Preview the Oscar contenders tonight at the Magnolia

The Academy Awards will be presented next Sunday, and you probably have your favorites. But what are their chances with the only people who matter — the academy voters? Once again, the Magnolia Theatre in the West Village is hosting a panel discussion of the likely winners in all the major categories. And it’s all free. Just show up by 7 p.m. at the Magnolia and sit n. Oh, and I’ll be one of the panelists!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Hitchcock’s ‘Notorious’ tonight at at Magnolia

notoriousIf you didn’t see it in the paper yet, the new lineup of the Magnolia Theatre’s Tuesday New Classic Series, sponsored by Dallas Voice, was announced last week, and the new season kicks off tonight with one of the best romantic thrillers of all time: Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. Made when World War II was just recently ended, it stars Cary Grant as Devlin, an American spy who recruits Ingrid Bergman, the wife of a Nazi played by Claude Rains, to serve as a double agent, sleeping with her husband and unearthing plans for a Fascist comeback at the same time. It’s filled with some of Hitch’s most breathless feats of directorial derring-do: A long tracking shot from a staircase that eventually settled on a small key hidden in a hand; a tense escape that makes you sympathize with Rains and questions Grant’s ethics; and a smart, romantic performance by the incomparable Bergman. It shows twice tonight, at 7:30 and 10 p.m. Don’t miss it if you’ve never seen it!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Crime and punishment: ‘Trumbo,’ ‘Secret in their Eyes,’ ‘By the Sea’

secret-in-their-eyes-S-004_SITE_07318R_rgbYeah, The Hunger Games wraps up its arc this week. Big whoop. There are also smaller films opening this week, and while not all are impeccable, they offer more insights into the human condition than you’ll find in all of Panem.

Somehow, American adaptations of films set in foreign countries often don’t fit right. Martin Scorsese won his only Oscar for directing The Departed, a dandy crime thriller adapted from the Hong Kong actioner Infernal Affairs, but despite the Boston setting, it still felt like someone else’s movie. The same director, George Sluizer, made both the American and original Dutch version of his film The Vanishing, but the changes to the remake felt tacked on — a betrayal of its source material. And it never seemed authentic.

Secret in their Eyes, the new adaptation of the Oscar-winning Argentine film El Secreto de sus Ojos, suffers from a similar fate. The original was a disturbing, violent portrayal of obsession; this version, while well-acted, feels false.

The broad strokes of both films are the same: In 2015, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a former FBI agent, thinks he has tracked down a man who disappeared 13 years earlier, the chief suspect in the murder of his then-partner Jess’s (Julia Roberts) daughter (seen through multiple flashbacks). The man slipped through the system before, and fell off the grid; Ray wants the new D.A. Claire (Nicole Kidman) to reopen the case, and bring justice and closure finally to Jess. But Ray’s return is tinged by the unrequited love between him and Claire.

There’s a lot going on in this movie, and while it felt artsy, even ethereal, in Spanish, now it just seems unfocused and overwrought. The system of flashbacks seems like it’s intended to add psychological layers, but comes off more as a shell-game — how much can we hide, and how sympathetic can we make the characters before you learn some truths about them? Ray, for instance, is a dogged cop, but as we soon learn, not a very good one. The script relies repeatedly on him flying off the handle, or doing shoddy police work. (How many times does he have to shout at the suspect from 30 feet away, “Hey! You!” before he thinks to sneak up on the guy instead?) Police procedurals are tricky in a culture weaned on Law & Order, and this one seems like it was written for a 1950s audience. (It’s also fraught with silly coincidences, cliches and functional characters that don’t feel real.) The PG-13 rating also softens much of the more dire and shocking aspects of the original. There’s less meat on the bones.

Even so, the acting is solid, especially from Roberts as a shaken, broken woman. There’s a hollowness in her eyes and her largely un-made-up face. When Ray says, “You look about a million years old,” you realize, yes, the Pretty Woman can play character parts, too. Too bad she’s not in a better movie.

TR_01117.dngIf Secret is about seeking justice, Trumbo is about its perversion. During WWII, the U.S. and the Soviets were aligned; within a few years, however, the Cold War was heating up and the Communists who had once been our allies were now our enemies. That meant any American liberals who sided with Marxist philosophies (such socialistic ideas as The New Deal, collective bargaining and free speech) were labeled as undesirables, if not outright unpatriotic. A single instance of spying by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg painted everyone of their ilk as terrorists and enemies. (Sound familiar?) And some of the first tainted by the sobriquet “disloyal” were Hollywood liberals … especially the writers, who came up with the ideas and put them on the page.

The blacklist (and the HUAC hearings that caused it) is one of the most shameful betrayals of American ideals of the 20th century. So tense was the political atmosphere that Americans and their leaders willingly turned on the First Amendment in favor of witch hunts. And the biggest target was slapped on the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). Trumbo was an outspoken Communist, an intellectual floating in a sea of morons. He was the studios’ highest-paid wordsmith, and seen as indispensable. He wasn’t. When he refused to “name names,” he was sent to prison and banned from writing for a decade. To pay the bills, he uses “fronts,” other, less controversial people who could sign their names to his screenplays and share the fees. He won two Oscars that way … though others’ names appeared on the statuettes.

The blacklist is an inherently cinematic and thrilling era to bring to life, so it’s a shame that Trumbo lacks the scope and ambition it needs to be great. It’s directed by Jay Roach, whose feature films are marked by the Austin Powers comedies but who has tackled politics in several well-received TV movies for HBO (Game Change, Recount). His style is more suited to the small screen than the big; everything about Trumbo seems pre-digested and safe — a perfectly adequate way to spend your Sunday watching television, but not bold enough to bring you to the theater.

Cranston is a star on the small screen, but blown up to 30 feet and carrying a film, he feels overly broad and one-dimensional. His Trumbo is confident to the point of smugness; the entire role reminds you of the haunting line from Anne Frank’s diary that people are essentially good, even as their most evil natures are about to destroy you. “Do you need to say everything like it’s going to be chiseled in a rock?” asks one of Trumbo’s frustrated colleagues (Louis C.K., who also shouldn’t be allowed free reign to act in features). Cranston just grins obliviously behind a cloud of smoke. (If they gave an award for Best Supporting Cigarette Holder, Trumbo would win.) The story is compelling, but the film never rises about predictable. Dalton Trumbo would never write a film as ho-hum as this one.

It’s time we all acknowledge that Angelina Jolie Pitt (as she’s now known) is a damn gifted filmmaker — probably better at writing and directing than acting. Her first feature, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was a gripping portrait of survival in the Bosnian War; her second, last year’s Unbroken (which she directed only) proved that women other than Kathryn Bigelow know how to tell a brutal story of war with smarts and understanding. She goes in an entirely new direction with By the Sea, a new chamber character study starring Jolie and her husband Brad Pitt. The style and setting is a woozy throwback to the artsy indie and European films of the 1960s and ’70s. Roland (Brad) is an acclaimed novelist looking for inspiration in a remote seaside village in France; his wife Vanessa (Angelina) is moody and remote. There’s something wrong with their relationship (we suspect an infidelity), but we can’t quite tell. They never talk about it.

Vanessa becomes obsessed with their neighbors in the hotel, two newlyweds whom she’s able to spy on through a hole in their common wall; she watches them have sex and argue. Eventually, Roland joins her, and their relationship seems reborn by their voyeurism. But everything has to end.

By the Sea has no chase scenes, no lurid sex (though a fair amount of nudity), no melodramatic excess (at least until the end, which doesn’t quite work). Instead, it’s a study not of people, but of a marriage. It revels in mood and style, like The Happy Ending or Rachel Rachel or The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; you could imagine Roman Polanski making it with Catherine Deneuve in a parallel universe.

I suspect, though, that many people won’t appreciate its retro qualities, its seamlessness or its thoughtful, leisurely pace, and merely look for insights in what it says about two movie stars married in real life; others will dismiss it as a vanity project for an actress who, admittedly, can often project a self-satisfied hautiness. That’s too bad. Taken on its own, By the Sea is a dreamy romantic drama, the kind nobody makes any more.

All films are now playing.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Come to the Magnolia tonight and see me predict the Oscars

OscarsNow, I am the first to admit that I do not always accurately predict all 24 Oscar categories every year. Take last year — I only got 23 right. You heard me. I have seen virtually every nominated film, and I will be weighing in on the likely winners as part of a panel discussion at the Magnolia Theatre tonight (Monday), starting at 7 p.m. It’s free, and you’re all invited to see me gues…. I mean, predict the outcome of the gay Super Bowl this Sunday. There will even be some trivia and maybe some giveaways…. And come ready to stump me with your trivia questions!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gain the edge on the Oscar pool with shorts

In this week’s issue, I’ll be giving my predictions for the Oscars, which are on Sunday. The secret to winning the office pool? Seeing all the obscure films that no one known how to vote on.

Well, it’s not a secret how to do it — just track down the shorts programs.

For the past several years, the Magnolia Theatre has hosted screenings of the live action shorts and animated shorts — usually just for one week. This year, though, they’ve extended it — you can catch the films all weekend, up to and including Oscar night. The slate of films — the five nominated for best live action, the five nominated for best animated, and two additional animated shorts — are a hodgepodge of comic and sentimental.

But there’s an even rarer opportunity tonight only: You can see four of the five documentary shorts at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. The docs have never been part of the Magnolia’s lineup, but the Texas Theatre has run them a few nights this week; tonight is the final chance to see them, at 7 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Former Dallasite Israel Luna screens new film, ‘The Ouija Experiment,’ tonight at Magnolia

He may be living in San Francisco, but Israel Luna will always be part of Dallas to us. To Luna, too, actually it seems.

Luna — who caused a stir with his revenge fantasy Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives last year and has since made the slasher movie Fright Flick, is proving just how prolific he is, with a cast-and-crew screening of his third film in two years, The Ouija Experiment. This will be the first time most people who worked on the movie will get a chance to see it — and you can do, if you wanna buy a ticket. (It’s at Landmark’s Magnolia Theater tonight at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are available at the box office.

Now, we haven’t seen the movie yet, but even judging by the poster alone (we know, we know, books and their covers and all), it looks like a creepy little scarefest. And of course, we wish Israel the best of luck!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Performance artist John Michael performs solo show tonight at Magnolia Lounge

Last May, John Michael completed his junior year at Oklahoma State University, where he was the recipient of a grant from the LGBT student group to produce a show about coming out while working at McDonald’s. Now, Texas has him: Michael transferred to U.T. Dallas in August, to study with Fred Curchack. And in just three months’ time, he already has a show being produced.

I hate guys like this.

Well, not really; I’m just hugely jealous. Which is a good thing. The show, 069, is being produced by Nouveau 47 Theatre in a one-night-only show. The performance will include an excerpt from his McDonald’s piece, Would You Like Guys with That? A McTolerant One-Man Show.

The show is at the Magnolia Lounge inside Fair Park starting at 7:30 p.m., and runs 70 minutes. Tickets are only $5 and it’s BYOB. Gotta love a play that encourages drinkin’.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Latin flair

MUY FUNNY | Dan Guerrero works for laughs while being gay and Latino in his one-man show.

Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots

rich lopez  | Staff Writer

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.

“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”

Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.

And then came ¡Gaytino!

“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.

When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”

With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?

“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”

What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.

“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”





Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.

Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.

McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.

Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.

Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.

—Arnold Wayne Jones

Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Weekly Best Bets

Friday 04.08

He’ll keep a ‘Light’ on for you
Last year, Jake Heggie brought people back to the opera with the world premiere of his adaptation of Moby Dick. The gay composer works his magic with another world premiere, but for one night only. He and Gene Scheer debut their song cycle A Question of Light, performed by Nathan Gunn, as part of
Unveil: The Dallas Opera 2011 Gala.
DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2301 Flora Way. 8 p.m. $75.


Saturday 04.09

This comedy isn’t down the tubes
As the Dweeb Girls, rock band The Surly Bitches or pseudo country music sensations Euomi and Wynotta Spudd, comedy team Dos Fallopia works hard for the laughs. The “kamikaze comedy team” of Peggy Platt and Lisa Koch have been at this for 25 years and bring the funny to Fort Worth.
DEETS: Youth Orchestra Hall, 4401 Trail Lake Drive. 8 p.m. $20­–$40.


Sunday 04.10

Get hallucinating with ‘Alice’
Nouveau 47 amps up last year’s production of the Lewis Carroll classic by adding more of his work in Alice in Wonderland & Other Hallucinations. We’re glad we get to partake in theater that acts as an hallucinogen rather than taking a pill. So much easier.
DEETS: The Magnolia Lounge, 1121 First Ave. Through April 23.

—  John Wright

Weekly Best Bets • 03.11.11

Friday 03.11

Grown up to be cowboys
The rodeo is back in town, or close by, at least. TGRA’s A Texas Tradition Rodeo fills the weekend up with barrel racing, bull riding and breakaway roping and a whole lot more action for the LGBT cowboys and cowgirls heading out to Alvarado to compete. James Allen and Weldon Henson provide the music along the way.

DEETS: Diamond W Arena, 8901 E. Highway 67
Alvarado. Through March 13.

Monday 03.14

Third time is a charm
Maybe it’s just us, but the buzz doesn’t seem as loud for this week’s return of Lady Gaga. And we’re certain the gays haven’t forgotgaga about it. She returns to Dallas after two sold-out shows last year, but this time she’s armed with a new number one hit ,“Born This Way,” and the Scissor Sisters as openers. OK, now we hear the buzz.

DEETS: American Airlines Center, 2500 Victory Ave. 8 p.m. $52–$178.

Thursday 03.17

Mother always knows best
In this Outtakes Dallas screening of You Should Meet My Son, a mother discovers her son is gay and then decides he needs to have a hubby and her fabulous adventures begin. Way to go, Mom!

DEETS: Magnolia Theater, 3699 McKinney Ave. 7 p.m. $10.

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

—  Kevin Thomas