Nov 28, 2020

Stealing Sinatra

Stealing Sinatra (2003) is a caper movie about the real-life kidnapping of 19-year old Frank Sinatra, Jr., son of the famous singer, in December, 1963.  The kidnappers were down-and-out entrepreneur Barry Keenan and down-and-out fisherman Joe Amsler, both 23, plus Joe's father, Johnny Irwin.  Barry and Joe had attended University High School in Los Angeles, where they knew many celebrity children, and thus got the idea of kidnapping one of them (their first choice was Bob Hope's son, Tony).

Barry Keenan, Joe Amsler, and Frank Sinatra Jr. were all heterosexual.

 So why does the DVD of Stealing Sinatra contain previews for only gay-themed movies, Jack and Manhood, and the gay-themed tv series The L Word?

Because in the Showtime version, Frank (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is plainly gay, with feminine mannerisms and an effeminate pinky ring, singing about girls only because his career requires it, but otherwise spending all of his time with men.  He is kidnapped while he and a buddy, drummer John Foss (Colin Cunningham) are sitting around in their hotel room in their underwear.  

Barry (David Arquette) and Joe (Ryan Browning, left) kidnap Frank  for the money, of course, but also for. . .something else.   Joe big brothers him, and Mr. Irwin (William H. Macy) gives him speeches about self-confidence and being your own man.  Barry keeps staring at him with soul-searching passion.  They are a lot alike, both outsiders, both lonely, both waiting for someone.

Frank uses the kidnapping to open up, seek advice, explore how to establish his own identity in his father's shadow, and start looking for real emotional connections: "I've never loved anybody!" he  moans.  He doesn't actually fall in love with Barry or Joe -- the kidnapping remains a harrowing ordeal -- but now at least he knows where to begin. 

Nov 27, 2020

Airplane!: Convincing Bob that "Surely you can't be serious!" is funny

For pandemic Thanksgiving this year, Bob cooked a turkey -- but I couldn't get him out of bed until 9:00, so the turkey went into the oven at 11:00, and we didn't eat until 6:00 pm.  We passed the time by watching "Thanksgiving" movies, such as Airplane! (1980).

A parody of 1970s disaster movies like the Airport series (1970, 1976, 1977, 1979), it holds up surprisingly well -- for me, anyway.  Probably because there is a real plot, with characterization and suspense: when the cockpit crew and many of the passengers are disabled with food poisoning, traumatized pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who hasn't been able to fly since the War, is forced to land the plane.

Many of the jokes still made me laugh, although Bob was annoyed by my habit of laughing before the punchline: 

"Surely you can't be serious!"
"I am serious, and don't call me Shirley!"

"The hospital called."
"The hospital!  What is it?"
"It's a big building with patients in it, but that's not important now."

Other jokes were still funny to me, but I had to explain them to Bob, who wasn't born yet in 1980:

The stewardess gives a passenger a second cup of coffee, and his wife muses "He never asks for a second cup of coffee at home": a popular tv commercial.

Robert Stack as Captain Rex Kramer: a parody of his 1970s tough-guy roles.

An elderly white woman can "speak jive" to communicate with black passengers: she was Barbera Billingsley, the button-down conservative Mom on Leave It to Beaver.  Interestingly the team of Abrams, Zucker, and Zuker was also responsible for Kentucky Fried Movie, a sketch-parody movie starring both Wally and the Beaver.

Bob had never hears of any o fhtem.

Other jokes made him glare at me and say "You liked this?"

Racist jokes are everywhere.
1. The two black guys speaking jive, with subtitles translating into English.
2.  A isolated African tribe who "have never seen white people before" are instinctively good at basketball.
3. Striker's life history is so boring that everyone he tells it to tries to kill themselves: a Japanese guy commits seppuku, and an Indian guy tries self-immolation.

4. We could do without Captain Oveur's pedophilia jokes: "Billy, have you ever seen a grown man naked?  Do you like gladiator movies?"

5. Striker sees his future girlfriend Elaine for the first time in a sleazy bar during the War.  He is so oeverwhelmed by her beauty that he thinks he is dreaming, and asks the guy sitting next to him to "pinch me."  The guy glares and moves away. thinking that he is gay.

6.  We were torn about the character of Johnny, who seems to be an assistant ("How about some coffee?"  "No, thank you"), but is listed in the credits as Air Traffic Controller Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs.  Sometimes he evokes gay stereotypes: he criticizes a woman's outfit, respnds to "What do you make of this?" with "Oh, I could make a lovely hat," and calls his Auntie Em during the crisis like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  

But at other times he comes across as just wacko.  While the plane is landing, he umplugs the lights on the runway, then says "Just kidding" and laughs maniacally.

Compared to the uber-swishy gay characters of other movies of the era, such as Lamar in Revenge of the Nerds (1984), we see a much more nuanced performance.  We wondered if the actor tweaked his performance to cut down on the swish: Stephen Stucker was something of an activist.  He was one of the first performers to publicly announce that he had been diagnosed with AIDS, a  few months before his death in 1986.

Verdict:  Me, A-.  Bob: C.  I guess you had to be there. 

Nov 26, 2020

Freedom from Want: Norman Rockwell's Parody of the Nuclear Family

The iconic Thanksgiving scene is Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want, originally published in the Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943.  It was part of a series called the Four Freedoms, based on Franklin Roosevelt's State of the Union speech in 1941: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want.

It's reprinted all the time as an example of what America was like, back in the "golden age": white, Christian, gender-polarized, and very, very, very heterosexual.

The usual interpretation: Mom and Dad serve a Thanksgiving dinner to their adult children and their husbands and wives, along with a grandchild or two, thus supporting heterosexual "family values," replicating the myth that everyone on Earth is, or will be, a heterosexual husband or wife, that no single heterosexuals or gay people exist.

But take a close look.  It makes no sense.

1. There's not nearly enough room to set that turkey down without knocking over a water glass.
2. There's no other food on the table except some gigantic stalks of celery and a weird centerpiece of pears and brown grapes.
3. Everything on the table is ghostly white.
4. There are five people on the left side, but only three place settings.
5. There's no way all of them could fit at that table.  They must be disembodied heads.
6. No one is looking at the turkey, or the elderly couple about to serve it.

I get the impression that they're not really there at all.

In fact, Rockwell took photos of his friends and associates, and painted them in, a sort of hodgepodge.

You think that the elderly couple at the head of the table are Grandma and Grandpa, but actually the woman is the Rockwell cook, and the man is a random old guy.  The nine guests include Rockwell's wife and mother, but the others are friends, most not related to each other by blood or marriage.  No attempt is made to suggest heterosexual male-female couples.

This painting actually critiques the nuclear family myth.  It's about friendship.

Maybe that's why it's been subjected to so many parodies and homages.

Joe Philips gives us a gay version, with a hunky couple serving (notice the hand on shoulder) and nine cute guys of diverse racial groups (but not ages) around the table.  The room is now a Castro Street Victorian with stained glass windows, and there's a lot of healthy food on the table, plus wine in the glasses, adding some much-needed color.

The Muppet version eliminates the background.  Kermit and Miss Piggy are serving.  There's not enough room around the table for nine muppets, so Fozzie and the Swedish Chef are standing aside.

Should that eagle be eating a turkey?

Evil Clown Comics was a series in National Lampoon written by Nick Bakay and illustrated by Alan Kupperberg.  Here there are seven people around the table, two helping to balance the carcass of Frenchy the Clown.

I have only two comments:

1. Frenchy has a very nice physique, for a clown.
2. Where did they put his legs?

ABC's Modern Family opens up the table to get everyone around it, with Jay and Gloria serving.  There still aren't enough plates for everyone, but at least they bronzed that weird pear-grape centerpiece.

Putting the girls in red adds some color, but Claire in a white wig looks strange, and why is Cam's hand pressing against the surface where his food will be soon?

Sam Spratt gives us the Redneck version, with the original characters modified slightly: tattoos, a Nascar t-shirt, Mohawks.  They're eating a canned boneless turkey.  Notice the Spam, beer cans, switchblades, and cocaine on the table.

By the way, the top photo is what popped up on Google images when I searched with the key words  "Freedom from Want", "Norman Rockwell," and "parody."  I guess the rationale is, if he's a guest at Thanksgiving dinner, you'll be free from want.

See also: Was Norman Rockwell Gay?

Nov 23, 2020

""Gym Shorts": What It's Like to be Hit On by a Gay Guy


Gym Shorts is a 2019-2020 web/Amazon Prime series (three episodes to date) about a gym "full of unique characters."  One was written as gay, but changed to straight at the audition, so no gay representation.  But there are bound to be some hunks, and it might bring back some nostalgic memories of the days when you could spend more than 45 minutes at the gym and get within 6 feet of the other patrons.  So I watched the first episode.

Prologue: Middle-aged Kevin listens to depressing music and throws away his wedding ring.

Scene 1:  U-Ran-Us Fitness.  Is this a reflection of Uranians, a 19th-century word for gay men?  I doubt the writers are that well versed in gay history.  Probably just a fifth-grade joke on "your anus."

Personal trainer Chad is advising Nico to not spend so much time on one muscle group: it's way overdeveloped.  Guess which?  The glutes (i.e., your anus).

But Nico is well built, while Chad is rather too skinny to be a personal trainer.  How about hiring actors that look like what they're playing?

Scene 2:  Kevin appears. Chad hard-sells him into a membership, but he insists on a tour first.  Close up of Sam, who is staffing the front desk, sucking on a lollipop.  I don't understand the significance.

It's a very basic gym, two narrow rooms, with some treadmills and free weights.  Some guys playing ball by the weight machine. The "juice bar" is a table with a blender on it.  Juice Bar Guy is sucking on a lollipop.  What's with all the sucking?  Oral sex?  Indicating that these guys are gay?

Cheryl, who wears a skimpy outfit that leaves her belly bare, gets up from the quad machine to flirt with Chad, but he blows her off.  She follows them to the locker rooms, then bursts away in anger.  

Scene 3
: There's a Naked Old Man reading a newspaper in the locker room (no skin).  He checks out Kevin's butt.

Back in the weight room, Nico is working on his glutes.  Chad reprimands him, so he starts on a boxing bag.  With his butt.

Gina is sitting on a butterfly press machine, doing her makeup and complaining about the lighting.  She's wearing high heel shoes.  

Scene 4: Cheryl is secretly watching Chad give the tour.  

We see but do not meet three black guys.  For diversity?  All of the named cast has been white so far.

Aha!  Wesley the officious stick-in-the-mud manager is black. 

Kevin is about ready to bolt, but Wesley invites him into his office to talk it over.

Scene 4:  Wesley has a picture of his wife prominently placed to indicate that he is heterosexual.  Kevin notes that his wife just divorced him and he'll be dating soon, so he needs to look hotter. Plus core strength and cardiovascular fitness?

Apparently this is the only gym in town, so he has no choice.  He signs the contract.

Scene 5: 
Kevin arrives for his first workout.  Sam, working reception, checks out his butt.  

Chad: Just watch me, do what I say, and guys will be hitting on you in no time.

Kevin: But I'm not g___.

Chad: Don't argue with me, dude.

Their first exercise is an incline bench press, which seems rather advanced.  Chad is spotting him, but gets distracted: "Wow, that guy's sexy.  Who is that? He's doing squats, the international sign of a voracious bottom!"

He leaves Kevin choking under a barbell to get the guy's number.  Then he says "One more set, and hit the showers."  After a few reps of one exercise?

"Douchebag!" Kevin mutters.  

I agree.

Surprisingly little.

Gay characters:  Chad.  I'm guessing Sam with his lollipop, too, and everybody else who sucks on a lollipop or checks out Kevin's butt.  I thought the gay character was removed.  

My verdict:  This gym must be right next to Kevin's workplace.  There's no other reason for joining -- the equipment is sub-standard, Chad is completely incompetent, and the incessant sucking on lollipops and checking-out of butts was creepy, like a straight guy's fantasy of what being hit on by gay guys is like.    

Will I Keep Watching: The gyms are closed again.  I have to make do with free weights and a recumbent bicycle in the basement.  Why not? 

Nov 22, 2020

Revisiting "Eerie, Indiana"


I have fond memories of Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), although I'm not sure how many episodes I actually saw.  Maybe just one: it aired on NBC on Sunday nights, against a block of must-see sitcoms on Fox: Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Herman's Head, and Married...with Children.  

What I remember is: teenagers Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) and Simon Holmes (Justin Shenkerow) are gay-subtext buddies who investigate humorous paranormal mysteries:  a mother uses magical tupperware to keep her sons from aging for 30 years; a boy they are babysitting gets trapped in a old horror movie on tv; an ATM machine becomes sentient and showers Simon with money.  The mysterious Dash X (Jason Marsden) seems to be the key to the ongoing mystery, but the series ends before it is resolved.

Omri Katz (top photo) went on to star in the Halloween classic Hocus Pocus (1993) and the gay-themed Journey into Night (2002) before retiring from acting.  I assume he's gay in real life.  

Justin Shenkarow went on to star in Picket Fences (1992-1996), and  do lot of voice work.  This is the only beefcake photo I could find on his Instagram.  There are also about 1,000 photos of him and his mother and none of anyone else, so I assume that he's gay in real life, too.

Bob and I have recently been watching/re-watching Eerie, Indiana, and it's completely different from what I remember.

1.  Marshall is hetero-horny.  It seems like he gets all dopey over a girl every other episode.

2.  Marshall gets all dopey over a boy in every other episode, too.  Simon just sits and smiles while Marshall dumps him for the teen hunk du jour:  Gabrial Damon, Cory Danzinger, Tobey Maguire, Scott Weinger, and finally Jason Marsden.  At the end of the episode, when the boy dies, gets zapped into an alternate reality, or just vanishes from the narrative, Simon quietly takes him back.

But when Simon dumps Marshall for a pair of older boys, Marshall gets jealous and tells himself  "This isn't like Simon!  He must be brainwashed!"

3. The tone shifts from humorous to somber at the drop of an episode.  People die, quite often.  A boy is being abused by his father..  A girl is homeless.  A man is mentally ill.  When you tune in, you never know if you're going to get a sitcom or an After School Special.

4. Marshall's 17-year old sister Syndi (Julie Condry) seems to be in another series.  We keep getting snippets of telephone conversations or off-hand comments about things going on in her life, but nothing is ever developed.  In her only B-plot, she thinks that she might want to become a police officer, but her surprisingly old-fashioned parents nix the idea: too dangerous for a girl.  So she changes to firefighter.

5. Marshall's parents (Mary-Margaret Humes, Francis Guinan) are absurdly wacky, authoritarian, or caring and hugging, depending on the needs of the episode, but at least Francis Guinan is cute.  He has 88 film/tv credits on IMDB< and has done a lot of live theater in Chicago, including some plays with gay themes.

He's one of the older guys in a bathrobe in this shot from the stage play Penelope.

Eerie, Indiana is not the show I remember from 1991.  It has even more gay texts and subtexts.

See also: Eerie, Indiana: Omri Katz, Paranormal Investigator

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