May 5, 2022

"In the Flesh": Recovered Zombies, Anti-Immigrant Prejudice, and Two Terrorist Groups. And a Gay Teenager.


The British series In the Flesh stars teen dream Luke Newberry as Kieren Walker, who died four years ago and returned as a snarling, brain-eating zombie.  Now cured, he tries to re-integrate into human society.  Season 2, Episode 3 tells us that "fate throws Kieren and Simon together."  Episode 4: "Kieren is conflicted about seeing Simon behind Amy's back."  

Who is Simon?  I've been fooled before by girls with boys' names, so I checked the character on IMDB: he's a boy, played by Emmett Scanlon.  "Seeing" could be a gay tease, but it sounds very much like the two boys are dating (and one is cheating on his girlfriend Amy).  

Season 2, Episode 3 is incomprehensible, so we'll start at the beginning, Season 1, Episode 1, to see if there are any gay/bi hints.

Scene 1: Kieren in a giant medical facility, flashing back to his brain-eating days as he is being examined.  The doctor tells him that he's responding well to the PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) treatments.  He just needs to wear make-up and contact lenses to hide his zombie features, and he'll be ready to re-integrate.

Scene 2: The desolate countryside, littered with anti-"rotter" graffiti, missing person notices, graveyards, and boarded-up buildings.  The vicar leads a procession of the HVF (Human Volunteer Force, an anti-zombie terrorist group).  

A man and a woman are  trying to sell their house, but their teenage daughter Jem scares away potential buyers by saying crazy things and belonging to HVF.  They complain: "He can't come back here."

Scene 3:  Group therapy at the PDS facility.  Kieren says that the worst part is guilt over the people he killed, along with his hunting partner (a female hunting partner -- sounds heterosexual.)  

They are all going home on Sunday.  Kieren is looking forward to seeing his little sister Jem.  So the man and the woman are his parents.

Scene 4:   Jem at a meeting of the HVF. Can you believe the government, forcing us to live with rotter scum?   There's no such thing as a reformed rotter.  If you see any around here, shoot!  The allegory is getting a little heavy.

Scene 5:  Kieren's parents pick him up.  Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is addressing an angry mob that doesn't approve of zombies living among them.  They're violent, evil monsters, and we have to pay to support them!

Scene 6: 
When Kieren and his family get back to town, he has to hide in the back seat to avoid the roving bands of HVF terrorists.  

Mom and Dad have kept his room the way he left: lots of artwork and books.  He was a shy, artistic boy before he turned -- code for "gay."

A health care worker shows Mom and Dad how to give Kieren the daily injections into his spine, and how to taze him if he starts growling again.

Scene 7:  A meeting of the parish council.  They discuss continuing the ban on Halloween, since, as teenage Philip says, there are "real monsters" out there now.  Later, the vicar asks Philip to spy on his mother, whom he suspects of secretly assisting the undead.  

Scene 8:
Philip at home.  He waits for Mum to go to bed, then snoops in her laptop.  When she catches him, he claims that he's viewing pornography.    Philip is played by Stephen Thompson.  Unfortunately, there are 350 other Stephen Thompsons more famous than him.  Here's a MMA fighter.

Meanwhile, Kieren looks through a box of photographs of him with another boy -- a boyfriend, maybe?   Another Mom and Dad have made a birthday cake for the boy's memorial.  I can understand grieving a dead son, but a birthday cake seems a little over the top.

Scene 9: Jem comes in and yells at Kieren: "You're not my brother!  You're a monster!  Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you!"  

Kieren proves that he's really her brother with a memory: When you were 7, you walked on tip-toe for nine months.  Mom and Dad tried all sorts of pills and therapy, but nothing worked.  Only I knew what would stop you: a heavy-metal mix tape.  This family is insane.

They discuss his original death, apparently a suicide over feeling guilty about Rick's death.  "But he died in Afghanistan."  "But it's my fault he joined the army!"  Was Rick conflicted over their romance?

Scene 10:  Mom, Dad, and Kieren playing a weird children's board game.  But he seems cognitively fine,  Jem patrolling for rotters, drinking and being depressed.  

Later, Kieren looks up the website for ULA (The Undead Liberation Army): "Do not be ashamed of who you are.  We, the Undead, have a divine purpose to fulfill."  

Scene 11:
The Vicar meets with the anti-zombie terrorist leader, Bill: "We have a wolf in our midst.  One of them is living here.  Here's its address; go kill it, so the town will be safe."

Bill goes home and grabs his gun.  Wait -- he's the father of Rick (David Walmsley), the boy whose death in Afghanistan led to Kieren's suicide.  The plot thickens!

Jem, still on patrol, overhears his walkie-talkie chatter about the rotter in town.  Kieren!  She rushes to warn the family.  They hide him and grab their weapons -- a chainsaw and a board with nails in it (guns are hard to find in England).

But it's not Kieren: they have come for the elderly woman from across the street, whom they kill while she and her husband beg for mercy.  "You're safe now," Bill says.  

Scene 12: Bill goes home.  The military police are there.  He expects to be arrested, but instead they have news: They found his son Rick in Afghanistan.  He's a zombie!  The end.

Beefcake: None.

Gay Characters:  Kieren has some gay hints.  According to the fan wiki, he's pansexual.

Heterosexism: None.

The Legal Status of Zombies:  Unclear.  Maybe it's unclear in the show, also.  If they are alive, coming back would result in a lot of legal headaches regarding inheritance, custody, health insurance, and so on.  If they are dead, wouldn't laws against desecrating corpses apply?

Heavy Handed Allegory:  Obvious.

Conflict For Its Own Sake:  Bill having a zombie son?  A little much.

My Grade: B

May 3, 2022

The Top 10 Beefcake Murals of U.S. Post Offices

The people who deliver your Netflix envelopes and Amazon boxes were once responsible for a lot more.  They brought paper copies of your bills, magazines, and even messages from friends, written on pieces of paper and enclosed in an envelope.  If you wanted to send a message of your own, you had to bring it to a building called a "post office" and buy a "stamp" to pay for the delivery.

There are still post offices around -- older people still use them.  And if you happen to drop into one, you might get a surprise: naked men!

1. A muscleman felling the forest in Kenova, West Virginia.

During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal put dozens of artists to work painting murals and friezes on the walls of hundreds of post offices all over the U.S..  They were very serious, naturalistic works, showing extremely muscular pioneers taking their shirts off to "tame the wilderness" and go to work in in agriculture or industry.

2. A boatswain in Plymouth, Pennsylvania.

3. A rugged farmer making hay in Hammond, Indiana.

4. There are naked men, too, mostly muscular Indians who are solemnly handing over their land to the white settlers.  This one in Des Plaines, Illinois depicts Spanish conquistadors impressing the natives, I guess cloth.

5. Though sometimes the Indians are memorialized as violent savages: this fully-naked dude is trying to defend his, I mean attack a wagon train in Melrose Park, Illinois.

More after the break

May 2, 2022

"The 7 Lives of Lea": Beefcake, Gay Characters, Time Travel, and Body Swapping. What's Not to Like?

The 7 Lives of Lea,
on Netflix, is the best tv series I've seen in ages, witty and intriguing, with minimal cliches and maximum beefcake, and a main character who is probably gay.  I reviewed the first episode.

Scene 1:  June 14, 2021.  Lea, age 17, is at a wild teenage party at a nature preserve in the Massif Central of France, feeling depressed and miserable.  She goes off by herself into Valmy Gorge to drink and drug herself to death, and comes across a skeleton!  Wearing a silver bracelet...

Scene 2: Police officer Miriam says that the skeleton belongs to a young man, and it's been buried for a long time, but she won't know anything else until the coroner does an analysis.  Lea's imperious parents arrive to yell at her for going to a wild party instead of studying for her exams ( that really what's important now?).  They argue; Lea runs into her bedroom, changes clothes (gratuitous body shot), and goes to sleep.

Scene 3: And wakes up as a hot guy, Ismael (Khalil Ben Gharbia)!  She doesn't have any of Ismael's memories, doesn't recognize his parents, doesn't speak Arabic.  Fortunately, she convinces Ismael's science fiction fan brother that she's shifted her consciousness into Ismael's body.  He suggests going to the gorge where she saw the skeleton, and maybe things will revert.

Scene 4: But first it's time for the apple harvest. The Arab immigrants are all apparently migrant workers.  Lea/Ismael picks apples for awhile, then sneaks out and tries to hitch a ride to the gorge.  No one stops; some passing soldiers call her "raghead."  Wait -- showing some skin works for girls, so why not boys?  She takes her shirt off, and sure enough, a lady and her teenage daughter pick him up.

They find it odd that Lea/Ismael is examining her new body -- abs, nipples, biceps.  And the silver bracelet from the skeleton!

As they drive through town, Lea/Ismael is shocked by how different it looks.  Plus the costumes are like something out of an old movie, teens are listening to "rad tunes" like "Everybody Dance Now," and there's an ad for Schwarzennegar's Terminator 2.  She not only switched bodies, she traveled back in time 30 years,  to June 15, 1991!

While she is freaking out, a woman named Patricia grabs her: "What are you doing here?  You're late!"  

Scene 5: 
 The woman ignores Lea/Ismael's pleas to take her to the Gorge and talks about how important this audition is: "the chance of a lifetime."  

They arrive at the resort where Lea's grandparents live.  They are 30 years younger, of course, and don't know who Lea is.  But they know Ismael!  

In the house, Lea's parents Stephane (Theo Fernandez) and Karine, now teenagers, are tuning their instruments. Stephane has his shirt open; in this series, it's beefcake all the way down!  They criticize Lea/Ismael for being late.  When he calls them "Mom" and "Dad," they think he's high, and try to bring him down: "We worked hard for this audition!  Don't blow it!"  They're really expressive with Ismael, hugging and groping -- are they, like lovers as well as bandmates?

They begin the audition. Of course, Lea/Ismael doesn't know how to play the guitar, and tanks.  Patricia the Band Agent stomps off, while teenage Stephane and Karine follow, begging for another chance.

Scene 6:  Ismael's Dad arrives to drag him back to the apple orchard, and yell.  "The boss's son saw you sneak away!  We could both be fired!  We'll lose the house, and be deported!  And you're failing your exams, and you dress like a bum, and I hate everything about you!"  Hey, Lea reasons, maybe the body-switching ruined Ismael's life, and that's why he committed suicide.  Maybe she can fix things for him...

Scene 7: Back at the house, Little Brother Soufiane is also irate. "You lied to me about the body-transfer stuff, just so you could go to your stupid audition!"  

Lea finds Ismael's journal under the mattress: full of artwork (no pictures of girls), lists of goals (again, no girls), song lyrics, and "June 15!  Big Audition!"   She buries the journal in the apple orchard, so if she ever gets back to 2021, she'll have proof.

Pye (Alexander Ferrario), the boss's son, arrives on his motorcycle (fully clothed, but don't worry, we see him in his underwear later on).  He's the one who snitched  about Lea/Ismael ditching work: "I hate lazy bitches like you."   He punches Lea/Ismael, says "Do your job!", and leaves.   

Scene 8: Lea/Ismael goes home and takes a shower (more gratuitous beefcake, not that I'm complaining).  She masturbates while looking in the mirror (wouldn't you?).  Then she goes to bed...and wakes up in 2021, as Lea!  Was it a dream?

Googling Ismael, she finds a blog about his mysterious disappearance, run by Little Brother Soufiane.  He announces a new lead, and a meeting at City Hall tonight.  If the disappearance was such a big deal in this small town, wouldn't Lea have known about it?  Especially if her parents were Ismael's best friends? Unless they have been deliberately covering up their involvement in his death...

Scene 9:  Mom drives Lea to her job at Dubont Bio (I guess it's close to the school).  The boss stops by -- Pye, the boss's son from 1991, now middle aged! 

Lea skips philosophy class and takes the bus to the apple orchard.  She digs up Ismael's journal.  This was no dream!

Scene 10:  At school, Lea tells her friend Romane, who is a lesbian and uses a wheelchair (were they checking off diversity boxes?), about her time-travel body-transfer adventure. Romane thinks she's crazy.

Scene 11:
The meeting at City Hall.  About 20 people there.  The police don't know if the remains actually belong to Ismael, or if his death was accidental or suicide.  Lea blurts out that it has to be him, because it was wearing Ismael's silver bracelet!  The middle-aged Little Brother Soufiane (now played by Vincent Heineine) is irate: "Why didn't the police tell me about the bracelet?  It's obviously my brother!  And how does this random girl know about it?"

Afterwards, everyone is angry with Lea for "making things up," except Soufiane, who thanks her.  He remembers the body-snatching conversation with Ismael 30 years ago -- didn't he say his name was Lea?  

Scene 12:  On the way home, Lea interrogates Mom about how well she and Dad knew Ismael.  "We were in the same class, but we didn't know him very well," she lies.  Lea wonders what she's hiding.

Lea goes to bed, and wakes up in 1991 again.  But this time she's the teenage Mom! The end.

Beefcake:  No shirts, no problem.

Other Sights:  This is a small resort town.  Chances are they'll never make it to Paris, or even Lyon.

Heterosexism:  Lea finds Ismael hot, but she won't be dating him, for obvious reasons.  That leaves her teenage Dad -- nope -- and Pye -- double nope.  Pye gets a girlfriend, however.  

Gay Characters:  The big mystery of the series is not really who did it, but who is in love with Ismael, Mom, Dad, Patricia, Pye, all of the above, or none of the above?  It becomes clear in Episode 5.

Body-Swapping: Every successive episode takes place on a successive day, with Lea switching to the 1991 bodies of Mom, Pye, Patricia the Band Manager, and finally Dad.

My Grade: A.

May 1, 2022

"Southbound": Five Interlocking Stories Set in the Purgatory of the American Southwest


Southbound (2015): This is the highway where your sins catch up with you. Five interlocking stories about "sin, punishment, retribution, atonement."  Let's hope some of the people seeking atonement are gay.

Story 1 ("The Way Out"): "Fuck this shit!"  Two bloody men , Mitch (Chad Villella) and Jack (Matt Bellitini-Olpin), driving down a desolate highway in the American Southwest. Mitch looks at a picture of a young girl; Jack explains  that "We did this for you and for Katherine."   A mysterious ragged figure, like a dementor from the Harry Potter series, watches them.   

They stop at Roy's Cafe and Motel to use the bathroom, get gas, and gawk at the regulars, none of whom are surprised at the sight of two bloodied men (almost as if they've seen them many times before, hint hint).  Suddenly there's an earthquake, but none of the other customers notice.  They drive away, several mysterious figures floating after them, and end up right back at Roy's Cafe again! 

You know what's going to happen next, right?   

Story 2 ("Siren"): Another room at Roy's Cafe and Motel.  Three teenage girls get up, complain about being hungover, and drive away in their hippie van (lots of gross bare-leg shots).  Suddenly they get a flat tire.  They call AAA, but the dispatcher can't find them; the GPS on their phone isn't working.  A strange male-female couple in 1950s outfits offer them a ride in their 1950s station wagon (have the girls gone back in time, or are the male/female couple dead?).  The nearest auto shop is closed until tomorrow, so why not come home with us?  Heck, no!   They reluctantly agree.

That night the Strange Couple has another Strange Couple in 1950s costumes and their robotic twin sons (Max and Nick Folkman) over for dinner.  One of the sons is surprised that there are three girls; where's the fourth?   He is shushed.  They say grace -- to Satan!  -- and serve roast beast.  

This ending is obvious, too. The girls, by the way, are being punished for leaving their friend behind to be killed by a hit-and-run driver.

Story 3 ("The Accident"): Middle-aged Lucas (Mather Zickel) driving late at night.  He gets a call from his wife to demonstrate that he's heterosexual, then hits one of the girls from Story #2, who was standing in the road.  He calls 911, but Dispatcher Sandy and the EMT on staff can't locate him, so she advises him to drive the victim to the hospital in the next town.  But the hospital is deserted!  The EMT advises him to operate himself.  He tries -- lots of blood!  -- but is unsuccesful.  And the doors are locked!  They laugh maniacally at his plight.

Having a change of heart, they tell Lucas that he if he finds the locker room, he'll be able to leave.  He showers, changes clothes, exits as they promised, and drives away.  We discover that Sandy the 911 Dispatcher was actually talking to him from a pay phone booth.  

I don't understand this one.  What was Lucas being punished for?  Was Sandy using him to cover up her own hit and run?  Then how did she manage to clear the hospital?  And who was the second voice on the phone?

Story 4 ("Jailbreak"):
Sandy from Story #3 goes into a bar and orders a beer, but Al the Bartender (Matt Peter, left) tells her to go back and latch the door.  she refuses.  While they are arguing, the elderly Danny (David Yow, from the punk band Jesus Lizard) bursts in with a gun.  They advise him to leave; this always ends badly for him -- but he insists that they take him to his sister Jesse, who disappeared here 13 years ago.

One of the patrons turns into a monster and attacks, but gets his hand chopped off.  Al the Bartender offers to take him to Jesse.  They drive to an ice cream stand and go through a hidden door in the back.    

 It's a mysterious waiting room full of robotic, staring people; obviously the entrance to the afterlife.   Inside, Jesse is tattooing a cute shirtless guy (finally, some beefcake!).    She hasn't gotten any older in the 13 years since she disappeared, obviously.  She says that she doesn't want to leave, but Danny shoots Al the Bartender, grabs her, and heads out.  There's a dementor road block, so Danny drives out into the desert, in spite of Jesse's warnings: "You can't be here!  This place isn't for you!"

Jesse explains that she's here because when they were kids, she killed Mom and Dad, and she needs atonement. "This place found me, and I love it here."  Suddenly naked guys (including Omar Camacho, top photo) pull Danny from the car and start stripping his clothes off.  Jesse drives back to the ice cream stand.

She passes a girl leaving the ladies' room.

Story 5 ("The Way In"): 
 The girl, Jem, goes to the front of the ice cream store and joins her parents for "one last weekend of fun" before she starts college: "games and puzzles."  That's their idea of fun?  They drive off into the night and stop at a sort of resort apartment.  Dinner's in an hour (But they just had milkshakes!).  While Jem unpacks, Mom wonders if she is "ready."  Dad (Gerald Downey, left) avers that no one is ever ready, but it's time; Jem has to prove herself.   Uh-oh, Satanic initiation coming up!  

Mysterious figures in masks star banging on the doors.  It will take 30 minutes for the police to arrive!  Jem manages to escape, but not the parents. 

One of the intruders shows Dad a picture of Katherine (Mitch's daughter from Story 1 ) before killing him.  Then they tell Mom what he did to deserve death; she's horrified.  They kill her.  Wait -- I though this was all arranged as part of Jem's initiation.  If it was arranged, why are Mom and Dad surprised?  If it wasn't, what was all that "she's not ready/ no one is ever ready" about?

Jem returns and kills one of the intruders, but the other two escape -- sort of.  They turn out to be Mitch and Jack from Story 1!  Everything resets.

Beefcake:  None. The naked men who pull Danny from the car would be cute if they weren't zombies.

Heterosexism:  Heterosexual romance doesn't fuel any of the stories.

Gay Characters:  The bloodied guys from Story #1 don't express any heterosexual interest, but Jack tries to abandon Mitch, so no gay subtext.  Danny in Story #4 has the goal of saving his sister, not his wife or girlfriend like usual in these stories, which automatically gives him a gay vibe. Plus he's pulled out of the car by naked men, suggesting a ironic punishment.  

My Grade:  "The Way Out": B; "Siren": D; "The Accident": D; "Jailbreak": A; "The Way In": C.  More points if this were Halloween.

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