Point, The Company, parts of Fame and now this film, Black Swan — not much about dance has changed over 35 years, at least in New York City. Dancers still live in cramped walk-ups and take the 3 train from Lincoln Center to TriBeCa (or worse, the NRW to Queens) and exit only at ill-lit and ominous stations. They still wear leg-warmers and wrap their gnarled feet in worn slippers. The corps is always led by a shriveled Russian crone, her silver hair pulled tight into a ponytail, her wattle buried behind chunky jewelry. There’s also always a priggish, demanding European choreographer-artiste, possibly the only straight man in all of dance who belittles then sexually exploits every new ballerina.But there’s also always one tortured aspirant, whose drive and talent are her salvation and her undoing.

Yes, in the first half hour of Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky and writers Andres Heinz, Mark Heyman and John J. McLaughlin, don’t miss a single cliché either visually (uppity versions of Flashdance) or plot-wise. And then something remarkable happens: The film becomes Hitchcockian — or rather, early Polanski, who stole from Hitch better than anyone, and delves into areas of insanity and fantasy you don’t expect. It doesn’t erase all that came before it, but it leaves you with an unsettled feeling that’s difficult to shake.

Natalie Portman has rarely impressed me onscreen. The Star Wars films didn’t challenge her (and she didn’t disappoint, never rising above the ho-hum scripts and stodgy dialogue), and her stripper in Closer struck me as entirely false.

But here, as Nina — the tic-filled prima donna desperate for success but too repressed to explore the part of her that will allow her to triumph — Portman seems to fit like a foot in a ballet shoe.

Nina craves center stage, and she’s got talent, but she’s also troubled. Her mother (Barbara Hershey), once a dance hopeful, smothers her with expectations; Tomas (Vincent Cassel), the company’s leader, intimidates her; competition from the other girls is fierce, and Nina wants for confidence.

IT ISN’T ROMANTIC | Vincent Cassel’s predictable performance doesn’t clip this ‘Swan.’

But there’s something deeper holding her back, too: She’s paranoid (or is it just overly sensitive?), sensing every overheard titter is cruel mockery aimed at her; she’s obsessed with her body and a rash (or is she self-mutilating?); she sees dangers around every corner, including the fading diva (Winona Ryder), whom she’s in line to replace. And what of Lily (Mila Kunis), the newcomer who acts like her friend and possible lover, but could be pulling an Eve Harrington on her?

It’s difficult to tell what to believe in the world Aronofsky creates; maybe that’s why he echoes so many dance-movie clichés, to get us relaxed in the familiar before he turns out the lights. (Surprisingly, there are some standout special effects.) Like Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant — and more recently, Jacob’s Ladder — what we know is filtered through Nina’s mind. It’s never clear what we should trust. Does her mother even exist? Minor things become ominous: He turns the acts of hand-washing and fingernail-clipping into moments of intense terror, with too many bloody digits for my taste.

But to what end? Black Swan is difficult to parse. It’s creepy — a true thriller — that stays self-contained in the world of ballet.

Cassel delivers the film’s most predictable performance (he’s completely uninteresting), but Kunis reveals strength as an actress with a layered turn, and it’s nice seeing Hershey given a juicy role. (If Carrie ever tried to dance, her mom might look like Hershey’s, who elevates passive-aggression to high art.)

But, aside from Aronofsky, the film belongs to Portman. She’s brilliantly unbalanced, portraying a descent into insanity that is horrifying and unnerving but also rooted in humanity and frailty.

The disconnect between the predictability of the dance-driven aspects and the horror of what follows may cause Black Swan to struggle to find an audience. It’s not really a chick flick, but its esoteric discussion of ballet won’t exactly pull teen males into the multiplex. All the more reason to check it out during the crowded holidays — the gays can have the auditorium to ourselves.

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

—  Michael Stephens