Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Deep in the Tarts of Texas

Many filmmakers see their labors of love debut before audiences on the festival circuit. If the premiere of a film by a new talent is a success, programmers at that film festival will usually welcome the filmmaker back in subsequent years.

Frameline's 35th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival is presenting the premieres of two new films which are, coincidentally, set in Texas. Each is the work of a filmmaker who has been warmly welcomed by Frameline's audience at previous festivals. Each shows the filmmaker stretching his artistic muscles and growing in new directions. In its own way, each film delivers a barrel full of laughs by mocking certain Texan stereotypes.

For many of us, the Presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson was our first exposure to the outsized personalities that populate the Lone Star State. In July of 1969 I saw a production of Hello, Sucker (a new musical starring Martha Raye as Texas Guinan) at the Warwick Musical Theatre in Rhode Island.

If the truth be told, many a Texan loves to spin tall tales that inflate both his ego and his résumé (some like to claim that everything's bigger in Texas).  Prior to their deaths, I greatly admired the wit and wisdom of Molly Ivins and Ann Richards. The fierce intelligence of those two women easily outshone the dull-witted smallmindedness of Texas governors George W. Bush  and Rick Perry who, as the saying goes, are "all hat and no cattle."

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While the producers of Mangus! are promoting their new film as a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine, I think it's a lot closer to what one might get by crossing Glee with Lust in the Dust. Written and directed by Ash Christian (who made a smashing debut with Fat Girls in 2006), Mangus! features Leslie Jordan as a frustrated high school drama teacher, Jennifer Coolidge as a trailer park floozie named Cookie Richardson, Heather Matarazzo as Cookie's 23-year-old daughter named Jessica Simpson, and John Waters in a delightful cameo appearance as Jesus Christ.

The story is all about Mangus Spedgewick (Ryan Boggus), a wide-eyed, bushy-haired and overly optimistic high school student who wants nothing more than to carry on the family tradition of portraying Jesus in his school's production of Jesus Christ Spectacular (the poor man's answer to Jesus Christ Superstar). After all, both his daddy, Mangus, Sr. (Charles Solomon, Jr.) and his granddaddy have played Jesus.

Now it's his turn.

Ever since he was four months old, Mangus has been preparing to hit the stage as the son of God. When his daddy gives Mangus his beloved Jesus robe to wear to an audition, Mangus's stepmother (Deborah Theaker) congratulates him by halfheartedly noting that, with his long hair, he looks "just like a Yiddish carpenter."

Mangus (Ryan Boggus) and his best friends head to school

There is, however, some stiff competition for the lead role -- most notably, Mayor Williamson's flaming son, Farrell (John D. Montoya), who has been practicing his Jesus voguing routine with a fiendish frenzy that would put Glee's Kurt Hummel to shame.

Although Mangus does get cast as Jesus, his triumph is short-lived. An unspeakably horrible accident leaves him crippled (and you can bet your life no school board in Texas wants to see Jesus appearing onstage in a wheelchair).

Mangus quickly learns how fickle Lady Luck can be:
  • His father soon reenlists in the military and heads back to Iraq
  • His stepmother throws Mangus out of the house and sends him back to the trailer park from whence he came. 
  • His biological mother -- whose new boyfriend, Buddy (Peter S. Williams), is not much older than Mangus -- can't deal with having a cripple in her trailer. 
  • His dimwitted lesbian sister purchases bus tickets to Hollywood, Florida instead of Hollywood, California.

Ryan Boggus gets to play Jesus in Mangus!

There are moments of great hilarity in Mangus! I especially liked the confrontation with a Greyhound ticket agent (Samantha Yonack) and Farrell's grotesque mishap while dancing on a glass-topped coffee table. Peter S. Williams is deliciously sleazy as Buddy.

Jennifer Coolidge can do no wrong in my book. Leslie Jordan, Deborah Theaker, and John Waters all shine in their supporting roles. Ryan Boggus may have the lead role, but John D. Montoya nearly walks off with the film.

Mangus! receives its West Coast premiere on Saturday night, June 25 at the Castro Theatre. It's a perfect way to start off Pink Saturday on a note of pure silliness (you can order tickets here). Here's the trailer:

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In recent years, writer/director David Lewis has gained a loyal audience with his series of "coming out" narrative features.
  • In 2002, his script for Under One Roof told the story of Daniel Chang, a closeted young Chinese-American man (Jay Wong) still living in his family's San Francisco home who falls in love with the hunky young Caucasian tenant (James Marks) who moves into their downstairs apartment.
  • In 2007, Lewis premiered the first film that he wrote and directed at that year's Frameline festival. Although the plot of Rock Haven dealt with the gay awakening of an emotionally constipated young Christian, the film was rapturously received by an opening night audience packed with gay Christians. As an atheist who has been out of the closet for more than four decades, I found Rock Haven extremely mawkish and almost comically naive. While Sean Hoaglund and Owen Alabado provided plenty of very intense eye candy, there was no doubt in my mind that Christian Bruno's spectacular cinematography was the film's strongest asset.
  • In June of 2009, Frameline offered the world premiere of Redwoods, a film which explored what happens when a long-term relationship grows stagnant. Brendan Bradley starred as Everett, the kind of lover who has done all the right things and whose world is suddenly shaken up by the arrival of a handsome young stranger (Matthew Montgomery). Once again, Lewis's script was overly sentimental.

Poster art for Longhorns

Thankfully, Lewis is heading in a new direction. With the world premiere of Longhorns at this year's Frameline festival, the filmmaker has thrown sentimentality out the window. Aided by co-producers H.P. Mendoza (Colma: The MusicalOption 3,  Fruit Fly) and Lewis Tice (BearCity), Lewis has cast this comedy with an eye toward the bottom line: sex sells. His small cast of characters includes:
  • Camille (Sophia Revelli), a big-chested cheerleader who likes to give her boyfriend all she's got.
  • Kevin (Jacob Newton), Camille's boyfriend who thinks he's straight but fantasizes about a cowboy riding his dick.
  • Steve (Dylan Vox), Kevin's best friend. Steve fits the stereotype of a Texas good old boy whose morals fly out the window after one or two beers.
  • Brenda (Katrina Sherwood), Steve's girlfriend.
  • Daniel (Stephen Matzke), Kevin and Steve's nerdy friend from high school.
  • Cèsar (Derek Efrain Villaneuva), the new face on campus. Openly gay, Cèsar earns extra money by tutoring other students in English.
  • Justin (Kevin Held), the epitome of a straight, white, macho asshole whose biggest talent may be tossing a football. Justin is the kind of obnoxious frat boy who figures that dropping his drawers to give Cèsar a peek at his body should be worth at least two pages of the English paper he's too dumb to be able to write on his own.

Kevin Held as Justin in Longhorns

Things may not be all that politically correct in Kevin and Steve's dorm (where Justin quickly informs Cèsar that he's sitting in "a fag-free zone"), but as the old saying goes, with a little bit of beer, some lube, and some porn, "a stiff dick knows no conscience." Even though Kevin may not be the brightest bulb on campus, he knows when he's hurt someone's feelings and tries to make amends.

Cèsar (Daniel Efrain Villaneuva) and Kevin (Jacob Newton)

The promotional blurb for Longhorns reads as follows:
"Beers, steers...and a couple of queers. The Eighties come roaring back in this risqué and sexy comedy involving a group of Texas frat boys, a remote cabin in the Hill Country and lots of beers, that will give 'ride 'em cowboy' a whole new meaning!"
For once, here is a film that can claim truth in advertising. After Kevin, Steve, and Daniel travel up to the Hill Country for a weekend of booze and broads, they learn that rains have washed out the roads in much of Texas and, as a result, their girlfriends won't be able to join them. What's interesting about Longhorns is that it takes place in a world with no concerns about HIV and where Texas good old boys just want to get their rocks off. 

While the four male leads waste no time taking off their clothes, there are no erections to be seen, only comic moments filled with hard young bodies simulating some overly eager acts of sex. Longhorns is all about good-natured fun among horny college students. Here's the trailer:

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