Mar 27, 2021

"Inspector Manera": A Dazzling, Dreamy Guy Solves Murders with the Help of 10,000 Women

 Last night's Movie Night movie, Ant Man, was too heterosexist and cliched to even review: Scientist mournng dead wife, Scientist's Daughter falling in love with Superhero, whose Comic Sidekick keeps talking about girls.  In a Gay-Free San Francisco. 

 So it's off to Amazon Prime, and Inspector Manera, an Italian tv series: "The dazzling Guido Caprino stars as Inspector Manera, a dreamy man and his supervisor's worst nightmare."

I've never in my life read a blurb describing a male protagonist as attractive.  It's always "That's my boss, Jonathan Hart.  He's quite a guy.  That's his wife.  She's gorgeous!"

The male protagonist is described as "dreamy" and "dazzling."  I don't dare imagine that Inspector Manera himself will be gay, but certainly there will be gay representation.  And dazzling Italian countryside.  I'm in.  

.Wait -- the opening shows Manera kissing two women and gazing into the eyes of four, not to mention a slow closeup of a lady's legs.  Before I commit to a full hour, I'd better go through it on fast forward.

The plot: Manera starts his job as inspector at a small-town police station, spars with the new lady detective (with whom he has a history), and starts work on his first case: a wealthy professor (there are wealthy professors?) is shot in what is apparently a suicide.  But Manera thinks that it was murder.   As Boris Badenov would say, Of course is murder! Otherwise be lousy story.

Suspect #1: A lady from town who found the body. 

Suspect #2: The professor's gardener (professors have gardeners?)  Could she have been secretly in love with him?

Suspect #3: His ex-wife, who broke into the mansion later and took something from his safe.  Something incriminating?

Suspect #4: His doctor. who never actually graduated from medical school.  Could the professor have threatened to reveal his secret?

Manera takes his shirt off twice.  There are a few other cute guys wandering around, but in the background.  The main cast is all ladies.

Other Sights: Not nearly enough Italian countryside, and no street scenes in the city.

Women gazing at Manera as if he's a popsicle: 6.

Kissing scenes: Only the fade-out kiss.

Men finding Manera annoying: 4

Male friends: None.

Gay Characters: Two guys hug.  One says: "We can't live together anymore."  The other: "I want to live with you."  Whoops, sorry, it's the murderer being arrested and telling his son, who apparently is mentally challenged, that they can't live together anymore. Not to worry, Manera helpfully drops the son off at the nearest convent, for the sisters to take care of.

Will I Keep Watching: Heck, no: 

Mar 26, 2021

Watching the Muppet Show

When I was an undergraduate at Augustana College, I spent most of my free time in a little bookstore off the Student Union lobby. It stocked some bestsellers and miscellaneous nonfiction, including The Little Prince and Dag Hammarskjold's Markings but mostly science fiction and fantasy, with some underground comics under the counter.

It provided a bright belonging place for "head cases," boy who were majoring in English or philosophy or music, who wanted something greater and nobler from life than carrying briefcases into skyscrapers.  We called ourselves the Bookstore Gang.

During any hour of the afternoon and early evening, half a dozen members of the Bookstore Gang could be found standing by the counter, or sitting on it, or browsing through the shelves, or reading in the armchairs or green couch that blazed with western sunlight.  We discussed classes, comic books, movies, ghosts, and politics, but for some reason never girls.  When the bookstore closed, we adjourned to the Rathskeller or to the TV Lounge, to argue and advise and review, discussing The Wizard of Id or Saturday Night Live, yelling "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" while stuck-up Business Majors stared.

Everything we watched or listened to or read was hip, anarchic, iconoclastic, but my favorite was The Muppet Show (1976-81), with Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street hosting a comedy-variety show, juxtaposing parodies of medical dramas or Star Trek (" space")  with musical numbers, while the elderly gay couple Statler and Waldorf heckled everything (except for the famous guest stars, of course).

And what a cast of guest stars!  Everybody who was anybody stopped by:
Joan Baez
Milton Berle
Bert and Ernie
Joel Grey
Arlo Guthrie
Vincent Price
Tony Randall
Sylvester Stallone

Other hip, anarchic, iconoclastic tv programs and movies -- Monte Python, Mary Hartman, Saturday Night Live, WKRP in Cincinnati, Blazing Saddles, The Cheap Detective, Silent Movie -- were loaded down with fag jokes and hetero-horniness, but The Muppet Show had neither.

Only Miss Piggy regularly displayed heterosexual interest -- at Kermit and various male guest stars -- and she was always rejected. And instead of constantly ridiculing gender transgressions, same-sex contact, and "fags," like most venues in the 1970s, The Muppet Show offered a pleasant nonchalance about diversity in size, shape, affect, and affection (who knew what Gonzo the Great was into?).

Muppet creator Jim Henson was a gay ally, as is his daughter Lisa, now CEO of Jim Henson Enterprises. In 2012, the company severed ties with Chick-Fil-A due to its homophobic bias, and donated existing proceeds to GLAAD.

I always knew that the Muppets were gay-friendly.

Mar 25, 2021

The Hunter's Anthology: You've All Done Bad Things, But Which Of You is a Demon?


The Hunter's Anthology
, on Amazon Prime: Some people are trapped on the subway by the Hunter, who claims that they are demons.  Sounds interesting.

Scene 1: The Hunter (Taylor August) is dressed like the Man with No Name in an old Clint Eastwood movie, with a brown leather jacket, a square hat, and cowboy boots.   

No beefcake pictures of Taylor August because he shares his name with a porn actress, so google searches are impossible.  He works primarily in North Carolina.

We watch the boots as he walks the mean streets of New York and descends into the subway. Rod, a white middle-class guy in a business suit, stares at him, then looks away, then tries to make eye contact with Tabitha, a white middle-class woman.  Hunter stares at both of them.  

Rod is played by Eric Colton, who was the lead actor in the LGBTQ series Swell.

Finally the subway arrives.  Ok, now we have some racial representation: there's also a nervous-looking black guy (Cole Taylor, below) and a suspicious looking Hispanic woman.  They all play the "stare at you, and when you stare back, quickly look away" game.  

A white middle class heterosexual couple get on (the man is played by Olev Aleksander, below).  Everyone stares at them.

Suddenly the subway stops, and the lights go out.  They reassure each other: "It will probably start up in a minute."  Funny -- there are no passengers in the other cars, and the doors are jammed.  They're trapped!

Eventually the Hunter explains: one of them is a demon,, which he has to send back to Hell with a silver-tipped stake.  He can't tell which, because they've all had paranormal experiences and done bad things.  Which one has "a soul of absolute darkness"?  He'll have to take a peek into their souls to find out. The bad Clint Eastwood impression is becoming annoying, Dude. Tone it down a bit. 

I get it.  Every episode will be a peek into a different person's soul.

Soul 1, "The Fortune Maker": 
New York in the rain.  Tabitha, the woman from the platform, desparately knocks on a fortune teller's door: "We're closed!  Come back at 8:30!"  Funny, I never thought of fortune tellers working in the morning.  

"It's an emergency! I need to see the future!"  "I have plans this evening!"  Funny, I never thought of fortune tellers going out to movies and restaurants

Fortune teller relents.  Very disappointing shop, just a table and a blue curtain.  Tabitha has a feeling of impending doom, and wants a Tarot card reading to figure it out.  

The Tarot reading seems to go on forever, as Tabitha keeps interrupting with stories of friends who visited and got monkey's paw-style advice.   The gist: a guy at the gym keeps asking Tabitha out, and she keeps refusing.  She also sees him in other places around town.  Could he be a threat?  

After some ruminating, the fortune teller agrees: "violent passion, misunderstanding of love."  He's a predator! In fact, he plans to kill you!  You have a decision to make. Uh-oh, Tabitha's going to kill him, and no doubt he's innocent.

Tabitha doesn't want to leave while it's still raining, so to pass the time, she offers to do a Tarot reading for the Fortune Teller.  I thought that Tarot readers never let anyone else handle their cards -- loss of spiritual energy or something.  

Turning sinister and arrogant, Tabitha does the reading: abuse of power, misfortune, pain, death.  She intersplices stories of all those friends who took the Fortune Teller's advice -- they all had their lives ruined. And Fortune Teller wasn't just predicting -- she was interfering to make her predictions come true. She even murdered someone, who happened to be Tabitha's sister!

The guy at the gym story was fake, to get Tabitha in the door.  She really came for revenge!  She  conjures an army of zombies to eat the Fotune Teller.  

Back to the subway
:  They discuss whether Tabitha's act was justified: murder of a murderer.  But surely she's just a psychic, not a demon, right?  Mac says he won't know until he looks into everyone's soul.  Makes sense -- if the demon happens to be Person #2, the series would end.  Are we going to guess?

Beefcake: No.  A couple of the guys are cute, but this is very low-budget, with minimal settings.  A subway car and a table surrounded by a blue curtain.  Not even any props.

Gay Characters: Two of the guys express heterosexual interest; the third guy doesn't, but the night is young.

Boredom:  The first Tarot reading took forever.  Not enough clues that the stories Tabitha told were important.

Plot Twist:  I didn't realize that Tabitha's story was fake until she turned sinister.

Will I Keep Watching:  Not bad for a low-budget series. I'll probably check out the episodes with male characters, to see if there are any gay subtexts.

Update: The male characters are all straight.  

Mar 24, 2021

"The Mandalorian": The Man With No Name Wanders a Heteronormative Wild West Galaxy

 I am currently watching (or rather, playing with my cell phone while Bill watches) The Mandalorian, on the Disney Plus Channel.  We never really understand what Mandalorians are, exactly -- an ethnic group, a warrior guild, bounty hunters -- but everyone in the rugged Wild West of the Star Wars universe knows. 

Our Mandalorian, a Man With No Name who never takes his helmet off, has some sort of job transporting illegal contraband to gangsters.  

 In every episode he lands on a new Wild West planet and helps the people there solve their personal problems, like Men With No Names in innumerable 1950s Westerns.  I keep waiting for some gay subtexts or buddy bonding...or at least some beefcake.

Episode 1: The Mandalorian saves a garrulous, amilable guy from some baddies, and then arrests him.  They spend a couple of scenes together, so I think that they will be gruff cop - comic sidekick partners throughout.  Nope, Mandalorian delivers him to his employer!  

Then he picks up the Baby Yoda. 

Episode 2: 
Mandalorian and a guy named Kuil (voiced by Nick Nolte) work together to repair his ship.  But then he flies off into the galaxy alone!

Episode 3:
He delivers the baby, but then feels guilty -- what if they dissect or eat the kid?  So he returns, grabs it, and flies away.  Now both the gangsters who hired him and the guild he belongs to are out for blood. 

Episode 4: Lone Wolf and,  I mean Mandalorian and Baby Yoda -- land on a "sparsely populated" planet, apparently occupied by only one village of about 20 peaceful, environmentally-friendly Native Americans. Except barbarians keep attacking.  Two guys ask Mandalorian for maybe...?  No, they fade into the background, and a Young Widow takes center stage and asks Mandalorian to stick around.  But baddies are tracking down Baby Yoda, so he has to leave.

Episode 5: 
On the next planet, aspiring bounty hunter Toro Calican (Jake Cannivale) asks Mandalorian for help on his first assignment.  This guy is really super nice, hot, and a little goofy, the prototypical sidekick.  Maybe they will...nope, the first chance he gets, Toro betrays the Mandalorian.

Episode 6:
 On the next planet, Mandalorian hooks up with his old partner Ranzar Malk.  Maybe they...nope, Malk gives him a job working with a team to spring Q'in (Ismael Cruz Cordova, left) from prison.  Maybe they...nope.  

Episode 7: On the next planet, Mandalorian's old boss Karga(Carl Weathers) offers him a deal: save his town, and he'll use his underworld connections to call of the chase.  Mandalroain agrres, bringing Kuil from Episode 2 and Dune (Gina Carano) along as his team.  Dune?  Maybe don't admit that these desert worlds are based on Frank Herbert's novels.

So...Karga or Kuil buddy bonding? 

Karga betrays him, naturally, and Kuil dies, and I'm losing hope.

That's as far as we've gone, but I checked the list of recurring characters on Wikipedia.  Except for the ones previsously mentioned, they're all women or villainous men.  

I also did a Google Search under "The Mandalorian" and "gay."  An article popped up: "Rumor: The Mandalorian will become the first openly gay character in the Star Wars universe."  Ok, he fell in love with a woman in Episode 4, and he keeps running into female bounty hunters with whom he has "a history," so I doubt that he will turn out to be gay, but I clicked on the article anyway, and got a "Not really, you homophobic dickhead!"

That's the first time anyone ever called me a homophobe.  I got called a transphobe for using the name a student had on their zoom room window; they had forgotten to change it after transitioning, and blamed me for not magically knowing.

Another article said "The Season 2 Trailer will blow you away!"  I watched, waiting for the gay references to blow me away.

There are none.

Bill Bixby: My Favorite Martian

Bill Bixby played swinging 1960s bachelors with glamorous jobs, cool pads, boss threads, and a never-ending supply of babes -- until one day something happened that changed everything, made his heteronormative hedonism seem trite and crude.

In My Favorite Martian (1963-66), his Tim O'Hara rescued a Martian scientist from a crashed spaceship, and had to keep him hidden from the world.  But what started out as a standard "keep your unique talent hidden" sitcom like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched quickly developed into something more.  Tim and his so-called "Uncle Martin" share a home and a life and generally ignore the attentions of female suitors.  And though they rarely if ever disrobe on camera, they surround themselves with cute and muscular men:

In The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1969-72), his Tom Corbett is widowed, left with a young son (Brandon Cruz), like the Dads on a dozen other 1960s sitcoms.  But what started out as a standard "fix up Dad with a girl" plot quickly developed into something more.  Tom isn't really interested in marrying again.  Instead, he bonds with a coworker, magazine photographer Norman (James Komack).

 In an iconic photo, the three share the same  banana split, quite an unconventional family for the 1970s:

Bill went on to buddy-bond with Lou Ferrigno off-camera, while they were both starring in The Incredible Hulk.

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

 If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) was advertised as a hilarious comedy about a group of Ugly Americans on a whirlwind tour of Europe, but I found it heartbreaking.  In fact, I was hesitant about revisiting it after forty years, for fear that it would bring back the intense feelings of longing and loss that had me almost in  tears as a kid.

When you find something heartbreaking that the rest of the world thinks is hilarious, there must be a subtext somewhere.

There was beefcake.  Lots of it.  Ian McShane, the Swinging Sixties Bachelor who herds the tourists around Europe, displays his body frequently as he falls for and loses prim librarian Suzanne Pleshette.

Luke Halpin, formerly a teenage hunk on Flipper (1964-67), wanders around Europe as a hippie in painted-on jeans as he falls for and loses apathetic teen Hilary Thompson.

Even the hunky Sandy Baron, fresh from his odd-couple sitcom Hey, Landlord (1966-67), displays a toned hairy chest as he rips his shirt off and dives into a Venetian canal to avoid a marriage-crazy relative.  (Incidentally, Sandy Baron would become famous thirty years later on Seinfeld, as the doddering oldster Jack Klompus).

But beefcake doesn't make for poignancy.

Sandy Baron's character doesn't seem to be interested in girls, but otherwise I find no significant gay content.  No male bonding, no same-sex rescues.

So why was it heartbreaking?

Maybe it was the metaphor of escape. Dozens of Boomer movies and tv programs were about people trapped in a dangerous alien world -- Gilligan's Island, My Favorite Martian, Danger Island,  H.R. Pufnstuf, Lost in Space.  They are desperate to get home, to return to their conventional lives, to their jobs and houses and husbands and wives and stark heterosexist conformity.  But If It's Tuesday has it backwards -- the alien world is a Paradise, an escape from their conventional lives to a world of light and color and infinite possibility.

At the end of the movie they all reject the romantic partners they've fallen in love with and go home -- you can't stay in Oz forever -- as the theme song says, "Can't wait to tell the folks back home."  But for a nine-year old in a dull factory town, it was heartbreaking to know -- or to suspect -- that Oz existed, that there was a good place out there somewhere.

Mar 21, 2021

"The Book of Sun": Saudi Arabian Goofballs Make a Horror Movie

When I was in high school a thousand years ago, the only way to study Arabic was to order the ancient Dover Colloquila Arabic, which offered 19th century advice for travelers, like "learn to sit on the floor; chairs are uncommon."  Or apply to one of the five universities in the U.S. that offered Arabic classes.  Today you can take Arabic almost everywhere, study it on your phone with Duolingo, and watch a dozen Arabic-language comedies on Netflix.

I watched Sharma al-Ma'arif (The Book of Sun, also translated as The Sun of Gnosis).  Based on the experiences of 26-year old filmmaker Faris Godus, it is about some high school goofballs in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, trying to make a low-budget horror film. (in 2010).  The guys are:

1. Aspiring filmmaker and slacker Husam

2. His goofball bff, Maan

3. Tyrannical teacher Mr. Orabi

4. Weasely yes-man Ibrahim

They run into problems with followng societal norms.  For instance,  in the scene where the female character is at home, she shouldn't be wearing a hijab, but they can't be in the same room with her without a hijab.  

The Sun of Gnosis (Sharma al-Ma'arif) is a 13th century book of occult knowledge popular among Muslim mystics.  I read an interview with the writer/director, but he didn't explain the title.

Beefcake: No.  There's an animated version of a semi-nude Husam.  The high school is all-male, of course.

Other Sights: I was hoping for som exteriors in Jeddah, but it was all interiors.

Heterosexism:  No references to heterosexual romance. No  major female characters.

Gay Reference: The guys discuss what to do if Mr. Orabi wants to have sex with them.  Will just saying "No, thank you" work?  They come up with a "safe word" to use.

Hossam imagines himself as a shopping mall security guard, trying to eject a bruiser because he's wearing shorts.  "I'll wear whatever I want!" the bruiser yells.  "I'll wear a bikini if I want to!"

Gay Subtexts: The guys are hanging all over each other all the time, but that is commonplace in Arab cultures.

Hearing Arabic: Yes.

My Grade: B
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