Jul 17, 2021

LGBTQ Representation in "Never Have I Ever": Fewer Bulges, More Gay Guys

An Advocate article tells us that Dino Petrera was happy to be called back to play the out-and-proud Jonah on Season 2 of Never Have I Ever, about an Indian-American girl struggling to become popular and get a boyfriend. Dino notes that he and his character are hearing-impaired, but he's still "confident and has a whole personality."    Maitreya Ramakrishnan, who plays Devi, tells us: "It’s awesome that the series shows multiple different characters who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community because the community cannot be truly represented with just one character."  Multiple gay characters?

Well, Devi has a lesbian friend who gets a romantic-entanglement story arc, and then there's Jonah, who spent Season 1 being the stereotypic catty, eye-rolling gay best bff.  Maybe he gets a more detailed story arc in Season 2, or maybe we will discover that there are other gay boys at the school?

Let's check it out.

Beefcake alert:
The overt mega-bulge that cured Devi's paralysis is no longer emphasized, but the delightfully hunky Darren Barnet (top photo) still takes off his shirt in nearly every episode.  Plus there are several new hunkoids to dazzle the senses, such as Martin Martinez as Oliver, who becomes someone's boyfriend.

Episode 1:  No Jonah.  But there are multiple story arcs, so it's understandable.

Episode 2: At Devi's party, Jonah plays a beer-drinking game with the guys.  Later, he shrieks in horror when Devi's boyfriend Paxton is hit by a car. 

Episode 3: 
No Jonah.  But Paxton has a subtext scene with his stoner buddy Trent, who wants them to stay together "for the rest of our lives."  So it's Devi-college or Trent-video games.  

Episode 4:
They all compete in a 24-hour relay race.  Jonah isn't there. This is getting tiresome.  The nerd Eric (Jack Seavor-McDonald), who I thought was a throwaway character, has joined the group and gets a heterosexual-romance storyline (he doesn't play a gay character in Love in Moreno Valley, either) But no Jonah to be found.  We'll have to be content with Paxton's sweaty, muscular, slow-motion scene.  

Episode 5:  Finally Jonah appears, doing his nails in the science lab.  The girls asks why he told rival girl Aneesa that a rumor going around accuses her of being anorexic:  "I'm not fake, and people deserve to know what people are saying about them." But where did he hear the rumor?  He keeps a log of all the gossip, and can look it up: Eddie Tan.  (They trace it from Eddie Tan through several other people back to Devi,  who started it).  Later, Devi sees him being the life of the party in chemistry class.

Don't worry, the episode ends with a website where you can get information and resources on eating disorders.

Episode 6: 
No Jonah, but a character who is an  "out and proud asexual" is mentioned.  That counts as LGBTQ representation, I guess.  

Episode 7: Nope.  But Paxton stares at fellow Devi-boyfriend candidate Ben (Jaren Lewison, left) in an empty classroom.  Could he be on the road to coming out as gay?  

No.  He spends the rest of the episode hugging and kissing Devi.

Episode 8: 
The big Harvest Dance.  Fabiola blows off her girlfriend to work in the robotics lab.  The girls track her down.  Fabiola: "I don't fit in with the queer girls.  I'm as a bad as being a lesbian as I was being a closeted straight person."  

Jonah appears out of nowhere, noting that his hearing aid is tuned to LGBT people in distress: "It's hard living your authentic life after hiding for so long.  But the whole point of coming out is, you get to be who you are."  Moral: You don't need to imitate other people.  

Then he vanishes - appearing only in the distance, dancing with an unspecified boy.  No other same-sex couples visible.  Trent gets a girlfriend, so that gay subtext is squashed.  But Fabiola and girlfriend Eve are named prom queens.

See also: Never Have I Ever: The Bulge That Can Raise the Dead

Jul 16, 2021

J.C. Leyendecker: Your Grandfather's Gay Artist

In The Web and the Rock (1940), a classic American novel by Thomas Wolfe, the teenage George goes off to college, where he falls into star-struck, stammering love at first sight with Jim Randolph:

A creature of such magnificence that he seemed to have been created on a different scale and shape for another, more Olympian, Universe. . .he was all the Arrow collar young men, all the football heroes for the covers of the Saturday Evening Post...all the young men in the Kuppenheimer clothing ads, he was all of these rolled into one, and he was something more than all that.

In the early decades of the 20th century, George -- and many other gay men -- depended on advertisements for Arrow collars and Kuppenheimer suits for beefcake. They starred a handsome hunk known as the Arrow Man, drawn by J.C. Leyendecker (1874-1951).

Like Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth, Leyendecker was a famous illustrator who drew hundreds of covers for The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and other magazines. The two artists were friends -- Rockwell was a pallbearer at Leyendecker's funeral.  But their styles and themes could not be more different.

Small, timid, humdrum lives in small towns.
Domestic spaces
Heternormative boy-meets-girl-themes
Probably heterosexual, though he sometimes crushed on his male models.

Brash, bold, glittering lives in Manhattan, Hollywood, and Chicago
Homoerotic spaces
Endless beefcake and appreciative male gazes.
Gay, often used his lover Charles Beach as a model.

Leyendecker and Beach lived together for over 40 years, while he produced some of the most homoerotic art outside of Physique Pictorial.  

His work was coded so that gay audiences "in the know" would catch the homoerotic content, while heterosexuals stayed oblivious.

And it worked: heterosexuals never "figured it out."  When he died, his obituaries called him a "lifelong bachelor" survived only by his sister.

Danger & Eggs: Transgender, Lesbian, and Non-Binary Characters, But None that You Can See


Danger & Eggs
, which aired on Amazon Prime in 2017, sounds relatively mundane, a cartoon about the danger-loving D.D. and her bff, a giant egg named Philip.  But it holds the record as the first children's cartoon created by a transgender person.  D.D. is actually "a gender-free female lesbian child," and there are characters who are featuring characters who are transgender (Zadie), non-binary (Milo), and lesbian (Reina).  No gay boys, but according to wikipedia, Corporate Raider Jim has two dads, so I watched the episode he is featured in, "Chill Twins."


Scene 1:
D.D. and Philip in an old cabin, playing hillbillies.  Evil Corporate Guy -- Jim? -- announces that he's going to tear down their cabin and build a parking lot, which will somehow make him a lot of money. They declare that it's a historic landmark, so its fate has to be put to a community vote.  

Scene 2: D.D. and Philip try to pass out petitions, but people aren't interested. For instance, Rad and Sweet, boy-girl yoga teachers, "don't do politics -- too intense. Better to be chill."  Aha, they are the Chill Twins!

Eavesdropping, Corporate Jim gets an idea: Get people to "be chill," so they won't vote, and the cabin can be demolished.

Scene 3: They try coalition building, getting the support of an existing special interest group.  In this case, some people eating snow cones, who  turn out to belong to  Rad and Sweet's "Be Chill" movement.  Trying to get people to care is hard work, so D.D. takes a snow cone break, gets lured into the movement, and abandons the cause.  Uh-oh, trapped by the Lotus Eaters!   But Philip makes a rousing speech.

Scene 4:  Corporate Jim with a wrecking ball at the cabin.  Philip arrives, and discovers that he provided the snowcones as a distraction: "As long as people are chill, I can do whatever I want."  Wait -- how about a debate?  

Corporate Jim: "I'm rich and powerful, so do what I say"

Philip: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing."

Corporate Jim: "I'm not evil.  I get things done."

Philip: "This house has 100 years worth of memories."

A crowd arrives, having overcome the soporific effect of the snow cones by remembering good times at the cabin.  They all vote to make it a historic landmark.  Moral: Politics can be personal.

Ok, the two dads don't appear or get referenced.  Nothing there except a call for political activism.  Let's try creator Shadi Petovski's favorite episode, "Trading Post"

Scene 1: D.D. and Philip in the park, playing a complex ball game. They lose their flying disk, but have no money to buy a new one.  A boy suggests that they visit The Trading Post, an underground facility that has anything you might want.  And you don't need money -- it's all barter!

Scene 2:  They take the subway to the end of the line, then go through a secret door to the vast Trading Post.  Philip feels anxiety about the "subjective values" and haggling, but D.D. is excited. They trade pocket lint for a cheese sandwich, and so on, until they have a turtle.

Scene 3: But that's not enough for to get a new disk.  The disk guy wants the only action figure missing from his collection, the Hugging Astronaut, which no one has ever successfully bartered for.  D.D. accepts the challenge, and trades until she has a wheelbarrow full of stuff.  Philip is not happy with her new competitive spirit: "A new disk isn't worth becoming a monster."

Scene 4: A crowd is trying to trade with the girl who has the Hugging Astronaut: Mickey Mantle's Mantle, fossilized lips, first edition Dungeons & Dragons, a jar of dog dreams.  They all fail.  D.D. tries, but nothing works.  The girl will only trade for "a secret about your best friend."  Gulp! 

D.D. complies: "He has a crack in his shell that he got when he was little.  That's why he's afraid of everything."  She gets the Hugging Astronaut, but Philip is mortified.   Especially when word about his crack gets out.

Scene 5: Philip walks through the Trading Post as kids point and stare.  By the time D.D. returns with the new flyng disk, he has collapsed from humiliation.  D.D. apologizes: "I screwed up.  You deserve a better friend."   So she trades for a better friend, Gale.

But Philip is miserable without D.D.  He wants to forgive her for the betrayal, but he doesn't know how.  Gale: "You can't stop things from hurting you, but you can decide what to do with that hurt."

Scene 6: Back to the trading post.  It's against the rules to "trade back," but Philip finds a loophole: "Friendships are based on feelings, and no one can own other people's feelings." 

Nothing here except some heavy-handed moralizing.  For a show about a danger-loving girl, not much danger.  But the visuals are creative, and at least there's no heterosexism.

Ok, I'm going to watch Episode #13, about a Pride Festival. Maybe at the very end, they'll have some overt LGBTQ inclusivity.  

Jul 15, 2021

"Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest": Russian Witch Steals Children

The puppy-dog-cute 17-year old Oleg Chugunov (left) stole the show as the naive assistant to loose-canon police detective in Major Grom: Plague Doctor.   So naturally I wanted to know if he starred in any other project available with English subtitles, and if there were any hints of gay identity (they would have to be hints, to accommodate the restrictive Russian media laws). 

Here's one hint: queer-coded purple glasses.

And another: a starring role in Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest (2020), a horror movie about the mythical witch who kidnaps children.  A review stated that there was a gay subtext. So I ordered it on Vudu.

Scene 1: A dark street in an urban neighborhood.  Egor (Oleg), a young teen, walking alone.  Suddenly a woman approaches and tells him that he's dead.  Surprise!  It was a dream.  He awakens in a sunlit room with his mother at the door.  She criticizes him for reading fairy tales and doing origami (a sensitive, artistic kid -- gay coded!).

He goes down to breakfast.  Dad (Alexey Rozin) asks him to help install a nanny cam.  They argue about "respecting your mother."  But she's his stepmother! Uh-oh, in fairytales stepmothers are always evil.

On the way out, Egor smiles at the baby in its crib.

Mom tries to make breakfast, flubs it, and breaks down: "Alexey, I can't take it anymore!"  Take what?  Egor's resentment?

Scene 2:  Young teen girl on the way home from school.  Uh-oh, love interest!  Bullies attack.  Egor intervenes and gets beat up.   She walks away.  He runs after her, overcome by hetero-horniness: "Hey, you're the Girl of My Dreams! What's your name?"  "Dashka or Dania."  But her stern, scary mother calls her away.  "I thought we agreed: no boyfriends!"

She goes into the house.  Egor stays behind, overcome by emotion.  Dania, Dania, Dania.  Say it loud and there's music playing.  Say it soft and it's almost like praying.  I'll never stop saying Dania.  Do I even need to bother with the rest of this?  But I'm sticking it out, looking for that darn promised gay subtext.

Scene 3:  At home, Egor looks at a lot of photos of Dania on his phone and gushes about how beautiful she is.  He is interrupted by a weird noise:  the new, scary nanny is vacuumming the kitchen floor, as if she doesn't know how modern appliances work.  She criticizes him for spying on people: "You'll grow out of it.  If you grow up, that is," she says, reaching out to him with sharp claws.

Scene 4: Late night.  Egor goes into the baby's room, watching himself on the nanny cam.  Wait -- someone is sitting in the chair, but only visible on the nanny cam!  A lady with claws and a bird-face!  He runs away in a panic.  The door opens -- he throws a basketball to defend himself -- and hits Stepmother!

Scene 5:  Dad reviews the nanny cam, and doesn't see any mysterious bird-woman.   "Look, I understand your anxiety, but your Mom is dead.  It's time to forget her, pretend she never existed.  You have a new mother now."  Harsh!  

Scene 6:
  Anton (Antyon Zhigulin), one of the bullies, is working at the supermarket.  He sees Dania and is so awestricken that he drops a box of tomatoes.  Wow, the Girl of His Dreams, too!  Girlfriend has to swat them away like flies!   His mother, the manager of the store, yells at him for wasting produce: you're useless, you're an idiot, I curse the day you were born...and by the way, don't come home until after 10:00 pm because I'm expecting company.  Two abusive mothers!  Are there any nice women in this movie?

Later, Egor tries to get with Dania, but she rejects him.  Angry, unaware that "no" means "no," he snipes: "If you were nicer, maybe you'd have friends."  

Suddenly the bullies attack.  Egor and Dania run away, into the dark forest right next to the playground.  The bullies follow.  Supermarket Boy Anton trips over some wires, and is grabbed by a scary guy with a knife: "Get out!  If I see you again, I'll cut your head off!"  A deranged hermit living in the woods?  Maybe he's gay-coded.

Meanwhile, Egor and Dania seek refuge in an abandoned building.  It contains a gigantic furnace, which, Dania says, was used to burn people alive during the Stalin regime.  Their souls are still nearby: they call your name, and when you turn around, they steal your face!  (this will become important later).

Suddenly Egor has a video sent to his phone of the nanny cam, with the baby replaced by a doll.  They rush back to his apartment.  The baby is fine.  

But in the morning, the nursery is empty!  Plus Dad and Stepmother are unaware that the baby ever existed; they think the room is empty because they're redecorating.  When he insists that they've forgotten his baby sister, Dad assaults Egor and locks him in his room as punishment.  Egor calls Dania.

Scene 8: Dania getting ready to meet Egor.  Mom intervenes: "You're too beautiful.  Boys are going to try to seduce you,  That's what happened to me, and I got pregnant, and my life ended  in tragedy.  Do you want to have a daughter that you'll hate as much as I hate you?  Forget this Egor and practice your piano!"  Three abusive mothers, maybe four!  What's going on in this town?

Ahh -- the piano teacher is the scary nanny!  She makes Dania practice harder and harder, until she collapses!

Meanwhile, the other bullies tell Supermarket Boy Anton that Scary Guy (Igor Khripunov) has a cabin full of vintage World War II weapons.  He decides to break in and steal some.  

Dad wonders if he was too hard on Egor, beating him up for inventing an imaginary sister.  "You did the right thing, dear," Stepmother cackles.  "Children must know their place."  I'm still waiting for the gay subtext.  Maybe Supermarket Boy Anton has a crush on Egor?

Scene 9:   Egor escapes from his room and tracks down Dania, who acts like she's in a trance.  She keeps saying "She'll come back."  

Supermarket Boy Anton and another bully grab them and take them to Scary Guy's cabin.  They have to go inside and do some recon, in preparation for the weapons theft.  Still waiting.  Why Anton an abusive back story if he's not going to turn into an ally?   In the cabin, Egor hears a baby crying, and there are photos of the Scary Nanny, plus Egor, Dania, and Anton, and lots of other kids.  We've got a perv stalker on our hands, guys! But he stalks boys and girls both, so he's not gay-coded. 

Egor calls them into the cabin to look; the other bully vanishes, so it's just Supermarket Boy Anton.  Whoops, Scary Guy comes back!  They hide; he finds them and attacks; they overpower him and tie him up

Time for some explanations:  Scary Nanny is Scary Guy's wife, who died after their daughter disappeared.  There's always a dead wife in the back story, but I didn't expect it here.  I thought Scary Guy would be gay.  She's been kidnapping kids, who disappear, and every trace that they ever existed vanishes, and people's memories are wiped.  That's what the photos are for -- when one goes blank, it means a child has disappeared.

But who would steal children and erase their existence?  Daria googles it: Baba Yaga, a Slavic witch who occupies the region between the living and the dead.  

Scene 10: Egor and Daria set out to find Baba Yaga and get his baby sister back.  Supermarket Boy Anton wants to join the team.   Egor rejects him: "We don't need you."  Too much competition, dude?  Daria feels sorry for him and lets him join.

I'll stop the scene-by-scene recap there.

Beefcake: No.

Other Sights: A housing development in Russia.

Child Abuse: Always caused by a witch's spell. 

Gay Subtexts: Egor and Supermarket Boy Anton interact only through Daria, whom they are both in love with.  During the climactic battle, Baba Yaga tries to distract Egor by telling him "Your friends have forgotten you," and flashing an image of Daria and Anton cuddling.  Interesting that she doesn't say "your girlfriend" has abandoned you.

Anton and Scary Guy seem to develop some affection for each other.  They rescue each other, and hug, and in the last scene Scary Guy takes Anton's hand and leads him away.  But they have more of a father-son vibe. 

LGBT Inclusion
: Casey Mongillo, who voices Egor in the English-language version, is nonbinary.  Plus Aleks Le, who voices Mikha (Anton), tweets that he can't wait for more LGBTQ inclusive plotlines.  Don't tell anyone in Moscow.

Horror:  Very effective scares and plot twists.

My Grade: B

Jul 12, 2021

Major Grom, Plague Doctor: Time-Traveling Cop versus 1970s Gay Villain

The title Major Grom: Plague Doctor is misleading and grammatically suspect: Major Grom is not a doctor working on the cure for a plague.  He is a loose-cannon cop fighting a serial killer dressed like one of those doctors who treated plague victims during the Renaissance (the long black robe and bird-beak).  Loose-cannon cops, by-the-books partners, and wacko serial killers are terribly cliched, but since this is a Russian movie, it may be spared the "love interest" heterosexism. Plus four reviews don't mention Major Grom getting a girlfriend.  I'll watch until he gets one.

Scene 1: Kids and a dog playing on a beach.  Wait -- they're not playing.  They're going to kill the dog!  An outcast boy intervenes.  

Scene 2: 20 Years Later: Whew, I'm glad that scene ended quickly.  I was about to turn the movie off at minute 1.20.  A man (Tikhon Zhiznevsky, top photo) running down the street in St. Petersburg, chasing a van from which men in cartoon-character masks are throwing money.  The van crashes into a bus. The man jumps inside, and is shot to death.

Scene 3: The solemn funeral (not in the rain!) of Igor Grom,  Inside his coffin, the dead Grom thinks of ways to change the scenario.  He goes back in time and avoids being killed, but the bad guys get away (wow, quite a superpower!). 

He goes back in time again, grabs a garbage truck and crashes into the van.  Success! Nope, they get away again.

Scene 4: In the future, Grom will get a statue for ending all crime in St. Petersburg forever (apparently that van contained all of the criminals in town).  But Grom from the past, chasing the van, crashes his garbage truck into the unveiling ceremony.  Finally he catches the bad guys at the Winter Palace! 

Scene 5:
Dubin (Alexander Seteykin), a kid with glasses and a backpack, enters the vast, ornate Police Protectorate, and gets a tour.  Cops are taking reports from humorous characters.  Grom is asleep in a holding cell.  The captain yells at him for being a loose cannon and destroying half the city (he's apparently unaware of the time-traveling).  Grom points out that he captures 99% of all the criminals in town every day, but the Captain still demands his resignation.  What about Dubin? Isn't he supposed to be the by-the-books partner?

Scene 6: Newscaster Anna Terebkhina in the studio, talking about the bank that the cartoon-character guys robbed.  Turns out that its owner, Olga Isayeva, duped its investors out of millions of rubles (great, two young blond women in starring roles!  They'll be impossible to tell apart).  Next story: the trial of Kirill Gretchkin, son of the famous billionaire Dr. Evil, who ran over a little girl while driving drunk: reckless manslaughter in the U.S., but apparently first-degree murder in Russia.

Cut to the trial.  Was this all just plot exposition?  While Kirill smirks and slurps a soda, a teenager named Lyosha (Oleg Chuganov) breaks down on the witness stand, describing how the drunk driver slammed into the girl, "my only family."  The corrupt judge acquits Kirill; Grom grabs the screaming Lyosha to keep im from attacking. He leaves (darn, I thought he was going to be a major character).

Scene 7: 
A glass-and-steel skyscraper.  Sergei (Sergei Goroshko), a feminine gay stereotype with a gigantic mole on his cheek, is about to unveil his new social media platform, Vimeste 2.0 ("Together").  "What if they don't like it?"  "I believe in you," his boyfriend says. 

Suddenly a news story appears about Kirill being acquitted.  Shocked and horrified, he runs away, chased by thousands of reporters.  Boyfriend helps him hide. 

Scene 8: In his office, Sergei rants about this horrifying injustice.  He feels it personally because the dead girl and her brother were living in the same orphanage that he and his boyfriend grew up in.  "Bad guys keep going free due to the corrupt criminal justice system!  We need a hero!"  

Scene 9: Grom eating pastries with the Chief and his wife, talking about Kirill. I thought the Chief hated him.  The system is corrupt, bad guys go free, we can't follow the rule of law anymore, we have to become vigilantes.  Suddenly he gets a phone call: Lyosha (brother of the dead girl) has disappeared!

Cut to a palatial mansion.  A vigilante dressed as a plague doctor throws Kirill out a window.  He scrambles toward his car.  "Karma's a bitch," Plague Doctor snarls. Flames pour out of his hands and fry Kirill in his car.  Grom watches from a distance.  Not him?  Or, with his time travel ability, is he looking at himself?

He tries to arrest Plague Doctor, but that flame-throwing ability keeps him at a distance.  

Scene 10: Grom at the police station.  The cops are making fun of him. A plague doctor killer?  This isn't Gotham City!  By the way, Grom is un-resigned.

They detained Lyosha as a suspect.  Wait -- I thought he was a little boy? Grom knows that he's innocent.  To prove it, he conducts a lot of research on flame-throwers and plague doctors, and calls all of Kirill's friends and associates.

Scene 11: Night.  Grom buys a taco.  Then he rescues a girl from two rapists and takes her home.  While he's making tea, she grabs the Plague Doctor file and starts photographing. So she staged the rape scene to get an excuse to go into his apartment and research his file?

Yep.  Sounds ludicrous, but she delivers the photographs of the file to the two "rapists."

Scene 12:  Sergei the IT guy from Scene 8 in his apartment, watching tv and fuming, when the Plague Doctor comes in.  He takes off his mask -- it's the boyfriend, Oleg!  Sergei is horrified.

Sergei:  "I wanted justice, but not like this! You killed someone!"  

Oleg: "So?  You wanted him dead, right? So stop the hysterics and don't stand in my way! The fun is just getting started."

I'm out of space, so I'll stop the scene-by-scene recap here.

Beefcake: Grom takes his shirt off.

Other Sights: Some nice exteriors in St. Petersburg.

Heterosexism: Yes, Grom gets a girlfriend.  She's so integral to the plot, it's amazing that none of the reviews mention her.

Stereotyped Gay Villain:  He's actually more of an unstable wacko, like the Joker, with an absurdly outdated psychopathic profile.

Time Travel Ability: Not mentioned after the first scene.  Maybe Grom was just visualizing his options: "Plan A: I'll die. Plan B: I'll get a statue erected to me."

My Grade: D.

Jul 11, 2021

"The Great Wall": Lots of Monsters, No Heterosexual Romance


After the nightmarish debacle of 10,000 superheroes settling down on farms with their True Loves or missing Her (see The Horrible End of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), it was a welcome relief to see a movie with no heterosexual romance at all.

Going in, I thought The Great Wall (2016) was a historical drama about the building of the Great Wall of China, with the racially insensitive casting of Mark Wahlberg as a Chinese general.  Actually, it's Matt Damon as English mercenary Garin, who comes to China in 1022 AD with a group hoping to steal the secret of gunpowder.  After various attacks by humans and monsters, only Garin and his sparring partner Tovar (Pedro Pascal) survive long enough to seek refuge at the Great Wall.

They discover that the Wall was built not to keep out the Mongols, but as a bastian against swarms of tao tie -- reptilian monsters, basically walking sets of teeth controlled by a hive queen.  Every 60 years they emerge from their underground lairs and attack.  There are countless thousands of them, leading one to wonder what they eat in an underground lair in the desert.

 A huge army of red, blue, and yellow color-coded troops tries to keep them at bay. led by the incongrously young Commander Lin (33-year old actress Jian Tian).  And incongrously English speaking.  She explains that she learned English and Latin from another Westerner, Ballard (Willem Dafoe), who appeared in search of gunpowder 20 years ago, but why would you learn the language of a small, insignificant country on the other side of the world?

Tovar and Ballard just want to steal some gunpowder and scram, but Garin has some ideas about how to help.  He has accidentally discovered that magnets disrupt communication from the hive queen, rendering the tao tie helpless.  

Most of the movie consists of battle scenes, first at the Wall and then at the capital, Bianjiang.  They are visually imaginative, if strategically ludicrous (bungee-jumping troops?), and too long and drawn out to be of much interest.  No one gets a back story, which is a problem in establishing emotional connections with the characters, but omits the cliche dead wives that lurk in the background of 99% of Western actioners.

Nor is there a Finding Love primary plot.  Garin and Commander Lin interact, strategize together, and deliver the final forays of arrows from a multicolored kaleidoscope tower, but they don't kiss or exchange longing looks, and in the end, instead of sticking around, Garin leaves with Tovar. 

 There is actually a stronger homoerotic subtext between Garin and the young soldier Peng Yong (teen idol Lu Han):

1. After Garin saves his life, Peng Yong follows him around.  They have brief conversations.

2. Peng Yong sneaks into his room late at night (for what?) and overhears him trying to prevent Tovar and Ballard from stealing gunpowder, which becomes important later.  

3. When Peng Yong is demoted to kitchen duty, Garin tracks him down for a pep talk.

4. As they are preparing for the final battle, Peng Yong says "take me with you."

Unfortunately, Peng Yong dies, so he can't ride off into the sunset with Garin, but subtext is subtext.

Matt Damon has his shirt off in one scene.  Some of the Chinese troops wear muscle-enhanced costumes.

Other Sights: Stylized wilderness and steampunk weapons.

Gay Characters: No one expresses any heterosexual interest of any sort.

My Grade: A for the lack of heterosexual romance, D for the endless battle scenes.

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