Feb 19, 2022

Daniel Stisen, the Hunk Behind the "Last Man Down"


The promo for the post-Apocalyptic thriller Last Man Standing, on Netflix, was entirely involved with a shirtless, mega-muscular Grizzly Adams-type chopping wood.  What gay man wouldn't click on that?  Unfortunately, the story begins with a dead wife -- ugh -- and moves on to meeting The Girl.

But I wasn't dissuaded.  The Grizzly Adams-type, producer-writer-star Daniel Stisen,  is so hunky that he must have appeared in something a bit less heterosexist, right? Or even gay-friendly?

Daniel was born in Mandel, a small town in southern Norway, to a bodybuilding father who taught him the tricks of the trade from an early age.  He began competing in powerlifting at age 16, and bodybuilding at age 20.  In 2006, he moved to Oslo to begin a modeling career and start his own bodybuilding website.  

According to his modeling profile, Daniel won't do nude shoots (darn it!).  He does give us a butt shot in Last Man Down, but the scene is ruined by the presence of a naked lady.  

He has a 50" chest, a 33" waist, and size 9 shoes.

Daniel's first role was Bodybuilder in Long Flat Balls 2 (2008) -- a comedy, not a porno.  After that, in Norway, London, and the U.S., he played: Hunk, Bodybuilder, Bodybuilder, Guard, Poker Player, Soldier, Soldier, Fighter, Police Officer, Police Officer, Body Guard, Warrior, Fighter, Bouncer, Body Guard.  Hardly any named roles.  

He's written and produced several short films, which don't have plot synopses on IMDB, but the titles tell all you need to know: Kill-X, Soldaten, Last Survivor, Gain, Retribution. Machismo to the max.

His Instagram and Facebook pages are full of his bodybuilding photos, with few depicting other people, so I can't tell if he has a girlfriend or a boyfriend, or both, or neither.  But a search on "Daniel Stisen" and "gay" revealed nothing but a lot of gay men drooling over his "perfect body."  

Oh, well, I tried.  But nearly every male cast member of Last Man Down seems to be a bodybuilder.  Maybe I'll research Kamil Lemieszewski next.

Or Daniel Nehme

Feb 18, 2022

"The Cuphead Show": Will Updating 1930s Fleischer Studio Animation Give Us Some Gay Characters?

 The Cuphead Show
, based on a video game, is drawn in the animation style of the Fleischer Studio of the 1930s: a worled where human, animal, and objects interact, bouncing constantly, singing to the latest jazz songs, and falling prey to the "heebie jeebies."  It has been criticized for not acknowledging the racism of those early cartoons, but really, why should it?  Movies and tv shows set in earlier generations almost always pretend that racism, sexism, and homophobia did not exist.  

Cuphead (Tru Valentino, left) and Mugman (Frank Todaro), who live in the Inkwell Isles (an homage to Fleischer's "Out of the Inkwell"), have teacups for heads, with bent straws protruding from the top and liquid sloshing around inside.  They form the standard aggressive/passive, "let's have an adventure"/ "that's not a good idea" pair.  

In the first episode, "Carn-Evil," they are brothers or foster brothers, living under the guardianship of Elder Kettle.  Cuphead talks Mugman into blowing off their job of painting a fence to go to a carnival, which turns out to be a "carn-evil": The Devil (Luke Millington-Drake), who scats like Cab Calloway, is using it to harvest souls.  

Gay subtext: Some hugging and rescuing each other..

1930s cartoons were not good at continuity: Betty Boop changes randomly from child to adult, and Bimbo could be her boyfriend, friend, or pet dog.  But in the second episode, "Baby Bottle," Cuphead and Mugman are still children, left home alone for the day.  A baby...um...penis with a condom partially rolled onto it?  --  is left on their doorstep.

Gay subtext: They move into maternal and paternal parenting roles, with marital-couple fights: "It's like you didn't even want to have this baby!"  

The third episode, "Ribby and Croaks," follows the boys as they try to break into a riverboat nightclub run by two Brooklyn-accented frogs.  

Gay subtext: the frogs sing about how there's only one women in their life, their "Mudda."  

Beefcake:  None.

Gay Characters:
  Cuphead and Mugman have the usual gay-subtext relationship, coupled with a lack of heterosexual interest.  In the last episode, they meet a girl cuphead (actually a chalice-head) who charms people into giving her stuff.  But they don't find her entrancing; they just want to know her secret, so they can charm people into giving them stuff, too.

But in a contemporary show on Netflix, I expect actual recognizeable gay characters.  I didn't see any.

Villain:  In the first episode, the Devil says "Cuphead still owes me his soul!"  So I expected him to be the Big Bad of an ongoing story arc, but he doesn't appear in any of the episodes I watched.

1930s Homages:  After the first episode, not many.  One gets the impression that the Fleischer-esque animation was just a tease; the producers expect the show to stand on its own merits.  

My Grade:  The Cuphead Show doesn't really stand up on its own.  I'd rather watch the old Betty Boop cartoons.  C.

See also: The Gay Symbolism of Betty Boop

Feb 17, 2022

"Secrets of Summer": Teens Save an Argentine Jungle Resort with a Wakeboarding Contest. And Singing.


Secrets of Summer, an Argentine teen drama originally titled Cielo Grande (Big Sky).  The icon displays two girls in the foreground, one with a surboard, and two guys in the background, one with a guitar.  There'll be music and surfing, and maybe some beefcake.  Gay characters?  Argentina legalized same-sex marriage before the U.S. did, so maybe....

Scene 1: A private plane.  Boy Without Guitar (Victor Varona) is busily texting while Girl with Surfboard -- Steff -- is reading an actual phyiscal letter, from someone named Paula: "I want to thank you for accepting me as part of the family. And Cielo Grande is way more than just some trophy. An important part of your past is hidden there."  

Scene 2:
Establishing shots of a river flowing through a jungle. So, another resort in the wilderness, with no scenes set in Buenos Aires?  Non-Surfboard Girl  -- Luz looks delighted as she walks into the resort, Cielo Grande. A sign tells us "Big opening!" in English.  At the front desk, she greets  Guitar Boy -- Julian (Guido Messina).  "Welcome back!  There's a team meeting starting in a moment."

They hug, then gaze into each other's eyes in front of a trophy saying "Summer Crush."  Rather blatant, aren't you?

Meanwhile, on the plane, Steff tries to get her companion -- Tony, her wakeboarding coach -- to look up from his screen and check out the scenery.  "Um...yeah, it's nice."  He's sort of femme.  I'd think he was gay, except then the cast wouldn't be able to divide into two couples.

Plot dump: Steff plans to compete in Summer Crush, the same wakeboarding competition that Dad won 20 years ago.  (Wakeboarding is surfing while being towed by a boat).  Tony didn't want to come, but Steff insisted.

Scene 3:
At the resort's staff, Luz hugs the other employees: boss Augusto (Martin Tecchi), Charlie (Luan Brum, left), and newcomer Nati (a girl)  The boss reveals that Summer Crush is back on after a hiatus of 12 years. They all get t-shirts to advertise the contest -- lots of cheering.  Plus they're re-opening Sky Vibes, the karaoke bar!  More cheering.  Plus Steffi, the world-famous celebrity wakeboarder, is coming!  Wait, a ringer?  Contests are no fun when it's obvious who will win.

Scene 4:  Luz and the newcomer head to their cabin.   Plot dump: Sky Vibes is important to Luz because her grandparents always sang there, back in the old days.  Their song was "Emergency Love," from 2003.  If they are in their 60s, wouldn't the abuelos prefer "Dancing Queen"?  

Meanwhile, Steff and Coach Tony are at a dock on the river, waiting for their boat.   The decrepit "tuna can" finally arrives, piloted by Charlie from Scene 3.  Tony complains about the lack of glitz.  

Scene 5: Luz unpacking and singing while Newbie Nati plays the guitar.    Then Luz gives Newbie Nati a wakeboarding lesson, which allows us to see what it's all about. 

Meanwhile, Steff and Coach Tony try to get checked into their rooms.  Tony scoffs because it is taking too long.  When the desk clerk turns his back, Steff steals the paper where he wrote down the computer password!  

On the way to their rooms, they meet Julian (the Luz-hugging guy).  Tony is not impressed with him.  So not gay?

When they leave, the desk clerk calls the Boss: "The squirrel is in the tree."  Is there some nefarious plot going on?  I hope so.

Scene 6:  Julian shows Steff her cabin (they're all separate, surrounded by jungle).  Breakfast starts at 7:00, no room service after midnight, no flirting. Well, he's got a crush on Luz, so....

When he leaves, Steff reads the letter from Scene 1 again, and starts to cry.

Tony calls to complain about what a total dump the resort is, and to tell her that they will be training at 10:00 am.  Wait -- did they arrive early in the morning?  Don't most hotels expect you to arrive in the late afternoon?

Steff and her wakeboard equipment hit the beach.  All the guests seem to be teenagers.   Lots of shots of Steff or her pro stand-in doing wakeboarding stunts.  Luz and Newbie Nati, having their wakeboarding lesson, almost collide with her!  Wouldn't that be the drivers' fault?

 Surprise!  Coach Tony knows Luz, and is delighted to see her!  He doesn't explain how.  An old girlfriend, or a wakeboard student? I'm still hoping that he is gay.

While packing up, Luz and Newbie Nati buddy-bond and gush at each other.  Nati says she signed on at the resort to "try something new...save some money."  "And meet someone special?"  Luz suggests.  "Well...maybe..." Nati says, fluffing her hair and grinning...and...whoa, those girls are into each other!  But I thought Luz liked Julian from Scene 2? 

Scene 7:
Charlie delivers another guest, a middle-aged man with a beard: Ron Lavalle (Francisco Bass).  He yells at his teenage son, Ian, for poking him with a drone.  Wait -- Dad got off the boat alone.  So his son was already there?   Then he complains that Ian is too busy with his youtube videos to concentrate on his schoolwork.  "But in three years I'll hit a  million on subscribers, and the money will start rolling in!"  Ian seems a little younger than the others, so he probably won't be involved in the "who's dating whom" plotlines.

As they are checking in, Augusto the Manager introduces himself.  "You look familiar.  Have you been here before?"  Aha, a mystery!  But they switch the conversation immediately to Teenage Ian getting all excited because his favorite pop duo is performing at the resort.  

Scene 8:  Augusto the Manager discovers that most of the wakeboard competitors have dropped out, so he's going to ask the staff to compete.  But...no one will pay to see that!  The resort will go bankrupt, and they'll all lose their jobs!

Meanwhile,  Sr. Lavalle and Ian (Byron Barbieri) greet Steff, who isn't happy to see them: "Why are you here, Dad?  I don't like you watching me compete!" Aha, he's the Dad who won the wakeboarding contest 20 years ago.

Scene 9:  Luz, Newbie Nati, Julian, and Charlie begin fixing up the decrepit, long-closed Sky Vibes, a cabin in the jungle.  Julian says that he used to be a regular. Hasn't Sky Vibes been closed for 12 years?  His favorite song was "Trapped," by Bruce Springsteen (1981).  How old is this guy?  He sings the whole song while gazing at Luz.  The others join in.

Coach Tony, walking past, is entranced --by the song, or maybe by Luz.  They chat; they're about to kiss when Luz is called away.  So Tony isn't gay, just feminine.  

Meanwhile, Steff tracks Sr. Lavalle and Teenage Ian down again, so  the spoiled brat can yell at them some more: "I don't want you here!  I can't believe you're doing this!  Ruining everything!"  Dad just wants to watch her compete -- what a jerk!   

Scene 10: Luz and Newbie Nati waiting tables in the resort dining room.  Coach Tony comes in to flirt.  Manager Antonio drops by, and Tony talks him into making Luz their guide.  They need a guide?  It's a bunch of cabins in the jungle.  Oh...wait, he just wants Luz to hang out.

That night staff and guest gather at the beach, and Manager Antonio announces the return of Summer Crush, the wakeboarding contest. Steff sneaks off, goes to the front desk, and hacks into the resort computer.  But before she can find what she's looking for, the Desk Clerk comes in, suspicious.  She hides behind the counter.  The end.

Surprisingly, none.  What is the point of a tv series about a summer resort without guys in swimsuits?

Other Sights:  Rough-shod cabins in the jungle.  They look like something from Gilligan's Island.

Gay Characters:  I thought Tony would be gay, but he's totally into Luz.  Maybe Nati wants a girlfriend. but Luz and Steff are both spoken for.

Mystery:  What is Steff looking for?   Otherwise it looks like a "let's save our resort by putting on a show," like the 1940s barn musicals starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland."

Feb 13, 2022

"Just Friends": Dutch Rom-Com about RIch/Poor Boys and their Overbearing Mothers

 Just Friends, on Amazon Prime, a tv-movie from 2018: "Something beyond the pleasures of a young gay love story, and the conflicts with their families have nothing to do with their sexuality."  

It might be a change of pace from the endless autobiographical "coming out in a world where no gay institutions exist."  

Plus it's from the Netherlands. I'll check it out.

Scene 1:  The motorcycling Joris (Josha Stradowski) leaves Amsterdam, stops to play with his drone, and calls his mother.  At a shopping mall, the heavily-shopping, smoking socialite, who looks the same age as Joris, upbraids him for forgetting Mother's Day. Suddenly her heel catches on the escalator, and she falls on her face. Har-har.  Serves her right for being an entitled richster.    

Joris continues on the motorcycle, and finally meets Mom and snippy, entitled teenage Sister.  They criticize him for not visiting his father while he was sick, although they didn't visit, either.  

They've come to the cemetery to pick up Dad's ashes.  No one wants them, so Joris gets them by default.  

Scene 2:
Feet getting off a train. No doubt Yad (Majd Mardo), Syrian refugee, waiting at the train station.  He remembers working as a stripper (in a gay club, I assume) and overdosing on GHB and vodka.  A nice, non-critical middle-class Mom picks him up -- she even brings pastry!  She tells him not to use the name of Jesus in vain (fundamentalist -- is she going to be homophobic?  And not Muslim.  I guess there are Christians in Syria). 

At home, Dad is busily working on his book.  Yad hugs him and his baby sister.  Mom says that since he's moved back home, he'll pay rent and do his own laundry.  I get it -- rich is entitled and bitchy, poor (or middle class) is kind and virtuous.

Scene 3:  Yad goes to the beach and asks for his old job as a surfing instructor back.  Nope, full up.   A girl hugs him and welcomes him home -- he was in a downward spiral in Amsterdam.  They go surfing (surfboards with little sails attached). 

Meanwhile, Joris is at the same beach, playing with his drone.  He sees Yad, and sends his drone out to investigate. "Yum...what a hunk!"

Scene 4: Back home, Joris mixes up some muscle-building powder.  He passes Mom -- super-strung out on drugs -- and goes to the gym, where the personal trainer criticizes his technique (poor guy gets criticized by everybody).  He stops to gaze at the bulge of the guy doing bench presses (um...we already knew that he was gay before we started the movie.  He calls his grandmother, and promises to pick up milk.

Meanwhile Yad is filling out a job application. "It's just cleaning, no nursing or groceries, and it's just 14.5 per hour" ($16.45 U.S., which is double minimum wage.  What's the problem).  She gives him the job -- and her phone number.  Hey, that's sexual harassment!

Scene 5: Cut to Yad making an old lady's bed, while she bemoans world events, mentions that she lost her best friend Sophie to the Holocaust,  and asks where he's from.  He won't say.  Suddenly her grandson arrives with the milk.  Time for a meet-cute.

But first Grandma sits Grandson Joris down with chocolate milk to discuss family squabbles.  Yad comes in; Joris turns in slow motion.  His jaw drops to the floor.  The most beautiful man he's ever seen!  Geez, they do that old cliche even in gay romances. 

They shake hands.  Yad finds some reason to bend over to display his butt (I knew you were a bottom three scenes ago).   Unfortunately, Joris is too overcome by horniness to say anything.  

Joris goes out to trim Grandma's hedge, and takes off his shirt, but Yad is not impressed: he complains to Grandma about her grandson's use of  "ridiculous muscle-building machines."  It's called a gym, dude. You have to join one, or they take away your gay card.

Scene 6: 
 Upset over his inability to attract the hunk, Joris goes home and collapses onto the bed.  Meanwhile, Yad tells his Mom about his new job.  She disapproves; "You went to medical school!"  "I dropped out."  "Cleaning old ladies' rooms is beneath you!"  "I like it"

Scene 7:   Joris at a barbecue at his Sister's elegant house, chatting while her husband tries to grill while holding a baby. Give him a hand instead of ruminating over your problems!  He decides to take surfing lessons to impress the hunk, and doesn't stick around for dinner. 

Scene 8:  Joris paying for his surfing lessons.  The sign says "No Credit Cards" in English.  That's the problem with the Netherlands -- you rarely hear Dutch in public.  Whoops, he's assigned a girl teacher.  Nope, changed my mind!  

Next stop: Grandma's house, where apparently Yad has a full-time job cleaning and being hunky.  Yad asks: "What music are you listenng to?"  A conversation opener! Go for it!  But Joris is too overwhelmed by horniness to answer properly, so Yad takes the lead, going through his playlist and commenting.  

Overcome by horniness, Joris rushes off.  This guy is a basket case!  Is he not, like, aware that he is gay?  Yad yells "Hey, can I get your number?"  Grandma gives it to him.

Scene 9:  Joris on the exercise bike at the gym.  Yad sends him some sexy pics.  He texts a date request.  But Yad never responds! 

Scene 10: Mom is at Grandma's house to discuss her birthday.  Yad introduces himself.  Mom is prejudiced against refugees or Syrians: "he'll steal all your valuables."  But Grandma insists on giving him his own key. to the house.  

When she leaves, Grandma apologizes: She used to be a nice girl.  Then she got rich. 

Scene 11: 
 Back home, Mom rants at Joris about Grandma's new "Muslim type."  Finally the "Muslim type" texts him back; they set up the date.  The overjoyed Joris rushes to shower and change clothes.  Mom is suspicious.

While Joris picks up Yad for their date, Yad's Dad stares from an upstairs window.  Does he, like, not know that his son is gay?

Scene 12:  The date is hanging out at the beach -- where they go every day anyway.  How about something a little more elaborate, like a nice dinner -- in town?  I'm sick of looking at a beach.  They play with the drone, swim, and finally do a weird upside down kiss. 

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

Yad and Joris are both out to all their relatives, so that's not a problem.  Everyone approves of the match except the Moms, each of whom thinks that the boyfriend isn't good enough for her son.  Conflict comes with....um...Joris's Dad had an affair before he died?  

Beefcake:  Joris has his shirt off a lot, and displays an underwear bulge.  Yad, not so much.  There are no other significant male characters, just sisters and mothers.

Gay Characters:  Just Joris and Yad.

Locations: Just the beach at Almere, 30 km from Amsterdam.  I wanted to see the Oude Kirke and some canals.

Rich/Poor Divide:  They appear to be trying a rich boy/poor boy conflict, but I can't really tell the difference between the two families.  Both are clearly affluent.

Title:  They're never just friends, that is, not-romantic.  Does "gewoon vrienden" mean something else in Dutch?

My Grade: B.

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