Apr 18, 2020

"How It Ends": Not Nearly Soon Enough

Our "stay at home" post-Apocalyptic movie marathon has finally taken us to the worst of the worst, How It Ends (2018):

Will (Theo James) and Sam (Kat Graham), his girlfriend, are discussing how much they love each other, with lots of long, disgusting smooching. Then Will gets on a plane from Seattle to Chicago, to tell Sam's parents that she is pregnant, and they are getting married.

That's a lot of bombshells. Why wouldn't they do it over the phone, or at least go together?

Hint: a heavily contrived excuse to get Will and Sam's dad together, 2000 miles away from her.

Will has a painfully awkward dinner with the ultra-wealthy, belligerant, suspicious, super over-controlling Dad (Forest Whitaker) and nonentity Mom.  Dad calls Will, a corporate lawyer, a "screw up" with no goals and no work ethic, all but accuses him of kidnapping his daughter against her will. Why else would she move all the way to Seattle?

Um...because her father is a belligerant jerk?

Will decides to skip the wedding-and-pregnancy announcements.  He goes back to the hotel and calls Sam: "Your Dad is the worst asshole I've ever had the misfortune to meet." I have to agree.

In the morning, he's getting ready to board his plane back to Seattle, when suddenly all fights are cancelled.  The tv news mentions a "seismic event"on the West coast before it goes off the air.  Then the power goes out all over the city.  Cell phones still work, but Sam doesn't pick up.

I would go back to my hotel and wait for the power to come back on,but Will goes to Dad's apartment, only to find him packing.  "My daughter is out there!" he exclaims.  "She needs my help!"  They still have no idea what happened, but they send nonentity Mom off to "stay with Paul," and get on the road.

Well, maybe Will and Dad will have some moments of homoerotic buddy-bonding.

Everyone is trying to leave Chicago in a panic (why?  as far as they know, it's just a power blackout).  The streets are clogged in long shots, empty in close-ups.  Everyone is robbing each other at gunpoint.  It's only been about two hours since the power went out!

On through the wildness of Illinois and Minnesota, fighting marauding bands of survivalists, getting stopped by killers disguised as police officers, crashing into cars and watching the other driver die.

Come on, it's only been...what, 12 hours?

At a reservation in South Dakota, gruff teenage mechanic Ricki (Grace Dove) decides to head west with them.  Is this really the time to leave the reservation, where there is food and water, to accompany two crazy guys she just met?  It's not like she is into them.  She is apparently a lesbian.

They stop at Will's friend's house in Montana.  Friend isn't there, but Wife tells him that there's a heat wave, weird storms, and earthquakes.  The whole world is falling apart.

Question: why does everyone in small towns in movies dress like it's the 1930s?

Instead of staying there, where there is food and water, they press on.

While rushing through a town being engulfed by volcanic ash, they have to kill some people, and Rickie, upset over the violence, leaves the group.

I'm upset over the violence, too -- just three days after the power went out!  But I started this mess, so....

Dad dies, and Will puts him in the car and sets it on fire.  Why?  Now he's on foot.

Wagoneer Man (David Lewis) and his nonentity, non-speaking wife and daughter come to the rescue.  Will guides them to his estranged father's empty cabin in Idaho (for somebody from Chicago, Will has a lot of friends and family in mountain states).  It's fully stocked with supplies, so Wagoneer Man decides to stay there (smart!). But Will presses on.

Question: Why does every character get a name on IMDB except for Wagoneer Man?

Finally Will hits Seattle, which is covered with volcanic ash.  People are buried in it like in Pompeii.  But Will grabs a convenient face mask and trudges on to see if Sam is still in their apartment.  No, of course not, but she left a note -- she's at her friend Jeremiah's cabin in the mountains.

Now things get dumb and dumber. Jeremiah (Mark O'Brien) doesn't seem happy to see Will.  Understandably, since Will treats him like an idiot.  When he expresses his theory that this wasn't a natural event, but a deliberate attack using technology, Will literally calls him a lunatic.  Come on, Will, this is your host -- be nice. Besides, why is that such a crazy theory?

In the morning, Will says that they have to leave due to the threat of more volcano eruptions.  Jeremiah doesn't want to go.  He tries to kill Will, but Will kills him back.  He then pushes Sam into the car and they drive off just ahead of a cloud of fumes and ash.  Yow, abrupt cliffhanger.  Are we prepping for How It Ends, Part 2?

Beefcake:  Will takes off his shirt a few times.  I think Jeremiah does, too, but by that point I was looking at videos of dancing cats on my cell phone.

Other Scenery:  I liked the shots of clogged Chicago streets.

Gay Characters:  Maybe Ricki.  They don't meet a lot of men.

Plot Holes: 3,430

My Grade:  D.

Apr 16, 2020

What is a Danny Thomas?

February 6th, 1969, a cold, snowy Thursday.  I am eight years old.  The family is watching a lot of tv about girls:  The Flying Nun, That Girl, Bewitched. 

The Flying Nun is interesting because it's about nuns -- Catholics -- and Nazarenes are supposed to run away in horror.  But Mom and Dad don'tseem to care if we watch.  Also the Skipper from Gilligan's Island visits as Sister Bertrille's uncle.

Then comes That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas as an aspiring actress/women's libber in a bright, colorful New York.  Ann Marie tries to push a new friend into a singing career, but she is planning to become a nun instead.

Two shows about Catholics in one night!  What would the Preacher say?  (I mean,what would the Preacher yell?). I feel a little thrill of naughtiness.  I can't wait to tell my boyfriend Bill tomorrow!

We even get a glimpse of the inside of the convent.  Ann Marie gets lost in the vast Gothic space, and asks a passing priest for directions.

My jaw drops.  The priest is stunning!  All dressed in black, huge workman's hands, short black hair, tanned Mediterranean features. And in league with the Devil, dark, sinister, even more attractive, like Barnabas the Vampire on Dark Shadows.

"Excuse me, Father," Ann says.  The laugh track goes crazy.  I don't understand what's so funny about calling a  priest "Father" -- Catholics always do it.

The joke, of course, is that the priest is played by her real-life father, Danny Thomas (1913-1991).

Born Amos Muzyad Yaqoob Kairouz to a family of Lebanese immigrants, Danny Thomas worked on radio before becoming a fixture of 1950s tv with his sitcom Make Room for Daddy (1953-64).  Like Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, Danny Williams was a nightclub singer balancing home and work lives  I never saw it, but I heard that Angela Cartwright, Penny on Lost in Space, played his daughter.

After Make Room for Daddy and its sequel, Make Room for Granddaddy (1970-71), Danny made only sporadic tv appearances: guest spots on Here's Lucy , McCloud, and Dick Van Dyke.

On Dick Van Dyke, he plays an alien invader who just happens to look like the famous comedian, thus giving us the timeless line "What is a Danny Thomas?"

His last starring role was in the short-lived One Big Family (1986-87), basically Make Room for Grandaddy with the addition of then-teen hunk Michael DeLuise.

An aging comedian from the days of the Chinese-laundry and mother-in-law jokes, Danny felt increasingly out of touch with the social, political, and sexual changes of the 1970s, so he produced a number of unsold "things were better before" tv series pilots.  Most were burned off as tv movies:

Remember When (1974): Happy Days, but set during World War II.
Starting Fresh (1979): Alice, but the young widow has a daughter, not a son, and finds love.
Featherstone's Nest (1979): Make Room for Daddy,but with a dentist, not a nightclub singer, starring a pre-Mama's Family Ken Berry.

He devoted most of his time to promoting various charities, especially St.Jude Children's Hospital, which he founded in 1960.

Daughter Marlo is a gay ally, but Danny, not so much.  When she was starring in Consenting Adult, about a mother dealing with her son's coming out, she noted that her father...um... voted for Ronald Reagan, 1980s code for "homophobic."  (Not to worry, the St. Jude Children's Hospital welcomes LGBTQ patients and their caregivers).

Not much of a gay connection, except for that one cold, snowy night in 1969, when a young boy in the Midwest felt a frisson of homerotic desire while watching That Girl.

Well, wouldn't you?  Just look at him!

See also: That Girl

Apr 15, 2020

Ducktales: Not Your Grandfather's Donald Duck

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I bought as many Gold Key Disney comics as I could find: the anonymous artist (later identified as Carl Barks) sent Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and their three identical-triplet nephews on rousing adventures:  The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan, the Mines of King Solomon, the Golden Fleece,  the Fabulous Philosopher's Stone, the Flying Dutchman.  Come to think of it, I first heard of those legends in Disney comics.

It was a masculine world of high adventure, with no women and no references to heterosexual desire.  Donald, of course, had a girlfriend back home, but she rarely appeared in the adventure stories, and neither Uncle Scrooge nor the nephews displayed any heterosexual interests.

Gold Key comics gradually disappeared during the 1970s, but in 1985, fledgling company Gladstone started publishing Disney comics again.  In West Hollywood, my regular Saturday night routine was to cruise at Mugi, the gay Asian bar, then stop at the Book Circus for a pile of Gladstones. I liked the reprints of classic Carl Barks stories from my childhood. The European versions of the Ducks were sometimes interesting.  But I didn't like Don Rosa's new comics: he gave Uncle Scrooge a passionate, life long romance with Yukon show girl Glittering Goldie. Yikes!

Between 1987 and 1990, the WB broadcast DuckTales, with animated versions of the stories.  Donald Duck is absent, and there are many new characters, including the housekeeper Mrs.Beakley and a girl, Webbigail, I guess to draw in a female audience.

I didn't watch; I was usually busy on weekday afternoons, and besides, I was afraid of what they would do to heterosexualize the beloved gay icons of my childhood.  Have Uncle Scrooge torn between Duck versions of Betty and Veronica? Have Huey, Dewey, and Louie compete over who would bring the it-girl to the school dance?

Now there's a new version of Ducktales (2017-),  with many differences to adjust to the changing times:

1. Donald is back.  He still speaks with that impossible-to-understand Clarence Nash voice from the 1930s cartoons.

2. Mrs. Beakley is a secret agent/bodyguard, not a dowdy housekeeper.

3. Huey, Dewey, and Louie are differentiated into nerd, teen operator, and a third that I haven't identified.

4. Their parents were never mentioned in the comics (except their mother, Della, wrote a note in an early Carl Barks one shot).  Presumably they were dead, which is why Uncle Donald was raising the boys.  But now Della is back. Apparently she was an astronaut, stuck on the moon for several years.

5. Their Boy Scout-like club, the Junior Woodchucks, was boy-only.  Now it's gender-inclusive.  .

6. In the first episode of Season 3, Huey and Violet, a regular rival who has appeared in four previous episodes, compete for a major Junior Woodchucks prize.  And we find out that Violet has two dads!

They have no speaking parts, but they're very obvious,drawn to stand out from the other characters, both wearing "I'm With Dad"t-shirts.  First they are sitting with the other parents during a presentation; then they appear in the background during a sports day; and finally they come up onto the stage to congratulate Violet on winning the prize.

Ok, it's the third season, and as far as I can tell, neither they nor Violet appear in any later episodes.. Not a lot of representation.  But seeing them share the screen with Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, and the nephews isamazing, as if Duckburg has been gay-friendly all along.

Apr 14, 2020

"No Activity":Two Gay Subtext Couples Waiting for Godot

No Activity sounds like a coronavirus "Stay home" order, but it actually is a comedy tv series on Amazon Prime,advertised as "quirky" and "hilarious."  I just paid for the first episode.

Establishing shot of San Diego (although the theme song is "Happiness, Missouri.)

The cops: Tolbeck (Patrick Brammell, left) and Cullen are on a stake-out to make a drug bust.  Cullen asks Tolbeck for a head massage with his Afro comb: "I can do itmyself, but it's really good when someone else does it."  He pretends that the combing is giving him an orgasm until Tolbeck calls him on it. Then he pretends to be masturbating.

Homoerotic first scene?  Promising!

The dispatchers:  Jaded, seen-everything Janice (Amy Sedaris) teaches new recruit Fatima (Sunila Mani) what to expect.

The drug runners: Angus (Jesse Plemons, right) and Marco have been waiting for a shipment forever. They act like a gay couple.  Marco shows Angus  the gun he bought to impress him.

Back to the cops: They are having a conversation about nothing, like on Seinfeld, or Pulp Fiction, or Waiting for Godot.

Back to the drug runners: Another conversation about nothing, except for a gay-subtext reference:  "Sometimes you wake me up..."

Back to the dispatchers:  Janice is upset that her 15-year old son keeps masturbating to internet porn.  She wants to bring him to the office and introduce him to Fatima, so he'll have a real person to masturbate to.

Back to the cops: Having a conversation about nothing. Tolbeck says "God, this is boring." I tend to agree.

Back to the drug runners:  Marco (Jason Mantsoukas) tells a long, involved story about waiting for the cable guy and finding shag carpet in his basement.  Oh, and killing a rattlesnake.  Angus complains that the rattlesnake is the best part of the story, but Marco disagrees: it's the shag carpet.

Back to the cops:  Their coworker Fritzell is dead.  Cullen didn't really know him, but once in the bathroom he was heading to his favorite stall, when he saw Fritzell looking at him through the crack. It was "a profound, life-changing moment." Sounds homoerotic again.

Back to the drug runners:  Who will empty the piss bucket?  Marco decides to go outside to piss, so he doesn't have to empty it.

Back to the cops:  Still on stakeout, they see Marco the Drug Runner leave the warehouse.  They decide to arrest him.  Cullen (Tim Meadows) gets out of the car and approaches.  Marco pulls out a gun.

Switch to Tolbeck's point of view:  There's a gunshot.  Marco falls to the ground.

Wait -- what?

Marco is actually not dead -- he appears in 14 more episodes.  But still, endless conversations about nothing followed by violence is jarring.

Beefcake: None.

Other Scenery:  None.

Plot: None.

Gay Characters: Two deliberate gay-subtext couples.  But I don't think they are trying to be gay inclusive.  It's more: "He said something that makes it sound like he is gay!  Isn't that hilarious!"

On the other hand, all of the male cast members have played gay characters, so....

Will I Keep Watching: Not unless an episode synopsis mentions Marco and Angus kissing.

Apr 13, 2020

"Onward": Not Your Grandfather's Teen Nerd Movie

I've seen any number of teen nerd movies, where the nerd gets mystical powers or goes on a quest for the sole purpose of wrestling the Girl of His Dreams from the obnoxious jock she's dating.  On the way, he is terrorized by bullies and sadistic big brothers, and savagely rejected by the "it" kids.

So I wasn't interested in seeing the new Disney-Pixar Onward  (dumb title). But Netflix is a desert and Vudu is getting slim...

The Premise:  A world populated by beings from folklore and mythology: elves, dwarves, pixies, centaurs, and so on.  They used magic until they discovered that technology is easier, so now they live in urban-sprawl cities with rush-hour traffic (this is better?), identical to our world except for some clever touches, like houses are shaped like mushrooms and they keep tiny dragons as pets.  Magic still exists, as a weird hobby pursued by a few eccentrics.

The Players:
1. Shy, socially-awkward, anxiety-ridden elf Ian (Tom Holland, top photo).
2. His widowed Mom (Julia-Louis Dreyfuss), apparently a troll or an orc.
3. His big, brash older brother Barley (Chris Pratt), also a troll or an orc.
4. Mom's new husband, by-the-books cop Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), a centaur (insert joke about being hung like a horse).

The Set-Up:
It's Ian's sixteenth birthday.  He's agonizing over the prospect of inviting kids from school to his party, when Big Brother bounds down the stairs.

Uh, oh. Time for insults and name-calling.

Nope: Barley is exuberant and physical, but not bullying.  He's super-excited about Ian's birthday.

On to school.

Uh-oh.  Time for the Girl of His Dreams to walk by in slow motion, her hair blowing in the wind.

Nope:  No teenager in the movie displays or expresses any heterosexual interest.  John Hughes must be turning over in his grave (if he's dead)

Hesitating, petrified, Ian approaches the it-kids to invite them to his party.  Is one of them a troll with cerebral palsy?  Disability inclusive!

Uh-oh.  This is where they savagely reject him. "Come to your party, dick-wad?  I'd rather kiss a goblin!"

Nope.  They are perfectly willing to come to the party.

The Plot:  Ian's Dad (Kyle Bornheimer) was into magic, and left him a special gift: a mage-staff, with a spell that will bring him back to life for 24 hours, but only once.

Thrilled with the prospect of spending a day with his Dad, Ian starts the spell,but only gets Dad's bottom half revived before the Phoenix Stone that powers the staff breaks.  Ian, Barley, and Dad's Bottom Half are off on a dangerous quest through the urban wasteland to get another stone and finish the spell before the 24 hours are up.

They are pursued by Officer Bronco, Mom, and a helpful Manticore.

There are some minor complications.  The brothers have some minor disagreements:   It's all rather mild stuff up to the dragon at the end, the father resurrected only for a few seconds, and final brother-brother hug.

I think that the writers were trying so hard to be nice that forgot to be exciting.

Beefcake: No animated beefcake.

Gay Characters:  One of Colt Bronco's fellow officers mentions that she has a girlfriend, and the two are shown among the patrons of Manticore's restaurant in the final scene.  I expected a gay subtext between Ian and Barley, but their relationship is blatantly fraternal.  But not to worry, I'm sure the high school has a Gay-Straight Alliance.

My Grade:B+.
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