Best Of :: People & Places
Homecoming Queens Filmmaker Israel Luna stirred up controversy with his Ticked Off Trannies with Knives, but just wait for the next two films in his transploitation trilogy. By Elaine Liner PHOTO BY MARK GRAHAM
With his transploitation indie film Ticked Off Trannies with Knives, Dallas writer-director Israel Luna earned the crown as this years king of underground cinema controversy. That was fine with him. The more sparkly dust he stirred up with his little $50,000 revenge fantasy about characters named Emma Grashun and Rachel Slurr, the more film festivals he and his extravagantly coiffed leading ladies were invited to. An awful piece of cinema, wrote one blog critic at the movies festival debut. But Varietys critic dug it, comparing Luna to slash-and-trash filmmakers Roger Corman, Russ Meyer and Quentin Tarantino, and writing that The films physical deformities are hardly out of line with the sense of transgressive edginess perpetrated by Luna, whose subjects are meant to representand who can argue?one of the final frontiers of societal intolerance. Note that the same review ends with this: Production values are deliberately and appropriately horrible.
And how does Luna describe the plot of his film? A group of transgender women get their revenge on the lowlife rednecks that bashed them, he explains. Then he cant help himself. Its the sequel to Howards End. Hes kidding, of course. But it was no joke when, at the esteemed Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan, the film drew the ire of GLAAD, which disapproved of Lunas use of the word trannies, among other things. To pacify the protests, Luna made some tweaks to the final cut, taking out the real names of gay-bashing victims. The backlash had one major positive result, however; it brought attention and support from one of Lunas idols, Pink Flamingos and Hairspray filmmaker John Waters, who praised the movie and talked it up on cable TVs Joy Behar Show.
TOTWK was featured at this summers Q Cinema in Fort Worth, at the Philadelphia QFest and at the horror-only Another Hole in the Head Festival in San Francisco. The film has been picked up by a distributor and will open on Halloween as a midnight feature at the Inwood in Dallas and on other screens around the country. A DVD due out later this year will be a 20-minutes-longer directors cut with extras that include a blooper reel and interviews with the cast.
Luna, 38, is a self-taught moviemaker who never went to film school. Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, he was raised in tiny Wellington, Texas, up in the Panhandle. He started making small, scrappy, gay-centric movies 10 years ago. TOTWK was inspired, he says, by exploitation films of the 1970s and 80s, campy gore-horror like I Spit on Your Grave, as well as by recent real-life hate crimes against people in the LGBT community.
Shooting for a few weeks with a group of actor friends he plans to use in more films, Luna was writer, director, cameraman and editor on Ticked Off Trannies not because Im a control freak, but because I couldnt pay anybody else to do these jobs. I didnt even pay myself. He says he plans to use his Dallas-based stars, Krystal Summers, Kelexis Davenport, Willam Belli, Erica Andrews and Jenna Skyy, in the next two films in a planned transploitation trilogy. Financed primarily by individual donations, including generous checks from a Dallas lesbian in her 80s, Lunas films are made with little support from more mainstream-oriented Dallas-based film professionals. The Dallas film industry has not been supportive of my work at all. Its been me doing it on my own, bringing in friends, hiring cast and crew. Im more appreciated outside of Dallas, says Luna.
Future work on Lunas schedule includes shooting a short high-definition (via iPhone video) documentary called 5ive, featuring five LGBT hate crime victims talking about their experiences. Then its on to the next film in the trannie trilogy. Luna envisions it as the ultimate grindhouse zombie thriller, pitting angry armies of the undead against the only two groups of survivors left on a zombie-dominated earth: members of the LGBT community and Bible-thumpers. Kurt Cameron has had the Christian film market to himself for too many years, Luna says. So what would happen if in a movie Kurt was left behind and had to count on gay people to survive? Now thats a complexity we havent seen before. And I already have a name for one of the main trannie charactersBeth Ann Phettamin.
Working title: Kicking Zombie Ass for Jesus. Something tells us dealing with ticked off trannies was a slice of heaven compared with what will happen when that movie opens.
Conventional wisdom holds that rich guys don't like to air their dirty laundry in public, which is likely why the descendants of H.L. Hunt settled their family feud on the courthouse steps in May. It's also why we relished the opportunity to view the dirty laundry filed by billionaire Ross Perot Jr. against billionaire Mark Cuban in the form of a civil case that alleged Cuban had racked up so much debt during the nine years he has been running the Dallas Mavericks ($270 million) that he had basically run the team into the ground. Perot claimed that Cuban's bad management had jeopardized the 5 percent minority interest Perot, through his Hillwood Properties, still retains in the Mavs. Claiming that the Mavs were nearly bankrupted by Mark Cuban seemed about as likely as saying that the Rangers weren't nearly bankrupted by Tom Hicks. Although Perot did his talking through lawyers, Cuban took his case to the Internet and e-mailed various press outlets, telling them that the lawsuit was an act of desperation on the part of Perot, who had lost big on his Victory Park development. No matter the right and wrong of it, the public was given a glimpse of rich guys getting all shitty with each other. And the prospect of watching how the rich play hardball remains as the lawsuit takes on age and animosity.
Sure, a classy dinner, a bottle of wine and a movie says "romance," but it's not exactly the stuff of sweeping love songs. No heartbroken musician out there pens tunes about the time they had the fish at Central 214 and rented The Proposal. A song-worthy kiss comes with hints of danger, apprehension and excitement. Your heart will go pitter-patter with both love and adrenaline when you make a late-night run at climbing the fence of AT&T's telephone pole-climbing training ground at the corner of Bryan and Fitzhugh in East Dallas with the object of your affection. The barbed-wire is easily conquered with a thick flannel blanket, and there are plenty of footholds at the northwest corner of the compound. We're not saying it's like taking candy from a baby, but we are saying that maybe we know a girl who did this in a mini-skirt, unscathed. And once you've shown your prowess at trespassing vertically, getting horizontal is the easy part.
The Texas Pinball Festival will celebrate its 18th annual event this March, proving that even in the age of Wii and PlayStation, people still appreciate the craftsmanship and tactile experience of their favorite arcade games. A flat fee gets you in the door for unlimited play on a plethora of machines—for a much heftier fee, you can even take some of them home. You'll see machines you thought you'd never see again, from cool, vintage '70s Playboy and Capt. Fantastic games to those based on best-forgotten '90s films like Demolition Man ("Featuring Academy Awards Winning Actress Sandra Bullock!"). And if the pinball isn't enough, the people watching is amazing—whether it's the hardcore competition players or the blinking light salesmen or the drunk middle-aged couples down from Oklahoma, hoping to rekindle a little of that teenage feeling with a sweet multiball or two.
Dallas used to be dotted with little bait and tackle stores where you could acquire a little bit of equipment and a whole bunch of information just by stopping in. Now, of course, the huge category-killers like Bass Pro Shops and Academy have driven most of the mom-and-pops out of business. One of the interesting exceptions to that rule is Barlow's, just south of Arapaho Road on the southbound service drive of Central Expressway in Richardson. Barlow's maintains a serious Web presence, selling specialized bait and equipment to guides and dedicated fishermen. Maybe that's what allows them to keep the retail store open. However they do it, their store is a great place to pick up inside scoop on area lakes from Texoma to Fork. The people behind the counter know what's biting, where and on what. Sometimes you don't even have to ask. Just slouch around and keep your ears open, because somebody else is always up there trying to pick up some secrets.
No small matter, balancing the public's right to a free and open judiciary against the privacy rights of the litigants who play within its courtrooms. But Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons has spent much of his public career trying to strike that balance. On July 26, he made court records available over the Internet, initially releasing more than 13 million images to the public. Currently the dockets of 10 criminal courts, eight civil courts and all seven family courts can be viewed online. Documents for the remaining courts will be available by year's end. This may be a boon to the media but not so much to those litigants who object to public disclosure of private matters. To assist in these privacy concerns, individuals can request that their Social Security numbers be redacted from documents and certain records—those not required by law to remain public—may be restricted. Lawyers and the media will have access to all documents save those sealed or made confidential by law. Tricky business, maintaining some semblance of privacy in an electronic world. But Fitzsimmons seems bent on trying to get it right.
Driving through Highland Park can be a blissful experience. Something about passing by the well-manicured lawns, unbelievable houses, and beautiful women jogging behind blonde Gerber babies in strollers always takes our mind off of our car's busted air conditioner—for a moment. Tucked away in the middle of it all sits one of the area's most beautiful gardens: Lakeside Park. A wide canal meanders through perfectly landscaped grounds until it reaches a peaceful waterfall underneath a wooden bridge. Droves of lily pads cover the water's surface, and long leafy branches provide shade for several park benches. Kids love the park's giant teddy-bear statues, and for adults, it's the perfect location for a romantic picnic or just a leisurely evening stroll.
We tried to kindle up some way of choosing between Dallas' two national chain giants, but truth be told, deciding between them is like trying to pick your favorite leaf in the Amazonian forest. Similar discounts, similar in-store readings, similar selection of new titles. You got your coffee, your fairly limited selection of books on CDs. Oh, if only there were a way to reach up into the air and effortlessly retrieve a decision between the two, or some magical, electronic piece of wizardry that we could use to calculate which is better. But we're lightweights when it comes to making those sorts of decisions. We're all thumbs. And we're seriously hoping that someone gets our point in time for our next birthday. This too is a hint.
It would be wrong to pigeonhole Bows and Arrows as just a craft haven. It's so much more than that. The multi-use space—owned and operated by visual artists, entrepreneurs and general Renaissance couple Adam and Alicia Rico—is at once full-service floral shop, art gallery, depot for handmade specialty gifts, and yes, a center for classes that range in topic from floral arranging (basic, wedding and more) to fiber arts (felting, batik) to paper works (screen printing, chandeliers, monoprinting and more). All classes are taught by artists (such as Lizzy Wetzel and paper nerds) who may be experts in their own field but don't scoff at even the most inexperienced new student. Plus, classes are so inspiring you'll want to assign your own homework. When was the last time that happened?
On some level, 22-year-old Fort Worth-residing Yasmine Villasana had the right idea when, back in June, rather than slowing down upon approaching the exit toll booths at DFW Airport, she sped up, angled her car toward the between-booth barricades that, in her defense, kind of do look like ramps, and flew right over the tolls. Sure, she suffered minor injuries, saw her car go up in flames and got arrested by police, but we'd be lying if we said we didn't understand her plight. We hate those tolls; it makes no sense that we have to pay just to get into the airport and drop our friends off at their departure gate. So, no, we don't blame her for going all General Lee on the place—we're actually thinking about doing it ourselves next time.
The days are long gone when crowds of kids gathered around a big ramp at Bachman Lake, sporting mullets and neon surf wear, to catch the city's best skateboarding stars in action. That's not entirely a bad thing, but what today's skaters have gained in fashion sense, they've largely lost in tight-knit community vibes that once coursed through Dallas' smaller skate scene. Keeping the old spirit alive, Guapo's a hangout built around old local skate legends, with an eye on "passing along the stoke" to the next generation. It may not look like much from the outside, but this warehouse in the Cedars is home to the best bowl and street-style skating in the city. It's a private club most days, but two or three times a month, open houses let any budding skater roll in and check it out.
Luit and Jamie Huizenga or their employees are always up in the middle of the night making runs to D/FW Airport, because they import flowers directly from the bloemenmarkt, the Amsterdam Flower Market, rather than buying through broker/distributors in the United States. That makes Cebolla the place to go, not only for floral arrangements but for your own fresh robust cut flowers for your own creations. Luit is Dutch and knows the Amsterdam market like the back of his hand. Jamie is a genius designer. Together in an earlier life they created Dr. Delphinium. Their new store on Maple is a sight to behold whether you buy anything or not.
Browsing Penzeys Spices' selection of more than 250 different herbs, spices, seasonings, sprinkles and blends from around the world is enough to make one's head spin. Especially while trying to choose between numerous different peppercorns, chili powders or cinnamon (they stock more than a half-dozen different varieties of each), but, luckily, as you sniff your way around the store, the knowledgeable employees are always ready with suggestions to help you spice up any recipe from tacos, burgers or curries to cakes, cookies or custards. But the best part about Penzeys is that if you don't have time to make a trip to the store, there's always the expedited shipping from the company's online catalog. Penzeys has sold its world-wide array of spices by mail order for more than 20 years now, opening its first storefront in '97. (The Dallas spot opened in 2005.) Our new favorite purchase is the new salt-free Arizona Dreaming, which is an all-purpose blend that lends a "South of the Border" flavor to any dish. Warning though, once you go Penzeys Spices, you never really go back.