Sep 9, 2022

"Tierra Incognita": Unknown Land? It's Well-Traveled Boy-Meets-Girl Territory

 Tierra Incognita, on Disney Plus: "Eric returns to Cape Qwert to solve the mystery of his parents' disappearance."  If he's still a minor, who's taking care of him?  Aimed at younger kids, so I doubt there will be gay characters, but maybe some subtexts.  I watched Episode 1, "The Labyrinth."

Prologue: The Cazadores de Miedo (Fear-Hunters) investigate a scary abandoned amusement park named...Tierra Incognita.  Funloving Lucio (Thomas Lepera) sneaks into a ride with a skull entrance, and screams!  He runs out, yelling "She's coming!"  They rush back to their van, but not fast enough.  The windshield ices over, and a hand reaches out and draws a circle in the ice. That's not very scary.  I expected them to be eaten.

Scene 1: Eric(Pepo Maurizi)  is watching the episode on his laptop and drawing circles, while the camera pauses on a photo of his parents, newspaper clippings about their disappearance, and an ouroboros (a snake with its tail in its mouth).  He is startled by Uma, a deaf girl who came into his room to call him downstairs.

All of the pictures of Pepo that I could find online show him kissing a girl or a girl kissing his cheek or feeling his face.  With the star such an aggressively heterosexual presence, I'm starting to have doubts about this series.

Scene 2: Downstairs, Grandpa and Grandma are cooking dinner.  So why did they call him, if it's not ready yet?  They ask if he has everything he needs for his school field trip: sleeping bag, flashlight, and so on.

Eric asks for the doorknobs to be replaced while he's gone.  Grandpa refuses; "We've talked about that."  Does he think that changing doorknobs will keep out the ghosts?

Uma gets offended, for some reason, and storms off.  They discuss how much she's improving.  Eric: "You shouldn't push her so hard."  Is she Eric's sister, traumatized by their parents' disappearance?  Or is this another trauma?

Grandpa asks for the phone number of where Eric is going.  This outrages him, but he consents.

Scene 3:  Establishing shot of a town named "General Karras."   Imposing granite house.  Room full of renditions of The Scream.  Uma, the deaf girl, is working on a Scream jigsaw puzzle.  Eric comes in and shows her the photo of their parents at the amusement park, just before they vanished.  So Uma is his sister, got it.

Next, he shows her the Cazadores de Miedo video, with the hand making a circle in the ice.  "It's obviously Mom."  How did he make that conclusion?  "So I'm going back to the Cape to find out what happened.  You can't come -- you're still traumatized."

Downstairs, Eric is ready to leave for a school field trip.  But there are five locks on the door, and he doesn't have the keys.  He calls Grandpa to let him out, but they're going to escort him.  A bit overprotective, aren't they?  

Scene 4:  They drop Eric off at the bus stop and watch as he joins the other students and teachers.  Uma causes a distraction, so they don't notice that he didn't get on the bus!  Instead, he sneaks away and runs across the entire town to get on another bus headed for Cape Qwert!

Scene 5: Cape Qwert: rocks, brown water, scary caves, "no swimming" signs.  But a middle-aged woman was diving in a wet suit, and emerged with slates.  They seem to form a map.  

Meanwhile, on his train, Eric flashes back to that day at the amusement park.  While Mom painted a disturbing scene of a clawed hand rising from a grave, Dad played on the rides with young Eric, his friend Pablo, and the near-baby Uma (it's been at least 10 years since the disappearance, and Uma is still recovering?).  Eric gets snippy because he wants to play more, so Mom gives him her ouroborous bracelet and draws a circle in the sand to demonstrate that "for every ending, there's a beginning."  Rather a profound response to a kiddie temper tantrum.

Back at home, Grandpa runs into the mother of Beja, one of Eric's friends: "What a shame that Eric couldn't go on the school field trip.  Beja was super-excited." Uh-oh, now Grandpa knows that there's some skulking afoot.

Scene 6: Eric arrives at the Cape.  Dead trees, deserted houses, a destroyed movie poster, police cars slowly driving past, twin girls slowly swinging, a crazy guy selling alfajores (Argentinian cookies).  Eric remembers him: Don Celestino!  He ambles off.  Finally former best buddy Pablo (Fernando Malfitano) arrives.  They hug.

"Wow, the town is so...sad."

"Everything went downhill when the park closed." 

Scene 7: Eric wants to go straight to the amusement park where his parents disappeared, but Pablo says that it will be too crowded with tourists right now.  He wants to eat first, at a run-down diner called Creepy Pasta (get it?).  They order the jellyfish hair with zombie brains, and spectral vomit to drink.  The waiter (Sebastian Sinnott) stares at Pablo.  Desire or disdain - I can't tell which.

From left to right: Eric, the town's belligerent bully, Pablo, and the sullen Waiter.

Uh-oh, Pablo grabs the waiter's hand for some reason -- maybe they're dating?  Is Pablo gay?  This knocks over a shaker of salt, which roll to the table of a crazy-looking lady.  She screams "The curse! The curse!" and rushes out.

Scene 8: Back home, Grandma is gushing her admiration for Uma finishing the Scream jigsaw puzzle.  Grandpa calls the school field trip number -- Eric's not there!  He roils with rage, and drags Grandma away from her gushing.  "Eric lied to us! He sneaked off to Cape Qwert!  I'm going to go there and drag him back!" Not only over-protective -- he sounds downright abusive.

Meanwhile, on Cape Qwert, the middle-aged skindiver is leading a class of six girls and a smart-aleck boy, Leo (Joaquin Ochoa, top photo), on a tour of some cave paintings drawn by the Niktu, the original inhabitants of the area: "Here's a hunting scene...these are shamans conducting a ritual...and here some Niktus are running away from something.  We don't know what, because that piece is missing."  Leo keeps smooching on his girlfriend and complaining.

Her phone rings -- Dad!  She doesn't answer.  I wouldn't answer either, in the middle of a class.

Back home, we discover that Grandpa was calling her.  Middle-aged lady is his daughter, Eric's aunt!

Scene 9: At the Creepy Pasta diner.  A teenage girl, Lila, comes in and greets Pablo.  Uh-oh. This is the Girl of His Dreams.  Or maybe the Girl of Eric's Dreams.

Eric's.  The music swells, his eyes bulge, his jaw drops, and heteronormativity drops an anvil on any hopes of Eric being gay.

Lila's dumb jock boyfriend (Tomas Kirzner) comes in, snarls at Eric, and barks an order at her "There are people waiting!  Stop wasting time!  Let's go!"  So this is a 1980s teen nerd movie.  Eric will have to wrest the Girl from a guy so boorish and mean-spirited that one can't imagine anyone wanting to spend time with him, even if he was hung to his knees.  

Scene 10: At the scary caves, the lesson is over, so middle aged lady -- Carmen --- calls Grandpa back -- and gets Grandma.  "He's on his way to the Cape to yell and scream at Eric."  "What a drama queen! Eric's a grown-up.  He can take care of himself!" 

Meanwhile, Eric and Pablo are headed for the abandoned amusement park, when a police car appears.  They hide in the bushes.  "This place is off limits," Pablo explains.  "If the police catch us here, they'll...."  Attach electrodes to our genitals? 

Wait -- earlier Pablo said that the amusement park would be crowded with tourists.  Why did he lie?

Finally they reach the rusty, chained-up amusement park entrance.  "I've been waiting for this day for a long time!" Pablo exclaims.  Couldn't he sneak in whenever he wants? 

Scene 11: Carmen finishes the tour -- she's a tour guide, not a teacher -- just in time to get yelled at by Police Officer Daniel (Lautado Delgado Tymruk): "You were skindiving at the beach again!  It's off limits! Also, your nephew Eric is back! Tell him that if he sets foot in that park, I'll attach electrodes to his genitals!"

At the park, Pablo and Eric are wandering around, looking, clues, I guess.  The night of the parents' disappearance is called the Night of Lights, because for some reason the whole sky lit up.  Why wouldn't Eric remember that? Wasn't he there?

The Labyrinth, where the Fear-Hunters took the video of the frosted windshield! Pablo warns that it's too dangerous, but Eric rushes in anyway..  It's full of spider webs and hornets' nests, but otherwise looks fine. Except for the scary ghostlike figure!  Eric tries to chase it, but is stopped by flashing red lights and a loud screeching noise.  He collapses in pain.  

When the noise ends, Eric approaches a sheet-ghost figure, thinking it's his Mom.  It's actually a screeching female monster with bleeding eyes.  Pablo drags him away: "That wasn't your Mom.  It's this place.  It's evil." The end.

Beefcake: None.  And none on the internet, either, just endless photos of the male stars kissing girls.

Other Sights: The scary amusement park.  Some other exteriors.

Heterosexism: Yep.

Gay Characters:  I don't think the's much hope for Pablo, but I'll go through on fast-forward, just in case.

Fast-Forwarding Results:  They divide into two boy-girl couples to solve the mystery, but neither boy actually kiss his girl, and there are a few Eric-Pablo hugs.  You might be able to do a gay reading, but it will be subtle.

My Grade: C-

Sep 7, 2022

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power": Elves, Humans, and Proto-Hobbits Face Off against the Dark Lord

 I've read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and seen the movies, but I never paid much attention to the appendixes, the Silmarilion, the Book of Lost Tales, and the various other Middle Earth ephemera.  So I went in to the new Amazon series The Rings of Power, about the events of the First Age, with few fanboy expectations.  I watched the first 66 minute episode on Amazon Prime.

Scene 1:
  I always thought that Undying Lands, where the Elves went when they tired of Middle Earth, was a sort of heaven, but here it's a regular place, lit by lamps instead of the sun, and the Elves aren't actually Undying -- they're  newly-created, so they just assume that they won't die.  And there are bullies -- all black-haired -- who gang up on the young Galadriel (blond) before her brother Finrod (Will Fletcher, above) intervenes.  They exchange aphorisms.

Scene 2: Galadriel narrates a whole trilogy worth of plots: the evil god Morgoth extinguishes the lamps, so the Elves have to leave the Undying Lands and go to war in Middle Earth.  He's defeated, but his henchman Sauron is still around, so the Elves spend hundreds of years patrolling, looking for him or his Orc-minions.

The narration ends with Galadriel and her troops (actually six people) still looking for clues to Sauron's whereabouts.  She pushes on and on, into the north country, until her troops, led by Thondir (Fabian McCallum), tire of her constant aphorisms and lay down their swords, stating that they are going home.

Scene 3:  The Harfoots, who will eventually evolve into Hobbits, are nomadic hunter-gathers that look and act like Irish Travelers.  A young girl named Nori is frustrated with her circumspect existence, and wants adventure (like a certain Bilbo Baggins centuries hence),

Scene 4
:  When Galadriel finally makes it back to the Elf Middle Earth headquarters, her boyfriend Elrond (Robert Aramayo, left) tells her in aphorisms that the troops didn't mutiny: she did, by disobeying countless orders from the High King Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) to give up the search.  But he forgives her.  He has declared that the danger is over, so all of the Elves can return to the Undying Lands.

Scene 5: Nori of the Harfoots, still being frustrated and longing for adventure.

Scene 6: Galadriel and boyfriend Elrond talking in aphorisms some more.

Scene 7:
  The early Anglo-Saxon village of Men, a racial group that went gung-ho for Morgoth 70 years ago, and now is being closely monitored by their Elf overlords.  So, Hitler died about 70 years ago.  Should we be carefully monitoring the Germans?  They hate the Elves, and especially stoic Vulcan-like Arondir (Ismael Cruze Cordova), who is constantly snooping around, looking for problems. It doesn't help that he has a human girlfriend, a healer named Bronwyn-- interracial (or inter-species?)  relationships are strictly forbidden by both humans and Elves.  

Suddenly Arondir and his colleague Medhor (Augustus Prew, left) are called back to the base: High King Gil-Galad has called off the search and is sending them all home.  Good news, right?

Scene 8
: Girlfriend Bronwyn and her teenage son Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) are preparing herbs.  Arondir drops by to tell her he's leaving, but first he'll go to the eastern town of Horndern to investigate some cattle being poisoned by evil grass.  She offers to go along, since she grew up there.

"Ok, but be careful -- the people of Horndern are all Morgoth-lovers."  Bigot!

Meanwhile, son Theo wants to show his friend Rowan (Ian Blackburn) a cache of treasure he found in an old barn.  Well, they're not really friends -- Rowan makes fun of him for having no father and a mother who's involved with an Elf.  The treasure includes a weird dagger marked with Dark Lord Sauron's symbol, which starts to glow and pull Theo to the Dark Side.

Scene 9: Galadriel and her group sing as their boat sails toward the Undying Lands, here pictured as a bright light.  Meanwhile, High King Gil-Galad and Elrond, back in Middle Earth, discuss in aphorisms that the evil might not have been vanquished after all.  The Harfoots agree -- "the sky looks strange."

Back on the ship, Galadriel remembers one of her dead brother's aphorisms and at the last minute refuses to go into the light.  She jumps off the ship -- and is left floating in the middle of the ocean.  I hope she knows how to teleport!

Scene 10: Everyone in Middle Earth watches as a a flashing light zooms across the sky.  A comet!  No, it can't be -- whatever it is crashes near the Harfoot camp.    Nori rushes to investigate and finds a flaming thicket, and in its midst a naked old guy.  I'm guessing Gandalf.  He's one of the istari, sent directly from God to help Middle Earth.  The end.

Beefcake: None.

Other Sights:  Lots of woodlands, some exteriors of Elvish castles.

Heterosexism:  Two boy-girl relationships are centered so far.

Gay Characters: None specified so far, and no same-sex pairings for gay subtexts.  I doubt that there will be any.  

My Grade: All  of the mysticism and magic of the Undying Lands has become banal, the Elves are portrayed as a bit totalitarian, and the gay subtexts that informed the original are gone.  C.

Sep 5, 2022

How Do You Handle a Hungry Man?

I'm not a big fan of soup, especially that partially coagulated Campbell's stuff.  Besides, they had a stupid logo -- "Mmm, mmm, good," not even words -- and the most cutesy-disgusting advertising icons, Campbell's Soup Kids.  But in the early 1970s, Campbell's redeemed itself with the Manhandlers.

They were a thick, stocky variety of soup introduced in 1968, reputedly in response to housewives' complaints that the wimpy Chicken Noodle  lines didn't fill up their husbands.

The commercial showed a hunky, muscular guy in a plaid shirt  engaged in various farm tasks (not him -- this is Matt Neustadt of reality tv).  I remember him plowing a field, piling concrete blocks atop each other, and mending a barbed wire fence -- while a male voiceover sang the double-entendre laden  "How do you handle a hungry  The Handlers!"

The gay symbolism was obvious, though no doubt unintentional.  Viewers could think of all kinds of ways to handle a hungry man.

 He goes home, bursts into the kitchen, and plops down at the table, where there is a bowl of Manhandlers soup waiting for him.  He thrusts a spoon awkwardly into his fist like he's not used to utensils and begins shoveling the soup in, occasionally making little animal grunts of pleasure.  One expects him to say "Me like soup!  Soup good!"  Oh, right, that's the logo.  The voice over repeats: "The Handlers!"

No ladies were shown in the commercials.  The Man evidently lived alone, or maybe with the man who was singing about a ""

the singer was Frankie Laine, who performed in many genres but specialized in cowboy songs, including "Hanging Tree," "Mule Train," "Riders in the Sky," and the themes for Rawhide and Blazing Saddles.

By 1977, the ravenous cave man had been civilized into a New Sensitive Man.  He even knew how to hold a spoon properly.

Sep 4, 2022

"A Quiet Place II": Mark is too busy fighting monsters to find a boyfriend

For movie night Friday, we saw A Quiet Place II (2020).  I thought that the original (2018) was about English settlers in 19th century Africa, but actually it features a world destroyed by screeching alien monsters like the demogorgons from Stranger Things.  They are impervious to  bullets, fire, and everything else; they can easily break through metal and rock; and the slightest sound brings them running, so survivors have to be "vewy, vewy quiet." 

About the monsters: we know that they came in spaceships -- there are thousands of them , so there must have been hundreds of spaceships -- but why?   An alien invasion?  It would be a rather inefficient way of clearing the planet of humans.  By accident?  Were they being transported somewhere else?

In the original, the Abbott family has bunkered down on their farm.  Fortunately, teenager daughter Regan is deaf, so they all know sign language.  Mom and Dad (Emily Blunt, John Krasinski) spend their time discussing how much they love each other and having sex.  Then they have a baby (they construct a chest with an oxygen tank to muffle its crying);  Mom's foot is impaled by a nail; Dad dies; the house is destroyed; and Regan discovers that a high-pitched squeal from her hearing aid incapacitates the monsters so they can be shot or speared. All on the same day!

In the Quiet Place II,  Mom, baby, Regan, and teenage son Mark (Noah Jupe) set out to find another safe haven (barefoot: they never heard of mocassins). Even with a monster-incapacitating boom box, they have to be careful: the monsters are lightning-quick, so they might not have time to turn it on.)  

As of the summer of 2022, Noah Jupe is 17 years old, and posting sexy, artsy, somewhat femme photos to his instagram (top photo).

Make that extremely femme.  

They seek refuge with Emmett (Cilian Murphy), whom they knew from before.  Now he's a hardened recluse, living in a bunker in an old factory (with vaults for extra protection), drawing pictures of his dead son and keeping his dead wife's body in  a back room (well, burying her would make too much noise).

Cilian Murphy played a survivor of a zombie apocalypse in 28 Days Later (2002), and gave us a nice view of his butt and penis. Here he's grizzled beyond recognition.  I can't believe that was 20 years ago. Good times.

Now the story divides in two, with heavily contrived cuts that show the two groups in exactly the same situation.

Regan notices that the radio   keeps playing the old Bobby Darin song "Beyond the Sea."  This means that there are survivors near a radio station with no monsters!  But why that song, in particular?  It must be a clue: the monsters can't swim.  We have a safe haven on an island.

Plus, they could go to the radio station and use Regan's hearing aid to incapacitate all of the monsters in the vicinity!

Ok: 1. The monsters are not sentient.  Why not just broadcast your location?  2. No one listening will know what to do.

Regan and Emmett set out for the island.  They need a boat, but the marina is occupied by a band of feral rapist-cannibals led by the Marina Man( Scoot McNairy, left).

Meanwhile, Mom and Mark stay back at the bunker, where Mark is incapaciated by a bear-trap injury. When Mom sneaks out to the town pharmacy to fetch painkillers and more oxygen for the baby's crib, Mark decides to do a little exploring, stumbles across the dead wife's corpse, and yells, attracting a monster.  He grabs the baby and jumps into one of the vaults, but he didn't have time to secure the latch, so they are stuck in there, with the oxygen running out!

Finally Regan and Emmett make it to the island refuge, where survivors live in houses with electricity, have bonfires, play outside, and talk to each other in regular voices: monsters can't swim.  One expects a totalitarian police-state out of The Walking Dead, or maybe a weird cult, but no, they are perfectly nice.  

Reagan and Emmett explain their plan to the leader, Island Man (Djimon Housma), who agrees to take them to the radio station.  But then one of Marina Man's boats drifts to the island with a monster stowaway!  

I'll stop the plot synopsis there.

Beefcake: None.  There are some cute guys in the opening scene, set in a town Little League game the day the aliens land.  Otherwise everyone is grizzled and ragtag, except for Mark (he always looks like he just came from a fashion shoot).

Heterosexism:  Less than in the original.  Here it's mostly men mourning their dead wives.

Gay Characters:  No one expresses any same-sex desire, but Mark doesn't express any desire for anyone.  They could easily have established his heterosexual identity by showing him perusing a girlie magazine, but they don't.  Plus he plays a nurturer, taking care of the baby while Mom's gone.  You could easily do a gay-subtext reading.

My Grade: B

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