Apr 2, 2021

Searching for Netflix Shows with No Dead Wives or Girls of Dreams

Usually I do the heterosexism test on Amazon Prime, but today I tried Netflix, where the trailer starts automatically, and if you click on the icon for more information, the movie automatically starts, and stays on your "Continue Watching" list forever.   So no research in advance; I'll watch until we hear about the guy's dead wife (in a drama) or he sees The Girl of His Dreams walking in slow motion (in a comedy).

1. Bad Trip sounds like a stoner comedy, but there's a shirtless guy on the icon, so I'll watch until the heterosexism becomes too annoying.

Scene 1: West Grove, Florida, working at the car wash. Ugly guy Chris is wiping down a car when Keith, who has just dropped off his Beemer. comes over to flirt.  Suddenly another car drives up.  Chirs stares in rapture as The Girl of His Dreams appears.  

1.53 minutes.

2. Who Killed Sara? Another shirtless guy, but I'll bet Sarah is his dead wife.

Scene 1: A boat speeds through clear waters somewhere in Spain or Latin America.

  Four shirtless guys and Sara drink, hug, swim, and basically act like they're in a Mountain Dew Commercial.  Sara's boyfriend Alex (Manolo Cardona, left, from another movie) kisses her and tells her how much he loves her.  Then she goes parasailing behind the boat, but the cable breaks, and she falls into the water and dies.   Dead Wife.

3.43 minutes.

According to the IMDB, Sara isn't his wife, she's his sister.  That can't be right.  They were hugging, kissing, and saying how much they loved each other.  I don't care what culture it is, that's not fraternal affection!

3. Secret Magic Control Academy. 
Animated Russian-language movie. There's a fey aristocratic guy in the trailer.  He couldn't be gay in a Russian movie, but maybe he's gay-coded.

Scene 1: A magical fairy tale castle.  A chubby king tries to sample the dishes for his upcoming birthday party, but the spaghetti turns into a cowboy monster and flies away with him.  The prime minister calls the Secret Magic Control Agency to help.

Cut to Secret Agent Gretel on a case: she arrests a circus ringmaster for kidnapping magical beings for his show. 

Scene 2: The Prime Minister at the Secret Magic Headquarters. Agency Head Stepmother tells him that they have checked everyone in the kingdom with a license to use magic, but no luck discovering who kidnapped the king.  They decide to seek out the help of a insider: Master Hansel, a wizard who is fond of pranks like making the town statue disappear.   Agency Head orders Gretel to bring Hansel in.  

Scene 3: Girls swoon over Rock Star Hansel. the fey guy from the trailer, as he begins his act.  It's actually a commercial for some "magic" amulets that he's selling.  A woman with a baby watches from the back.  Uh-oh, his wife.  No, she can't afford a doctor for her baby, so she needs a "magic" amulet.  He gives her some "magic gold coins" instead.  No wife?  Twelve minutes in, and no Girls of Dreams.  This has possibilities.

When in doubt, go with animation

Apr 1, 2021

Fall 1982: The Gayellow Pages

Sometimes people who are around my age, especially those who grew up on the East or West coasts, wonder how I could have been unaware that gay/lesbian people existed until I was nearly 16 years old.  How I could have avoided seeing the word "gay" in print until the summer after my 19th birthday? After all, there were gay characters in movies in the 1960s, and on tv as early as 1971.  Dozens of gay books.  By 1980, Gay Pride Parades (then called Gay Rights Marches) were being held in a dozen cities around the country.

But the gay characters appeared in movies and tv programs that I wasn't allowed to watch, the gay books did not appear on the shelves in any library or bookstore that I had access to, and the nearest Gay Pride Parade was in Chicago.

I knew about "fairies" (feminine men) from my earliest childhood, but I didn't know about gay people until the fall of 1976, when Denny Miller played a gay man who mentored Tommy (Philip McKeon, left) on Alice. I didn't know that they wrote books until the spring of 1980, when I saw Fred's hidden bookshelf, and even then I figured there were only about a dozen in existence.  

I knew about gay bars, bath houses, and adult bookstores, but I had never been in one.  I knew about pornographic magazines.  And that's all.  I figured that since being gay was illegal (it wasn't, at least not in Illinois), there couldn't be any organizations or publications, no community, nothing except clandestine closet bars and porn magazines. 

In the fall of 1982, I began graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana.  On the night of September 25th, I went to an adult bookstore near the campus and asked "Do you have anything gay?", hoping for some porn.  I got got copies of Mandate, In Touch, and Christopher Street, and a directory called the Gayellow Pages.  

It was issue #12.  That means it was first published in 1970!  There were gay communities at least as far back as 1970, and not only bars and bath houses, but "Businesses, churches, organizations, accommodations, publications..."

And not only in big cities.

There were 16 listings for Madison, Wisconsin. 6 bars, 2 bookstores, a community center, two health services, a legal service, a liquor store, a religious group, a place called "the soap opera," and a women's center.

Kicking myself for not going to the University of Wisconsin, I looked up Bloomington.  A little more sparse: a bar called Bullwinkle's, a women's center,  and a gay student group.  When I called the student group, I got the message: "All conversations are recorded and delivered to the police," so I hung up quickly to avoid being arrested.  But still, it was obvious that there were many more gay people than I ever imagined, and they were much more organized than I ever thought possible.

Grit: Beefcake and Bonding in an Attic in Rural Indiana

Every summer, and sometimes at Christmas, we visited my Grandma Davis in Indiana.  She had an attic full of old magazines, and my brother and I used to spend rainy afternoons there, leafing through half a century worth of browning ephemera.

Today I get the impression of someone who longed for an urbane, sophisticated life as an artist in Jazz Age New York, but somehow found herself in a farmhouse in rural Indiana, with a husband who was gone weeks at a time, and spent her life lapsing between attempts to rebel and attempts to adapt:

Rebellion: The Smart Set, Nash's, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post

Adaption: Redbook, Better Homes and Gardens, The Farmer's Wife, Grit


Who would name a newspaper after that gross stuff that gets in your eye after you sleep?

Maybe it was grits, the gross Southern food made out of boiled corn.

It was like a tabloid newspaper, with lots of human interest stories: a blind guy who works as a postal carrier, a woman who found her lost wedding ring in an egg laid by her chicken, a traffic accident that reunited a father and his long-lost son.

Nothing that took place anything near a city: in the world of Grit, no settlement with a population over 2,000 existed in the U.S.

No foreign countries existed, either.  Or black people.  Or Jews.  Or women who weren't housewives.  Or gay men and lesbians.

But -- there were a lot of cute 4-H Boys holding up prize sheep, providing a hint of beefcake on rainy rural afternoons.

Here's a shirtless boy in a bunkhouse at the Millstone 4-H Camp in Ellerbee, North Carolina, 1961.

There were also pages of comic strips, some the old-fashioned dinosaur strips familiar from the Rock Island Argus -- Blondie Prince Valiant, Out Our Way -- and some even older.

Beefcake titles like  Jungle Jim, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon.

Very nice physique, for a guy from the 1930s with his head wrapped in a plastic bag.

Here's an ad from Grit about selling Grit.  

$6 in 1956 is the equivalent of $50 today.  Not a bad source of income.

Grit was founded in 1885 by German immigrant Dietrich Lamade.  It was especially popular in the 1930s and 1940s, with over 400,000 weekly subscribers.  It was competing favorably with newspapers that wouldn't deliver to rural areas.

The decline of the rural population after World War II, and competition from radio and television, led to a nosedive in subscriptions.  By 2000, there were less than 10,000 subscribers, mostly elderly.

Under new management, Grit has rebranded itself  as a bimonthly blog and print magazine for food and gardening enthusiasts, with articles on free range chickens, hybrid tomatoes, and lawn mower maintenance.

The new Grit is more inclusive, with racial and religious minorities, urban dwellers, and gay men and lesbians:

"Who do you call when you have an animal in trouble?  The ladies next door are at work, and I can no longer phone the gay guys down the street because they have me blocked since we had a shouting match about being invited to a Pampered Chef party, so I call the SPCA."

 It has over 150,000 subscribers.

Mar 31, 2021

"The Irregulars": Hetero-Horny Hunks Hired by a Heterosexual Sherlock Holmes


In the original Sherlock Holmes stories, there are a few scattered references to the "Baker Street Irregulars," street urchins that Holmes occasionally hires to gather information.  The hundreds of movie and tv adaptions of the stories have barely mentioned the Irregulars, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a Netflix tv series centering on them.

Scene 1:  Jesse, a teenage girl in a Victorian-style nightgown,  wanders through the woods encountering skeletons and monsters. Suddenly she wakes up -- just a dream!  She awakens Bea, the girl she is sleeping with, and asks "Am I losing it?"  The anacrhonistic slang is annoying, but two teenage girls sleeping together, one white, one Asian -- they must be girlfriends!

Whoops, no.  In the morning, Jesse, knowing that Bea is "desperate to find a boyfriend," gifts her with some French perfume.  "Just two sprays, and any man will want to make sweet love to you."  More anachronistis slang, and the heteronormative assumption that no gay men exist.  Ugh!

Noticing that Billy and Spike are missing, Bea rushes out into the horrible Dickensian slums that lie just beyond the glamorous world of St. Paul's Cathedral and Kensington Palace.  She pauses to sneer at 221B Baker Street, and r ushes into an underground fight club, where Billy (JoJo Macari) is making money by getting pummelled by bruisers.  Spike (McKell David) complains "I'm too pretty to be here.  My handsomeness makes me a target/"  For rape?  Is he worried about sexual assault because he's homophobic, or because he's gay?

Scene 2:
A feminine young man (Harrison Osterfield) stands in a palatial bedroom.  Maybe he's gay, one of Oscar Wilde's green carnation crowd? He looks out onto the lawn, where a cricket game is going on,  and sees a man and a woman kissing and a lady adjusting her garter.  Hetero-horniness!  I'm getting tired of this!

Turns out that he's Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria's youngest son (born 1853), kept inside all the time because of his hemophilia (in the show it's because of a "turned ankle").    For his birthday present, all he wants is to be allowed to leave the palace for a day.  

Cut to Leopold and his valet, Daimier (Edward Hogg), in a carriage going through the city.  This isn't what he meant!  

Scene 3: Bea yelling at Billy about his street fighting, while staring lustfully at his bare chest.  He was just trying to make money: they're two months overdue with the rent, and Jesse needs a psychiatrist (nope, not invented yet).

Spike tells about a dream where he's in the bath with an eel, which finds its way into his...more anxiety over anal sex.  Maybe he's gay.

Meanwhile Jesse wanders out into the street.  The others follow, and save her from being trampled by Prince Leopold's carriage.  Daimier the Vallet rushes out to yell at her for almost inconveniencing the Prince and not respecting "her betters."  This causes a row-- these kids are from the future, and don't accept the class distinctions that everyone accepted without question 150 years ago.  The Prince is mesmerized.

Scene 4:
Bea at her mother's grave, discussing Jesse's dreams and sleepwalking.  What if she's going crazy, like their mum?  Suddenly a well-dressed man approaches.  Bea runs away, but he follows her all the way home.  His name is Watson (Royce Pierreson), and he "wants something" from her, for which he will pay.

Scene 5:  He brings Bea to a rented room, and says "What happens here will remain between us."  If I didn't know the character already, I'd assume that he wants to pay her for sex. Why doesn't she think so?   

Actually, he and his "business associate" Sherlock Holmes want to hire her to investigate a case.

Business associate?  Ok, you want us to know that you and Holmes aren't romantic partners.  You're both heterosexual.  That leaves Spike, with his visions of anal intrusion.

 Four newborn babies have been stolen from locked rooms in the middle of the night.  The latest had a teenage sister sleeping in the same room.  The sister has since run away.  Since Watson and Holmes are not familiar with the haunts of teenage runaways, they need Bea to find her.  

Scene 6:  The gang starts working on the case.  Spike appears in a lavender suit -- ok, definitely gay -- and announces that he knows where the girl is.  He got the intel from his friend Pete, who owes him because he found his lost dog.

Billy: "Pete didn't lose his dog.  You stole it when you were trying to impress that girl who loves animals."

Spike is hetero, too?  I'm outta here.

Beefcake: Billy takes his shirt off.  Some of the bruisers at the fight club are hot.

Other sights:  Just an elaborate sound stage.

Anachronisms: The street kids act and talk like it's 2021.  I keep expecting them to whip out their cell phones.

Gay teases: Lots.

Gay characters: No!

Mar 30, 2021

"Crackanory": Not Worth the Bulge


"Imagine if Jackanory were set free of its childish shackles.  What beautifully funny tales would it unleash?  Each show is a master class in storytelling and performance."

Ok, but...what the heck is a Jackanory?

According to wikipedia, a British children's show that aired from 1965 to 1995.  Famous guest stars -- well, famous in Britain, although I recognized some names, such as Judy Dench, Rupert Everett, Jeremy Irons, and Prince Charles -- would sit in a chair, reading a story aloud.  Occasionally a print illustration would flash on the screen.

The stories were distinctly British, too.  I've never heard of most of them: Ameliearane, The Children of Green Knowe, The Turf-Cutter's Donkey, Nurse Matilda, The Warden's Niece.

Just reading, not acting out the stories.  Why didn't the kids just turn off the telly and pick up the book?  Or was that the idea?

So, Crackanory: four seasons, but only one on Amazon Prime, fifteen minute episodes of original stories, mostly science fiction or fantasy, still narrated, but illustrated by a combination of live actors and animation.  Looking for gay representation or beefcake, I watched Episode 2: "A writer of erotic thrillers finds a lost Shakespearean play, but loses the only copy, and has to re-write it himself."

Alan (Adeel Akhtar) moves into a house in Specksham, and discovers that the previous owner left some boxes from a museum in the attic.  He opens one of the boxes and discovers a play, A Tragedie of Summer, by William Shakespeare.  A lost Shakespearean play!  

He gives it to the British Library, where scholars conduct computer research on word count and such, and declare it authentic.  Then, for some reason, they return it to him.  After making some copies, no doubt?  No, they just return it.  

But the Royal Shakespeare Company wants to mount a performance, for which they will pay him 3 million pounds.  They just need a transcribed copy.

Are you rolling your eyes at the ridiculousness yet?

Then tragedy strikes: Alan accidentally drops the play into his new paper shredder.  He calls the British Library, but no one there actually read it.  No one even knows what it's about.  So Alan decides to re-write it himself, using his minimal knowledge of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.  

Why didn't we get an interior of the British Library?  The episode has only one set, an attic room, with one actor, who isn't even cute, although he writes in his underwear, showing a bit of a bulge.  And the narrator is beyond annoying.

Surprisingly, no one at the RSC questions the authenticity of the play Alan writes, except for a young man "on work experience" (an intern?) named Eric.

Thank God, another character.  

Nope -- the narrator just tells us that when Eric aired his suspicions, he was canned.

Alan drives out to Stratford to see his...um, Shakespeare's play.  The audience goes wild.  The critics love it.  

But Alan isn't happy.  He's written the greatest piece of literature in world history, but no one knows about it. That dead hack Shakespeare is getting all the credit, while his own novels get terrible reviews.

Alan doesn't express any heterosexual interest, but I doubt he's gay coded, since his novels have titles like The Bikini Murders.

He calls a press conference and announces that he lied.  No one believes him.  Finally a judgement is made: he must write a new play in the same style.  

He looks through the museum boxes again, and finds another lost Shakespearean play, The Beggar of Rome.  So he copies it out and presents it as his own work. 

Do you know where this is going?  

The critics hate it. Alan is prosecuted for fraud and loses everything.  Wait -- if the play he "wrote" was terrible, wouldn't they conclude that he was lying about lying, and the original play was genuine?  This doesn't make any sense at all. 

I expected some clever plot twists.  This was not clever.  It was ridiculous, and not in a good way.  

Watching, writing the commentary, and conducting the background research took over an hour.  You're lucky that reading the article takes only a few minutes. And I'll throw in a photo of a cute Desi bodybuilder.

Mar 28, 2021

"John Wick Chapter 2": Killing the Gay Villain but Not the Lesbian Bodyguard


Getting this photo of Riccardo Scarmacio was more interesting than watching the movie he starred in.

1. I got the odd spelling of both his first and last names wrong several times.

2. There are a lot of shirtless and bulge pictures of someone called a "Riccardo Scarmacio doppelganger."  I knew that if I posted those, people would howl "It's not really him!  My life is ruined!"

3. The only shirtless picture of him turned out to be a .wept file, which is useless, so I had to go to the original article and do a screen shot.  

Was it worth it?

The movie: John Wick Chapter 2.  Yes, Bob has ordered the entire series for Movie Nights. 

You may recall from last week that John Wick  (Keanu Reeves) was a  retired hitman busily grieving his dead wife.  Then a Russian mafioso killed his dog and stole his car.  So John got revenge by killing him, and on the way, about 30,000 fellow hit men, body guards, and miscellaneous mafiosi, basically anyone with any connection to the Russian mob.

In Chapter 2, John barely has enough time to pick up his car, go home to his new dog, and grieve over his dead wife, when Santino (Ricardo -- see, I still can't spell it right), an Italian mafioso, drops by to ask for a favor.  Not really a favor -- a token, a job impossible to refuse.  He wants John to kill his sister, so he will inherit her seat on the Council of Twelve, the chief governing body of all organized crime in the world.  

John refuses, so Santino blows up his house, and with it the memorabilia of his dead wife. Thankfully, his dog is fine.

John has no choice but to complete the assignment.  He flies to Rome, checks into the hitperson hotel there, and goes shopping for a bulletproof suit (from Luca Mosca) and various firearms coded as wines (if you're actually showing him the gun and describing its features, why bother to pretend that it's a wine?) .  Everyone is delighted to see him: "John, it's been a long time!  Are you working again!"  

Sister is celebrating her inauguration to the Council of Twelve with a giant party with pop legends singing and bishops offering their blessing.  When she retreats to her private dressing room in the catacombs and sends her head bodyguard, Cassian (rap artist Common), away for some crazy reason, John sneaks in and gets the job done surprisingly easily.  Of course, he has to shoot his way out through the catacombs and the party, killing about 300 bodyguards, mafiosi, and miscellaneous bystanders.

But not Cassian, who vows to kill him.

Now John plans to kill Santino to get revenge for his blown-up house and melted dead wife memorabilia.  All of his underworld mentors and "It's been a long time!" buddies advise against it: Santino was following the code, so John has no legitimate grievance against him.  But John won't listen.  So Santino puts out a hit on him (they use a clever 1950s switchboard and old typewriters to put out the advertisements.)

When John gets back to New York, hit men and women of various sizes and shapes attack him, but he kills them all.  He chases Santino through the corridors and exhibits of his museum, killing about 300 of his bodyguards and henchmen; but not Ares (Ruby Rose), his mute genderfluid head of security, who communicates in sign language. (I can understand John being fluent in ASL, Italian, Russian, English, and probably every other language -- he knows everything.  But does Santino really require all of the thugs in his employ to be fluent in ASL?)

In the end John kills Santino in the Continental, the hitperson hotel, where "conducting business" is strictly forbidden.  As a result, he is excommunicated: every hitperson across the world will be coming for him.  Of course, he will kill them all, but that will have to wait for John Wick Chapter 3.

I liked this episode better than the original.  The incessant "It's been a long time!" reunions were annoying -- I counted ten --and there was less beefcake.  But there were also a lot fewer lady parts, far less killing,  and only a few scenes of John grieving for his dead wife.  Besides, Santino is probably gay.  He holds court in a museum, not a strip club, he doesn't appear to have a wife or girlfriend, and he spends no time with ladies in hot tubs. And he hired a genderfluid lesbian for his head of security.

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