Oct 8, 2016

Veep: In the Vice President's Office, Everyone is Obsessed with One Thing

In the midst of the strangest presidential campaign in U.S. history, where one of the candidates can spout racist and sexist polemics worthy of the Ku Klux Klan, yet still draw over 40% of potential voters in the polls, it's nice to escape to a fictional world where elected officials get in trouble for far milder statements.

Veep (2012) stars Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (formerly of Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine) as Selena Meyer, a presidential hopeful squashed in the primaries and forced into a degrading, superfluous role as Vice President.  Her main job is to spearhead a healthy eating campaign and fix the messes she talks herself into.

She asks whether her adversary Danny Chung, the governor of Minnesota, was born in the U.S.

She accidentally insults Finland.

Her daughter writes a paper critical of Israel.

She claims that she understands the plight of the farmers, because when she was a girl, her wealthy parents bought her a pony.

Selena is surrounded by obsequious yes-men:

1. Driven chief of staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky).

2. Gary Walsh (Tony Hale, left), personal assistant and bag-man.

3. Director of communications Dan Egan (Reid Scott).

4. Press secretary Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh)

5. Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), a liaison with the President's office.

And others as the series progresses, all amoral, schmoozing, with their own agendas and career aspirations.

Beefcake: None.  Since every episode takes place almost entirely at work, there is little opportunity for shirtless shots.  The main cast is exceptionally unattractive, with the exception of Dan Egan (that's why I have three pictures of him posted).

We don't even see a lot of musclemen hired for bit parts.  The only one I could come up with was Walid Amini (top) as Rahim, a third-generation Iranian immigrant who Selena's daughter dates, causing a scandal.  Apparently whoever does the casting is told "make them ugly!"

Gay Content: Not much.  There is a brief bromance between Dan and Jonah in the first season, but it devolves into antipathy.

Jonah is subjected to sexual harassment by a staffer who keeps grabbing his crotch, but the other victims are all women.

Everyone sees a hunky guy leaving Gary's hotel room, and assumes that he hooked up, but it turns out to be a masseur.

We are not told about the personal lives of most of the minor characters, so they could be gay.

Heterosexism:  Not much.  Since we know little about the characters' personal lives, we are spared the constant "wife and kids! wife and kids!" drone of most sitcoms.

Penises:  Lots.  Everyone is obsessed with them.  There's nearly as much discussion of penises as in a cruise bar on Saturday night.  Bragging about your own size, wondering about someone else's size, denigrating someone by suggesting that they're too small.  It's penises all the time.

I think that's the main reason I watch.  And to see if Jonah and Dan ever kiss.

Oct 7, 2016

Red: Retired Operatives are Lethal and Heterosexist

I just saw Red (2010), a wisecracking caper movie about a bald, crotchety retired CIA agent  Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), probably so named to reflect the saying "older than Moses," although Bruce Willis was only in his fifties.

He teams up with other crotchety retired operatives, nursing-home bound cancer patient Joe (Morgan Freeman), brain-fried conspiracy nut Marvin (John Malkovich), elegant assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren), and blustering retired Russian spy Ivan (Brian Cox), plus Sarah, the call-center girl he's been perving on (Mary-Louise Parker) to find out why the CIA is trying to kill them all.

Hint: it has something to do with a village in Guatemala that was "liquidated" in 1980, and a cover-up that goes all the way up to...well, that would be telling.

By the way, RED stands for "Retired, But Extremely Dangerous."

I haven't seen such a vigorous and unnecessary defense of old people  since The Golden Girls.

There's a lot of galavanting around the country, but every set is so bright and shiny that you can't really tell where they are.  The witty banter is so nonstop, and the agents are so super-competent tat I had trouble believing they were ever in danger.  Fifty CIA agents descend on Frank's house, and he calmly escapes and walks away.  He easily breaks into the super-secure CIA headquarters, accosts William Cooper, the CIA agent in charge of his case, and vigorously beats him up, even though Cooper is half his age and armed.

 An assassin shoots at Marvin, and he returns fire so skillfully that the bullets meet halfway and explode.

Victoria is shot, yet still manages to elude the bad guys and make wise-cracks.

I know it was supposed to be a comedy, but in the end, it was so darn implausible that I kept saying "No way!"  The actors seem to be having a lot more fun than I was.

And why was it set at Christmastime, when no one mentioned Christmas?  The ornaments and Christmas trees everywhere were distracting.

Beefcake: None.  Although several very hot actors appeared in minor roles, like Alec Rayme (top photo) as a cop, or Greg Bryk as a firefighter, nobody took their shirts off.

Gay Content: None.  Frank and Marvin joke that William Cooper has "cute hair," and that's it.

Heterosexism: Nonstop.  The clash between work and heterosexual romance is a constant theme.  Frank has never dated anyone before because work was so pressing.  Victoria once dated Ivan, but the CIA disapproved and order her to assassinate him (as a compromise, she put three bullets in his chest).  They get back together.  Cooper is a "family man," a wife and kids that are "everything."  Frank and Sarah spend the last scene smooching.

Homophobia:  Yep.  In the first scene, Sarah notes that she's gone so long without a date, her landlady thinks she's gay.  Ok, last I heard, lesbians go on dates.

Frank says "I try not to judge," that is, "I try not to look down on gay people for their deficiency."

Hey, Frank, last I heard, being gay wasn't a deficiency.  I almost turned off the movie on the spot.

Who was Gay on "Salute Your Shorts"?

Salute Your Shorts (1991-1992) was one of the first teencoms on the fledgling Nickelodeon network, a sitcom for and about kids.  It was set in a never-ending summer camp, Camp Anawanna (as in "I don't wanna be here"), where a disparate group of tweens got into scrapes.  Only 26 episodes were filmed, but they were rerun constantly through the 1990s, and became a cherished childhood memory for millions of gay and straight kids.

All of the teen characters were written as heterosexual -- every program aimed at a juvenile audience, then and now, insists that no gay people exist.  But one of the male actors was gay (actually bisexual), and infused his character with a pleasantly subdued homoerotic desire that was obvious to those "in the know."

Ready to guess?

1. Eric Macarthur as "regular guy" Michael Stein (top photo).  He hasn't done a lot of acting lately, though has developed an impressive physique, which he displayed in the "nude gay flirtation" scene in the raunchy comedy Bottoms Up (2006).

2. Blake Soper (left) as his "regular guy" replacement, Ronnie Foster.  Now Blake Sennett, he's the lead guitarist for the indie rock group Rilo Kiley.

3. Tim Eyster (below left) as the science nerd Sponge. He was a busy child star, but left the industry after Salute Your Shorts to attend high school.  Now Trevor Eyster, he has worked as a realtor and flight attendant, and is interested in returning to acting.

4. Michael Bower (second right) as his buddy, the hefty Donkey Lips.  He's been acting steadily, with credits including the gay-positive Popular.  He also wrote and directed Focus the Series, about a wacky focus group.

5. Danny Cooksey as bad boy Bobby Budnick. He's had a career as an actor and musician.  Currently he is the lead singer in the band Shelter Dogs and a voice artist.  And he's a strong supporter of gay marriage.

Give up?

The answer comes after the break:

Oct 6, 2016

Wilbur and Ed in the Barn: The Gay Subtext of "Mr. Ed"

I never actually saw Mr. Ed (1961-1966) -- it was before my time.  But the older generation of baby boomers has fond memories of the story of newly-married architect Wilbur Post (Alan Young, 52 years old, not exactly a twink), who moves into a new house with a studio in the barn, and finds that the horse left over from the previous owner can talk.

Wilbur finds this a bit unusual, but doesn't question it.  Maybe he's seen the old Francis the Talking Mule movies, starring Donald O'Connor.

Or maybe he's just used to weird things happening.  This is the 1960s, when nearly every sitcom character has a secret to hide, from run-of-the-mill secret agents to witches, genies, and talking cars.

So Wilbur easily becomes resigned to his fate as a mild-mannered work-at-home husband with a guy in the barn that he can't tell his wife about.

Wait -- a relationship with a guy?  Hiding from your wife?  Sounds like a gay subtext to me.

Although Wilbur is "happily married" to Carol (Connie Hines), and Ed is aggressively heterosexual, courting many female horses, the subtext appears to be constant throughout the series.

Many episodes involve strains on the Wilbur-Ed relationship: 
Ed is captured by a sorority, and Wilbur must go in drag to rescue him.
Ed is upset because Wilbur won't take him to Hawaii.
Ed feels rejected so he joins the beatniks.

Others involve the presumed hilarity of a horse doing human things, from using a typewriter to surfing.

There were no "horse sized" jokes that I'm aware of, but Baby Boomer comedians have been more than happy to invent some.

Wilbur also has a number of older male friends of the 1950s-friendly-neighbor variety: Roger (Larry Keating), Paul (Jack Albertson), and Gordon (Leon Ames).  

Plus there were several celebrity guest stars, mostly from the older generation (Mae West, George Burns, Zsa Zsa Gabor), although Clint Eastwood made an appearance.

It sounds like a old-fashioned 1950s sitcom, aimed at the same sort of audience that would tune in to Jackie Gleason, but apparently kids were drawn in by the talking horse angle.  There were comic book and toy tie-ins.

Mr. Ed was voiced by 1950s Western star Allan Lane.  His singing voice was provided by Sheldon Allman, who also wrote two original songs for the series.

Alan Young, born Angus Young in 1919, had a long career on tv and in films, including the Golden Age of TV's Alan Young Show (1940-1944 in Canada, 1944-1949 in the U.S.)  In the 1980s he voiced Scrooge McDuck in Disney's Duck Tales.   He was married three times, and died in May 2016.

You're probably wondering about the clickbait top image.  An extensive search revealed no shirtless shots of any of the male cast members, but googling "Mr. Ed Allan Young shirtless" yields a photo of  1950s bodybuilder Ed Fury.

Oct 5, 2016

Jesse Bradford

Born in 1979, Jesse Bradford made his acting debut at the age of 8 months, in a Q-Tips commercial (it was a non-speaking role).  He was busy as a child, playing the son of a screenwriter with lung cancer in The Boys (1991) and brother of a psychotic gay kid (Harley Cross) in The Boy Who Cried Bitch (1991).

But he first made an impression on gay teens with Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995), where his Angus is lost in the Canadian wilderness with a dog named Yellow, fights for survival, and takes his shirt off, revealing a hard, firm but not muscular chest.

Unfortunately, his teenage projects involved a lot of girls.  In Hackers (1995), teenage computer whizzes Joey (Jesse) and The Girl try to save the world from a dangerous computer virus, and in Clockstoppers (2002), Zack (Jesse) and The Girl find a device that allows them to move super-fast, in effect stopping time.

But his darkly handsome teen idol face was sure to elicit swoons from gay and straight teens, and he became more muscular every year.

The thriller Swimfan (2002) is about a psychotic girl who stalks Ben (Jesse), a high school swimmer.  Though he is heterosexual, the disdain he feels as the girl becomes more and more insistent in her desire to be with him can be read as a gay subtext.  And  fans got to see Jesse in a revealing swimsuit.

Some buddy bonding: his character likes Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Romeo+Juliet (1996), and bonds with the gay male cheerleader Wes (Huntley Ritter) in Bring it On (2000).  In Flags of Our Fathers (2006), his Rene Gagnon storms the beach at Iwo Jima while mooning over Doc Bradley (Ryan Philippe).

After playing a gay hustler in Speedway Junky (1999), with Jonathan Taylor Thomas as his bisexual colleague, Jesse turned down a gay role in The Rule of Attraction (2002), fearing that he would be typecast.

But he played gay again in The Heights (2005), a young actor whom the engaged Jonathan (James Marsden) meets, falls for, and kisses.

Jesse's most recent roles have involved young adult heterosexuals negotiating relationships: a driven young attorney in Outlaw (2010),  a guy in love with a single mom in Other People's Kids (2011), a single dad in Guys with Kids (2012).  But he remains a gay ally.

10 Gay Movies I Loved

Ok, here's my list of 10 gay movies that did it right: coming out is not necessarily traumatic, gay and transgender are two different things, gay communities exist, heterosexuals are not necessarily homophobic, and no one converts in the end.  Many of them offer the flip side to the 10 gay movies I hated.

The rules: the movies had to have identifiable gay/lesbian, bisexual, or trangender characters in starring roles -- not just gay-vague characters or subtexts; they had to be released after 1993 -- no classics, like Making Love or Maurice; and  the gay characters can't die at the end.

It's not the 1950s Anymore

1. Beautiful Thing (1996).  Flip side of Get Real: high schooler Jamie (Glen Berry) falls in love with his chum Ste (Scott Neal).  Mom thinks he's a little young, but is otherwise ok with it.  There's a gay community: they read The Gay Times and go to the gay bar.

2. A Lone Star State of Mind (2002). Flip side of Sordid Lives. Texas redneck Earl (Joshua Jackson, last seen in Cruel Intentions) and gay cowboy Jimbo (Matthew Davis, right) go on the run when Earl's fiancee's cousin accidentally robs a drug courier.  Everybody finds somebody to dance with.

3. Latter Days (2003). Flip side of Cruel Intentions. L.A. partyboy Christian (Wes Ramsey) makes a bet with his friend that he can seduce naive Mormon missionary Aaron (Steve Sandvoss), only to fall in love with him.

Gay Men Want Men

4. Patrick Age 1.5 (2008).  Flip side of The Object of My Affection. Gay couple in Sweden (Torkel Petersson, Gustav Skarsgard) adopt what they think is a baby, but he turns out to be a homophobic 15-year old juvenile delinquent.

5. Eating Out (2004).  Flip side of The Opposite of Sex. Two college roommates, one straight and the other gay (Jim Verraros, left, and Scott Lunsford), hatch a wild scheme to land their respective crushes.

6. Paranorman (2012). A kid's animated comedy about zombies -- with a twist.  The zombies turn out to be friendly.  Oh, and incidentally, the teenage hunk who drives the paranormal investigators around is gay.

Gay and Transgender are Two Different Things

7. Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994).  Flip side to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Drag performers, the gay Tick (Hugo Weaving) and Adam (Guy Pearce) and the transwoman Bernadette (Terence Stamp), take a road trip across Australia, where Tick reunites with the son he didn't know he had, and Bernadette finds love with an outback bloke (Bill Hunter).

8. The Blossoming of Maximo Olivares (2005).  Maxi, a feminine gay kid in the Philippines (Nathan Lopez), is perfectly integrated into his family and community.  He gets a crush on a hunky cop Victor (J. R. Valentin), who befriends him, but doesn't take advantage of the situation.

You Can't Switch Teams

9. But I'm a Cheerleader (1999). High school girl (Natasha Lyonne) is accidentally sent to a gay re-education camp run by ex-gay Mike (drag queen RuPaul), where she realizes that she's a lesbian and starts a revolt.

10. Rolling Kansas (2003).  Three stoners (including Sam Huntington, left) go on a road trip in search of a secret government marijuana field in Kansas, and along the way the ever-smiling Kevin (Charlie Finn) announces that he's gay.  His friends aren't traumatized, and he spends the rest of the movie asking out various cops and stoners.

Oct 4, 2016

The Famous Five Have Plenty of Fun

The Famous Five were Britain's answer to the Boxcar Children or the Hardy Boys, five youthful detectives who appearing in 21 volumes by Enid Blyton from 1942 to 1962.

There have also been original Famous Five novels in French and German, films in English, Danish, and German,  comic books, a video game, and even a stage musical.
The Famous Five are really the Famous Three:

1. Julian Bannard, age 13 (right), described in boys' adventure novel terms as tall, strong, and muscular.  He was played by Marcus Harris in 1978 and Marco Williamson in 1995.

2. His brother Dick, age 12 (far left), a practical jokester and standard boys' adventure novel sidekick, played by Gary Russell in 1978 and Paul Child in 1995.

3. Their cousin George, age 12 (center), a girl who "wants to be a boy."

The other members are:
4. Their young sister Anne, who doesn't do much except get scared and "stay here where it's safe."
5. The dog Timmy (a regular dog, not talking).

Perpetually 12-13 years old but acting several years older, the Five solve their mysteries during school holidays, usually while on vacation on Kirrin Island.  There are kidnappers, smugglers, secret rooms, gypsies, decadent circuses, ghosts that really aren't, and lots of scenes set on the beach, giving Blyton the opportunity to describe the boys' physiques in swimsuits.

One might suspect that the family dynamic and the presence of both boys and girls would eliminate buddy-bonding, but in fact Julian and Dick behave rather like the Hardys, going off alone with each other to investigate the mystery, and there are lots of other kids to interact with.

The gay-vague George is most likely to seek outside friends, mostly other girls "who want to be boys," such as Berte and  Jo, but Julian does his share of bonding with older boys as he tries to establish his own adolescent identity.

The gender-transgressive girls are not the result of gay-friendliness, but of sexism: Blyton thought that adventuring was a masculine preserve, so any girl with an interest in danger and excitement must "want to be a boy."

There have been three incarnations on British tv.  The 1978-79 series was never shown in the U.S.

The 1995-97 series was a period piece, set in 1940s Wales.

In 2008, an animated series featured the children of the original Famous Five.  Even George has a daughter (but her partner is never mentioned; maybe she had a wife).


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