USA Film Fest reveals lineup

FindingNeighbors_JEFF_PAUL_doorThe Dallas International Film Festival is still underway, but today the USA Film Festival announced its own lineup of screenings, which arrive later this month.

The 44-year-old fest, which takes place April 22–27, will include several tributes, including ones for soap stars Linda Gray (Dallas) and Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road), Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, John Turturro, Ed Harris and Carol Kane.

Foodies will get a treat on April 23, when the screening of El Camino del Vino, a comic mockumentary about wine, and the film Tasting Menu (with Flanagan). In addition, chef Abraham Salum will host a five-course wine dinner at his eponymous Uptown restaurant.

Among some gay-interest screenings are the feature Finding Neighbors, pictured, a quirky comedy from Oscar winner and SMU alum Ron Judkins. It screens April 26. And out actor Paul Marcarelli (the Verizon’s “Can You Hear Me Now” spokesman) returns to the fest as a juror for the short films competition.

Tickets go on sale today. You can get passes, and search the entire schedule, here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Bridegroom’ at USA Film Fest

Bridegroom-3Shane and Tom were the cutest twink couple you’ve ever seen. From the time they first met, it was a real connection: Both were from small Midwestern towns; both had conservative families; both loves to sing and perform and listen to Garth Brooks. Only Shane’s folks understood when he came out that being gay wasn’t a choice, and supported and loved him unconditional.

Tom’s parents were not so understanding. They claimed Shane “converted” (and perverted) Tom. That it was a sin. Tom’s dad even threatened to come to California and “gut” Shane for what he did.

Shane and Tom were stunned, but they kept on, traveling the world and vlogging about their adventure in Macchu Picchu and the Great Pyramids.

Then Tom died.

Bridgegroom, which is just one of the gay-themed films at the USA Film Festival this weekend (it plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Angelika Mockingbird Station), traces they tragic but beautiful relationship as they struggled to achieve marriage equality and combat homophobia. The documentary, directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (creator of Designing Women), is brief (less than 90 minutes) but punchy, filled with tons of video diaries, home movies and personal interviews (the best with Shane’s sassy great-grandma) explaining their struggles (when Tom is taken to the hospital, Shane is excluded for not being a relative) and Shane’s recovery from the pain of his loss, including his conflict with Tom’s parents. It’s a plainspoken and deeply moving story that strikes many familiar chords. Try leaving the screening with a dry eye.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

IMG_6695The Turtle Creek Chorale tips its hat to Broadway this weekend with its Kander & Ebb concert, a show featuring two dozen of the songwriting teams’ most memorable hits. It’s at the City Performance Hall through Sunday. Right next door, you can check out Val Kilmer in his one-man show, Citizen Twain, playing at the Wyly. And across the street, the Dallas Opera’s season winds up with alternating performances of Turandot and The Aspern Papers at the Winspear.

On Saturday, you can get the energy to go get all your other chores done by popping by Deep Ellum for the inaugural North Texas Taco Festival, sponsored by our good friend Jose Ralat-Maldonado of the Taco Trail blog. That evening, hop over to the Hilton Anatole for the annual Bloomin’ Ball fundraiser for AIN.

On Saturday and Sunday, there are plenty of activities (in Fair Park and in Oak Cliff) leading up to Earth Day, which is officially on Monday. Then later in the week, two film festival get going: The USA Film Festival kicks off Wednesday, and runs through the following Sunday. And over in Fort Worth, QCinema returns with its spring series with the one-night-only screening of Lesbian Shorts: The Best of the Fest.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

USA Film Fest opens with history of AIDS, Q&A

This week, I reviewed How to Survive a Plague, a fascinating and emotional documentary from journo-turned-filmmaker David France about the early days of the AIDS crisis, especially as it relates to the founding of ACT-UP. The screening kicks off this year’s 42nd annual USA Film Festival.

David France, pictured, will be in attendance, and yours truly will be moderating the question and answer session immediately following it, and bring your questions for David!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Niles no more

David Hyde Pierce knows what it means to be a ‘Perfect Host’

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

On television and onstage, David Hyde Pierce has enjoyed the rare perk of being a character actor who gets leading-man attention — and money. By the time he ended his 11-year run on the acclaimed sitcom Frasier, Pierce had become the highest-paid series regular not to headline a series in TV history. (Four Emmy Awards will do that for you.) In 2007, he added stage superstardom to the resume when he won the Tony Award for best actor in a musical (against tough competition) playing a sad-sack cop in Curtains. (That followed a hit run as one of the leads in Spamalot.)

On film, though, Pierce has always been the second banana, often giving memorable supporting in movies like Wolf or voicing animated characters in A Bug’s Life and others, but never being asked to carry them.
Not anymore. Pierce finally gets above-the-title billing — but keeps his character-actor cred — in the indie comedy-thriller The Perfect Host.

“These opportunities don’t come around a lot except for the Tom Cruises of the world,” Pierce admits. “When they first showed me the poster, I saw my name big and my picture all over it. I realized that’s what it means to be the star of the movie.”

Of course, Pierce knows the box office expectations aren’t as high for his film as its opening-weekend competition, Transformers 3. The Perfect Host, which got its local premiere in April at the USA Film Festival but opens in some cities for a commercial run this week (it was screened earlier this week at the Texas Theatre as well), is a quirky and enjoyable romp full of twists — so many, in fact, it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling some of the surprises.

On the surface, it’s about a career criminal named James (Clayne Crawford) who talks his way into the home of a sophisticated but meek suburbanite named Warwick (Pierce). James plans to kill Warwick, but then the tables are turned on him, as the evening spins out in ways that recall such thrillers as Misery, Rear Window, Psycho and A Clockwork Orange.

Only not. And with more humor. Well, you gotta see it to get it.

“It’s a movie where what seems to be is continually not,” agrees Pierce, trying not to give away any secrets. “People who seem benign are not and those you think are dangerous maybe aren’t. At Sundance, many people said seeing it a second time is a lot of fun, knowing what’s real and what’s not.”

“The most influential film was Joseph Losey’s The Servant, but also Polanski’s early work — Cul-de-Sac, Compulsion,” says first-time feature director and co-writer Nick Tomnay. “Warwick is doing [this] to satisfy his fetish. He’s actually quite a happy guy — he’s not conflicted about it. But the last note of the film is very dark.”

For Pierce, it was an opportunity to stretch but without veering too far from his screen persona. Warwick is as fastidious as Niles Crane but has a kooky side Niles never did. It’s a transition that he embraced.

“Especially when you’re seen on a TV show, you can’t pretend the past didn’t happen,” he says. But Warwick allows Pierce to be both the “perfect host” of the title and act out deep, id-like compulsions. And it also gave Pierce the chance to do something he rarely has done in public: Disco dance.

“I got a friend of mine who was a dancing coach to choreograph that,” Pierce says. “That was great to do.”

Theater remains a passion for Pierce, though; in addition to his performances in Curtains and Spamalot, he was in New York seeing La Cage aux Folles — once with his former co-star, Kelsey Grammer (whose performance he raved over), and once with the replacement cast of Chris Seiber in Grammer’s role and Harvey Fierstein as his drag-queen boyfriend.

“Harvey was great,” he says. “There’s an added layer because of course Harvey has lived it in a way.”

Pierce, who is gay and lives with his long-time partner in California, has been very active in recent years coming out in support of same-sex marriage. But he’s not definitive about Warwick’s sexuality.

“I think Warwick would be up for anything,” he says with a wink.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

It’s not easy being ‘Green’

First-time filmmaker Steve Williford teams with the Verizon Guy (seriously!) for ‘The Green,’ a movie about homophobia and suspicion

Jason_Butler_Harner_and_Cheyenne_Jackson
IDYLLS OF THE QUEENS | A quiet couple (Dallas theater veteran Jason Butler Harner and ‘30 Rock’s’ Cheyenne Jackson) becomes immersed in controversy when one is accused of an affair with a teen in the USA Film Festival entry ‘The Green.’

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
marklowry@theaterjones.com

Although Steve Williford never felt any homophobia directed at him when he lived in southwestern Indiana, his perception of what others thought of him as a gay man was something that stuck with him for many years. At dinner parties and social events, his sexuality was a subject that came up often, usually as a result of others’ curiosity.

“Months went by and I started to wonder if I was the poster boy for gay,” he says. “I always wondered what would happen if something in my life happened that brought my sexuality to the forefront, like if I was at a party and kissed my partner.”

That question would eventually lead him to his first feature film as a director, The Green, currently on the festival circuit and screening at USA Film Festival Saturday. The screenplay is written by Paul Marcarelli, best known as Verizon’s “can you hear me now?” guy, who recently came out publicly.

The story they ended up with concerns a high school teacher, played by Jason Butler Harner, who is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. It causes tension with the teacher’s partner, played by out Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson (also known for his recurring roles on 30 Rock and Glee), and in the community.

Williford directed nearly 150 episodes of the recently axed soap opera All My Children from 2004 to 2011, but his background is in theater (he directed a production of Driving Miss Daisy in the early 1990s at Dallas’ Park Cities Playhouse, back when it was called the Plaza Theatre). So it’s not surprising that his cast is filled with actors who come from the theater world, too — not just Jackson, but Harner, who played Hamlet at the Dallas Theater Center in 2003. That may explain why Williford’s film has something in common with several plays, notably Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.27.05 PM“We’re a proud cousin of all of those works,” Williford says. “We are trying to examine a situation that can illustrate to us how slippery truth and clarity really is and how quickly it can slip away from us.”

“Paul and I are both big lovers of ambiguity to a certain degree,” he adds. “I had always modeled this story in my heart and mind on what I love about the Chekhov short stories: We leave certain things open and free to be interpreted. For the bulk of the story, you’re really not sure if he has done what he’s being accused of, but there are some significant issues that do get resolved, quite clearly I think.”

And of course, he knows the audience won’t trust if they don’t believe in the relationship as portrayed by Harner and Jackson, and takes a dramatic turn from the comic roles he has done on TV.

“I completely believe in Jason and Cheyenne as a couple. That’s one of my complaints when I see LGBT couples represented in film: I feel like there’s a link missing a little bit. I don’t feel that way about them, in the work environment or what has come together for the film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Party of 2: ‘Perfect Host’ is match of wits between a career criminal and a prissy homeowner

DIVING IN | David Hyde Pierce plays both to and against type in the indie comedy thriller ‘The Perfect Host,’ which screens as part of the USA Film Festival this week.

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

David Hyde Pierce has become so identified with his most famous character, the milquetoast intellectual Niles Crane from Frasier, it must present him with a career conundrum: Either play into his type forever (boring himself in the process) or go totally against it (and risk alienating his fans). It’s probably why he’s spent the last few years working on Broadway. He seems to have split the baby cleverly with The Perfect Host, which both exploits and undermines his image.

Pierce plays Warwick, a prissy L.A. homeowner preparing for a dinner party. John (Clayne Crawford), a career criminal on the run from the cops, talks his way into Warwick’s house to escape the manhunt. It doesn’t require too much foresight to figure out not everything is as its seems. We’re not surprised when Warwick turns the tables on John, but from there the plot does head in unexpected directions. (not the least of which is watching Pierce disco dance to “Car Wash”).

The Perfect Host mines some of its ideas and style from several Hitchcockian films, especially Psycho, Rear Window, Deathtrap and The Collector, but also the subgenre of strangers-in-the-wrong-house thrillers, from Rocky Horror to Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Misery to Human Centipede. It’s never as disturbing as the latter three  (nor as funny as the former), but Pierce explores the many psychological shadings of his character effortlessly.

Director/co-writer Nick Tomnay actually toys with the audience’s sympathies, toggling between Warwick and John, but it does result in the film losing focus — what, exactly, does it want to be? Maybe that’s an unnecessary question. Take it for what it is: A compact match of wits and styles that keeps you guessing.

—  John Wright

Dallas’ USA Film Festival announces schedule for 41st season (and we’ve got the gay in it)

Dallas’ USA Film Festival kicks off its 41st season with a tribute to bisexual actor Cary Grant and with several gay guests in attendance.

• The centerpiece of the festival is Remembering Cary Grant: An Evening with Jennifer Grant, the actor’s daughter with Dyan Cannon. Jennifer will sign her memoir about her father and host a 55th anniversary screening of To Catch a Thief. Cary, of course, was among the most suave of golden era leading men, but in addition to women has a long romance with cowboy actor Randolph Scott. (April 27)

The Perfect Host — Gay TV icon David Hyde Pierce (Niles from Frasier) will be in attendance for the screening of this psychological thriller, which stars the Tony and Emmy winning actor. (April 27)

Take Me Home — This comedy-drama features Victor Garber (Alias, Milk) who we hope will be among the cast members who may be in attendance. (April 28)

• The Green — A gay couple (Jason Butler Harner, Cheyenne Jackson) are challenged when one is accused of inappropriate behavior toward a student. The filmmakers will be in attendance. (Presented with the support of Equality Texas.) (April 30)

Warriors of the Discotheque — This documentary about the legendary Starck Club, which opened 27 years ago and was radical in its acceptance and tolerance of all lifestyles. (April 30)

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

'Undocumented' screens at USA Film Festival

undocumented

After our recent coverage of the Mega March in Dallas, the USA Film Festival wanted to let us know that they will be screening a film tonight entitled, “Undocumented.”

“We are trying to reveal to the public that our system is broken. We show all sides of the issues and what people around the country are really saying,” associate producer Andrew Boks wrote to Dallas Voice. “The movie is both entertaining and disturbing.”

The film will screen at the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station tonight at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m., and tickets are $10 each. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 214-821-6300.

—  David Taffet