Feb 13, 2021

"Mall Rats": Not as Homophobic as You Think


For movie night this week, we saw Mallrats (1995), the second movie set in Kevin Smith's View Askew universe.  I wasn't pleased with it -- too many gross-out moments, not enough beefcake, a nonsensical plotline.  But at least there was a gay connection.

The plot:

College student T.S. Quint (former teen idol Jeremy London) gets angry because his girlfriend Brandi has agreed to appear on her father's dating program (Dad, played by Michael Rooker, gives us some nice chest and butt shots, but I think they are supposed to be gross-out moments).  So they break up.

Meanwhile, slacker Brodie (Jason Lee, about ten years before My Name is Earl) gets dumped by his girlfriend Rene because...well, he's a slacker. 

She immediately starts dating Shannon (Ben Affleck), who works at a high-end men's clothing store at the mall.

The duo descend upon the mall for a day of set-pieces and interactions with mall regulars, including Jay and Silent Bob, the dimwitted Willem, and Stan Lee of comic book fame.  Their main goal is to sabotage the dating program, which will be filmed live at the mall, by causing the stage to collapse.  Instead they compete on the dating game and convince their respective girlfriends to take them back.

The gross-outs:

Fast-forward past the opening credits -- five minutes of boobs! boobs! boobs! 

A five minute scene with a "topless psychic." Otherwise the women in this movie are tastefully clothed.

Scenes involving farting, sticking your hand up your butt and then shaking hands with someone else, and impled coprophagia.

A fifteen-year old girl is doing a research project where she has sex with a lot of guys, aged 14 to 30, and evaluates their prowess.

The gay connections:

Male duos are told "You like each other so much, why don't you date?"  Twice.  As a joke, but still...

Jay and Silent Bob hug, and I think there's a kiss on the cheek.

During the dating game, a question comes up about kissing.  Contestant 2 (Brodie) tells Contestant 3 (played by Brian O'Halloran), "I've seen you kiss.  Some dude backstage.  He seemed to be into it."  

Contestant 3 protests that he is not gay.  Brodie responds: "See how upset he got?  He's homophobic!"  

Contestant 3 protests again: "I don't hate gay people."  Brodie counters: "Ok, so you love gay people." It goes on like that for awhile.

Jay and Silent Bob are known for their homophobia, but in this movie they are "silent."  However, there's a final homophobic joke: Shannon sent to prison for having sex with the15-year old girl ("she told me she was 31!"), gets a "boyfriend."

See also: Jay and Silent Bob are Gay-PositiveMy Name is Earl

The Key to Ultimate Happiness is the Back End of a Car

I've seen this commercial a dozen times while watching tv on Amazon Prime.  I don't understand it at all.

A lot of extremely delighted people are walking out of their houses and into the streets, and eventually into rugged mountains, while singing the 1968 classic "Nah Nah Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," by the one-hit-wonder rock band Steam.   

I first saw the commercial shortly after the 2020 presidential election, and thought they were saying goodbye to Donald Trump.  But why are they carrying the back ends of cars?

Meanwhile, on a high mountaintop, an extremely delighted cowboy opens the back end of his truck and stands on it, gazing down on the culmination of all of his hopes and dreams.  This is it!  Ultimate happiness!  Paradise!

Then the narrator says some gibberish very quickly: 3.9% APR financing sasquatch Armageddon hatchback tailgate $5000 authorized macadamia nut financing available Ford marshmallow today!

After a few viewings and some internet research, I figured out that the procession is carrying the back end of a truck that slides down.  It's called a tailgate, like the parties they have in the parking lots of sports stadiums!

The crowd has achieved ultimate happiness because they can replace their old, horrible "tailgate" with a new, wondrous one that will solve all of the world's problems.

But I still don't understand.  Are you supposed to take your old tailgate to the car dealership, get the new happiness-inducing one, and install it yourself?  Or do you have to buy a whole new car?   If you have to buy a new car, why did they take off the old tailgate?  Wouldn't that reduce the trade-in value?  And why are they walking hundreds of miles through the desert heat with the old tailgate?  Where are they going?  

I guess you have to be heterosexual to understand.

In gay communities, you either don't own a car at all, or it is a means of transportation.  Company, style, APR, PRB, trans-world steering, ranglefraz interior, multiple stereo gizmos, and tailgate type are not happiness-inducing.  They are irrelevent.  No one ever says "Hey, the guy in the Ford Bronco XLX 397 is cute."  At most it's "The guy in the blue car is cute."

At least the song has a gay connotation. Although most of the songs on Steam's only album are about girls! girls! girls!, the cover of "Na Na Hey Hey" depicts six hippies naked in a bathhouse.

Feb 11, 2021

"For the Love of Jason": Does Jason Have Any Gay Loves?


Amazon Prime has pulled out a lot of black-oriented movies and tv shows for Black History Month.  For the Love of Jason, advertised as a six-episode comedy (we'll see), drew my attention because it omitted pronouns throughout the entire episode guide: Jason has "just broke off a long-term relationship"; there's an "unexpected guest" at a wedding; Jason runs into "his friend's ex"; "Jason "goes on a bad date."  

Dropped pronouns usually mean that the character is gay, and the producers are afraid that you will scream "next!" in homophobic horror uless they trick you into watching.  But in this case, it is probably just sloppy writing: other key phrases, like "the bachelor lifestyle" and "settle down", are usually applied to heterosexuals.  We'll see.

I watched Episode 4, "Something New," becausse it gives Jason a workplace plotline  That way, if he turns out to be  heterosexual, there won't be a lot of boy-girl tongue-swallowing.

Scene 1: Bryan (B.J. Britt) is conducting therapy with a married couple (husband played by Lathan Ford). Suddenly Alicia bursts in, irate.  They leave, and the married couple continues to argue.

Scene 2:
Jason (Trell Woodberry) at work.  His 11:00 appointment has arrived: Lola Lane, a famous actress whose divorce is all over the media.  His job is to tell her side of the story: her husband/manager was giving her bad roles and cheating on her.  She advises: "Never let anyone make you their pawn."

Gay hint: Jason has a photo of his mom, not a girlfriend or wife, on his desk. 

Scene 3:
Out in the hallway, Jason overhears Richard (Tom Jenkins) and  Blake (Hays McEchern, left) his father and son bosses, discussing how important the Lola Lane account is to the agency (I'm deducing public relations), and how important it is to have a black guy on the staff to win her over.  They can talk to their own kind.  "All this diversity and inclusion isn't all bad."  Jason recoils from the racism and leaves.

Scene 4: Jason at a bar, complaining to Bryan and Lacey (the bartender) about his racist bosses: "I always thought they felt that way, but today confirmed it."  He's had to deal with so much racism in his career that he "can't let this shit pass."  

They move the conversation to Lacey: she's in a good mood, so someone must be "hitting that." She doesn't want to say who because they are judgmental, and "he doesn't run in your circle."  

Gay hint: Bryan keeps cruising women, but Jason doesn't.

Scene 5:  Bryan at home, trying to call Alicia (the girlfriend or wife who burst into his session earlier).  She texts him: dinner tomorrow night at 7:00 pm to "talk it through."

Scene 6: Lacey in bed.  Her roommate or friend Kara comes in and asks why she hasn't met Lacey's new boyfriend yet.  "Because he's ....um...different."  

I'm intrigued.  Is he white?  An octogenarian? Gay?

Kara is intrigued, too.  "Is he short...corny...broke...weird?"  Then she leaves, and Lacey calls the new bf, Steven.

Scene 7:
Jason at work, interviewing Lola (the famous actress) on his computer.  His coworker  Cody (Iker Amaya) comes in to announce that he has signed on a famous baseball player who was arrested and charged with domestic violence.  The firm is going to clean up his image (um...that sounds shady).

Gay hint; The player just signed a big contract, and Cody "can't wait to get a piece of that."  He technically means the money, but there's a homoerotic double-entendre.

Jason tells Cody about the racist incident from yesterday.  He's not going to confront them, but "I've been thinking about my future.  And yours as well."

Gay hint: he means that he wants to start a new public relations firm with Cody and their new high-profile clients, but there's a romantic subtext.  He might easily be proposing marriage.

Cody is not sure -- it's a big step!  But finally he agrees.

Scene 8:
Bryan and Alicia at dinner.  What is she so upset about? "I found a speed dating app on your phone!"  Bryan claims that it was research for his therapist job.

Cut to Lacey, apparently at the same restaurant, with the mysterious Steven (Ryan Scharoun). They discuss how much they like each other, and he invites her to his brother's "event" next week. 

Bryan notices that Lacey is there, and is anxious to see the "mystery man."  But Alicia gets jealous, so he can't look.  

She continues: They've been engaged for three years, and he still refuses to set a date for the wedding.

He gets up to "go to the bathroom" and spy on Lacey, while Alicia fumes.  She takes off her engagement ring and leaves.

Meanwhile, Bryan is getting snarky with Steven: "Is this an actors' meetup, or am I late to the Farmer's Market."  Those are meant to be insults, but I don't understand why.  Lacey, embarrassed to be dating a white person, introduces Steve as "a friend."

Gay symbolism:  Introducing your boyfriend as "a friend."

After Bryan leaves, Steven confronts Lacey over closeting their relationship.  Is it because he's white.  She explains: "Yes.  It's not like that. It's complicated."   Steven is ok with her discomfort, and still wants to date.

Bryan goes back to the table and texts Jason: "You not going to believe this! Lacey here with Prince Harry!"  A server brings him Alicia's engagement ring (Well, she could hardly leave it laying on the table for someone to steal!).  The end

Beefcake: Lots of cute guys, always fully clothed.

Other Sights: All interiors: the office, the bar, the restaurant, Lacey's bedroom.

Gay Characters: All of the male characters except Jason do double-takes at women or discuss relationships with women.  Jason doesn't display any heterosexual interests, and never discusses a heterosexual relationship.  He treats his coworker Cody as a boyfriend, and the famous actress Lola as a maternal figure.  

Of course, I stacked the deck by choosing a work-related episode.  In Episode #5, Jason goes on a bad date "that leads him back to Carmen."  He'll end up with a girl.

Is It At Least Funny: No.

Green Acres: Gay Siblings on 1960s TV

One of the hayseed comedies of the 1960s, Green Acres (1965-71) was nearly as bereft of beefcake and bonding as Petticoat JunctionIt was a fish-out-of-water sitcom about a big city lawyer, Oliver Douglas (Eddie Arnold, center), who had a naively romantic view of rural life --  and so moved with his Hungarian heiress wife Lisa (Eva Gabor) to Hooterville.

Little did he know!  Although it was set in the same town as Petticoat Junction, with some of the same characters, Green Acres was played for surreal, absurdist humor.  Most of the townspeople were manipulative and greedy, but even those who were well-meaning looked askance at the pretensions of this blustering city feller and his pleasant but incompetent wife.

Little beefcake or bonding.  Oliver took his shirt off in one episode (not this photo), but he was too grandfatherly to be a fantasy boyfriend.

There was a long list of male characters: Mr. Drucker, who ran the general store; Mr. Haney, the local con artist entrepreneur; Hank Kimball, county agricultural agent; Eb, the lanky farm hand.  But none of them were particularly attractive; they were played as goofballs, not as heartthrobs. And there was nary a tender glance between them.

It's even hard to find a gay connection in their other roles.  The male actors were mostly from rural areas, and married to women for fifty years.  Tom Lester (Eb) is a Baptist minister, which leads me to conclude (perhaps unfairly) that he is homophobic.  Eva Gabor dated Merv Griffith, who was gay.

But all of that pales before a unique queer image: the Monroe Brothers, incompetent carpenters who were forever working on Oliver's house, consisted of Alf (Sid Melton) and Ralph (Mary Grace Canfield).  A woman with a man's name, who wears men's clothing and takes on a stereotypically male occupation: Ralph was coded as lesbian in spite of her long-term courtship of Hank Kimball.

Born in 1924, Mary Grace Canfield is an accomplished comic actress with roles as diverse as Mrs. Grundy in a tv adaption of Archie Comics, Gladys Kravitz's sister Harriet on Bewitched, and Goody Cloyse in Young Goodman Brown.  She has never married.

Alf, who never expressed any heterosexual interest, was played by Sid Melton.  The diminuitive, wise-cracking actor married only briefly, in the 1940s, and his huge number of tv and movie credits include several gay-subtext vehicles, such as Knock on Any Door (1949), about attorney Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart) in love with dashing young Nick Romano (John Derek).  He also played Sophia's dearly departed husband Sal on The Golden Girls.

Feb 10, 2021

Watching Monty Python's Flying Circus

When PBS came to Rock Island in the 1970s, it brought us a full-fledged British invasion. Sitcoms (Father Dear Father, Good Neighbors), science fiction (The Prisoner, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), costume drama (Upstairs Downstairs) -- and since they were on PBS, they were all educational, approved even by teachers who derided all other tv as "mindless trash."

Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74) was the most bizarre of the lot.  Ostensibly a comedy-sketch show with a regular troupe of performers, like Saturday Night Live, it had sketches that bled into other sketches, or stopped halfway through, weird semi-animated characters commenting on the action, visual puns, in-jokes, moments of sudden chaos.  In Britain, there were antecedents in The Goon Show  and This Was the Week That Was, but in America we had never seen anything like it.

And we loved it.  We repeated catch phrases over and over (I still use "Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more!").

We discussed the inner significance of sketches with the zeal of literature scholars.

We sang "The Lumberjack Song" and "Spam!"

We went to the movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) and Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979).

In retrospect, we didn't like Monty Python very often.  Many sketches were incomprehensible, too bizarre, too busy savaging British programming conventions that we had never heard of.  And why are men in drag portraying elderly women with Yorkshire accents by definition hilarious?

But some of the sketches were -- and still are --anarchic gems.

Dead Parrot ("This is an ex-parrot!")

Hungarian Translation ("My hovercraft is full of eels.")

Nudge Nudge Wink Wink ("Is your wife...into photographs?")

Spam ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!")

There was a fair amount of nudity, many more exposed chests and abs than you would ever see on American tv.  Eric Idle (left) was particularly likely to be displayed in the altogether.

And, surprisingly for the 1970s, there were no swishy stereotyped gay characters, After Graham Chapman came out to the other troupe members in 1967, they were careful to avoid overt stereotyping of gay men, although their distaste for transvestism is often apparent.

In fact, a number of sketches skewered homophobia, as when one character suspects that another is a "poof," and casually shoots him.  Or a "Prejudice Game," in which anti-gay prejudice is placed on equal footing with racial and religious prejudice -- revolutionary in the 1970s.

See also: Saturday Night Live.

Summer 1981: Male Nudity in English Class: The Canterbury Tales

During the summer of 1981, just after my junior year in college. I saw a dozen movies with gay subtexts: Clash of the Titans, Wolfen, Arthur, American Werewolf in London, Hell NightThe Chosen.  And tv shows: One Day at a Time, Alice,, Taxi, Soap,  Barney Miller. There were subtext songs on the radio.

And I heard The Word, for the first time ever in a college class.  My Culture and Civilization of Modern Germany was devoted to proving that no German ever wrote about homosexualitat, but the professor in my Chaucer class, a big, hoarse-voiced woman named Dr. Dorothy, thought that The Canterbury Tales was all about how terrible "homosexuality" was.

Ok, but the Pasolini adaption of The Canterbury Tales had the most impressive male nudity I had ever seen.  I can't show a picture on a G-rated blog, but those guys were huge.

The Pardoner, one of the pilgrims who tell stories on the road to Canterbury, was thin and willowy, beardless, with long yellow hair and a high pitched voice.

"An effeminate homosexual!" Dr. Dorothy cried, obviously delighted to say a forbidden word.  "How grotesque!"

Ok, but look at the Squire: a powerfully built young man of about twenty.  But instead of jousting and fighting dragons, he spends his time dancing, singing, and embroidering, quite feminine pursuits. He is a "lover and a lusty bachelor," so busy having sex that he doesn't sleep much at night.  Yet who does he have sex with?  Chaucer leaves this vague, but traditionally squires were devoted to the knights they served.

In The Miller's Tale, a parish clerk named Absolon is infatuated with the Miller's wife, and asks her for a kiss through a peep-hole.  Instead, the Miller shoves his bare butt through and farts in Absolon's face.  But Absolon gets revenge by shoving a red-hot poker into the Miller's butt.

"Symbolic homosexuality!" Dr. Dorothy cried, enjoying the shocked expressions on the students' faces. "How humiliating for the Miller!"

Ok, but look at The Knight's Tale, about two bosom buddies, Arcite and Palamon, who are both in love with Emily.  A classic triangulation, with the quarrel over the girl an impediment to their love, which is described in lushly romantic terms:

Sworn as we are, and each unto the other,
That never, though for death in any pain,
Never, indeed, till death shall part us twain.

Medieval literature was filled with men in love, like Roland and Oliver.  Shakespeare and John Fletcher used the same story as the basis for The Two Noble Kinsmen (1634), here performed by Tyler Neale and Tim Elliott.

A Knight's Tale (2001), starring Heath Ledger, tells a different story, but it does feature a nude Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany), plus a homoromantic couple, the Knight's humorous sidekicks, Roland and Wat (Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk).

As I discovered in my classes in Modern British and American Literature, you can't always believe what you hear from a college professor.

Feb 9, 2021

WKRP in Cincinnati

During the late 1970s, there was a fad of hip, urban workplace sitcoms that were very popular but had little to offer gay teens.  The office setting meant no shirtless scenes, the business plots meant no daring rescues, and buddy-bonding was all but absent in casts full of New Sensitive Men seeking out boogie nights.

WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82), about a struggling radio station, was the worst of the lot.  I watched it -- everybody watched it -- but I didn't like much except the catchy theme song: "Got kind of tired of packing and unpacking, in town to town, up and down the dial").

1. The male actors not only displayed no beefcake, they weren't even cute to look at fully-clothed. Rock dj Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) was scraggly, reporter Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) mousy, and advertising manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) smarmy.  That left station manager Andy Travis (Gary Sandy), who at least could fill out a flannel shirt and pair of 1970s extra-tight jeans (and appeared fully nude in Playgirl)

2. No buddy-bonding, not even a lot of same-sex friendships.  Most of the conflict involved not external threats, but the various on-air personalities and support staff bickering with each other.

3. Most of the hip urban comedies had at least one "very special episode" with someone's visiting brother or college buddy informing the cast that he was gay, resulting in "hilarious" spit-takes, denials, some homophobic comments, and finally tolerance.  Not WKRP. Instead, tt had:

Les Nessman so upset by an unfounded "accusation" that he tries to commit suicide (see "Most Homophobic Moments in College #4).

A smarmy photographer with incriminating photos claims to be gay, so Herb Tarlek puts on his most effeminate facade to flirt with him and try to retrieve them.  

Dr. Johnny Fever wants to get out of his condo lease, so he pretends to be gay, and the condo board, aghast, practically kicks him out the door.

4. No gay-friendly actors.  Howard Hesseman had played gay before, but only negative stereotypes.  Gary Sandy had a few connections with gay people: he shared an apartment with gay superstar Sal Mineo, and got his start playing a hustler who beats up Candy Darling in Some of My Best Friends Are (1971).  But, all accounts suggest that he is even more homophobic in real life than his character was.

Better stick to the catchy theme song.

See also: Frasier, another sitcom about a radio station.

In Praise of the Sitcom

If you ever admit to watching television, you will get heavily ridiculed in both gay and academic communities: "How can you watch that mindless trash?"  

And if you admit to watching sitcoms, the ridicule intensifies: "Boring, mindless trash!  Puerile escapism!  The same recycled plots about Mom burning the roast and Junior trying out for Little League."

But I grew up on sitcoms.  Among my earliest memories are hayseed sitcoms like The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, or "my secret" sitcoms like Bewitched -- they were all my parents would watch, or let us watch.  Although occasionally I managed to sneak in some science fiction.  I watched them for gay subtexts, for hints of gay potential, for a "good place."

If you were filming the story of my high school and college years, the soundtrack would come from the theme songs of 1970s and 1980s "hip" sitcoms:, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi.  I watched them for gay characters and references, for hints on coming out.

My halcyon years in West Hollywood, the sex-and-friendship sitcoms of the late 1980s and 1990s:  The Golden Girls, Designing Women, Perfect Strangers, Who's the Boss.  I watched for the beefcake, the buddy-bonding, the friendship, the sense of "home."

The sitcom is a distinctively American invention.  There are precursors in the comedy skeches of Vaudeville, the sequential comic strips of early 20th century newspapers, comedy movie series of the 1930s and 1940s, but it really originated in the comedy-variety programs of 1930s radio, such as Fibber McGee and Molly, Duffy's Tavern, and The Great Gildersleeve.  Movie comedians could be shown in different situations in every episodes -- the Three Stooges could be delivery boys, then music teachers, then African explorers.  But with just voices, the situation had to be stable and easily recognizable: a small-town living room, a tavern, a school. 

Plotlines had to involve reasonable crises and complications: a small-town husband might forget an anniversary or stay out too late carousing with his chums, but he could hardly become involved with space aliens or international spies.  It was utter naturalism;maybe there were more wisecracks and more recurring gags, but the characters lived "three doors down on the next block."  

Since the radio waves were broadcast directly into your home, the characters behaved like guests.  If you didn't like them, you would turn them off.  No one was mean, except for comic foils, and even they had attractive qualities.  No one was actually evil. 

When the sitcom made the switch to television, the insistence on absolute recognizability remained.  Only a few American and Canadian sitcoms, and no successful ones, were set in the far past, the distant future, or in other countries.  The setting was almost always a home, a workplace, or a hangout like a tavern.   Any fantasy element, a witch, a genie, or a talking horse, must be portrayed as an intrusion into "normal" space. 

Of course, the sitcom world was not exactly like the contemporary U.S.  Occasional episodes dealt with serious topics like sexual assault or runaway teens, but most problems were small, two dates on the same night or an upcoming talent show.  

Death was rare, and quickly forgotten.  Alex on Family Ties spends two episodes dealing with the trauma of his friend's death, and then it is never mentioned again.

 "Middle class" meant rich, poor meant "middle class," minimum-wage workers lived in magnificant apartments, and even Roseanne had no trouble pulling together expensive, elaborate props at a moment's notice.  

The emphasis on likeability remained as well.  There was sarcasm and snark, but no real malevolence, and no real danger.   When Fran on The Nanny became a hostage in a bank robbery, she befriended the goofy robber. 

During the 2000s, the sitcom fell into decline, along with most scripted shows, as reality tv took over.  In 2002-2003, I was living in Florida, and watching Fox Sunday night (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle) and nothing else.  The rest of the weekly schedule is a mystery.  Friends?  I've seen it only in reruns on the treadmill at the gym.  Everybody Loves Raymond?  Never saw it.

Today the sitcom has returned, revitalized by the internet and streaming services which allow for a variety of formats: 15 minute long webseries, 8 episode long miniseries, ongoing plot arcs.  And more diverse characters, including gay protagonists.  Right now Bob and I are watching Corner Gas, Young Sheldon, Happy Endings, Cougar Town, Disenchanted, Bonding, Bob's Burgers, and of course The Simpsons.  With some science fiction thrown in from time to time.

Feb 8, 2021

"Scenes of a Sexual Nature": Saturday in the Park with a Gay Couple

Scenes of a Sexual Nature just appeared on my Amazon Prime "movies we think you'll like list."  The trailer showed a gay couple amid the scenes, so I turned it on.  

I watched about ten minutes and fast-forwarded through the rest.  Some middle-aged and elderly couples are hanging out in the park.  They can see other couples, but they don't know each other, don't interact, and aren't connected in any way.  There is no plot.  Nothing happens.  It's as if the director just filmed random people on a random Saturday afternoon.

1. Andrew Lincoln (four years before The Walking Dead) and Holly Aird, (recongizable from British tv) discuss sex.  Holly gets angry when Andrew looks at a passing woman.

2. Eileen Atkins (Queen Mary on The Crown) and Benjamin Whitrow (on British tv since 1963) meet on a park bench.  They discuss getting older and how everything changes, and visit Eileen's husband's grave.

3. Sophie Okenodo (Hotel Rwanda) argues with her boyfriend Nick Sid  (don't get excited -- he's not a punk rocker, he's a 54-year old dramatic actor).  .  She runs off, meets Tom Hardy (Peaky Blinders), decides to have sex with him, and then runs off agian.

4. Ewan McGregor (last seen as the villain Sionis in the Batman spin-off Birds of Prey) and his boyfriend Douglas Hodge (last scene as Alfred the Butler in the Batman spin-off Joker) discuss adopting children and giving up hookups.  But then Ewan sees a hot guy and rushes off for a hookup.

5.  Adrian Lester (last seen in a tv series with the pompous title Life) and Catherine Tate discuss getting a divorce.

6. Mark Strong chats with Polly Walker, the sex worker he has hired.  Sorry, I got tired of looking up the actors.  They've all been in hundreds of movies and tv shows, but nothing I've seen.

7. Hugh Bonneville and Gina McKee are on a blind date, until Hugh gets upset at Gina looking at another guy, and leaves.  Which is sort of what happened to Couple #1.  See how nicely it all ties together?

The actors apparently signed up thinking that they were going to be in a pompous, pretentious movie about Life.  But movies aren't real life; that's the first thing they tell you in Film Appreciation 101.

I have an idea: instead of watching this, go to the park with your partner.  I guarantee that you'll see more attractive people, and have a more interesting conversation.

Feb 7, 2021

"Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn": Have You Heard of Any of These People?

When I opened Netflix envelop to see what Bob had chosen for this week's Movie Night --  Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn , with an animated cover and the word "fantabulous," I  assumed it was a children's cartoon about a girl's baseball team

Well, if you had never heard of Harley Quinn, wouldn't you?

 Fortunately, for those of us who aren't True Believers, Harley gives us her back story.  Born in the Gotham City of Batman fame, raised in an orphanage, she attended Harvard Medical School and became a psychiatrist.  While working in an insane asylum, she met and fell in love with the Joker.  She helped him escape, and they worked together on several capers.  Harley Quinn is a stage name (Harlequin, get it?)

That's a lot for someone who looks like they are in their early 20s (actress Margot Robbins has just turned 30).

Now Harlley is single again (neither Batman nor the Joker appear in the movie), and the immunity she enjoyed as the Joker's girlfriend is gone.  Now the police want to arrest her, and all of the baddies she has harmed are out for blood.  Gulp.

Plus she gets involved in some more plots.

Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who runs the underworld in the Joker's absence, has stolen a Diamond as Big as the Ritz.    

He sends his henchman Victor (Chris Messina) and his singer turned chauffeur, Black Canary (Junee Smolett-Bell), to fetch it for him, but it goes missing: a Homeless Girl accidentally stole it while pickpocketing.

Meanwhile Sionis advances the idea of a partnership with rival crime boss Mr. Keo (Francois Chou), and when Keo refuses, captures his family and has their faces cut off.  This becomes confusing, since Sionis is unsure whether to kill the little girl or not.  Later, when the Homeless Girl, also Asian, accidently pickpockets the Diamond, we think they are the same person. 

This gets even more confusing with the next "entire family killed except for a little girl" scene.  But this time there are more people involved, 20 or so members of an extended family, the little girl is not Asian, and it turns out to be a flashback.  A gangster took pity on her and sent her to Italy to be raised by a rival crime family.  There she trained full-time to get revenge, and has returned to Gotham as the Huntress, a crossbow-wielding vigilante.

Lost yet?  Well, we're not done.  There's also one of those cliche cops who keeps getting yelled at by the boss, and finally suspended, because she ignores trivialities like due process: Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).  She's trying to find Harley or Sionis, I'm not sure which.

Through a surprising number of implausible coincidences, everyone is thrown together and resolves the various plotlines, mostly through fisticuffs (not a lot of guns in this world, even at a police station).  Harley doesn't reform, exactly, she betrays Homeless Girl for money, then apologizes, and finally steals the Diamond, which she pawns (could you really pawn a diamond of that size?  Who would come into a pawn shop and buy it?).  But she and Homeless Girl ride off into the sunset together, a mother-daughter team.  The other women, Black Canary, the Huntress, and Detective Montoya, decide to become vigilantes.

According to Wikipedia, they are all DC comics chararacters.

Beefcake: None.  Everything is female oriented.  Even the carnival funhouse where the climactic battle takes place consists of gigantic lady parts.

The top photo is Daniel Bernhardt, who plays Sionis' chauffeur.  When Harley is performing at Sionis' club, Chauffer humiliates her, so she breaks his legs.  That's why Sionis needs a new chauffeur.  See how nicely everything fits together?

Bad Guys: Speaking of female-oriented, every man in this movie is obsessed with belittling, humiliating, and hurting women.  They refuse promotions, give jobs to someone else, force them to strip, rape them, and cut their faces off.  Only Doc, the owner of a Taiwanese restaurant, is an ally, giving Harley a clandestine hideout.  I was thinking that as elderly and Asian, he is stereotyped as asexual, and therefore not a threat; but even he betrays Harley for "a lot of money."

Heterosexism: No.  No woman is actually interested in men.  Heterosexual relations are always destructive.

Gay Characters:  If heterosexual relations are evil, you'd expect a glorification of same-sex love, but no.  Harley shows us pictures of two boyfriends and a girlfriend during her life-history, but they go by so fast that they are easy to miss. 

 In another scene, Detective Montoya and an unidentified woman are arguing with the Police Captain, and Harley tells us that Montoya was dating the District Attorney.  According to Wikipedia, that woman was the District Attorney, but with dozens of characters and complex backstories being thrown at you every second, how could you possibly make the connection?

Sionis and his henchman have a gay-subtext relationship, but I don't think it was intentional.  They are scripted as only interested in humiliating and raping women.  Villains are so often portrayed as gay or gender-atypical that the actors just "instinctively" added some hugging and face-caressing stage business. 

I liked the Harley Quinn character.  Bright, effervescent, wisecracking, fourth-wall breaking, looney.  Who invades a police station with a confetti gun -- and succeeds?  Also evil, but at least she's nice to her allies. Unless there's money involved.

My Grade: A if you have heard of these characters before, and are female.  B for everyone else.

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