Sep 5, 2020

"The Invisible Man": Convoluted, Gay-Vague, Me Too Fable

When Bob announced that the new Netflix DVD was The Invisible Man,  I thought "Great!  The classic 1932 Universal monster mash starring Claude Raines."  For the rest of the night, that song from Rocky Horror was going through my head:

Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still
But he told us where we stand.
And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear,
Claude Raines was the invisible man.

But no, it's a 2020 remake that I didn't know existed.

I  went into it fresh, without checking a plot synopsis or review.

Scene 1:  At 3:40 in the morning, a woman (Elizabeth Moss from The Handmaid's Tale) climbs out of bed and sneaks through a gigantic facility to a lab, where she disables all of the futuristic surveillance equipment.  Then she climbs over a wall and runs into the woods.

I've seen 1,000 movies about women with super powers escaping from facilities, so I'll bet that she's the Invisible Woman.

She runs to the road and flags down a car.  "What's going on?  What's happening?" the driver (Harriet Dyer) asks.  "Just drive!"  A man runs out of the woods, chasing her.

Scene 2:   The woman, Cecilia, is afraid to leave the house.  James (Aldis Hodge), left, who I assume is the car driver's husband, encourages her.  Why did these two strangers take her in, instead of dropping her off at a women's shelter or a hospital or something?

Scene 3:  The car driver, Emily, shows up.  She is actually Cecilia's sister, and the pick-up was pre-arranged.  Odd -- she certainly acted like she had never seen Cecilia before.  Emily announces: "He's dead."

Ok, I got the opening scene wrong.  Cecilia was escaping from her abusive husband, optics expert Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, bottom photo), who lives in an impossibly huge house disguised as a research facility.

Scene 4:  Cecilia and her sister Emily at the reading of the will.  The lawyer, Tom (Michael Dorman, below), who happens to be abusive Adrian's brother, says that she will be receiving $100,000 per month for the next five years, unless she goes to a mental hospital or commits a crime.

Cecilia spends her first installment on presents: a ladder for James (huh?  not a new car?)  and college tuition for his daughter Sydney.

 I got the relationships wrong, too.  Emily and James do not live together.  They don't act like they are dating, either.  So he's probably Cecilia's love interest.

Scene 5: Weird things start to happen.  Cecilia is hit by an invisible hand.  When she goes on a job interview, her architectural samples vanish, and she has a panic attack.  (Wait -- she's getting $1.2 million a year.  Why isn't she buying a villa in Tuscany?)  The doctor finds excessive amounts of the depressant Diazapam (Valium) in her system.  But that was what she drugged Adrian with.  Emily gets a nasty email, reputedly from Cecilia  -- Adrian must have hacked into her computer!

Cecilia tells James, who conveniently turns out to be a cop, and Tom the Lawyer that Adrian is still alive, and has somehow turned invisible to torment her.  Ridiculous, absurd, you're under stress, yada yada yada.  I think she's suffering from some sort of post-traumatic condition, and doing these things herself.  But the movie is entitled The Invisible Man

Scene 6: An invisible presence attacks James' daughter Sydney.  He thinks that Cecilia did it, and orders her out of the house.  Then he and daughter leave. Wait -- you order her out, and don't stick around to make sure she gets out?  She calls Adrian's cell phone -- it's in the attic!  Along with the missing architectural plans.

Scene 7:  Cecilia convinces her sister Emily to meet her at a Chinese restaurant, where there is a very funny scene with the waiter (Nick Kici, top photo)..  Before an invisible presence stabs Emily and puts the knife in Cecilia's hand.

Scene 8: She's screaming "I didn't do it.  It was Adrian!  He's invisible!  He's standing right there!"  at the mental hospital.  Tom the Lawyer admits that Adrian is still alive, and offers to get the charges dropped if she returns to him.  Otherwise she loses the $100,000 per month and goes on trial for murder.  Cecilia steals a pen.

Scene 9:  She pretends to attempt suicide with the pen (it's a conveniently sharp old-timey fountain pen).  When an invisible figure tries to stop her, she stabs him repeatedly, causing the suit to malfunction and become intermittently visible.  She rushes into the hallway, where the invisible figrue kills about 3000 security guards while Cecilia yells "He's right behind you!"

For a billionaire optics expert, Adrian is an excellent fighter.

Scene 10: Cecilia goes to Adrian's house, where her dog is still there.  It's been at least three weeks since he "died"; shouldn't the house be closed up, and the dog adopted or sent to a shelter?  How is it surviving?    She finds the invisibility suit, but is attacked and flees without stealing it.

Scene 11:  Back at James' house (wait -- he ordered her out).  Cecilia arrives just in time to see  an invisible figure attacking James and his daughter.  She stabs it repeatedly.  Finally it drops dead.  She takes off the mask -- it's Tom the Lawyer!  He chained Adrian up in the basement, faked his death, and stole his terrorize his sister-in-law?  Why on Earth....

Scene 10: Cecilia still thinks it was Adrian, just using Tom as a decoy at the end.  No one believes her, but at least she's exonerated for killing her sister.  Um...and 3,000 security guards.

Scene 11:  Cecilia sneaks out of the house in the middle of the night to meet with Adrian.  He offers her sushi and steak (wait -- it's the middle of the night, too late for dinner).   She's wearing a wire.  James is listening from a car outside. (Wait -- if James is in on it, why did she have to sneak out of the house?) 

She tries to get Adrian to confess, but he refuses.  It was all his brother, while he was locked in the basement for three weeks.  So she goes into the bathroom, changes into the invisibility suit (where did she get it?  Did she take it off Tom's body?), and slits his throat.

Wait -- he still hasn't confessed.  Chances are he did it, but...

Beefcake:  Lots of hunks wandering around, but no one undresses except Cecilia.

Confusing Plotlines:  Lots

Gay Characters:  No one specifies, but no one specifies that they are heterosexual, either.  James has a daughter, but no wife or girlfriend is ever mentioned.  Plus he's not the love interest for either Cecilia or Emily.

Why no wife, ex wife, dead wife, or baby mama mentioned?  Why no romance with Cecilia or Emily?  Because it would distract from Cecilia's story?  Because there wasn't time?  Because James is gay? But mentioning it would be nice.  It's 2020: no more subtexts!

Tom doesn't allude to any heterosexual partners, either.  No picture of a wife on his desk, no flirting with Cecilia or Emily.  Probably gay, too.  But if he's canonically gay, why not mention it?

This all takes place in San Francisco, where not mentioning it seems even more ridiculous.

My Grade: C

The Sea Monster in the Club House

The Krofft animatronic Saturday morning shows like Pufnstuf and Land of the Lost usually involved boys trapped far from home, but the 1973-1975 entry, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, used the "I've got a secret" theme instead. Sigmund (Billy Barty), a three-foot tall blob of green tentacles, is expelled from his abusive family for being “a rotten sea monster.” He wanders up onto the beach and befriends two human boys, Johnny (Johnny Whitaker) and Scott (Scott Kolden). Most episodes involve Sigmund being befuddled by human society while hiding from his bullying brothers (who need him back for some mercenary reason), and the boys being likewise befuddled by sea monster society while trying to hide Sigmund from human authority figures.

Johnny Whitaker had previously starred as the saccharine Jody on Family Affair (1966-71), and as a shepherd boy who jumps off a cliff and becomes The Littlest Angel (1969).  He was only fourteen at the start of Sigmund, but still, he was on display far more than other Krofft boys.  His opening shots at the beach, in a swimming suit and then a muscle shirt, showed a toned body with surprisingly firm biceps, and later he sauntered around the set in impossibly tight jeans that almost allowed gay kids to overlook his hair, fluffy, carrot-red, with the texture of cotton candy.

He would show off his muscles that same year in Tom Sawyer (1973)

Sigmund critiques the myth of the heterosexual nuclear family both overtly through the bickering sea monsters, and more subtly through the human family: parents absent and never mentioned, the adult guardian a no-nonsense, grumpily affectionate, arguably lesbian housekeeper (played with gusto by character actress Mary Wickes).

 It is difficult to categorize the relationship between Johnny and Scott (especially since the actors use their real names): they are often shown sleeping in bunk beds, and they both acknowledge Zelda’s authority, so they most likely live together, but they are never identified as brothers, and they played best buddies in The Mystery of Dracula’s Castle. If they are brothers, then they exhibit an extraordinary physical intimacy, always touching arms and shoulders or chummily reclining against each other’s bodies. 

In “The Nasty Nephew” (October 1973), as they are prevaricating about the noises coming from their club house (where Sigmund is sequestered), Johnny reaches behind Scott’s back and takes his hand. They hold hands for a long moment, and then Scott shrugs him off. This is an odd gesture, with no rationale in the plot: they are not exchanging any sort of signal, and teenage boys have few other legitimate reasons for holding hands. But perhaps the behind-the-back intimacy mirrors the sea monster in the club house, both truths about their “friendship” that must be kept secret from the outside world.

Johnny announces in the theme song that the program is about “friends, friends, friends,” presumably Sigmund, but many of the lines seem to discuss a more intimate relationship: “a special someone” who will “change your life.” The unaired final verse makes it explicit:

I can't change the way I feel, and wouldn't if I could.
I never had someone before, who made me feel so good.

The inevitability, the loss of control, and the “feel so good” in the sex-happy 1970’s all point to romance instead of friendship. 

 Similarly, Johnny’s 1973 solo album, though entitled Friends, overbrims with tracks like “It’s Up to You,” “Lovin’ Ain’t Easy,” and “Keep It a Secret,” about romance that must be hidden, submerged behind the façade of friendship. But surely Johnny does not mean that he is secretly in love with a 3-foot tall sack of green tentacles. Instead, the mandate to care for Sigmund and keep him safe from the prying eyes of adults gives Johnny and Scott a reason to spend every moment together, to concoct wild schemes and harrowing rescue attempts, to share the joys and terrors of a secret life.

Perhaps the Krofft Brothers became aware, on some level, of the same-sex desire implicit in the relationship between Johnny and Scott. Though none of the other Krofft boys ever exhibited heterosexual interest, several episodes of Sigmund introduce a girl during the last two or three minutes: anonymous, with no lines, alien to the plot, present just so Johnny can gaze at her and sing love songs. This strategy backfires, as the girl, straw-haired, tanned, and freckled, looks exactly like Scott Kolden.

In the second year, therefore, the Krofft Brothers introduced a new theme song. To avoid conjecture about what sins a sea monster might commit, they made the reason for Sigmund’s expulsion from sea monster society explicit: like Casper the Friendly Ghost, he refuses to scare humans. He encounters Johnny and Scott on the beach, and now all three are “the finest of friends that ever can be.” The suggestion that Johnny has found a “special someone” has vanished in favor of a triad of buddies.

We need not assume that Johnny Whitaker, a devout Mormon who would serve as a missionary in Portugal and graduate from Brigham Young University, was consciously adding a romance to his character’s on-screen friendship with Scott. The intent of a performer does not diminish the possibility that a teenager might find hope in his image flickering on a television screen, months or years later and thousands of miles away. But it is inspiring to discover that, though Johnny Whitaker and Scott Kolden both married women and raised heterosexual nuclear families, they have remained close friends. Their relationship is intimate, loving, and permanent. Who cares if they ever kiss?

Sep 4, 2020

Davy Jones and the Monkees

One of my first crushes was on Davy Jones, singer for the pre-fab boy band The Monkees.  In fact, the first album I ever bought (or rather, asked Mom and Dad for) was  The Monkees (1966), because it showed Davy Jones seated in the foreground, dirty from working outdoors, with Peter Tork's arm around him.  I figured they were boyfriends.

Some of the tracks were gender-explicit, with lots of “girls” and “babes," but many were not, including the famous “Last Train to Clarksville", written by the famous duo Boyce and Hart: the singer, talking on the telephone, asks a loved one for a final rendezvous in a train station before he goes away forever.

Quite a change from the girl-crazy Beatles and Herman's Hermits.

More of the Monkees (1967) again had an evocative cover, with the boys in blue shirts and tight jeans gazing down suggestively at the camera. But every track was about desperate longing for some girl or another, with a single exception. In “Laugh,” which didn’t chart as a single, Davy Jones suggests that those boys who are interested in boys should transform their "secret" into humor:

Laugh, when you're keepin' a secret
And it seems to be known by the rest of the world.
Laugh, when you go to a party
And you can't tell the boys from the girls.

The tv series (1966-68, then on Saturday morning 1968-70) seemed to concur. The nonsensical plots, filled with blackout gags, self-referential humor, and spoofs of every movie cliché from superheroes to Westerns, were surprisingly gay-friendly.  And shirtless shots were quite common.

Although Micky Dolenz was ostensibly the leader of the group, Davy Jones, only 5’3”, with dark eyes and a sensual pout, quickly became the standout star. He was prominently displayed on every album cover, and almost every episode required him to wear a swimsuit or revealing prizefighter’s trunks, or get his clothes ripped off by fans, or otherwise display his slight but firm physique. 

Unfortunately, he also got the most girl-chasing plotlines. Of 58 episodes, Davy went ape over a girl in six, Peter Tork in two, Micky in only one, and Mike Nesmith not at all.  

Micky is the one that I figured liked boys, not girls.  My evidence: the voice-over introduction to “Monkees on the Wheel” (December 1967) notes that Las Vegas is the

Pleasure capital of the world, where each man seeks the things he loves most. [Shot of Peter following a girl.]
The things he loves most. [Shot of Mike following a girl.]
The things he loves most.[Shot of Davy following a girl.]

And then the story begins. Why is Micky omitted? Because the joke has run its course, or because girls are not the things he loves most?

Also, in “Monkees Mind their Manors” (February 1968), the group travels to England. At the airport, the boys realize that the customs agent is being portrayed by Jack Williams, the show’s prop master, but Williams protests that he is actually a famous singer.  Then he sings the Dean Martin standby “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”, and Micky, overcome with passion, leaps into his arms.

Many minor characters were gay-vague, such as the flamboyant Sir Twiggly Toppin Middle Bottom (Bernard Fox) and beach movie star Frankie Catalina (Bobby Sherman), who hates the beach and is “allergic to girls” (i.e., gay). 

And the Monkees themselves obviously preferred buddy-bonding over girl-chasing.  I couldn't wait to see their constant caressing of faces, hands, and chests, their cuddling together, their panicked hugging in moments of danger.  Regardless of what the actors thought they were conveying, for gay kids they produced a powerful evocation of same-sex love.    

See also my review of Head, the Monkees' swan song.

Sep 3, 2020

Zephyr Benson: The Son of the Most Beautiful Teen Idol of the 1980s

What is it like to grow up with a father who was the most beautiful teen idol in the world, the source of gushing romantic fantasies for millions of gay boys and straight girls?

Of course, I'm talking about Robby Benson, teen idol of the late 1970s and 1980s.  He appeared in some movies, but really, he was too beautiful to be a major star -- everyone was so busy swooning and sighing to pay attention to the plot.

He had a physique and a basket, too, but who noticed?  We were busy imagining what it would be like to walk hand-in-hand with Robby through the rain, and share a brief, chaste kiss.

Oh, I hear laughter in the rain,
Walking hand in hand with the one I love

Sorry, I had a Neil Sedaka moment.What was I writing about, again?

Right, Robby's kids.  It seems that Robby managed to find someone strong enough to come within five feet of him without swooning (Karla DeVito), so he married, just imagining their wedding...kissing Robby Benson! ...and they had two kids, a girl named Lyric (born 1983), and a boy named Zephyr (born 1992).

Zephyr lacks the drop-dead gorgeousness of his father: his long, oval face is rather a turn-off.  But he does have dreamy blue eyes. 

He has the same slim, tight physique as his father, but not so tightly muscled.

He's an aspiring actor with 7 credits listed on the imdb, including more than one gay character.

His magnum opus to date is Straight Outta Tomkins (2015), which he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in.  It's about a teenager who falls in with a drug dealer, and mistakes the mercenary attention for a real emotional connection.

Plus he tweets his support of marriage equality.  What else could you want in the son of the most beautiful teen idol in the world?

Sep 2, 2020

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: Sleaze, Sin, and Closeted Gay Men

I have watched three episodes of The Assassination of Gianni Versace on Netflix, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.  When the story first broke in July 1997 -- famous fashion designer murdered by male prostitute -- the straight media jumped on it with homophobic glee: "All gay people are violent monsters!  We thought so all along, and this proves it!"  It was just before I moved to New York to start graduate school.  For the next six months, whenever I came out to a straight person, they got all quiet and standoffish and asked if physicians had yet come up with a cure.

So when Bob turned it on Netflix, I almost left the room.  But I stuck around, mostly due to laziness and a desire to see more of Versace's stupendous Villa in Miami Beach.

I hadn't realized that Versace (Edgar Ramirez) was gay, and had a long-term partner, Antonio (Ricky Martin), as well as a sister (Penelope Cruz) who disapproved -- of the match, and of his gayness. "What can you give him?" she yells at Antonio.  "Marriage?  Children?  A family?  Nothing!"

I had realized that the police, and soon the FBI, were extremely homophobic.  They refuse to put up fliers.  They call the victims "homosexuals."  They treat Antonio with utter contempt, refusing to distinguish between a permanent partner and a paid rent boy -- both have sex with men, and are therefore reprehensible.  .

The story is not told in chronological order, so after three episodes we don't know why Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) killed Versace.  I guess no one knows in real life -- the family insistes that Versace never met the man.

We know that Andrew is a glib sociopath who spins intricate, barely believable stories ("my father was Emelda Marcos' personal pilot in the Philippines, and he also exports pineapples"), and changes personalities with the ease of a chameleon adapting to a new environment.  We know that by the time he gets around to Versace, he's already killed four people (only the last two depicted in the episodes I watched):

1. His best friend Jeff (Finn Wittrock, left)

2. His lover David (Cody Fern).

3. Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell), a famous architect who has hired him (frequently?) as a rentboy in the past.  Lee is gay but closeted; everything he has accomplished in life  is the result of lying about his sexual identity, playing the "perfect heterosexual husband and father."  Maybe that's why Andrew kills him?  Because open gay men are barred from the American Dream, unable to become rich, powerful, successful, unless they design women's dresses.

At least that's the tv version seems to imply.  In real life, Lee Miglin's wife and children insisted that he was straight, and had never met Andrew Cunanan.

4. William Reese (Gregg Lawrence), a cemetery caretaker.  Andrew originally planned to just lock him up and steal his truck until Reese mentioned having a wife and daughter.  Someone else enjoying heterosexual privilege!  Gay men were barred from marriage and adoption, usually denied custody of even their own biological children, but not the scruffiest-looking heterosexual!  Maybe that's why Andrew killed him?

At least that's what the tv version seems to imply.  In real life, we don't know what conversation the two had, since both participants are dead.

Beefcake:  A lot of shots of the beach, a lot of shots in gay bars with gyrating cage boys.

Other Sights:  Miami Beach, Versace's palatial villa.  Why do two guys and a couple of servants need all that space?

And I am interested in reading the gigantic book on Versace that Andrew carries around with him.

Gay Characters:  Most, but most closeted.

Torture:  Lots.  Andrew tortures a beach pickup and Lee Miglin, and I assume others.  Gross.

My Verdict:  There are lots of gay people in the cast and crew, and it won a GLAAD award.  But I'm still uncomfortable.

River Phoenix: Running on Empty

River Phoenix died on Halloween night, 1993, at the Viper Room, a Sunset Boulevard hotspot a few blocks north of my apartment in West Hollywood.  Over 20 years have passed, but he remains a gay icon.

Though he had been performing for several years, including a starring role in a tv version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982), he first drew the attention of gay fans at the age of 14, in Explorers (1985), as the buddy of a boy (Ethan Hawke) who finds an alien spaceship.

After the heterosexist "coming of age" movie Stand by Me (1986), River starred in The Mosquito Coast (1986), as the son of an eccentric inventor (Harrison Ford of Star Wars).  There he moved perceptibly from child star to teen idol, revealing a smooth muscular chest and abs.

Most teen idol vehicles are fluffy, lightweight, feel-good concoctions, but aside from the teen sex comedy A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon (1988), River's movies were serious, even dark.  His characters in Little Nikita (1988), Running on Empty (1988), and I Love You to Death (1988) rarely smiled; they were in pain; they were searching, exhausted from searching, "running on empty."

And they ached with desire.  Like fellow teen idol Brad Renfro, like Leif Garrett a decade before, River Phoenix imbued every relationship with a unstated but intensely erotic desire.  Unvariegated, sometimes for women, sometimes for men, usually older men. Twice for Dermot Mulroney (in Silent Tongue and This Thing Called Love). 

Even his frequent shirtless and semi-nude scenes presented him more as someone aching with loneliness rather than as an object of desire.  He gazes at the camera, confused, wondering who is out there looking at him, asking, with Allen Ginsberg, "Are you my angel?"

Twenty years ago, the only gay teenagers in the movies were bisexual hustlers who abandoned their "gay lifestyle" for a girl (such as Jonathan Taylor Thomas in Speedway Junkie and Lukas Haas in Johns), but in My Own Private Idaho (1991), Mike (River) is gay, going with women only when necessary for his job, and he falls in love with an unresponsive straight hustler (Keanu Reeves). 

River enjoyed being an object of desire for both men and women, and he desired both men and women.  He had girlfriends and boyfriends throughout his life.  The rumor mill paired him with nearly every actor rumored to be gay at the time, including Keanu Reeves, Leonardo DiCaprio, and talk show host Merv Griffin.  Many of the twinks I knew claimed to have been with him.  Maybe some of them were telling the truth.

 But it wasn't his male partners that made River Phoenix a gay icon.  It was his combination of sexual knowledge and vulnerability, his neverending search not only for sex but for love.

Sep 1, 2020

Robby Benson's Six Pack

Was there any 1970s teen idol more dreamy than Robby Benson?  Sure, David CassidyDonny Osmond, and Leif Garrett were cute, but Robby's blue eyes, coiffed hair, and soulful pout could cause thousands of straight girls and gay boys to swoon with goofy smiles on their faces, even without a beefcake shot.

Even his single scene in The End (1978) as a baby-faced priest confessing Burt Reynolds, was a show-stopper.

But to top it off, Robby soon developed a physique than would shame Scott Baio and Adrian Zmed, with a tight muscular chest and six-pack abs.

And the producers knew it.  All of his earliest movie roles -- Jory (1973), Troy (1973), and All the Kind Strangers (1974) -- featured ample shirtless shots.  When he moved on to teen angst, dying in Death be Not Proud (1975), Ode to Billy Joe (1976), and The Death of Richie (1977), the beefcake completely overshadowed the gravitas of the plots.

Hs only significant bonding was in The Chosen (1981), about the romance between an Orthodox and a Hasidic Jewish boy  -- otherwise his characters are busily falling for girls or dying.  But the gay kids in the audience weren't paying attention to the plot anyway.  They were waiting for the next shirtless shot.

When Robby moved on to young adult roles, mostly involving bigotry and sports, the beefcake continued.  Who could forget his underwear shot in Ice Castles (1978), his nude locker room scene in Running Brave (1983), or his magnificent shirtless scenes in Die Laughing (1980) and Harry and Son (1984)?

After a few years in the post-teen idol sleaze-movie ghetto -- City Limits (1984) and California Girls (1985) were good only for fast-forwarding to the shirtless scenes -- Robby managed to establish himself as a grown-up actor.  He continued to appear regularly in movies and tv through the 1980s and 1990s, gradually shifting into voice work (he was the voice of the Beast in the 1991 Disney movie Beauty and the Beast). 

Robby was one of the first Hollywood actors to play a gay character, instead of the ubiquitous "best friend to the gay guy" role  (in Ode to Billy Joe)

And though he has never officially acknowledged his debt to gay fans, he has worked on a number of gay-friendly projects, from Ellen to Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  

There are nude photos on Tales of West Hollywood.

And I have a post on his son Zephyr.  What's it like being the son of the most beautiful teen idol in the world?

Aug 31, 2020

The Top 9 DIckensian Hunks of "Dickensian"

If you're like most people, you had to read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in high school, and you know A Christmas Carol from the innumerable parodies and homages.  The only novels you've read willingly are Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.  The others are mostly a hodgepodge of half-remembered anecdotes.  Didn't they line up at the docks in America to see if Little Nell lived?  Didn't someone criticize Barnaby Rudge as "half genius, half fudge"?  Is it true that Nicholas Nickleby has 138 named characters?

Now image a tv series where many named characters from across the novles are living in London at the same time, interacting with each other.  Fun, huh?  Imagine Tiny Tim and Little Eva on a play date, or Ebenezer Scrooge courting Miss Havisham, or Bill Sykes joining Fagin in skulduggery.

The problem is, Dickensian stars many of the minor characters from the books, but none of the stars.  Oliver Twist, Pip, and Nicholas Nickleby are absent.  Other characters are changed beyond recognition.  Miss Havisham is in her 20s, not yet jilted by her fiancee, nor does it seem like such a jilting would faze the strong-as-nails, assertive, self-actualized heroine.

You're supposed to have fun recognizing the characters, but for most viewers, it won't happen -- wait, every version of A Christmas Carol shows Bob Cratchit with a wife, a teenage daughter, and a young son.  Who the heck is Peter Cratchit?  (In the book Bob has five kids).

Except for a few stars, you'd be better off taking Dickensian as a mid-Victorian murder mystery that becomes so involved and convoluted that you expect Sherlock Holmes to show up any moment.  But he's still a boy, and not Dickensian.

Let's just go through some of the main characters:

1. Amelia Havisham, cut off from  most of her father's fortune due to the sexist Victorian inheritance laws, sets her sights on the wealthy Compyson (Tom Weston-Jones, top photo)

2. She doesn't realize that he is conspiring with her brother Arthur (Joseph Quinn, left), who was also cut off because he is gay (not in Dickens).

3. Peter Cratchit (Brenock O'Connor), Bob's oldest son, begins dating Little Nell.

4 Jacob Marley is murdered, and Inspector Bucket (From Bleak House) suspects Scrooge, then Bob Cratchit.  Meanwhile he investigates Bill Sikes (Mark Stanley, left), and runs afoul of criminal mastermind Fagin (Anton Lesser)

There are various other interconnected plots, but I imagine you're anxious to get to the beefcake.

5. Oliver Coopersmith as John Bagnet from Bleak House

6. John Heffernan as Jaggers, from Great Expectations.

7. Ukweli Roach as Sergeant George from Bleak House.

9..  Winston Radjou-Pujalte as the Artful Dodger.

Oh, and Oliver Twist does finally show up.  Just as Miss Havisham is sitting amid the ruins of her cancelled wedding, and Scrooge is visited by the three Christmas ghosts.

Aug 30, 2020

Spies in Disguise: Gay Subtext Buddy Comedy with Pigeons

Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a superstar superspy, James Bond to the nth power.  He subdues 72 hostiles with a single glance, retrieves a briefcase containing a superweapon from an airplane, and returns to headquarters to the cheers and swoons of a messiah.  Just touching the hem of his garment will give you superpowers.

Walter Beckett (Tom Holland) is a young genius who is snubbed by the other supergadget creators for specializing in nonviolent weapons, like kitten glitter -- a spray of glitter that turns into a video of kittens, which makes your opponent all calm and snuggly.

When a Lance doppelganger steals a briefcase containing a super-weapon, Lance is blamed and arrested.  With Internal Affairs in hot pursuit, he seeks out Walter, hoping to try out a new invisibility invention.  Instead, he is accidentally turned into a pigeon.  While Walter frantically works on an antidote, he and Pigeon-Lance travel to Mexico, then Venice, to track down the doppelganger. Eventually Lance turns back into agay s man again.

So far, a standard mismatched buddy movie, right?  But there are gay subtexts glimmers throughout.

1. Neither Lance nor Walter ever express any heterosexual interest.

2.While hugging Walter, Pigeon-Lance lays an egg.  "What happens in the submarine stays in the submarine," he says, embarrassed, as if they have just had sex.

3. Bad Guy Killian (Ben Mendelsohn) tells Lance "I'm going to destroy everything you love," then sends his drones to kill Walter.  Lance screams "Don't hurt him!  Don't hurt him!", then cries as he sees an explosion and Walter's "death."

4. Walter is a fan of telenovelas, where lovers reunite to lush romantic music. The same music is playing when he rescues Lance. Then we discover that he is listening to a telenovela soundtrack on his earphones.  Psych!

5. Before rescuing the tied-up Lance,Walter hugs him and sits on his lap.

6. Before releasing a rainbow-glitter weapon,Walter reputedly yells "Fifty shades of gay!"  I didn't hear the line.

There are other references to same-sex romance in the movie:

1. Pigeon-Lance is hit on by both male and female pigeons.

2. Lance high-fives an operative, and his friend asks "Can I touch it?" He means the hand, which they believe has acquired superpowers.  Later they try to use the hand to stop a bad-guy-drone invasion, while hugging.

Will Smith has always been homophobic, soI don't believe the subtexts are intentional. But just dropping the requisite boy-girl romance is cause for celebration.

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