Chef's Special
(Fuera de Carta)

TLA Releasing,

Nacho G. Velilla

Nacho G. Velilla ,
David S. Olivas,
Oriol Capel,
Antonio Sanchez

Javier Camara,
Lola Duenas,
Fernando Tejero, Benjamin Vicuna, Junio Valverde, Alejandra Lorenzo

Unrated, 104 minutes



Wolfe Video,

Ron Davis
Stewart Halpern

Carl Glorioso,
Victoria DePaula,
Tony Brewer,
Alina Malleti,
David Lowman,
Coti Collins,
Robert Martin,
Chantel Reshae,
Victor Bowling,
Victoria Parker

Unrated, 95 minutes


Holding Trevor

here! TV,

Rosser Goodman

Brent Gorski

Brent Gorski, Jay Brannan, Melissa Searing, Eli Kranski, Christopher Wyllie, Dawn Mondie

Unrated, 88 minutes


October Grab Bag
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, October 2009
A shorter version of Pageant also appeared in abOUT, November 2009

Spanish comedies can be a mixed bag. At one end of the spectrum you have Pedro Almodovar, at the other you have the late night programming on cable Spanish channels. Chef's Special, a Spanish entree from director Nacho G. Velilla, falls somewhere in the middle on this scale.

Maxi (Javier Camara) is the executive chef and owner of a plush restaurant named Xantarella. He is a middle aged screaming queen who is obsessed with getting a Michelin star for his elegant eatery. His quirky staff is one big dysfunctional happy family. Maxi gets a little high strung at times; think Hell's Kitchen's Gordon Ramsay crossed with ZaZa from La Cage Aux Folles. But he is also deeply passionate about the food that comes out of his kitchen and this is how he rapturously describes it to his staff:

"Please, what a dish! So insinuating, so seductive. Am I the only one hearing this? It's screaming to be eaten and enjoyed by someone. Remember, people don't just come here to eat. They seek pleasure, to satisfy their fantasies. They come here for us to give them a good fuck."

Life is about to get complicated for Maxi. His ex-wife from a sham marriage has just died and he suddenly has custody of his two estranged children. He hasn't seen the boy, 15, and the girl, 6, in years and the kids are, shall we say... hostile? A hunky former soccer player named Horacio (Benjamin Vicuna) moves into the apartment across the hall and both Maxi, and his maitre d' Alex (Lola Duenas), fall in lust with him. I have to point out that Alex was earlier seen screaming that she is done with men because they are all pigs. Quickly forgetting her new vow, her attempts to seduce the soccer hunk are as subtle as a train wreck. As it turns out, Horacio is in the closet (he is a television sportscaster) and he and Maxi begin a secret, torrid affair.

Chef's Special is often amusing. Sometimes it's even laugh-out-loud funny. But it is also a very uneven film. Too many cooks spoil the broth and Chef's Special has four screenwriters listed. It's the same affliction suffered by so many Hollywood blockbusters that are written by committee. Cinema and Sitcom is a bad mix. Beautifully written scenes are followed by others that are so broad they go beyond slapstick. Director Velilla's background in television is obvious. I know this is a comedy, but no one talks the way that these people sometimes do. Many lines are so out of character that they must have been written just for its laugh value without giving any thought to character assassination. (Or course, it is possible that something is lost in the translation.)
Still, Spanish comedy is usually a bit on the fast and furious side and maybe we Americans just can't keep up. Even so, this film really needs to tone it down a notch. Every now and then, Chef's Special gets serious and there are a few pretty intense scenes between Maxi and his son Edu. When Edu is expelled from school for engaging in a bit of fag bashing, Maxi slaps him and tells the kid that if he has a problem with fags to take it out on him. It goes without saying that Edu won't react very well when he discovers that his famous soccer coach is playing hide the sausage with his Dad. A number of scenes in which Maxi reads to his daughter at bedtime are touching, without becoming maudlin, because Maxi gets exasperated when she keeps asking for rational explanations of the fine plot points in her nursery rhymes. But the drama always becomes a burlesque again (sometimes without taking a minute to catch its breath) and what could have been another Bear Cub (2004) is, instead, a mess. However, I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit that it is also an entertaining mess.

There are abundant charms. The leads do a good job; Camara and Duenas both worked with Almodovar and, when the director isn't asking them to channel Benny Hill, they deliver convincing performances. The middle-aged gay man/fag hag relationship between them is believable. Making the lead character homely and dorky looking is a deviation from the usual gay comedy norm. There are also herein a few of the best sight gags I've seen in a movie in a long time. My favorite was Maxi's meltdown when a customer complains that his tuna steak is raw. Maxi is heard smashing a few things in the kitchen and then returns to the table with a welding torch.

Chef's Special won a few audience awards on the festival circuit so far be it for me to be a wet blanket. It's a cute film with a lot of fun moments, and it's a pleasant enough date movie. Regrettably, it had the potential to be a bit more.


Javier Camara also appears in:
Bad Education


Pageant is a feel-good documentary about fifty female impersonators competing for the title of Miss Gay America. Pageant emphasizes the glitz and the glitter, while following five very different men on their individual paths to capture the crown.
Two successive title cards begin the film: "The Miss Gay America Pageant is about the art of illusion" and "The use of female hormones or surgical body enhancements is forbidden." It is essential that the judges are convinced that each of the contestants are women and much of Pageant details the ways in which the men work their magic. This is about female impersonation and not drag. There are lavish close-ups of makeup being applied, wigs being styled and dresses being fitted. To add amusement, the audience also witnesses torturous treatments of duct tape and other household items that make the illusions possible.
One of the film's two directors, Stewart Halpern, helmed When Boys Fly (2000), a documentary about circuit parties that resembled a more explicit spawn of MTV's The Real World. In Pageant, Halpern again spotlights, this time with co-director Ron Davis, an interesting cross section of the contestants. Carl explains that being a female impersonator has nothing to do with wishing that he was really a woman. As a child, Tony thought he was ugly until he first put on a dress. Victor is overweight and his hero is Miss Piggy. Another was once a singer for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.

I have a confession to make. As a rule, I don't watch talent shows like American Idol or Project Runway, beauty pageants and drag revues. I own no Barbra Streisand albums and I hate disco (and yes, I'm really gay even though many friends think I should turn in my pink card). Even so, I enjoyed watching Pageant for what it was, and found it quite entertaining.

But, enjoyable as it was, I wanted a little more meat. Pageant only examines the surface glitter. Aside from a reference to when, three decades previously, the contestants walked past the Ku Klux Klan and religious groups with picket signs, small mentions of endured homophobia are noted only in passing but never fully explored. In 1990, Jennie Livingston's remarkable Paris is Burning documented the New York Drag Ball scene and its culture. The mostly poor participants were also living their dreams (and invented vogue before Madonna) but one came away from that film with a much deeper sociological context. A young black man, who felt that he would never escape the slums, found release at the Balls by dressing as a business executive. There are no comparable insights in Pageant where most of the contestants seem to be more than comfortably well off - three of them spend $50,000 to $70,000 on clothes for their hobby.

Almost two decades separate these documentaries. One can watch both and see how more accepting attitudes are today, and so comparing the two might be unfair. Call me a wet blanket but I just like movies to have more of an edge. For example, weren't there any rivalries between some of these guys?

But I'm not belittling the film. Regular watchers of programs like RuPaul's Drag Race on LOGO will love Pageant. The audience is promised a show and they are treated to remarkable impersonations of icons like Judy Garland and Reba McEntire, as well as elaborately choreographed lip-synched numbers from Chicago and Dreamgirls. If you just want a good time, you can't go wrong with Pageant. Anyone who likes to indulge their inner divas should be enthralled.


More on Stewart Halpern
When Boys Fly



A few years ago, I attended an evening of one act plays at the Alleyway Theatre here in Buffalo. The best one featured a school for bitchy theatre critics. The show's biggest laugh came when the teacher gave this hypothetical to her students: "You've just seen a new play by a budding new playwright." Without missing a beat, the entire class shouted in unison: "Needs extensive rewrite!"
I bring this up because I found myself thinking about that as I was screening Holding Trevor (2007), a no-budget indie directed by Rosser Goodman from a script by Brent Gorski (who also stars). One minute I would be lost in some pretty intense drama, the next I would be asking myself if the same man wrote both of the scenes that I just watched.
Holding Trevor is the story of a young gay man who is trying to move on from a toxic friendship. Trevor (Gorski) has just found his best friend, Darrell (Christopher Wyllie), lying against the bathtub and overdosed on heroin... again. Darrell was Trevor's first boyfriend as a teen-ager. Darrell promises to go straight but it's difficult to believe him. He is so zonked out on the methadone and the sleeping pills that the clinic gave him that he might as well still be a junkie. Darrell is poison and Trevor's friends tell him to dump the loser and stop feeling responsible for him. Trevor can't let go, but he has a chance to move on when he meets Ephram (Eli Kranski), a handsome young medical resident. Can Trevor start over without Darrell getting in the way?
The film exits the starting gate at a good clip but then the runner stumbles. Needs extensive rewrite, did I say? Films like this are the hardest for me to write about. While it is by no means a bad movie, it still also leaves much to be desired and is often very flat. My interest was engaged in spurts but the reverie was always broken. Holding Trevor is strongest when it sticks with Trevor and Darrell but otherwise it is all over the place.
Still, I can't dismiss the film because of scenes like the unsettling one in which Darrell, just home from the hospital (and newly enrolled at the clinic) tries to arouse a clearly reluctant Trevor who can no longer love Darrell in that way ever again. Darrell is positively manic in this scene and you can't help but feel sorry for him during these pathetic attempts at seduction. The film is running on all cylinders during these moments but then repeatedly grinds to a halt. The writer has no flare for romantic dialogue, weakening further what is already a tenuous relationship between Trevor and Ephram. Perhaps that was the point but the writing is too inconsistent. The script also features some of the most rambling and pointless narrations in recent memory. "My favorite was "If I could no longer be where I have been, then at least I could turn my back on where I was headed." Am I missing something?
My attention often wandered but then something would happen - Darrell would re-enter the picture or the unexpected occured... like when Trevor and his two roommates get tested for HIV and it is the lady friend who tests positive. Some of the best friend banter is fun, Eli Kranski as Ephram looks great with his clothes off, and there are a couple of tender and spicy bedroom trysts. Trevor and Ephram's first kiss, against a city skyline, was reminiscent of the poster for Woody Allen's Manhattan. I also liked Trevor's method of dealing with stress - he screams at the top of his lungs while taking his car through an automated car wash.
The acting is mixed. Jay Brannan, as Trevor's bitchy club kid friend Jake, was much better in John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus but here one surmises that he, like the rest of the cast, is giving it his best while being limited by the lines he is forced to deliver. (As he did in Shortbus, Brannan performs a very moving song on accoustic guitar.) Wyllie gives the film's best performance as Darrell. Maybe it is because he reminds me of actor Billy Mumy (Will Robinson on the original 1960s Lost in Space). He shares the same wide-eyed innocence and this makes his performance as a junkie so harrowing. Gorski also nicely conveys the disgust he feels for his friend's behavior while still being unable, or unwilling, to let him go. If only the film was able to sustain the same pitch throughout. Holding Trevor has more than its share of pleasures, but it does need an extensive rewrite.