Jun 15, 2019

N0S4A2: A Gay Vampire, Abused Kids, and the World's Worst Title (try pretending that it's a word, not a licence plate)

Gay men are always accused of being child molestors, child abductors, corruptors of youth, generally obsessed with destroying children.  So why not make a tv series about a vampire-like being who preys on children, and hire a gay man as the star?

What, you couldn't find a Jewish actor to play a villain who bakes Christian children into passover matzah?

So we have Zachary Quinto, under various degrees of stage makeup, playing Charlie Manx in NOS4A2, probably the world's worst title (try pretending that it's a word, not a license plate), He's an immortal vampire-like being who drives around in a Groovy Ghoulie wraith-mobile, grabs children from their beds, sucks their...um, souls...and deposits the leftovers in the cheery-macabre Christmasland.

But he only grabs children who are being abused.  To save them, see?

He just finished luring Daniel (Asher Miles Fallica) from his bed (and killing his abusive  parents) in stereotyped small-town Here, Iowa, where the sky is always gray and everyone dresses like they live in the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Enter the psychic-powered Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), an abused teenager from the redneck backwater town of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who uses a covered bridge as a portal to transport her anywhere.

Anywhere?  How about Paris?  Or Mumbai?

No, she ends up in Here, Iowa.  She teams up with local Marian the Librarian Maggie Leigh (Jankara Smith), who has psychic powers of her own.

Meanwhile Manx rolls into town and recruits hulking, dimwitted school custodian Bing Partridge ├ôlafur Darri ├ôlafsson), who also had abusive parents. Noticing a pattern here?  Recalling his own painful past, Bing is eager to join Manx in his quest to "rescue" children.

School custodians as secret child molesters?  Shades of Freddy Krueger.

That's as far as I got. I've already read  Stephen King's It, The Shining, and some of his other novels about abused kids with psychic powers going after the Ultimate Evil. Except his stories are...um...scary.  Or at least semi-interesting.  This is deadly dull.  Come on, how hard is it to make a child-abducting vampire-like being who drives a wraith scary?

(Fun fact: the series is based on a novel by John Hill, Stephen King's son).

Plus the color palette is so washed out that it's unpleasant to watch.  Every scene is a chore.

Heterosexism/Homophobia: Child-abduction and murder stories are always heterosexist, extolling the safety, warmth, and "innocence" of heterosexual reproduction and demonizing those men who are bereft of wives and kids.  No one actually states that Charlie Manx is gay, but does anyone need to?

Gay characters: In the novel, Manx is straight, Vic is bisexual but involved with a man, Bing is bisexual (raping both men and women), and Maggie is apparently gay.  I'm sure they will both be heterosexualized for the tv series.

Beefcake: These people are all grimy, grungy, unshaven, and generally unpleasant.  But by scrounging around the cast list on IMDB, I found some passibly cute guys:
1. Ebon-Moss Bachrach as Vic's abusive father.

2. Dalton Harrod as Craig, who I think is Vic's boyfriend back in redneck Massachusetts.

3. Rarmian Newton (great name!) as Drew.  I don't know who Drew is, but he has an ample basket, so who cares?

I doubt that the basket will be appearing on the show, however.

My grade: F

Jun 14, 2019

"Jinn": Arabic Teen Angst-Horror with a Gay Character

In the Netflix Arabic-language drama Jinn (2019), a group of high school students sets out from Riverdale...um, I mean Amman, Jordan...on a field trip to the ancient archaeological site of Petra.

1. Veronica...um, I mean Mira (Salma Malhas), who has just broken up with bad boy Reggie...um, I mean Nasser (Mohammed Nizar)

2. Good girl Betty...um, I mean Layla (Ban Halaweh), who is dating Fahed (Yasser al Hadi)

Ok, I'll stop with the Archie references.

3. The frizzy-haired know-it-all Hassan (Zaid Zoubi), who happens to be Mira's cousin.

4. The bullied good-boy Yassin (Sultan Alkhail, left)

5. The bellgerant drug-dealer Tareq (Abdelrazzaq Tarkas)

6. Tareq's gay-coded sidekick/boyfriend Omar (Mohammed Hindieh, left, the one in pink)

At Petra, Tareq, Omar, and Nasser beat up Yassin, who runs away and falls into a pit.   He is rescued by the mysterious Vera (Aysha Shahaltough).

That night, amid the sexual shenanigans, someone throws Tareq off a cliff to his death.  Guess who?

Later, a mysterious boy in an old-fashioned Bedouin costume comes through Mira's window.  His name is Kerasquoixian, Keras for short (Hamzeh Okab, top photo).

Keras has come from the other realm to warn Mira that she and her friends are in deadly danger: an evil jinn has been unleashed, with a murderous hatred of all humans.  They must find its summoner (the person who called it from the other realm) to push it back, or other jinn will be released, and everyone will die.

At a memorial service for Tareq, Nasser  pulls out a knife, says "We don't belong in this world," and slits his throat.

Two of the three bullies who harassed Yassir.  Do you have any idea who the jinn and its summoner are?

Meanwhile, Hassan returns to Petra to look for clues about the jinn.

Omar, investigating on his own, discovers that Keras looks like a missing Bedouin boy named Hosny. Was this all the insane ramblings of a deluded boy?

There are some game changers, some "Wow, I never thought that you were a jinn!" moments, and a pleasant cliff-hanging ending.

Heterosexism: The jinn and the summoner are always male-female, and jinn always wants to "unite" with the summoner so they can "be together forever."  Sounds like a heterosexual union to me.

On the other hand, Mira and Keras don't seem to be attracted to each other.

Beefcake: No.  Yassir takes his shirt off while he's in the pit.

Gay references:  No.  This is the Middle East.  What did you expect?

Gay subtexts:  Omar is quite obviously gay, in love with Tareq, and then he buddy-bonds with Keras.

Jordanian scenery:  A lot of Petra, not much Amman.

Side note: How secular is Jordan?  No hijabs anywhere in the city.

My grade: A-.

Jun 12, 2019

"Don't Feed the Humans": "Big Brother" with Anal Probes

Don't Feed the Humans, on Mondo Media and Youtube, is a 5-minute long webseries created by Jeff Shorkey.  It is set in an alien zoo, where a disparate group of abductees is forced to live together in a "human habitat."  Sort of like Big Brother with anal probes:

Jack, the central character, the voice of reason.

From left to right:
A Roman gladiator
A 1950s housewife
A professor of gender studies
A 1920s silent movie star
A redneck
The Girl

Episodes involve zookeeper Horf's misunderstandings of human culture and his attempts to increase patronage with tie-in merchandising, "human mating day," and so on.  There are also escape attempts, flashbacks to life before abduction, and some hetero-romantic entanglements.

The animation is cut-out, like South Park, with few changes of position or perspective, but the characters are pleasant, with a surprising amount of depth for animated paper dolls.

Almost everyone has past or present heterosexual interests, but the professor of gender studies is a lesbian, and there is extensive male bonding, even an occasional hint of homoerotic activity.  For instance, when Horf invites the aliens to his house for dinner, the redneck bonds with his teenage son, and the two go off to the bedroom together, ostensibly to get high.

Plus we get to see a lot of Jack.

Definitely worth an hour-long youtube binge.

Jun 11, 2019

"Into the Badlands": Beefcake without Bonding in Post-Apocalyptic Oklahoma

A post-Apocalyptic tv series without zombies?  How retro!

Into the Badlands (2015-2019) is set 500 years after our civilization ended.  The Badlands (aka Oklahoma) has developed a society nearly identical to the Warring States period of medieval China, with feudal barons (mostly elegantly-dressed ladies) struggling for power with their armies of clippers (Ninja warriors who fight in slow motion).  There are cars and electricity, but for some reason no guns.

The religion seems to be a Buddhist-Taoist mix, but the architecture, interior design, costumes, and even the cars are strictly 1930s America.

Why, after 500 years, do they mimic the 1930s?  It's a ludicrous cultural development.

The Badlands are misnamed.  Sure, most of the men are cogs (slaves), and most of the women are dolls (sex slaves), but anyone who can fight or have expert sex can rise through the ranks to become a baron.  Besides, there is sunshine, and people bathe. Outside it's a Road Warrior world with gray skies and dirt, where ragtag bands squat in the rusty relics of the old civilization.

Why has no one built anything new?  500 years ago, Magellan was just starting his round-the-world voyage, and Martin Luther had barely started the Reformation.  We've built a lot of new things since.

There are two focus characters.  Sunny (Daniel Wu, top photo) starts out as head enforcer to the evil, unpredictable Baron Quinn (Marton Csokas, left), who has a Southern accent for some reason, and a ridiculous beard.

Quinn has an ex wife and a new concubine, who also happens to be the lover of his son Ryder (Oliver Stark, below).

Sunny is morose and angst-ridden, particularly when he is assigned the task of killing the only doctor in the Badlands, who also happens to be the father of his girlfriend Veil.  Who is pregnant.

And Quinn wants her.

So Sunny tries to arrange passage out of the Badlands, but he just ends up a slave in some sort of horrible Road Warrior mine.

He spends the rest of the series trying to get back into the Badlands to retrieve the Woman He Loves.

The other focus character is the teenager M.K. (short for Monkey King in the Chinese tale Journey to the West), a teenager (Aramis Knight) with an untapped pool of Dark Energy that pops out when he's angry.  So everyone wants to apprentice him, capture him, or seduce him.

At first he's an apprentice clipper (called a colt), and then he joins a weird Buddhist fighting-ninja monastery.

Sunny and M.K. are together for the first few episodes, so I thought that they were going to develop into a gay-subtext couple.  No such luck; they never really seem to like each other, and soon they separate.

Sunny gets a comic-relief sidekick, the rotund British-accented Bajie (Nick Frost).  So how did he get all the way from London to Oklahoma?

M.K. doesn't pair up with anyone in particular, although he does kiss some girls, and he has an occasional male buddy.

Otherwise the show is rather intensely heterosexist.  A man for every woman, a woman for every man, and so on.  Chippers in training are told that they will get power "and women."

Gay references: The Woman Sunny Loves escapes from her jail cell, and later claims that she seduced her jailer, Edgar (Ladi Ereruwa).  But she is apprised that he only likes men.

There appears to be a Sapphic pair later on, in episodes I haven't seen yet.

Beefcake:  A lot.  Sunny is shirtless every five minutes, and.  M.K. and his fellow apprentices do not seem to own shirts.

My grade: D for the ludicrousness of the future society, A for some striking visuals, D for the gay characters, A for the beefcake.  Average: B.

I can take it or leave it.  Or fast-forward to the good parts.

Jun 10, 2019

Rod Stewart: Gay Rumors, Heterosexual Songs

This song has been going through my head for two days:

It's late September and I really should be back at school
I know I keep you amused, but I feel I'm being used
You led me away from home, just to save you from being alone

You stole my heart, and that's what really hurts

"Maggie Mae" (1971) is about a college boy who hooks up with an older woman, and finds that she has taken control of his life.  I had a similar experience with my first boyfriend Fred -- an older man (well, 28) who convinced me to leave home, drop out of college, and follow him cross-country to Omaha. I lasted five miserable weeks.

Rod Stewart's songs are overwhelmingly infused with "girls! girls! girls!" heterosexism, but when you are growing up in a world where gay people are assumed not to exist, you find meaning where you can. 

"Twisting the Night Away" (1972)
Here's a fellow in blue jeans, who's dancing with an older queen
dolled up in her diamond rings, twistin' the night away
Man you ought to see her go, twistin' to the rock and roll
Here you'll find the young and the old twistin' the night away

I didn't realize, at age 11, what a "queen" was, but by the time I got to West Hollywood, I did.

"Tonight's the Night" (1975):

Come on angel my hearts on fire
Don't deny your man's desire
You'd be a fool to stop this tide
Spread your wings and let me come inside

I didn't realize, at age 14, that this was a graphic image of heterosexual sex. I thought he was trying to get someone to "open up" metaphorically, to find an emotional connection.  During my first year in high school, I was trying, with little success, to find something "real," a boy I could actually care about, amid the incessant "date girls!  have sex with girls!" rhetoric.

"You're in my Heart" (1977).

I didn't know what day it was 
When you walked into the room
I said hello unnoticed
You said goodbye too soon

During my junior year in high school, I was depressed because I had never experienced this jaw-dropping, forget-your-name attraction.  Well, I had, but I didn't recognize it, because I thought that boys could only ever be attracted to girls.

"If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right" (1977)
Your mama and daddy say it's a shame
It's a downright disgrace
Long as I got you by my side
I don't care what your people say

The song is about a girl in love with a married man, but it could easily be applied to "the love that dare not speak its name."

Back in the 1970s, Rod Stewart had the androgynous air of a drag queen in training, and his highly publicized friendship with "bisexual" Elton John raised some rumors.  But closeted gay performers are usually homophobic, just to be on the safe side, and Stewart has always been gay-positive. 

His "Killing of Georgie" (1977), about a gay guy who leaves his small town for New York, and then is murdered (not in a homophobic hate crime), was the first pop song to talk about gay rights. In 2016, he noted that his youngest son Aiden, age five, liked dressing up like a lady. so he might be gay (most likely transgender, or just having fun).

Jun 9, 2019

Netflix's "Tales of the City": Not Your Grandfather's San Francisco

I thoroughy dislike the Tales of the City series of maudlin angst-ridden melodramatic novels, so watching the Netflix tv series wasn't near the top of my list.  But when I found out that the series was set in 2019, I was curious.  Mary Ann Singleton was in her mid-twenties when she moved to San Francisco in 1976, and got an apartment in the building of "feisty old broad" Anna Madrigal.  43 years later, Mary Ann would be in her 60s, and Anna Madrigal over 100.  How would they handle that?

So I sat down to watch two episodes.

They retconned all of the characters' ages and streamlined the melodramatic plot complications. Now Mary Ann (Laura Linney) moved to San Francisco in the 1990s, met Anna Madrigal and gay man Michael rather than a cast of thousands, married Brian, adopted a daughter, Shawna, and vanished in 1999 to pursue a career in tv journalism.  20 years later, she and her horrible estranged husband return for Anna's 90th birthday party.  Things have changed.

In the San Francisco of the 1970s (or I guess the 1990s), you were gay or straight, mostly straight.  Anna is a transwoman, but it was a deep secret, a big reveal far into the series.  Now San Francisco is a glittering, rainbow-flashing collage of nonchalant gender fluidity and pansexual queerness that make cisgender masculine-presenting gay men like Michael seem quaintly old-fashioned. 

And the old-guard residents of Barbary Lane are mostly there to provide advice and problems for the new generation.

The San Francisco of the novels was as white as a 1950s sitcom.  Now black people exist.   And East Asian, South Asian, Hispanic.  Actually, all of the new generation except Shawna are nonwhite post-racial "um...I guess my ancestors came from...IDK who cares?"

1. Shawna (Ellen Page), now 25 and working as a bartender in an eclectic queer bar, is so traumatized by her mother's disappearance that she can't commit to a relationship, but doesn't mind going out to the back alley for hookups with various gender-fluid people (Ida Best, her laid-back drag queen boss doesn't mind her leaving in mid-shift).  Eventually she starts dating the polyamorous couple Eli (Benjamin Thys) and Inka (Samantha Soule)

2. Wren (Michelle Buteau) is the neighbor/bff of Shawna's dad, Brian (Paul Gross, left, photo from when he was part of the new generation).

Paul is having trouble getting over Mary Ann (after 20 years?).  He has a Tinder full of women who are Mary Ann lookalikes, but he never swipes any of them, so Wren takes matters into her own hands.

3. Ben (Charlie Barnett of Russian Doll) is dating the much older Michael (Murray Bartlett), who no one ever calls Mouse.  He has to deal with the implications that he is a "boy toy," as well as the fact that Michael doesn't understand twentiesh culture.

Michael, meanwhile, finds in Ben a constant reminder of his own mortality.

I've dated a lot of guys 20-30 years younger than me, and never once did I get upset over the fact that they would probably outlive me.

4. Jake (nonbinary actor Garcia) has just transitioned, which bothers his partner Margot (May Hong) because now everyone mistakes them for a heterosexual couple, and what's the point of being queer if no one knows that you're queer? 

Margot also misses being in a lesbian relationship, while Jake, exploring an interest in guys, begins dating Flaco (Juan Castano).

5. Twins Ani (Ashley Park) and Raven (Christopher Larkin, left) are Instagram performance artists who change their identities regularly.

There are many other members of the new generation, some of whom are masculine-presenting, so beefcake is not a problem.  lots of bare chests and bare butts.  The sex scenes are mostly same-sex.

And the things I hate about the novels are mostly absent: no convoluted interconnections, no existential angst, no gloom-and-doom. At least in the new generation.  The old guard has secrets to be revealed.

Still, I'm not sure I find the new generation engaging enough to want to know more about their lives.  Maybe if there are more bare chests and butts.

My grade: B.

See also: Tales of the City, Gay San Francisco, Who Cares?
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