Dec 23, 2021

"With Love": Hispanic Comedy Romcom with Gay, Bisexual and Nonbinary Characters


With Love on Amazon Prime. Dumb title for a Christmas romcom, but I thought I saw two guys hugging on the icon, so we'll give it a try.

Scene 1: Establishing shot of Portland, Oregon. Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) Mass en Español. Lily covers for her brother Jorge, who missed the service, so Abuela doesn't freak out.  Jorge is played by a grown-up Mark Indelicato (below), the gay kid on Ugly Betty.

Scene 2: Preparing the Nochebuena dinner.  Wait -- don't Catholics have Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve?  It's got to be 2:00 am!  Abuela tells her daughters that Grandpa tried to have sex with her in the shower earlier.  Horny Aunt Gladys tells her sister, Lily's Mom, that it's obvious she's not getting any, and would she like a vibrator?  This is not your grandmother's romcom.

Scene 3: 
 At the liquor store. Santiago (Rome Flynn, top photo) is shopping for a "2010 or 2012 Left Bank Bourdeaux."  Clerk Henry helps him, and tries to flirt.  Santiago puts his hand on his shoulder, but otherwise rejects him: "We don't have to talk." Henry is played by Vincent Rodriguez III, who had a heterosexual character on My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but is gay in real life.

Scene 4: Lily going on a wine run.  She's upset because she just broke up with her boyfriend, but excited because Jorgito is finally going to introduce them to his boyfriend!  Ten to one it's Henry from the Liquor Store.

She tries to meet-cute Santiago coming out of the store, but he rejects her and moves on. Psych!  Next she flirts her butt off with Henry.  They were both recently dumped.  She asks him to be her date for Nochebuena Dinner, but he refuses (duh, he's working).  Well, what about next week?  She hands him her phone number. Um....

Scene 5:
Jorge's apartment.  Hot Roommate (Desmond Chiam) walking around shirtless (sigh...).  He offers to become Lily's new boyfriend, but she refuses.  Apparently they've been friends for 10 years, and she always refuses.  I'd give him a tumble

Jorge is freaking out about bringing his boyfriend to Nochebuena Dinner, where 3,000 relatives will judge him.  Lily consoles him: "Don't worry -- everyone will love Henry."  Henry!!!! The plot thickens. Then why did he say he was recently dumped?  And why did he accept Lily's phone number?

Knock on the door.  It's Henry!  He pretends not to know Lily.  Why not say "We met earlier at the liquor store?"  What is he trying to hide?

Scene 6: Walking to the dinner, they go over their strategies for pretending that they were at Mass earlier, and just missed Abuela.  Henry feels bad about lying to their grandmother.  Jorge explains: they're fine with him being gay, but not going to church is a mortal sin.  Mom, who knows their dirty secret, even greets them as "My favorite sinners!"

They greet  Mom, Dad (Benito Martinez), and Sol, who presents as female and uses they/them pronouns.  Sol chastises Jorge for not going to church:

Jorge: God doesn't like people like us.

Sol: Some people don't like people like us.  God is all about love.

The big scandal is apparently Lily being boyfriend-less, alone and lonely at her age!  Innumerable tias complain, offer advice, and try to fix her up with various nerds and grandpas ("he's 62!  You'll be an abuela!").

Scene 7: Lily sitting on the toilet.  When Sol comes in to change clothes, she reveals the biggest scandal: the boyfriend didn't dump her, she dumped him!  But why?  He's a lawyer who owns his own house -- the perfect man!  Sol suggests that she win him back with a big romantic gesture.

Scene 8:
Sol had to skip dinner to go to work at the hospital.  They brought some empanadas.  Hot Doctor (Todd Grinnell) flirts with them.  

They stop into a hospital room, and -- wait for it -- Santiago from the liquor store is there!  He gives them the bottle of wine he bought, as a thanks for taking care of his dying mother (they're pulling the plug tonight, on Nochebuena because it was her favorite holiday).

Scene 9: Back at the house, Henry reveals that he's actually bisexual, and had a girlfriend before meeting Jorge.  Everyone is shocked, and peppers him with questions. So gay and nonbinary relatives, no big deal, but bisexuals are weird and exotic?

Scene 10:  Back at the hospital.  Hot Doctor points out that they've been flirting for months; why not go on a date?  But Sol will only date Catholics. I don't believe that for a second.  Are they afraid of physical intimacy?  But Hot Doctor already knows that they are nonbinary -- he must be ok what not knowing what kind of genitals they have.

Scene 11:
Lily's grand romantic gesture to win back her ex-boyfriend (Peter Porte).  It's just standing outside his house in a Santa hat and singing.  But he refuses to take her back: "We liked each other, but we were never in love.  But your True Love is waiting out there."  Why isn't she wearing a coat?  In December in Portland the temperature is in the 20s and 30s.

Scene 12: Santiago standing outside in the dark, being sad over his mother's death.  Sol, not wearing  coat, consoles him.   He suggests that they date the Hot Doctor.  Why not?  He's cute and nice, and "you deserve a little love and happiness."  Hey, Santiago, not everyone wants a romantic partner.  

Scene 13: Dad saw Jorge and Henry kiss.  Now he's fuming in the back yard. Apparently he's not as gay-friendly as he thought.  Jorge comes out to ask why he's been so distant all evening. Psych!  He's got no problem with the kissing.  He feels bad because he wasn't able to teach his son about the "gay love stuff."  He wanted to give Jorge a "facts of life" talk about blow jobs?

Scene 14:  Lily wants to tell Jorge "something important," but she loses her nerve. Not about flirting with Henry at the liquor store.  People flirt -- get over it.

Scene 15: Back at the hospital, it's time for Sol to flip the switch and let Mom die.  Santiago and his Dad cry.

Scene 16: Lily's Mom is wondering if her husband won't have sex with her because she's getting old (remember that subplot?).  But it's time for the talent show. Hot Roommate and Horny Aunt Gladys sing "I Need a Hero."   Henry and Abuela: "I Will Survive."  Jorge and Lily: "A Whole New World." 

Scene 17: At the hospital, Sol decides to take a risk and give Hot Doctor their phone number.

Scene 18:
The party is finally over, gracias a Dios! Lily, Jorge (left), Henry, and Hot Roommate walk home.  They decide to dance in the street while singing "Feliz Navidad."  Santiago and his Dad happens to be driving by.   Santiago: "It's hard to hear that song now."  Dad: "Your mother would be heartbroken if she knew this was making you sad."  Sad about her death? Really? I want people wailing and crying.

Scene 19:  Mom and Dad get ready for bed.  He still refuses sex.  Well, it's 4:00 am and he's been hosting a party for 16 hours.  He might be a little tired.

Scene 20:  At the apartment, Lily is preparing to sleep on the couch. She doesn't live there?  Why doesn't she just go home?  She asks Henry why he didn't reveal their meeting at the liquor store.  He says he felt guilty.  He flirts with customers all the time, to get better tips (wait -- you don't tip sales clerks).  But with Lily it was...sad.  I don't buy that.  He was considering cheating on Jorge.

Hot Roommate comes out in his pajama bottoms. Lily reveals that she didn't say anything at the party because it was Jorge's night, but she's sad.  Because she's never been in love.  They start kissing, and head to the bedroom.  

Beefcake: Hot Roommate.

LGBTQ Characters:  Jorge and Henry and Sol. 

Endless Parties: Future episodes take place on the major holidays of the year: New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July, and the Dia de los Muertos.  I imagine that each will involve an endless party.

Who Ends Up with Whom:  No way to tell.  The main cast appears in every episode.  If Henry dumps Jorge for Lily, I'm leaving.

Will I Keep Watching: Why not?

Dec 21, 2021

"That Wilkin Boy" and Other Beefcake Wonders of the Archie Universe

The Comic Cave in Rock Island, like most other comic book stores, was devoted to the Marvel and DC lines.  If you wanted something else, you had to sort through the "Other" bins, which consisted mostly of Archie: Summer Fun, Christmas Stocking, Pals and Gals, Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Reggie, TV Laugh Out, Joke Book, on and on ad nauseam.

But occasionally you hit a comic in the same recognizable style, same recognizable pals and gals, but with different names and maybe a change of costume.  Riverdale and the regular gang is far in the background, or altogether absent.  Apparently John Goldwater thought that a new crop of teen characters would expand the market.

Expand the market, when The Big Five (Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie) and a dozen or so supporting players had personalities malleable enough to fit thousands of plotlines, in every genre imaginable, from teen angst to wacky adventure to mystery to superhero spoof?


Reading them was an eerie experience, like a dream where the people you know are a little off.  But they had some beefcake joys of their own.

Wilbur (1944-1965) is the oldest, appearing only a few years after Archie himself, and the closest to the Riverdale gang.

Wilbur is blond, not a redhead, but he has all of the other Archie characteristics, including a sardonic best friend, a nemesis, and two girlfriends, the girl-next-door and the it-girl.  Except in this case "Betty" is a brunette and "Veronica" is blonde.

Not much of beefcake interest. Wilbur was portrayed as rather scrawny, like the 1940s Archie.

And no crossovers into the Archie universe.  No wonder -- the characters would be looking at their doppelgangers.

Bingo, That Wilkin Boy (1969-1982), was a modernized version of Wilbur (both of them have the last name Wilkin, no "s"):  a 1960s guitar-strumming, bell bottom wearing hippie with a talking dog named Rebel and a with-it sidekick (more Reggie than Jughead).

 Also notable, his girlfriend's father is not an industrialist, like Mr. Lodge, but a bodybuilder.  It was always nice to see a chest and abs on someone over 16.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1971-1983) was the most popular of the non-Archie characters, allowing the introduction of magic into the plotlines. There weren't a lot of continuing teen characters, just Sabrina and her hapless boyfriend Harvey.

Harvey was always scrawny, never particularly muscular.  You could see more beefcake with the Archie comics in the summertime beach issues.

 At first they were portrayed as living in Riverdale, just with a different group of friends, so the Archie gang was in the background (here she talks boys with Archie supporting character Ethel).  Later the setting shifted to Greendale, and the Archies vanished.

Sabrina has spun off into several tv series, most recently The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, with the hunky Ross Lynch (top photo) miscast as Harvey.

Josie (1963-1982) started out as a distaff Archie, a red-headed Everygirl bookended by the  "that's not a good idea" Pepper and the walking id Melody (who sang all of her lines, musical notes filling the speech balloons). They all had boyfriends, and butted heads with an obnoxious rich twin-set, Alex and Alexandra Cabot, drawn identically to Veronica and Reggie.

In 1969 the book was completely revamped into Josie and the Pussycats, a musical group consisting of Josie, Melody, and the with-it African-American Valerie.  The boyfriends vanished, although Josie started dating the muscular Alan M (the reason for the refusal to use his last name is never explained).   Alexander Cabot became their manager, and Alexandra remained their chief foil, out to destroy them because they refused to let her join the group (because she insisted on renaming it Alexandra's Cool-Time Cats).  Oh, and she got witchcraft powers somehow.

The group traveled all over the world to perform, but their home base was Midvale (no competition with Archie's rock group).  But later they moved to Riverdale, so Archie and the gang could occasionally appear.

Alan M. became more muscular as the series progressed, until in the spin-off tv series he was completely ripped (plus he sported an ascot like Fred on Scooby Doo).

In the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats movie, Gabriel Mann (right) played Alan, and his last name is revealed: Mayberry.

I can see why he went by Alan M.

Dec 20, 2021

The Magic Sword

On Saturday afternoons in the 1960s, if there was no sports match on, WQAD tv played science fiction movies.  Usually the same movie.  I saw snippets of it many times -- ten or fifteen minutes in between homework and going out to play -- but not enough to figure out the zany plot.

It was something about a young knight in a Prince Valiant haircut, who sneaks out on his witch-mother, goes on a quest to rescue a princess, gains companions who die in various gruesome ways, and then is captured by a wizard in an genie outfit.  Everyone looks frightfully embarrassed.

The witch had a rather cute servant, whose two heads spoke in unison.

The wizard was accompanied by a woman with an ugly face, who collected "little people for the stew."

There was also an egg-headed servant with a doleful expression.

It was dreamlike and surreal, like watching a story that everyone in the world knows intimately, but you've never heard of.

But I endured the craziness for a scene near the end, when the boy is strung up in the dungeon, his shirt torn off.  A stunning smooth glowing chest, tightly muscled arms and shoulders.

Twenty years later, when Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed it,  I finally discovered that the movie was The Magic Sword (1962), a loose adaptation of the legend of Sir George and the Dragon.  The witch was played by famous British actress Estelle Winwood, and the wizard by Basil Rathbone, who was well known for starring in a series of Sherlock Holmes movies in the 1930s and 1940s.

The boy strung up in the dungeon was 25-year old Gary Lockwood, who would enjoy a long acting career.  He is probably most famous for developing psychic powers on a 1965 episode of Star Trek and getting chucked out of the spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  And, of course, for providing a glimpse of beauty on dull Saturday afternoons when there was no sports match on.

General Whitman and his Cold War Boyfriend

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my parents hated books.  Comic books were suspect enough -- but full-sized books would brainwash me into believing atheism and evolution keep me away from healthy masculine activities like sports, and "strain my brain"!  Maybe they were worried that reading would make me want to escape the future of factory job, house, wife, and kids they had mapped out for me.

So I could only get away with reading only if I could convince them that it was required for school.  That made General Whitman's Adventures ideal.

They were brief, 15-page storybooks, accompanied by "adventure maps,"  written by George S. Elrick (who also wrote tie-in books for tv series like Flipper, Batman, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).  They were published by comic book company Whitman (talk about product placement!).

General Whitman's Adventures in Intriguing Europe
General Whtiman's Adventures in Exotic Asia
General Whitman's Adventures in Exciting Africa

After that they ran out of adjectives, and just had him traveling to Australia, North America, South America, the United States, and Around the World.

General Whitman,  a "global troubleshooter for the armed forces," was a thin, middle aged white guy carrying a globe.

In each story, he traveled across the designated continent with his assistant, Lieutenant Scott, on on a top secret assignment.  In South America, for instance, he was assigned to inspect rivers that might provide "juice for mission control centers, "and to select likely sites for camouflaged missile silos."

This was during the Cold War, after all.

Meanwhile he pontificated about the continent's history and geography -- with what today seems a very paternistic, Orientalist superiority complex:  "Before this continent was discovered, the poor savages were uncivilized."

And Lieutenant Scott expressed constant disgust or amazement over local customs. In Tibet, he exclaimed: "That lady's making a sandwich out of her face!"

"Butter is often used as a beauty aid here," the General explains.  "The Tibetans are too primitive to have our modern scientific cosmetics."

Still, it beat National Geographic, with its boring "This country is a study in contrasts, embracing its rich traditions and looking toward the future."

And I could claim "research for my geography class."

And neither General Whitman nor Lieutenant Scott mentioned wives or girlfriends back home.  I was pretty sure that they were "Best Men" (my childhood term for gay partners).

Dec 19, 2021

"Home for Christmas": The Girl with 5 Boyfriends and a Girlfriend

One reason I hate the holidays is my memory of many Christmases past with endless dissimulations and awkward silences.  Some of my relatives back home had a "don't ask, don't tell policy," and others didn't know at all (and would start screaming if they did), so:
West Hollywood became Santa Monica
Gay Pride became "a street fair"
Volunteering for the AIDS Project became volunteering for Big Brothers
The Metropolitan Community Church  became First Presbyterian
The boyfriend became a "friend," if I mentioned him at all.
And I had a "girlfriend."

So I was interested in Hjem til Jul (Home for Christmas), a Norwegian short series in which 30-year old Johanne (Ida Elise Broch) gets so tired of her family's constant sneers and digs about being single that she blurts out "I have a boyfriend!"

Now she has three weeks to find a boyfriend for real and present him at the Christmas Eve dinner!

I know, this is the plotline of about 50% of Hallmark Christmas movies.  But bear with me.

With the help of her roommate/best friend Jørgun, Johanne posts a provocative profile on a dating app.  Some of the men are utter jerks, like Paul (Nader Khademi), who goes beserk in an escape room and then yells that they aren't intellectual equals, but most are perfectly nice, with one fatal flaw:

1. Stein (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen,top photo), a fitness enthusiast whose idea of a date is a spin class.

2.Henrik (Oddgeir Thune), who is old enough to be her father, and may in fact have dated her mother.

3. Jonas (Felix Sandman, left), only 19 years old, who is amazingly good in bed but dumps her by claiming that he's "leaving for Bali to go to college."

She also meets people on the street, at parties, and at the hospital where she works as an unconventional, "let's bend the rules" nurse:

4. Thomas (Kinsgford Siayor), a "cry on my shoulder" Christmas tree salesman and bartender.  He turns out to have a girlfriend.

5. Raul (Paul Andino), the hospital's "cheer up" clown.  Johanne just isn't into clowns.

6. A woman Johanne meets at a party, who goes down on her on the train.  She's just not into women, either.

After some subplots involving patients at the hospital and Johanne's parents trying out an open relationship, it's Christmas Eve. Who does Johanne bring home?

All eyes turn to the hallway as she brings in (spoiler alert!)

Jørgun, the roommate/best friend.  Everyone turns on their "little sister's coming out" smiles.  But then:

Raul the hospital clown, who has just started dating Jørgun, and:

The tough, non-nonsense hospital patient who has been mentoring her.

She brought people that she cares about. What difference does it make if they're romantically involved?

Gay characters:  The woman at the party.  Maybe Johanne's younger brother Sebastian (Arthur Hakalahti).  But everyone seems rather nonchalant about it. And subverting the "boyfriend for Christmas" trope queers the text.

Beefcake:  Three of the guys are displayed semi-nude.

Other Scenery:  Not very interesting.  The exterior shots are all on one street in the town of Røros

Misleading Title:  Johanne is not going "home for Christmas."  She lives in the same town with her family. It should be "A boyfriend for Christmas," but that tile is already taken by 5,000 Hallmark movies.

My Grade: B+.
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