Nov 27, 2021

"The Librarians": "The X Files" Meets "Once Upon a Time"


The Librarians
(2013-2018) sends paranormal investigators out into the field to track down and neutralize powerful magical objects or beings: Excalibur, the Apple of Discord, the Minotaur.  I watched Episode 6, where fairy tales come to life.  A jam-up of The X Files and Once Upon a Time?

Scene 1: Bremen, Washington. A jerk trucker speeds around a "lane closed" sign, veers into oncoming traffic, and almost has an accident.  Suddenly a giant hand grabs his truck and tosses it into the river.

Scene 2: The Scoobies arrive through a portal in an outhouse: By-the-Books Leader Eve; Hunk Jake (Christian Kane, below); Smart-Aleck Teenager Ezekial (John Harlan Kim, top photo); and Mousy Psychic Cassandra.  They approach the Sheriff (Ted Rooney) with their cover story: "we're analyzing traffic flows in rural areas."  

There are giant fingerprints on the truck.  The boss (John Larroquette) identifies them as belonging to a troll,  from Scandinavian mythology.  But trolls aren't native to the Pacific Northwest.  He asks for a sample to analyze. 

Scene 3: 
 They divide into pairs.  Leader and Smart Aleck find a cave with the troll inside (turned to stone in the day time), and Hunk and Psychic check out the town.  Whoops, the chunky mayor (Gary Kraus) drops by naked, but he thinks he's wearing a jogging suit: "The Emperor's New Clothes." 

The team reunites just in time to fight a giant wolf wearing a bonnet: "Red Riding Hood."  The troll was from "Three Billy Goats Gruff."    Someone is weaponizing fairy tales! 

Scene 4: Back at headquarters. the Boss tells them that there are 57 magical objects that could bring fairy tales to life, but most are safely stored in the library or untethered from our reality.  He narrows it down to several possible artifacts, but he needs more data.

Scene 5: First step:bring back the giant wolf, which is being stored in the freezer at a local tavern until the Wildlife Department can investigate.  Leader and Psychic stay behind while Hunk and Smart Aleck drag it out.  Suddenly all of the female bar patrons start swooning over the Psychic.  

Scene 7: They start an autopsy on the wolf, and a woman pops out! Alive, just cold from the freezer.  Boss concludes that the magical artifact is the Liber Fabula, a book which can bring any story to life, for a price.

Switch to a man reading fairy tales to a little girl in the hospital. Uh-oh.

Scene 8: 
Hunk and Psychic interview the woman they saved.  She'll only talk to Psychic:  "I had just finished work, and walked into the woods, and...I don't remember anything else.  Can I get your number?"  All the women in town are in love with Psychic!

Meanwhile, the Sheriff becomes antagonistic toward Boss and Smart Aleck: "I smell trouble!" he exclaims, sniffing the teenager.

Scene 9:  Boss explains that as you keep reading the Liber Fabula, it can change the stories and add new ones.  Also, it draws its power from people, who get sick and die.  That explains the little girl in Scene 9.   

Boss and Psychic check the hospital records for patients with mysterious wasting-away diseases, Smart Aleck chases a magical coin through the hospital, and Leader and Hunk go to the library.  The librarian says that they just got a donation of rare books from the estate of Thomas Deter -- who had the largest collection of arcana in the world -- and donated them to a small town library, not Miskatonic University?

 Scene 10: The magical coin leads Smart Aleck to the room of the dying child, who happens to be the Sheriff's daughter.  They bond over their shared love of larceny (he teaches her how to pick a lock).

Scene 11: The group reunites at the bar. They have the wasting-away kid, and they know where the book is, so things can wrap up...wait, the Sheriff tries to arrest Smart Aleck a sick kid?  He turns into the Big Bad Wolf and blows the whole bar down.  I could swear that two guys were walking hand-in-hand on the sidewalk outside.

Chased by the Sheriff and his cronies, the group hides. But Hunk turns into the Huntsman from "Snow White," and Leader into Cinderella.  Psychic is already Prince, Princess Charming.  And Smart Aleck is Jack (there are a lot of Jacks in the stories).  

Scene 12: While Psychic uses her Princess Charming powers to evacuate the townsfolk, Smart Aleck rushes back to the hospital, where the librarian is reading to the wasting-away-child (from a rare 15th century folio?  Buy a paperback!).  He tries to grab the book, but the librarian is infused with the book's energy and too powerful.  Turns out that it wasn't an accident -- the librarian is having fun tormenting the townsfolk, and now he's going to change the story to kill the team!

Scene 13: Fight between Psychic, Leader, and Hunk and the Sheriff/Wolf and his cronies. Meanwhile, Smart Aleck manages to wrestle the book from the librarian's hands and give it to the girl, who then changes the story so the heroes beat the wolves.  The evil librarian is sucked into the book.

Scene 14: The team explains that everyone was hallucinating due to swamp gas.  They return to headquarters.  Hunk is disquited by the experience; Psychic liked having hot girls fawning over her; Leader didn't like having to fight in Cinderella shoes; and Smart Aleck is still a smart aleck.  The end.

Beefcake: The chunky mayor is nude.  No other attractive guys.

Gay Characters: The Psychic is apparently gay.

Heterosexism: No one expresses any heterosexual interest.  I expected Leader and Hunk to have a "will they or won't they" sparring relationship, but no.  

Shipping Pairs:  None.  They split into nearly every possible pairing during the episode, seemingly at random.

Fairy Tales: How does a 15th century book contain Grimm's fairy tales, first published in 1812, or "The Emperor's New Clothes," published in 1837?

My Grade:  We've seen this plot a few dozen times before, but it was a pleasant diversion  I could use some more beefcake and buddy-bonding.  B

Nov 24, 2021

My 10 Favorite Christmas Movies


Every Holiday Season, we are inundated by movies about big-city women who give up their careers for a small-town boyfriend (at Christmas), grinches who are punished for being insufficiently jolly, and kids who help Santa Claus deliver those toys (is there ever a year when he does the job by himself?).  It's quite a chore to sort through the thousands for the few that are witty, creative, and not obsessed with boy-girl romance (and the fewer still with gay subtexts), but I've managed to scrounge up a few to make the countdown to December 25th a bit gayer.

10. Christmas in Connecticut (1945).  The mother of all "abandoning career for small-town boyfriend" movies.  Gay favorite and closet lesbian Barbara Stanwyck plays a driven, cynical magazine writer whose articles about the joys of small-town life draw the attention of a war hero (hunky Dennis Morgan), so as a publicity stunt, she is forced to invite him to "Christmas in Connecticut."  

9. A Charlie Brown Christmas. 
 The beset-upon Round-Headed Kid learns the true meaning of Christmas.  It has to do with angels and a manger or something, with no Santa Claus in sight.  And no hetero-romance.  And a jazzy score.

8. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
(2010).  Two boys in Lapland discover the real Santa Claus and elves, goat-men imprisoned in a mountain who eat reindeer --- and boys.  Lots of buddy-bonding and testosterone, no heterosexual romance.  And it's in Finnish!  

7. White Christmas
(1954). This is a back stage comedy with no connection to Christmas except the last scene (a big plus), and in spite of the twin boy-girl romances, buddy-bonding and gender-inversion are highlighted.  Plus we get the drag queen anthem: "God help the mister who comes between me and my sister, and God help the sister who comes between me and my man!"

6. Prep and Landing (2009). 
Wayne and Lanny, two high-tech Elves in charge of preparing each house for Santa's visit, have to save Christmas.  A buddy comedy with none of the  "she thinks I'm cute!" heterosexism of that "Have a holly jolly Christmas" thing.

5. Dashing in December (2020).  A standard romcom about abandoning the big city to find love in a small town at Christmas, except this time it's a big city guy who finds love with a Cowboy State ranch hand.

4. Billy and Mandy Save Christmas (2005).  The kids from the gay-subtext-filled Cartoon Network series, doltish Billy and sinister Mandy, discover that Santa Claus has been turned into a vampire!  En route, their frenemy the Grim Reaper falls in love with an androgynous vampire named Baron Von Ghoulish.

3. Home for Christmas
(2019): A TV series, not a movie, but it's on Netflix, so you can binge it.  Joanna has three weeks to find a boyfriend to bring to Christmas Eve dinner.  She auditions five guys and a girl, but ends up bringing the people she loves, including her roommate and his new boyfriend.  Score!

2. A New York Christmas Wedding (2020). Surprise!  It's a lesbian Christmas wedding!  With time travel, a bumbling guardian angel, and beefcake.  What more could you ask for?

1. The Claus Family (2020):
Jules discovers that his grandfather is Santa Claus, and he is next in line to take over the family business!  Here Santa doesn't distribute gender-stereotyped gifts.  Quite a relief from the trains for boys and dolls for girls in his usual bag of tricks.

And Jules is gay-coded -- I kept waiting for him to fall in love with the girl next door, but he didn't.  He's more into beefcake. A hundred light years ahead of Hermie the Elf opening a dentist shop in that holly jolly thing.

The 10 Most Depressing Christmas Songs

November is my favorite month.  The air is brisk and cool but not too cold for jogging, it gets dark at a normal hour, tv and the theater are going strong.  Even though there's my birthday and Thanksgiving to celebrate, it's still relaxed and easygoing.

Then suddenly it's December, cold and dark all the time, people scatter, the campus is deserted, you have 1000 papers to grade, and you spend two weeks running around at breakneck speed buying and wrapping presents, putting up decorations and a tree, addressing cards, planning and going to about 1000 parties, getting sugar overload.  Then you get on an overcrowded airplane to spend two more weeks doing it all over again back home with the relatives.

All the while you're expected to be deliriously happy.  If you lose that robotic grin for an instant, you're ostracized as a Scrooge and a Grinch.

To facilitate your delirious happiness, you are subjected to a constant barrage of music specific to the season.  The problem is, most Christmas songs are not happy.  They're wistful, nostalgic, mourning lost youth and long-gone friends, or else bemoaning the fact that time is passing, we're all getting old and going to die soon. 

How are you supposed to be joyful when all of the songs you hear are about loss and despair?

Here's a list of the worst offenders.

1. White Christmas.  "Just like the ones I used to know."  A bittersweet look at Christmas past, in our long-gone childhood, before global warming, with a slow, lugubrious melody that makes you want to cry.

2. The Christmas Song ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire").  Humorous lyrics with a wistful, sad melody.  Talk about mixed signals!  Mel Torme, who is Jewish, wrote this on the beach in Florida.  There was no Jack Frost nipping at his nose.

3. The Little Drummer Boy.  There are actually no lyrics to this song, or just a few.  Mostly it's nonstop onomatopoeia ("rum tum tum"), and a slow, wistful melody.

4. Home for the Holidays.  You've got to be kidding.  When you see your relatives only once a year, they're strangers, and they've suddenly gotten a lot older, thus reminding you of your own inevitable progression toward death.  Oh, wait, the singer isn't really going home for the holidays; it's just a masochistic fantasy.

5. Holly Jolly Christmas.  Horrible heterosexist lyrics.

6. Good King Wenceslaus.  A beggar freezing to death finds his way through the snow by following the king's footprints.  All with a horrible ponderous melody.

7. We Three Kings.  The third king brings myrh: "bitter perfume, breathes a life of gathering doom."  You got that right.

8. We Need a Little Christmas.  Life is hard.  We've grown a little older, grown a little colder.  Holly and mistletoe won't help.  I heard this for the first time on an episode of The Facts of Life 30 years ago.

9. Blue Christmas.  Goes without saying.

And the worst of the worst:

10. Have Yourself a Merry...well, you know.  About the swift passage of time and the inevitability of death.  Judy Garland refused to sing the first version -- it was too depressing even for the Queen of Sad Songs.

Nov 21, 2021

The Incredible Disappearing Gays of "Riverdale""


Once upon a time, the camp teen angst drama Riverdale had an abundance of gay/lesbian characters:  Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), who is gay in the comic books, was dating the closeted Moose Mason (Cody Kearsley, left) before settling down with gang member Fangs Fogarty (Drew Ray Tanner, below).  

Meanwhile, maple-syrup heiress Cheryl Blossom and former gang member Toni Topaz were the Riverdale High power couple.

Season change, and so do I.  In Season 6 (2020-21), 7 years have passed since graduation; Fangs and Kevin are still together, until Kevin's jealousy and penchant for hooking up with strangers drives them apart.  

Toni broke up with Cheryl long ago.  She is pregnant.  Sperm doner?  Surrogate?  

No, turns out that she has been straight or bisexual all along.  She had sex with Fangs, who suddenly decided that he was bisexual, too.  Now they're Riverdale's new male-female power couple.

Nothing wrong with being bisexual, but suddenly deciding that you are bisexual seems contrived.  And when you never mention any same-sex interests again, for all intents and purposes you are heterosexual; it sound suspiciously like the old myth that the right man or woman can "cure" your gayness and make you straight forever after.  Fangs and Toni are not actually bisexual; they are gay people who have turned heterosexual.

That leaves Kevin and Cheryl, who are apparently still gay, but only mention it once: Cheryl's ex girlfriend comes to visit, and Kevin overcomes his sex addiction by joining Cheryl's new religious cult (which sounds uncomfortably like "praying the gay away" .  They have been erased, too, as surely as if they were written out of the show.  

Cheryl does adopt a queer teen, but Riverdale High has changed.  All the girl does is state "I'm queer."  She never actually dates anyone or expresses any same-sex interest.

The last episode features a roundelay of heterosexual couples: Archie-Betty, Veronica-Reggie, Jughead-Tabitha, Betty's Mom-Archie's Uncle Frank (Ryan Robbins), and of course Fangs-Toni, male-female couples extending to the horizon, while Kevin and Cheryl stand alone.  

I'll bet in the next season they decide that they were bisexual all along, and become Riverdale's new power couple, and the gay erasure will be complete.

"Tear Along the Dotted Line": Crippling Anxiety, Lots of Penises, and a Giant Armadillo

 Zerocalcare (Michele Reich, below) is, according to Europe Comics, "Italy's best selling graphic novel artist for the last 20 years."  His iconic character, a depressed cartoonist with a giant armadillo as a superego, appears in the blog, in a variety of graphic novels, most not available in English, and in a cartoon  called Tear Along the Dotted Line, whichjust dropped on Netflix.  Zerocalcare is a gay ally, so maybe there will be some gay characters.  

I watched Episode #2, the only episode to mention a male friend. 

Opening Credits:  Zero has a piece of paper with the outline of a muscular man.  He tries to "tear along the dotted line," but flubs the job, leaving a cutout of himself.   Next time just download a photo, dude.

Scene 1:  1995.  Zero narrates: as a kid, "I had the life of a mollusk, washed up in the third row."  There are goat and dog-children in his class.  He was the teacher's pet, and thought he would grow up to do  great things, like run for president of the United States (from Italy?), but one day the gates of hell opened, and fractions and long division emerged!  Now it was daily humiliation, and guilt over disappointing the teacher.  "Look how sad she is!" the armadillo exclaims.  "Tonight she'll start drinking to ease the pain."

Scene 2: Zero had only two friends at school: Secco and Sarah.  Neither understand his pain over disappointing the teacher, because Sarah is  "a fucking nerd with top grades" and Secco "doesn't give a shit." This dialogue is rather profane.  

He's constantly asking Zero, "Want to get an ice cream?"  Is that a character tick, or is he trying to ask Zero out on a date?

Scene 3: Sarah tells Zero to lighten up: you're not the center of the teacher's world.  You're one of thousands of students she'll have during her career.  You're a number, a blade of grass in a vast field.  No one but your mother cares what you do.  But your insignificance is actually freeing.  Now you can relax and have fun.

Scene 4: 
Zero doesn't relax and have fun.  New anecdote: his friend Alice called, but he didn't feel like answering. That happens to me all the time.  Then he started to complain about something on Twitter, but the Giant Armadillo (Valerio Mastrada, top photo) stopped him.  What if Alice sees your tweet? She'll know that you didn't answer your phone on purpose! Stay off social media for the next few hours! 

 "But what if I have important messages, like a photo from Seco of a carp giving a blow job?"  Just a brief shot, but it looks like a boy carp -- no eyelashes.

Scene 5: 
 The adult Sarah and Zero driving to pick up Seco, when they get a flat tire.  Zero tries to change it, so he'll be a "working class hero" and his dad will know he's not a failure.  But he flubs it, inviting (he imagines) endless ridicule.  Sarah suggests calling for help, but he refuses: "As a man, I have only three tasks: hunting, commenting on football, and knowing about cars."  His book on the rules of manhood has an erect penis on the cover.  "If I ask for help  I'm insulting God, everything holy, and the foundation of this country!"  

What if his ineptutide around cars signifies a lack of sexual prowess?  The jack won't lift, the tire won't get mounted.  The tire is trying to mount a penis-shaped thing.  Zero is imagining that he's bad at being the bottom in oral or anal sex.  

He calls his Mom for help, but she refuses, so they take the bus.  The end.

Beefcake: A surprising number of penises.

Heterosexism:  Two women appear in Zero's life, Alice and Sarah, but at least in this episode he doesn't express romantic interest in either.

Gay Characters:   I don't think that Zero is canonically gay, but the sexual references all seem to imply same-sex interest. Zero imagines his sexual ineptness as a tire failing to mount a penis-shaped thing.  He's bad at giving blow jobs.

Plot:   Interesting exaggerations caused by Zero's out of control anxiety.  My only complaint is that the anecdotes seem random, not connected thematically, not building toward anything. There really is no plot.  Zero and Sarah never make it to Seco's house.

My Grade:  B

Update: The whole series takes place during a very long trip to Biella, about 100 km west of Milan, for a funeral. Taken together, the series has a very Faulknerian, As I Lay Dying  feel.  Sarah is gay, and Alice is bisexual.  Zero's romantic interests are unspecified.

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