Nov 14, 2020

"Come Away": Alice Liddel and Peter Pan are Half in Love with Easeful Death


I'm a big fan of all things Alice in Wonderland, and while I don't care for the Peter Pan mythos, the premise of Come Away (2020) sounded intriguing.  Alice and Peter as siblings who visit Wonderland and Neverland together?  And by the way, they're black.  Race relations in Victorian society!  So I plopped down my $19.95 to Vudu's Theater at Home service the day it started streaming.

And then I started kicking myself.  

1. Dreary, depressing, obsessed with death -- ok, no problem. -- have you actually read the Alice and Peter Pan books?  Stay a child forever, if you can.  Growing up is terrible.  You have to do icky things like get a job and get married, and then you die. 

Come, hearken then, ere voice of dread, with bitter tidings laden, shall summon to unwelcome bed ⁠a melancholy maiden!

2. Race is irrelevant Victorian society -- ok, no problem.  Maybe the black actors were cast because they aced their auditions. 

3. But it is unforgiveable to make us slosh through the melancholy, dreary, painfully depressing world of adults, where it's always winter but never Christmas (sorry, wrong book) to the bitter end, and Alice and Peter NEVER GO ANYWHERE!  

They're supposed to be exploring Wonderland and Neverland, for chrissakes!

The plot: Alice, Peter, and their older brother David live in dreary Victorian England with their progressive parents, Jack (David Oyelowo, top photo) and Rose (Angelina Jolie), having pretend adventures.  Then one day they are all playing pirates when David falls into the lake and drowns.  

The family falls apart.  Jack descends to a world of gambling, gambling debts, and child neglect.  Rose, delusional and about to die of grief, takes to her bed and drinks.  Snobbish Aunt Eleanor arrives, plotting to send Alice away to boarding school, which strikes me as an excellent idea, but is presented as a fate worse than death.  Well, a fate the same as death.  

Don't let the smiling faces fool you.  After the first five minutes, no one ever smiles again -- for the rest of their lives.

Alice and David try to ease their pain by rumbling through the Victorian underworld, encountering tawdry real-life versions of the characters and situations of Neverland and Wonderland  For instance, a Mad Hatter prototype runs the pawn shop where they are trying to raise some cash to pay Dad's gambling debts.  

But there is no Wonderland.  There is no Neverland.  There is no nothing.   

Peter, who blames himself for David's death and the destruction of the family, never manages to move on.  He "never grows up," vanishing into his father's world of gambling, drinking, and death.   Alice grows up, marries Mr. Darling -- the same thing as death -- has three kids (Michael, Wendy, and John), and writes the books as a form of grief therapy.

So if Peter Pan comes through the window, he will be Wendy's uncle?

The books were actually written by J. M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll, who were living in England during this period and occasionally smiled. Wouldn't it have been cool if Alice and Peter met them?

Or if, like, they actually had the adventures the movie promises?

This lying, deceptive piece of con-artist garbage reminds me of The Bridge to Terabithia, which also lures you in with the promise of an alternate world fantasy, only to punch you in the stomach: "Fooled you! This is a movie about a child dying, but you already paid, so we don't care."

Beefcake: No.

Gay characters: None specified.

Heterosexism: Alice and Peter are siblings, so thankfully no pre-teen falling-in-love.

My grade: F-.

The Incredible Severns Grow Up

"The Incredible Severns" are featured in the March 10, 1947 issue of Life Magazine, brothers ranging in age from 4 to 21, all in show biz.  Here Peter Stackpole photographs them demonstrating "Yoga-like muscle exercises"

Looks to me like they're just showing us their ribs.

So, did they grow up to be musclemen?  I did some research.

Dr. Clifford Brill Severn (1890-1981) and his wife Rachel, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans from Johannesburg, immigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s, and got all eight of their children (six sons and two daughters) involved in movies.

Cliff (1925-2014) began acting at age ten, and appeared as the boy buying Scrooge's Christmas goose in A Christmas Carol (1938).  He retired from acting after They Live in Fear (1944) to join the British army.  In 1947 he founded the Southern California Cricket Club, and championed the sport in the U.S. for the rest of his life (photo: a random shirtless cricket player).

Raymond (1930-1994) began acting at age nine, and played opposite Mickey Rooney in A Yank at Eton (1942).  He retired in 1944, and in 1947 joined the Southern California Cricket Club with his brother (photo: Mickey Rooney).

Ernest (1933-1987) appeared in four movies, and retired in 1947.

Christopher (1935-) appeared in six movies, including Mr. Miniver (1942).  He retired from acting after Titanic (1953).

William (1938-1983) appeared in seven movies, including David and Bathsheba (1951).  After high school, he became a fundamentalist Christian and started an evangelical ministry that took him all over the world.  He later became a televangelist.

Winston (1942-) appeared in four movies, including A Man Called Peter (1955).  He later played on the U.S. national cricket team. I"m guessing that this is his grandson.

Ok, I didn't find any musclemen in the grown-up "Incredible Severns."  But it was fun trying.

Nov 13, 2020

"Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun": Gay-Inclusive or Just Anarchic?

Aunty Donna is an Australian comedy troupe featuring Zach Ruane, Mark Bonanno, and Broden Kelly, who met as university students in 2011. They have performed at comedy festivals in Australia and Britain, and produced several web series and a music album.  And now a new series, Aunty Donna's Big Ol' House of Fun, is streaming on Netflix.   

Reviews called it "goofy," "good natured," and "anarchic," reminiscent of The Kids in the Hall. One reviewer even compared the troupe to the Marx Brothers.  

The episode "Dating" has the the plot synopsis:"the boys score a date."  

Just one person for the three of them?  And is it a boy or a girl?  Surely they wouldn't be dating a boy?  

On the off chance that there was some gay representation, I turned it on.

Scene 1:  A suburban house where the boys apparently live together. Broden (bald), Mark (glasses), and Baron Gabrel de Franc, an 18th century French aristocrat who stumbled in through a time warp, are playing the "that's relatable" game: when you think you're out of beans, so you buy five cans, but then you get home and you had beans after all, so now you have too many beans. The aristocrat loses. 

Suddenly they get an email, and call in Zach (long hair) to tell him the good news: someone responded to their online profile.  They have a date!  Yes, all three with the same person. 

The French aristocrat leaves.  They celebrate.  "I hope I get a kiss!"

They haven't specified if the date is a boy or a girl.  Is this a deliberate attempt to promote inclusivity by leaving the gender open, or just an oversigh, with the heteronormative assumption that it will obviously be a girl?

Scene 2: They watch Hunk and Dork on tv.  Hunk (Broden) has lots of friends (boys and girls) and prom dates (a girl); Dork (Mark) has none.

Scene 3:
Mark is nervous because he has never been on a date before, so Zach tells a made-up story about his dating succes: At a hip club he saw three people he liked (man and two women), so he invited them to dance, and they liked dancing with him so much that they invited him to a hipper club.  Then he went home and danced with the King of Dance (Carl Tart)

Zach was dating both men and women, and ended up going home with a man.

Scene 4: Broden stops in at The Men Gentlemen's Barber, Where Men Can Be Gentlemen and Manly and Men.  He notes that they have a date tonight, and the barber says "Don't worry, when I'm done with you, she will ___ you, and ___, and ___."  But he also offers to give him an espresso, a tattoo,  a "tit magazine," "a fuck,," and pale ale, "Our house blend of Jack Daniels, sriracha, and hawk semen."  Broden is horrified by the toxic masculinity, but at least they give him a good haircut.

The barber assumes that the date is with a girl, which one might expect of a man who drinks hawk semen.  Broden neither confirms nor denies.

Scene 5:   Mark is so excited about the upcoming date that he pantomimes kissing them, playing both roles.  They grab each other's butts, and one gives the other a blow job (I can't tell which).  Then there's some thrusting going on, but I can't tell who is thrusting into what.     

It is impossible to tell if he is imagining sex with a man or a woman. His pantomine could go either way.  This has to be deliberate.

Scene 6: Mark watches Moogie Woogie Boogie.  Two guys in suits (Broden, Mark) itneract with a muppet-like creature whose childish repartee gradually turns dark ("Moogie found a lump on his testicle.  Moogie was scared.").  

"Someday I'm going to fuck Moogie," Mark exclaims. Ok, Moogie is a boy muppet.  Mark likes boys or boys and girls both.

Scene 7:  They receive an email from their date which turns out to be a pfishing spam.  Their date is a spambot!  They decide to go anyway.

Scene 8: Dinner at a fancy restaurant, where they are flirting with the Spambot, which is actually an alien robot planning to conquer the world.  "Kneel before the great Spambot!" he orders..

They are excited, assuming that he means kneel for sex.  

Deep male voice. Their date was with a boy.  

The end.

Grossness: There are some cringe-inducing sight gags especially in the two tv shows.

Beefcake: None (Antony Starr, top photo, guest stars in another episode). The boys are not attractive, probably deliberately (it's hard to be funny when everyone is staring at your biceps or bulge).

Gay Characters: This was quite an anxiety-provoking episode.  I've been fooled before by minutes or hours of guys dropping pronouns, saying "the person I'm interested in," only to discover in the last scene that the person is a girl.  But here they keep up the indeterminancy throughout.

I'm still not sure why. Are they really being inclusive, or are they presenting their characters as too clueless to realize that dates must always be boy-girl?  

My Grade: I'll have to watch another episode to make up my mind. 

Nov 12, 2020

Joe Weider: My Bodybuilder Boss

When I moved to West Hollywood in 1985, I landed a job as a "contributing editor" for Muscle and Fitness.  It was actually a part-time job fact-checking and proofreading articles, but it looks good on my resume.  Besides, I got to hang out with the sort of guys who work for muscle magazines, and meet bodybuilding legends like Lou Ferrigno (not to mention Ivo, the Bulgarian bodybuilder who was insanely jealous of Michael J. Fox).

  And I met publisher Joe Weider, the father of modern bodybuilding.  He was rather gruff.

Born in 1919, Joe Weider grew up when the epitome of male beauty, as far as Hollywood was concerned,  was sophisticated and skinny, like Cary Grant.  Bodybuilders were usually assumed gay, and muscle magazines were published primarily for gay men (would you really buy this magazine for muscle-building tips?).

Although Joe began his career publishing Your Physique (later Muscle and Fitness) for a similar audience, he wanted to make bodybuilding "respectable," by which he meant heterosexual, and so he began a life-long crusade to re-brand the muscleman as an object of female desire.

In spite of his homophobia, Joe Weider was instrumental in bringing bodybuilding into the mainstream.  He published many fitness magazines (one edited by the Grandfather of Bodybuilding, Earle E. Liederman), and books (plus some other titles, including softcore hetero porn), and invented nutritional supplements like Tiger's Milk.   

His self-help pamphlets, covering everything from bodybuilding to nutrition to confidence building to how to be heterosexual (a "he-man," left), were advertised everywhere, even in comic books.

He founded the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, which emphasized symmetry, grace, and beauty rather than the weight-lifting ability of the AAU (Amateur Athletic Association).  He mentored a generation of young bodybuilders of the new "body beautiful" school, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bob Paris.  

When Bob came out in 1989, Joe was reputedly furious that a gay person had sneaked into the ranks of his beautiful heterosexual bodybuilders. I wonder what he thought about gay employees.

Joe Weider died on March 23rd, 2013, at the age of 93.

Paranormal: Egyptian TV Series about a Elderly Paranormal Investigator, His Three Girlfriends, and a Teen Hunk


I always thought of paranormal investigation as a mainly Western activity, so I was surprised to discover that Egyptian novelist Ahmed Khaled Tawfik wrote 81 installments of Ma Waraa Al Tabiaa (Beyond Nature).  Cantakerous physician Refaat Ismail and his stable of scoobies, lovers, ex-lovers, friends, and enemies encounter a werewolf, a cannibal, a lake monster, a minotaur, and so on.  Some adventures take them to the past, to the future, and to alternate worlds.   

Six of the stories have been adapted for tv under the unfortunately blah title Paranormal (maa wara' altabieat‎, "Metaphysics" in the original Arabic, which is even worse).

No beefcake -- Refaat (Ahmed Amin) is elderly, grizzled, and unattractive, and the next six cast members listed on IMDB are all women: his sister, his fiancee, his ex-girlfriend, the ghost he fell in love with as a boy, yada yada yada.  All I found was 20-year old Ahmad Dash, (top photo) who plays Refaat's older brother in a flashback to his childhood -- in one episode. 

No gay characters, which you would expect in an Arabic series, but the lack of male cast members means that even uninntentional gay subtexts are absent.  The book series gives Refaat lots of male friends and enemies for subtext-searching.

1. Ezzat, a sculptor who was the subject of an early paranormal investigation, and is now a friend.

2. Adel, the government official who begrudgingly helps with the investigations.

3.  Harry Sheldon, a brash American.

4. Jewish-American con artist Sam Colby.

Here they are all absent.  The story is about the fiancee, the ex-lover, and the ghost girl.

So, is the  exotic appeal of an Arabic X-Files enough to warrant a look?

Nope.  But here are some more pictures of Ahmad Dash for your trouble.

Nov 11, 2020

Madame's Place: TV's First Drag Queen Sitcom

In 1982, I got my B.A. in English and Modern Languages and moved to Bloomington, Indiana, to study for a M.A. in English.  I wasn't planning on an academic career; I thought the M.A. would assist me in reaching my career goal in publishing.

I was taking courses in Old English, Victorian Literature, Fiction Writing, and for some reason Chinese, working in the dormitory cafeteria, listening for gay subtext songs on the radio, and reading the Gayellow Pages, so I didn't have much time for tv.    In 1982-83, I watched a few old-standby sitcoms: The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, Alice, Taxi -- plus The Powers of Matthew Star (with Peter Barton, left) and Madame's Place (1982-83).

Gay actor and puppeteer Wayland Flowers (1939-1988) began voicing Madame in the 1970s.  She was a new twist on the drag queen persona, an elderly former movie star who had a potty mouth and told outrageous stories about her exploits with men.

Baby Boomers used to thinking of the older generation as skittish, easily-scandalized, and sexually repressed found Madame's bawdy humor mesmerizing, and soon she became the most famous puppet since Charlie McCarthy.

Wayland and Madame were everywhere in the 1970s and early 1980s, on  Andy Williams, Merv Griffith, The New Laugh-In, The Chuck Barris Rah-Rah Show, Playboy's Roller Disco and Pajama Party, and Solid Gold.  They hosted the 1982 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  They were regulars on the Hollywood Squares game show.

A tv series was inevitable, a throwback to the old "celebrity home life" sitcoms of the 1950s, with Madame as a talk show host asking inappropriate questions of real celebrities like William Shatner and Peewee Herman.  At home, she interacted with her butler (Johnny Haymer), uptight assistant (Susan Tolsky), dumb-blond niece (Judy Lander), and kid next door (Corey Feldman, left).

There were no references to gay people, but it was easy to imagine Madame as an aging drag queen.  In fact, it was expected.

 It's not on DVD, but you can see clips on youtube.

Wayland never actually came out, for fear that a public statement would end his career.

He died in 1988, but Madame has recently begun a new act with drag entertainer and Liza-specialist Rick Skye (who is out).

Nov 10, 2020

"Dash & Lily": Christmas Romcom with a Gay BFF and His Boyfriend

This morrning I logged on to Netflix, told them I was Boomer, not Bob or "the kids," and suddenly my screen filled with Dash and Lilly.  "New York at Christmas.  You're surrounded by possibility and the hope that somehwere in the city is the one person you were meant to be with."

That old chestnut about "the one"! We heard that in high school: every boy was destined to be with Tha Girl.  If he found her, and managed to wrestle her away from the obnoxious jock she was dating, his life would be infinite joy forever.  If he couldn't find her, or  she chose the jock,  his life would be unending misery.   

Nonsense!  There are uncountable thousands of girls in the world with whom a boy could have a perfectly fulfilling relationship.  Plus -- guess what -- some boys like boys.  And some girls like girls.  And some people have no interest in a romantic relationship of any sort.

The myth originated in the 17th century, during the transition from arranged to companionate marriage, but it got a major push during the 1950s, to promote the nuclear family: dad working, mom staying home, no other caregivers for the kids, living in a separate house that requires purchasing an infinite number of products and thereby supporting late capitalism..

I was about ready to yell "Heterosexist brainwashing! Next!", but then a review said "Queer-inclusive holiday comedy", and another said "Queer holiday feels."  So I checked out a clip

The plot: Cynical Dash (Austin Abrams) hates Christmas. Joyous Lily (Midori Francis) loves Christmas.  They have never met, but they communicate by writing notes in a book in their favorite used bookstore.  

Wait, that's vandalism!  And what teenager reads physical books anymore?  They're doing kindles and ipads.  

Austin Abrams is 24 years old, but the only beefcake photos I could find come from his early teen yers.  Or else he's just young-looking.

The clip
:  Lily's brother Langston (Troy Iwata, left) and his boyfriend Benny (Diego Guevara), who are both fab-u-lous,  give her a Queer Eye makeover so she can get out there and win her man.

Well, better than nothing, but it's still a throwback to the 1990s gay best friend, who says "You need a man, girl!  Let's make you fabulous!"

According to the IMDB, Langston appears in all 8 episodes, and Benny in 4, so maybe they have a more substantial role. 

Michael Cyril Creighton appears in four episodes as "Jeff the Door Queen," so apparently all the gay guys in New York are fab-u-lous, girlfriend.

 To be sure, I fast-forwarded through the last episode.

The last episode: New Year's Eve.  Dash's friends, all guys, none fab-u-lous, are dissing him for being a dick.

His best-friend  (Dante Brown) is starting to date a girl.  

Lily's family gathers for the traditional New Year's gift from conservative Japanese Grandpa: an envelope containing money.  

When it's Langston's turn, Grandpa says "You started NYU last fall, but dropped out after two months because you said your heart was broken.  Then last week I find a naked boy in your room."

Everyone looks uncomfortable and embarrassed.  Has Langston been outed?  Is Grandpa homophobic?

He continues "I assume that this means your heart has been healed."  

Everyone laughs with relief.

Later Langston throws snowballs at Diego's window, and when he answers, yells "I got you a notebook."  Presumably this is a reconciliation scene?  

Dash and Lily, who have apparently been arguing, meet at a bar just as "Aud Lang Syne" starts.  They spend the rest of the episode, about ten minutes, kissing.

My Verdict: Watch if you want.  I'm holding out for something a little less 1990s.

Nov 9, 2020

"Truth Seekers": The Truth is Out There, at a Paranormal Convention in Coventry

I've never seen any of the many reality shows about paranormal investigation, so I don't know why Amazon Prime has recommended two comedic send-ups of the genre.  But I'm game.

Truth Seekers first.  It won't let me get to the first episode, so I'm watching the fourth, "The Incident at CovColCosCon." 

Scene 1: Peter Toynbee (Peter Rugman) and a crazy professor are doing an experiment to see if they can use nanobots to control a lab rat.  But they have an old-fashioned radio.  I'm already lost -- what year is this?

The nanobots are triggered by a Latin incantation.  Say what?  Which draws the rat's soul into the radio.  Say what?

Scene 2
:  Oh, this was all prologue.  The much older Peter Toynbee (Julian Barratt) is a famous paranormal investigator with an audiobook, Beyond the Beyond, which much less famous paranormal invetigator Gus (Nick Frost) is listening to.

  Cantankerous Dad Richard (Malcolm McDonald, whom I always assumed was gay)  tells Gus to delete a video of him prancing around in a rabbit suit, but he refuses: it's driving a lot of viewers to their podcast.

They are off to the Coventry Collectors and Cosplay Convention to hear Toynbee.  Dad is not a fan, but is going along for the ride.

Scene 3:  Sounds of people having sex.  Fooled you! Astrid (Emma D'Arcy) and Elton John (Samson Kayo) -- his name is really Elton John?  -- are moving a chair.  Elton's sister Helen (Susan Wokoma) yells at them for damaging her cosplay costume (it's definitely a chair).. 

Scene 4:  Gus and Richard are tloading their equipment into a blue van.  They call Helen and ask when she will get there.  They all drive down the highway, discussing the social media platforms that will get them the most pageviews., and finally arrive at the convention. 

Helen won't go in.  She needs time to be alone, to process things.  

Apparently they have been coming to this convention for five years, but she always waits in the van.  She is suffering from agoraphobia.

Astrid and Elton start taking photographs for the podcast. A crazy guy rushes up and yells "They're coming!"  Astrid recognizes the scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  He is actually advertising an interactive paranormal experience.  If it gets too scary, just yell out "Fire!"

Scene 5:  Gus and a complaining Richard wait in line to hear Dr. Toynbee's speech.  Richard gets in, but Gus does not.  Meanwhile, Elton explains about Helen's agoraphobia: something traumatic happened to them as kids. 

Cut to Helen in the van, unwrapping the chair -- oh, it's a Dalek costume.  But she can't bring herself to put it on.  

Back at the Toynbee speech, Richard is complaining to his seatmate, Terry (Ranjit Krishnamma) about how this is all bollocks.  

Meanwhile, Gus is trying to sneak in through the back, but the security guard (Hon Ping Tang) restrains him.

Next, Security Guard takes his shirt off and...just kidding.

Scene 6:  The immersive paranormal experience sends Astrid and Elton to the basement.  Only 11 minutes left. When is something paranormal going to happen?

Meanwhile, Dr. Toynbee is pratting on about the afterlife, named Eternis, "where you can be free to live forever."  Do you have to drink magic kool-aid to get there?  Naked people in the illustrations, but from the backside.  I can't tell their gender. 

He's not a paranormal investigator -- he's a cult leader, offering to take "his loyal followers" to the next level.

Then some flashing trigger-scenes of atrocities and demons -- is one of them Hillary Clinton?  -- and a Latin incantation.  The brainwashing begins.

Scene 7: Back in the basement, Astrid and Elton hear chanting behind a door marked with a skull-and-crossbones.  "Fun, isn't it?  Totally immersive."  

You guessed it -- Astrid and Elton stumble ooto the backstage of Toynbee's brainwashing, where his minions are chortling evilly:  'The recruitment process is almost complete."

Still thinking that it's part of the immersive experience, Astrid interrupts. "We're on to you.  We know all about your evil plans. What do we win?"

But just as the cultists are about to seize them, Elton gets a text: Helen has not only made it inside, she has entered the cosplay contest!  "Sorry, gotta go."

Toynbee's goons go back to shooting the audience with what looks like a glaucoma scanner.  

Scene 8: Gus, who is the leader of the paranormal investigators but hasn't really done anything all episode, returns to the van.  Helen is still there, afraid to go in..  They have a heart to heart.

Cut to the costume contest, with Astrid and Elton in the audience and the Dalek costume on stage (Dalek wins first prize).  Crazy guy approaches and asks why they didn't go to the immersive paranormal show.  They are shocked -- then what did we observe?

Dalek rushes off.  Surprise -- it's Gus!  Helen couldn't go in, but at least everyone saw her costume.

Scene 9: Back home.  Richard complains that the lecture bored him to death. But then he takes off his sunglasses, and his eyes light up!

Gay characters:
No one expresses any heterosexual interest, except maybe Samson and Astrid.

Simon Pegg provides Nick Frost with a gay subtext in many movies.  He's all over the promo, but he does not appear in the episode.

Beefcake: None.  Could I see that security guard's shoulders again?

Other Sights:  Not nearly enough of the cosplay convention.  Just people standing in line for lectures.

Story Arc:  There are flashes of backstory.  Apparently Astrid was a victim of demonic possession, Gus has some monsters, and who knows what happened to Helen and Elton?  But the story can work just as well without.

Plot Twists:  Astrid and Elton stumbling into the cult meeting was broadcast from a mile away, but Gus in the Dalek costume was a surprise.

My Grade: Likeable characterrs, funny bits, scares but no real threats (where else can you escape the bad guys by saying "Sorry, gotta go"?).  If one of the characters turns out to be gay, A-.  Otherwise B. 

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