Mar 9, 2019

Blackkklansman: Racism, Beefcake, and Bad Boys

Anytime anyone laughs in a movie, even once, Hollywood advertises it as a comedy.  Blackkklansman is not a comedy.  It is a drama.

Around 1973 or 1974, straitlaced, conservative Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) becomes the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs PD.  At first he is relegated to the sub-basement records department, but eventually he convinces the captain to let him go undercover.

His first assignment: to infiltrate the Black Student Union at Colorado College, to find out if they're planning anything violent.  They aren't, but he gets a radical girlfriend out of the deal (every movie has to have some hetero-romance).  They don't do much hugging and kissing, but they do discuss the relative merits of blacksploitation movies.  Plus we get to hear a Black Power speech by Kwame Ture, previously Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins).

Next Ron infiltrates the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan to see if they're planning anything violent. They are!

To overcome the obvious problem of showing up at a Klan meeting while black, he enlists Flip (Adam Driver) to play Ron.  To increase the dramatic potential, Flip happens to be Jewish.

After a few bumps, Flip/Ron is accepted by the local Klan: subdued leader Walter (Ryan Eggold, left), loose cannon Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen), Felix's chirpy wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson).   Flip/Ron even draws the attention of Grand Dragon David Duke, played as bumbling nerd by former That 70s Show star Topher Grace.

The parallels between the radical student group and the Klan are obvious, and deliberate.  Both are preparing to "defend themselves" against evil people who control the U.S. and plan to destroy them.  Both are amenable to the use of violence.  It's just the luck of the draw that one of the groups planted the bomb first.

The difference, of course, is that the black group's history of oppression is real.

The gay connection:  not a lot of hetero-romance going on.  Flip never expresses any interest in women, except when he is pretending to be a Klansman.

Body-by-Michelangelo Faron Salisbury in a minor role as Officer Sharpe.

And in 2003, Jasper Pääkkönen starred in the Finnish movie Pahat pojat (Bad Boys), about four hot guys who don't own shirts. It's not available in the U.S., but I think there's some shirtless robberies, car chases, and frontal male nudity.

Jan-Michael Vincent's First Boyfriends

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968-70), was a Saturday morning anthology series starring an animatronic rock band, with psychedelic blackouts, corny jokes, very bad songs, and cheesy cartoons.  But the live-action segment, Danger Island, offered a glimpse of a 1960s gay couple.

Archaeologist Professor Hayden (Frank Aletter, who starred in It's About Time), his daughter Leslie (Ronne Troup), and their young, tanned, and remarkably toned assistant, Link (Jan-Michael Vincent, who would go on to star in Big Wednesday) are searching for a lost city in the uncharted South Seas. Suddenly pirates attack. 

Link is knocked overboard, and sees the ship explode, so he assumes that his friends are dead; he therefore swims for the nearest island, fighting a shark en route. Crawling onto the shore, half-naked and half-drowned, he encounters a pair of long-time castaways.  

The tall, muscular African-American Morgan (Rockne Tarkington) wears a brown vest that accentuates his biceps.  His boyfriend, the short, slim Pacific Islander Chongo (professional stuntman Kahana), who is mute and somewhat addled, wears a yellow vest that looks like it was meant for a girl.

The couple invite Link back to their cave-home, where Chongo fusses over him like a drag queen auntie, making him try on one inappropriately risqué costume after another and in the process “accidentally” fondling his hard chest and shoulders.

Link settles on skintight white pants and a blue sailor shirt (but not to worry, it’s always being torn open or ripped off). Meanwhile, Morgan advises him of the severity of their situation: Danger Island is overrun by wild animals, savages, and pirates, all with different specialties of murder and mayhem (thus its name). 

Eventually Professor Hayden and Leslie, not dead after all, join the party, and they spend many cliffhangers looking for the lost city and fighting the promised wild animals, savages, and pirates (who drool enthusiastically over hardbodied Link). 

 In the last episode, they have thwarted every villain and acquired a boat, and they prepare to head back to civilization. But Morgan and Chongo decline rescue: “We’ve been living this way too long,” Morgan explains, his arm cozily around his partner’s waist. “We wouldn’t know how to live civilized.” 

They say goodbye and walk off arm in arm. I cannot imagine what the actors thought they were portraying in this scene. I can only advise Morgan and Chongo that they could live “this way” quite happily in Greenwich Village or the Castro, with the first heady days of gay liberation immanent.

Mar 7, 2019

"Room For Rent": Quirky Gay Subtext Comedy

As a high school student, Mitch (Canadian comedian Mark Little) wins the lottery and goes home with $3.1 million  (this is one of those annoying Canadian movies that pretends to be American, so he wins American dollars).

He turns into an insufferable jerk, causing his friends to dump him and everyone in town to hate him, while squandering his money on fancy hotel rooms and frivolous investments.  His only  remaining friend, Huey (Patrick J. Adams, left), vanishes when the Lamborghinis run out.

12 years later, famous as "the boy who squandered $3.1 million,"  Mitch is living with his parents (SCTV alum Mark McKinney and Stephnie Weir, best known as Karen "Call me Angelique" of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). He reads War and Peace, plays video games, and refuses to help out around the house or get a job, even though money is tight: Dad is a financial advisor, but no one wants financial advice from the father of the boy who squandered $3.1 million.  They decide to take in a boarder.

Thus the movie's title, Room for Rent.

Carl (Brett Gelman) shows up in the dead of night, leering and muttering about the knives in his valise, but Mom and Dad are desperate, and rent him the room.

He turns out to be the perfect anti-Mitch, polite, thoughtful, helpful around the house.  And he tries hard to redeem Mitch, reconnecting him with his friends Lindsay (Carla Gallo), Huey, and Rocco (Tom Anniko), getting him a job as a canvasser for a green movement, helping him plan a big retirement party for Dad (Warren, who he calls "War").

Mitch is, for some reason, suspicious, and takes every attempt to help as an insult.  What is this guy's angle?

True, Carl is creepily flirtatious, asking Mitch "Where do you sleep?", pushing him to have a drink, leering at him, touching him, implying that he is gay, implying to Lindsay that are lovers.

Mitch enlists Lindsay and Huey to dig up dirt on Carl, so his parents will kick him out.  They discover that Mitch invested in Carl's big invention (an umbrella that evaporates raindrops), but failed to market it, so Carl lost everything and was forced to move in with his parents.  So he wanted revenge.

His revenge plan involves helping Mitch reconcile with old friends, getting him a job, being nice to his parents, and flirting with him?

Does he actually want a relationship?

There is no indication that Mitch and Lindsay were ever romantic partners.  No kissing, no romantic gestures.  They could easily be friends.

When Lindsay discovers that Mitch has a terrible tattoo of a man on a dolphin on his back, she asks "What was the plan?  To never have sex with anyone again?"  He replies "No, to have sex, but carefully, so they would never see my back."

They're both hiding the gender of Mitch's proposed partners.

Nor is there any indication that Carl is straight.  When Lindsay offers to fix him up with a date for the big party, he states that he only likes women who are independent, employed, can cook, and are between the ages of 18-21. But he's obviously trying to get her to back off.  His main interest is obviously Mitch.

Everything works out.  Mitch and Carl reconcile with a rooftop hug and hand-holding, and go into business together.

The last scene is ambiguous:  Mitch is moving into a new house.  Lindsay is there, but there's no indication that they are living together, or dating.

Could Room for Rent be a quirky romance between two heavily wounded men?

Mar 6, 2019

The "Let's Get the Gay Stuff Over With" episode of "I'm Sorry"

I'm Sorry (2017-) stars comedian Andrea Savage as a comedy writer named Andrea, who, like most comedians gets ideas from her quirky family and friends: her partner Mike (Tom Everett Scott, who used to be cute), her clueless mother Sharon (Kathy Baker), her socially awkward brother David (Nelson Franklin). 

Most of Andrea and Mike's social life appears to revolve around the preschool group that their daughter Amelia is in.  For instance, in Episode 2, Amelia's stray remark about another girl makes Andrea believe that she is racist. 

Apparently sets of parents date each other, have relationships, get upset over "cheating," and break up, just like romantic couples. In Episode 8, Andrea and Mike court another couple of parents, only to find things getting "weird" during the playdate.

In the episode I watched, "Too Slow," Andrea and Mike court the only lesbian parents in the play group, hoping that they will help Amelia realize that there are different kinds of parents.

 On the playdate, the two turn out to be assholes, letting their son run wild and screaming at a hapless play park employee (Ben Cho, the only cute guy in the episode). 

Andrea and Mike decide to break up with them, but don't want to come across as homophobic.  Fellow parent Brian (Gary Anthony Williams) states that he knew they were assholes, but wasn't going to "talk trash about the only lesbian parents in the play group."

Meanwhile (might as well get all of the gay stuff out of the way in one episode), Andrea suspects that her brother David is gay because he's over 30, never had a girlfriend, and constantly talks about how much fun he has with his roommate. 

Wait -- what is this, 1985?  No gay guy introduces his boyfriend as his "roommate" anymore. 

Andrea tells her mother about the lesbian parents at play group and David being gay, all in the same conversation.  Mom is perplexed -- how did everyone suddenly become gay?  there weren't any gays when she was a girl.  And how do lesbians have a child? She is also worried about David facing a "hard life" of homophobic bakeries and...well, that's all she's heard about.

When Andrea encourages David to come out, he states that he's not gay, and in alarm asks her for the names of everyone she's told.  Homebound, socially awkward software engineers have to be careful about their reputations, right, David? 

 "How do you know you're straight?"  Andrea asks, implying that he really should give man-on-man sex a try before making a firm decision to be heterosexual.  She's been down in vagina country a few times, but didn't find anything there appealing enough to make it a habit.

Mom is relieved to discover that David is, in fact, straight.  But she feels guilty for being relieved.

Thus we have a glimpse into the contradictory life of the modern heterosexual, who isn't quite sure what being gay is all about, but thinks that she should be sure, who feels guilty about the homophobic thoughts that pop into her mind and keeps telling herself "There's nothing wrong with it."  Until the episode is over, and she never has to see or talk about gay people again.

Mar 5, 2019

Tween Fest: Internet Jerks in the Desert

In the short tv series Tween Fest (2016), available on youtube and Amazon, the young, entitled, and social media-savvy Maddisyn (Joey King) has become internet-famous with her pimple-popping videos, but she wants to break into music, like Justin Bieber and countless others. 

So her doting and clueless Dad (John Michael Higgins) and his unpaid intern Ethan (Kale Hills) organizes a teenage internet festival in Death Valley -- sort of a combination of Burning Man and the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards. 

Of course, things go wrong immediately ("20,000 people in the desert.  Do you think we'll need bathrooms?).

Maddisyn's song is booed, so she becomes an anti-festival activist.

A conservative senator shows up (so conservative that he spearheaded a bill that would make all women who have an orgasm sex offenders).

The Splurge Company, which is sponsoring the event, removes all water so people will drink more Splurge.  Everyone starts collapsing from dehydration.

A kid internet reporter named Stop the Preston (transgender actress Josie Totah) comments on the inanity.

But most of the humor comes from the acts.

1. Zayden (Drew Tarver), who makes "social justice" videos. He pretends to need help  ("I'm a big, stinky homeless man.  Could you give me some free money?"), and then shames you when you refuse.  When his hypocrisy is revealed, he goes on a walkabout in the desert, and falls in with some Mad Max-style Australian "mean pranksters": they spit on people or light their butts on fire.

2. Venmo star Lexi (Arden Cho).  Venmo is an app that allows you to pay people directly from your bank account, and Lexi has been sharing her best transactions online (e.g., paid AustinJ $4 for a pizza emoji).  She wrote a book about her best transactions, plus a graphic novel which became an IPhone game (but those Expanded Universe transactions are no longer canon). 

3.   Family Guy  impressionist Dusty Del Grosso (Lou Wilson), who must find a new schtick when he gets a "cease and desist" order from the show's lawyers.  So he learns twonking (vape tricks).

4. "The Dabbler Dudes," who try anything weird (like wearing makeup, or cutting off their penises).

5. Dem Water Cup Boys (left), who ask for water cups in restaurants but fill them with soda. It turns out that they only prank restaurants owned by their rich daddy.

Plus Dustin Dustin Nathan, Austin Aaron Joshua, Justin Taylor Tyler, and Jason Tyler Justin-Austin.  And to think we had trouble in the 1980s with 2 Coreys.

And Gus Da Fingerer, PeateyBeatz, Vomit Donna, Shia LaPuff, the Pasta Beast, Jesus Juice, Pamberger2000, Random Kevin, and Ariana Grande (she'll smile and wave for 6 seconds).

Gross, humorous, and satisfying for those of us who get annoyed by people who make millions of dollars by filming themselves jumping into hot tubs filled with Cocoa Puffs.

However, I was expecting far more beefcake.  There actually isn't any.  None of the acts perform shirtless, and the audience is all fully clothed (in the desert). Looking online for photos of the entire cast, I only could find Josh Fadern (top photo), Jimmy Fowlie (above), and Brian Jordan Alvarez (left).

There weren't any explicitly gay characters, although gay people are mentioned, and a lot of the pranksters had subtexts.   Unfortunately, there was an explicit hetero-romance between Zayden and Lexi.

I give it a C-.

Mar 3, 2019

Swiss Army Man: Boy Meets Corpse

Swiss Army Man is a gay romance about a man and a corpse.

Hank (Paul Dano) has been trapped on a desert island for a long time, and is planning to commit suicide, when a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the shore.  Hank names him Manny.  He discovers that he can use Manny's superhuman flautulence to propel them to another, bigger island.

And, when needed, a stream of water comes out of Manny's mouth.

And his erect penis acts as a compass

Manny revives enough to be able to speak, but he still can't move, and he remembers nothing of his previous life; he has to be taught basic human concepts.

They build a hut and start a Robinson Crusoe-style life together.  They hold hands.

Make out at pretend movies (where Manny reanimates enough to hug and kiss).

And no doubt do other things.  Manny can get an erection, after all.

But then one day Hank and Manny wake up in the midst of civilization, in the town of Eastborough, on the lawn of Sarah, a woman he used to photograph on the bus back home. Now married, with a young daughter, who is staring at them.   
And Manny can't talk anymore.

Sarah,naturally concerned with the man and the corpse on her lawn, calls the police.  Reporters show up for the news story "Lost Man Stumbles into Local Yard." Hank's father shows up. They all discover Hank's hut -- in the woods nearby. 

He was never in the South Pacific at all. He was never shipwrecked.  Manny the Corpse was never re-animated.  It was all a massive delusion that Hank experienced as he tried to run away from his miserable life.


Maybe not. 

No one believes his story about the reanimated corpse, so Hank grabs Manny and takes him to the beach, begs him to re-animate so they can escape and return to their life together. No dice. 

He's arrested on suspicion of murder, desecrating a corpse, and who knows what else, but as he is dragged away, Manny reanimates, and, with a smile, propels off to safety.  Now everyone the power of love....

I have heard this a lot.  Same-sex desire cannot exist,or if it does, it is evidence of insanity.  You might as well fall in love with a corpse.

Well, in this case, Hank did.

Besides, I don't care if it's just special effects, I got to see Harry Potter with an erection.

Betty Boop Comics: Masculine Women, Feminine Men

I love Betty Boop.  I don't care if she's a heterosexual sex symbol, with an oversized head, long legs, a low-cut dress, and a squeaky baby-doll voice, she's assertive, confident, independent, and gay-positive (for the 1930s).

But, other than the various notepads, mugs, shoes,makeup kits, shower curtains, Christmas tree ornaments, aprons, clocks, t-shirts, lamps, pillows, bedpreads, diaries, and Alabama Crimson Tide football logos, I thought she existed solely through cartoons:

1931-1933: 23 black and white and color cartoons from Fleischer Studios, some masterpieces of surrealism: "The Old Man of the Mountain," "I Heard," "Bimbo's Initiation," "Minnie the Moocher"

1934-1939: 67more, mostly unwatchable, with Betty a middle-aged spinster in sensible shoes.  Her dog, kid brother, or elderly friend have the adventure, while she sits at home saying "be careful."

Let's rewatch "Minnie the Moocher" instead.

So I was surprised to discover that there were Betty Boop comic strips, drawn by Bud Counihan and distributed by King Features from 1934 to 1937.  First they starred Helen Kane, the original voice of Betty Boop, but after 14 weeks Betty herself took precedence.  She was a Hollywood movie star, with gags mostly involving backstage issues, which presumably audiences in the Golden Age of Movies would find interesting:

Betty has so much trouble getting to the set that she is exhausted.  Fortunately, her scene involves sleeping (used twice).

She has to do retakes of all of her dangerous stunts, but when it comes time to kiss her leading man, she only gets one take.

They can't afford to pay extras for a crowd scene, so she leaves the studio and attracts a mob of fans

She can't cry on cue. Her director reads her a sad story, but no tears.  He suggests that she think of something unpleasant from her past, but nothing bad has ever happened to her.  Finally he berates her for being a bad actress, and now she can cry.

The gay connection: all of Betty's leading men are queens with mascara-ed eyes and limp wrists, who sashay across the stage, saying " guess we have to kiss now, dearie."

When she has to choose from among seven of them, she chooses a mannekin instead, claiming that it's more lively than any of the lavender-soaked poofs.

Even Van Twinkle, the superstar she dates, is rather poofy. Plus when he breaks up with her, he says "I value your friendship, but..."

Soon Betty's kid brother Billy, a scrappy Brooklyn boy, comes to live with her.  He's cast in movies, too, and causes his own problems. Like he refuses to do a hand-stand because there's a rip in his pants.

That's Von Twinkle's poofy kid brother in the top hat and monocle.

Later in the series, Aunt Tillie, a tough, barking Amazon with tattooed biceps, moves in with Betty.She is also cast in movies, naturally.  She can't find a leading man who can withstand her energetic lovemaking (flirting), so she suggests her diminuitive. flamboyantly feminine boyfriend Hunky.

Masculine women, feminine men, a common comedy trope of the 1930s.

But, as in the cartoons, Betty is relegated to the background, saying "That's not a good idea" while Billy and Aunt Tillie have the adventures.

No wonder the series only lasted for 4 years.

See also: The Gay Symbolism of Betty Boop
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