Book Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston


Author: Casey McQuiston
Title: One Last Stop
Narrator: Natalie Naudus
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2021)
Summary/Review:

After a troubled childhood with an obsessive mother, August finds it difficult to connect with people.  Things begin to change when she moves to Brooklyn to attend college and is pushed out of her comfort zone by her eccentric housemates, Myla, Niko and Wes.  She also finds herself enraptured by a beautiful punk woman she meets on the Q train, Jane.  However, finding love and happiness is challenged by three strange things about Jane: 1. she can’t seem to leave the train, 2. she can’t remember her past, and 3. she hasn’t aged at all from a picture taken of her in 1976.

This book is great fun as it uses a unique time slip story mixed with a queer romance and a story of New York’s gentrification.  It’s particular interesting to read the contrasts of Jane’s experiences in the early LGBTQ+ liberation movements of the 1970s compared to the more accepting contemporary times.  There are a lot of subplots in this novel that get things a bit confused, and perhaps there’s just a bit too much “deep conversation,” but all is forgiven because I love the characters.  McQuiston does a great job of bringing to life a community of fun, creative, and really horny young adults in the city.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Supernova (2020)


Title: Supernova
Release Date: 22 September 2020
Director: Harry Macqueen
Production Company: British Film Institute | BBC Films | Quiddity Films | The Bureau
Summary/Review:

A long-time couple, Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci) make a trip to England’s Lakes District in a camper van. Tusker has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and this is a final chance to visit with family, while Sam, a concert pianist, also performs a recital. It’s a deeply moving movie about love, loss, and letting go when dealing with end-of-life issues. Some terrific acting, beautiful scenery, and some humorous moments help alleviate the deep feels this movie prompts.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)


Title: A Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Release Date: September 18, 2019
Director: Céline Sciamma
Production Company: Lilies Films | Arte | Hold Up Films
Summary/Review:

In 18th-century France, a young artist named Marriane (Noémie Merlant) travels to a remote island in Brittany.  Her commission is to paint a portrait of the aristocrat Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), to be sent as a betrothal gift to a nobleman in Milan. The problem is that Héloïse does not want to pose for the portrait so Marriane must pretend to be her companion and observe her features when she can.

Héloïse mourns the death of her sister and resents having to take her place marrying the nobleman and losing her relative autonomy in a convent.  Marriane has a great amount of independence and outspokenness for a woman of her time and the two begin to bond.  They also spend time with a third major character, the unflappable house maid Sophie (Luàna Bajrami), and the film as a great number of scenes of women just enjoying one another’s company, something we don’t see too much of in film.

Not to get to spoilery, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Marriane and Héloïse’s relationship grows into a romantic one.  They make the best of the time they have and there is also much yearning for more. The acting performances of the three leads are magnificent and the film is gorgeous.

One stand out scene occurs on a beach by a bonfire (the scene that gives the film it’s title) where a group of Breton women we’ve never seen before (and never see again) begin singing and performing as if they were in The Revels.  It’s such a stunning moment in a movie that is largely very quiet with very few characters on screen.

Rating:  ****

Documentary Movie Review: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “D” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “D” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Dark DaysThe Day the Series StoppedThe Day the Series StoppedDecoding Desire, Dear Mr. WattersonDolphinsand Don’t You Forget About Me.

Title: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson 
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Director: David France
Production Company: Public Square Films
Summary/Review:

Marsha P. Johnson was a New York City entertainer and activist, who, among other things, participated in the Stonewall Uprising, was a member of the Gay Liberation Front, co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), modeled for Andy Warhol, and participated in ACT-UP.  Through her life she is identified as a drag queen, transvestite, or transgender person and even her family use female and male pronouns interchangeably.  Her charm and easygoing nature made her a beloved figure in New York’s LGBTQ community and earned her the nickname “Mayor of Christopher Street.”  Shortly after the Pride festival in 1992, her body was found in the Hudson River.

The police declared her death a suicide and quickly closed the case, but many in the LGBTQ did not believe Marsha was suicidal and suspected she was murdered. As the movie documents, transgender people are murdered at an inordinate rate, even to this day,  with the police failing to investigate the crimes and when someone is actually charged with the offense they receive light sentences. The main focus of this movie is activist Victoria Cruz of the Anti-Violence Project carrying out her own investigation of this cold case 25 years after Marsha’s death.

The story of Marsha P. Johnson is a story that parallels the Gay Liberation movement in New York.  Key figures who feature prominently in the movie are Randy Wicker and Sylvia Rivera. Wicker is a gay activist and writer who was Johnson’s housemate for many years. His opposition to a Pride street festival run by the Mafia has contribute to a theory that Martha was killed by the mob. Rivera co-founded STAR with Johnson in 1970 to provide support for homeless drag queens, gay youth, and trans women. She was outspoken against the gay rights movement being dominated by white, cisgender men who left out transgender people and people of color in order to assimilate with mainstream society.  In the documentary we learn she left New York City after speaking out at a 1973 rally, but returned after Marsha Johnson’s death.  In archival footage, Sylvia Rivera is interviewed while living in a homeless encampment on the Hudson River in the 1990s and suffering from alcoholism.  She is able to go cold turkey with the help of friends, and returns to activism, receiving global recognition for being in the vanguard of LGBTQ equality.

I like that I learned a lot about important activists like Cruz, Rivera, and Wicker and others in this movie. It is a bit disappointing that there isn’t as much about Marsha P. Johnson in the movie.  But then, I guess that reflects reality. Johnson was taken from this world at a young age and is not here to tell her story.  This is a movie that like many a good documentary will make you a little bit smarter, but also a little bit sadder.

Rating: ***1/2

Documentary Movie Review: The Celluloid Closet (1996) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “C” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “C” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Cane Toads: An Unnatural HistoryThe Case of the Grinning Cat,  Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Ceasefire Massacre, The Central Park Five, The Clash: Westway to the World,  and Constantine’s Sword.

TitleThe Celluloid Closet
Release Date: February 15, 1996
Director: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Production Company: Channel Four Films | HBO Pictures
Summary/Review:

This documentary traces the history of homosexuality as it is depicted in Hollywood films.  As early as the silent film era, stock characters of sissy men appeared in films for comic effect, although there were some positive representations of gay and lesbian people.  The institution of the Production Code included censoring “sexual deviancy” that put the kibosh on any acknowledgement of homosexuality.

Filmmakers instead used coded characters to slip gay and lesbian ideas past the censors. Movies of this period include Ben-Hur (1959), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Rebecca (1940), Red River (1948), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Rope (1948), Some Like it Hot (1959), and Young Man With a Horn (1950). I never knew that Gore Vidal worked on the script for Ben-Hur and wrote in a gay subtext, which makes the fact that I watched the movie at my Catholic elementary school hilarious.

By the 1960s, homosexuality was once again acknowledged in film but gay and lesbian characters were often tragic figures who inevitably died by the end of the movie, usually by their own hand. Stereotypically homosexual characters were also villains in many movies.  Advise and Consent (1962), The Children’s Hour (1961), The Fox (1967), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Vanishing Point (1971), and Walk on the Wild Side (1962) are all discussed as examples of this problematic approach to homosexuality in film.

The Boys in the Band (1970) is recognized as the first mainstream film to depict gay characters in a positive light.  It was directed by William Friedkin whose later film Cruising (1980) was protested by gay rights activists for perpetuating the stigma of gay men as villains.  Cabaret (1972) and Making Love (1982) are also highlighted for positive depictions of gay characters.  Nevertheless, homosexuality continues to be coded in Hollywood films, derogatory terms like “faggot” are used indiscriminately in movies, and big name actors avoid being cast in roles as homosexual characters.  Philadelphia (1993) is recognized as an advancement for featuring likable star actor Tom Hanks in the role of a gay man with AIDS, although it’s noted that his character still dies at the end.

A frustrating aspect of this movie is that none of the interviewees are ever identified onscreen, nor are the titles of the movies from a good portion of the clips that are shown. I do know that Lily Tomlin narrates the movie and people interviewed include Tony Curtis (commenting on his roles in Some Like it Hot and Spartacus), Arthur Laurents, Armistead Maupin (who also wrote the script for the narration), Whoopi Goldberg, Harvey Fierstein, Gore Vidal, Shirley MacLaine, Barry Sandler, Tom Hanks, and Susan Sarandon.

Hollywood has continued to make progress on gay and lesbian representation since this documentary was released 24 years ago, but remains frustratingly slow in depicting LGBT people in the full range of human experience.  Consider recent Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney films which include scenes with extremely minor gay and lesbian characters, never the leads, but the studios expect to be celebrated for their progress. One thing that comes through in this film is that gay and lesbian viewers had to watch the coded depictions in movies and translate them to their own experience.  Harvey Fierstein makes a good point that it’s time for straight audiences to do some translation.

Rating: ***1/2

 

Movie Review: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Release Date: August 10, 1994
Director: Stephan Elliott
Production Company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment | Specific Films
Synopsis:

Mitzi (who also goes by Anthony and “Tick”) is a performer in drag queen cabaret in Sydney portrayed by Hugo Weaving.  He gets a call from his wife, from whom he’s been separated for several years but never officially divorced, asking for a favor to bring his performance to her casino resort in Alice Springs. Mitzi invites Bernadette (Terence Stamp), a older transgender woman who was a legendary drag performer, to join him as she grieves the death of her partner.  They are joined by a third drag performer, Felicia (a.k.a Adam), a young, narcissistic, and acerbic gay man.  Felicia uses his parents’ wealth to acquire a bus for their journey across the Australian Outback which he christens Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The basic plot is the clash of three different personalities in a bus together on a several days journey, made even longer because the bus keeps breaking down. Along the way they meet rural Australians, some who are welcoming, some who are hostile, and on one occasion brutally violent. They pick up an auto mechanic, Bob (Bill Hunter), who keeps the bus running and forms a romance with Bernadette. Arriving in Alice Springs, it’s revealed that Mitzi also has an 8-year-old son, Benjamin (Mark Holmes) he hasn’t seen since Benjamin was a baby.  But Benjamin’s very cool mom, Marion (Sarah Chadwick), a queer woman herself, has raised Benjamin to be accepting of his father.

After performing for two weeks, Bernadette decides to stay in Alice Springs with Bob (who has found work at the casino) and Benjamin travels to Sydney to get spend time getting to know his dad better.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

My senior year of college, my friend John acquired the soundtrack to this movie which included several disco era hits, including the epically bad and unintentionally hilarious “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene. John’s room was a popular hangout in our dormitory so a lot of people heard the soundtrack and were deeply curious about the movie that went with it.  When the movie finally came to our local art house movie theatre it was a group outing.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered all the basic plot details and some of the dialogue, including Bernadette’s response to Felicia’s desire to climb King’s Canyon in a drag outfit: “That’s just what this country needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.”  I also remember the dance numbers and costumes are excellent.  And most beautiful of all is Felicia on the roof of the bus, singing an aria, as shiny fabric trails behind the bus.

What Did I Forget?:

I remembered the details of Mitzi’s storyline well, but not as much of Bernadette’s. Perhaps because I’m older, her story (and Stamp’s performance) feel more poignant.  I completely forgot about Bob and their romance, which on this rewatch I found the sweetest part of the movie.

When I watched this movie in the 1990s, I didn’t know who any of the actors were.  Terance Stamp was already an established “tough guy” actor for decades at the time, although I suppose there would be no way I’d remember him as General Zod in the Superman movies.  Weaving would go on to play parts in The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, and Captain America franchises, among other things. And Guy Pearce would also find fame in L.A Confidential, Memento, The King’s Speech, and Iron Man 3.  Watching this movie knowing the actors from their other parts rather than assuming they’re Australian “unknowns” makes for a different viewing experience.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This was one of the first major movies to offer a sympathetic portrayal of gay and transgender people (and coincidentally gave a boost to Australian cinema in foreign markets).  It’s strikes a perfect balance among road movie with striking humor, romance, a sensitive story of family, and great dance performances and costuming.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Even 25 years ago, the big problem with this movie is the character of Cynthia (Julia Cortez), a Filipina woman married to Bob (presumably through some sort of mail-order arrangement to gain Australian citizenship) who is also an exotic dancer. There is a possibility of comparing Cynthia to the Priscilla crew as different type of outsider in the Australian desert, but her character is portrayed in the most virulently stereotypical fashion in the few moments she’s on screen.

All three lead characters are portrayed by straight, cisgender actors.  I think in the 1990s it was possible to defend this as an act of solidarity to have cishet actors offer a sympathetic portrayal.  But if this movie was made today it would be rightly called out for denying parts to LGBTQ actors.

The movie also features the use of the term “tranny” and deadnaming Bernadette as jokes. I was ignorant of this in the 1990s, but today I know these are horribly hurtful things to say.  Granted, most of this is done by Felicia, a character who admits to being deliberately obnoxious to get a rise out of people. I don’t think the movie so much defends doing this as it is showing that some gay men, even drag queens, are prejudiced against transgender people.  Either way it’s an unsettling part of the movie.

Is It a Classic?:

Yes, definitely!

Rating: ****

WARNING: This trailer actually makes the movie look bad.

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with A:

  1. Airplane! (1980)
  2. Aliens (1986)
  3. Amelie (2001)
  4. Anne of Green Gables (1985)
  5. Apollo 13 (1995)

What is your all-time favorite movie starting with A? What do you guess will be my movie for B?  Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado


Author: Carmen Maria Machado
Title: Her Body and Other Parties
Narrator: Amy Landon
Publication Info: HighBridge, a Division of Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

This collection of short stories uses tropes of horror – and particularly body horror – to relate the struggles faced by women and LGBTQ people. Stories include allowing the woman with the ribbon around her neck from an urban legend tell her life story and what seems to be a list of sexual partners growing into a story of a nationwide plague.  One story is synopses of Law and Order: SVU episodes that grow increasingly absurd and macabre. That story, and some others, went on too long and I lost focus. But overall this is a creepy and sexy collection of stories.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Moonlight (2016)


Title: Moonlight
Release Date: October 21, 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Production Company: A24 | Plan B Entertainment | Pastel Productions
Summary/Review:

Moonlight is a compelling drama about masculinity, the search for identity, and particularly homosexual identity focusing on a character named Chiron at three different periods in his life.  The movie begins with the withdrawn child Chiron (Alex Hibbert) running away from bullies in his working-class Miami neighborhood and hiding in a crackhouse.  He’s rescued by Juan (an amazing performance by Mahershala Ali), a middle-aged Cuban man who takes Chiron home to meet his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe, also awesome), when Chiron is too shy to speak about where he lives.

Juan and Chiron’s middle-class home becomes a stable place for Chiron to visit, and Juan becomes the supportive father figure he needs.  Chiron’s father is not in his life, and his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is emotionally distant, working long hours and suffering from addiction.  The crushing irony is that Juan’s comfortable life is due to the money he makes as a drug dealer, and Paula is one of his customers.

The second segment focuses on Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) as a high school student.  He is still reserved and isolated, and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who we saw as a boy being friendly to Chiron, is now Chiron’s only real friend.  His mother’s addiction and hostile behavior have only grown worse.  Juan has died in the intervening years, but Chiron still visits Teresa. The main plot lines of this segment are Chiron attempting to avoid the school bully Terrel (Patrick Decile), and the romantic intimacy that grows.  Unfortunately, circumstances lead to brutally violent conflict and Chiron going to juvenile detention.

In the final segment, an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) lives in Atlanta, and now deals drugs himself.  He receives a call from Kevin (André Holland) out of the blue, and it forces Chiron to reexamine suppressed memories and feelings. He visits Paula at a drug rehabilitation center and reconciles with her, then drives to Miami to visit the restaurant where Kevin works as a cook.  The final portion of this movie is an intense series of conversations between the two men that contain enough hesitation and buried emotions to put a Merchant Ivory film to shame. I joke, but it’s rare for a Hollywood film to give dialogue between two actors the space to breath, and Rhodes and Holland act the hell out of it.

This is an important movie, because honest depictions of homosexuality among Black and/or working class people are practically unheard of.  It’s also a delicate examination of masculinity and the paths it forces boys and men to follow that lead to harm and isolation.  It’s not the easiest movie to watch as there is suffering and violence that’s hard to look at straight on, but it does come to a hopeful conclusion.

Rating: ****1/2

TV Review: Further Tales of the City (2001)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 2001
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 3
Summary/Review:

I’ve finished off watching all the televisual adaptions of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books with 2001’s More Tales of the City.  This is the shortest of all the miniseries and apparently was released in three episodes, although the version I watched on YouTube was edited together into a single three hour movie.  The brevity actually benefits the film, because this is the weakest of all 9 Tales of the City books and consolidating the story actually improves the narrative a bit.

More Tales of the City revolved a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about an Episcopalian cannibal cult. Further Tales of the City revolves around a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about cult leader Jim Jones living in San Francisco three years after the Jonestown massacre.  This main story line has DeDe (Barbara Garrick) and her adorable toddler children returning home after having gone to live at Jonestown, surviving the massacre, escaping to Cuba, and then being expelled for being lesbian.  The story does give Garrick a part with more gravitas which she performs well and makes me wonder why DeDe was played mostly for laughs in the 2019 miniseries.

Another central character is Prue (Mary Kay Place), a friend of DeDe’s who had only a small role in previous series, but is the one who discovers and befriends Jim Jones, using the alias Luke (Henry Czerny), when he was living in a maintenance shed in Golden Gate Park.  Her sidekick is Father Paddy, a gossipy and secretly gay priest, played by Bruce McCullough (the second member of Kids in the Hall to appear in Tales of the City after Scott Thompson played a bit part in the previous installment). Another newcomer is a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh as news anchor Bambi Kanetaka, who is Mary Ann’s rival at the tv station and who’s mistreatment by the 28 Barbary Lane family reflects poorly on them and is another reason I like this book the least.

The other storylines seem to be treading water.  Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Brian (Whip Hubley) are in a long-term relationship now, but straining over Mary Ann’s career focus (something that is better developed in the later books).  Michael (Paul Hopkins) has broken off with Jon (Billy Campbell) basically because of low self-esteem and has a series of flings with an actor (a character Maupin based on his real life lover Rock Hudson), a cop, and a cowboy.  And Mother Mucca (Jackie Burroughs) introduces Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) to a man named Royal Reichenbach (John McMartin) in a story created solely for television.

It’s a shame that they were never able to continue adapting the books with the original-ish cast.  Book 4, Babycakes, is my favorite of all the books and all three of the books from the 1980s are more character-driven and deal with more serious issues, especially the AIDS crisis.  Maupin was one of the first authors to include depictions of AIDS in fiction.  Alas, to what could’ve been.

Related posts:

TV Review: More Tales of the City (1998)


Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 1998
Season: 2
Number of Episodes: 6
Summary/Review:

Having watched the new Netflix series Tales of the City and then rewatched the classic 1993 miniseries Tales of the City, I dug up the sequel to the original, More Tales of the City on YouTube of all places. This miniseries suffers from the fact that it’s based on one of the weakest books in the Tales of the City series and can’t improve on its source material. The series also  anfeatures several characters cast with new actors that can be jarring.

Paul Hopkins takes over as Michael Tolliver and he end being my least favorite of the three actors to play Michael, as he overdoes the Southern accent and seems to lean in to hard on playing a stereotype of 70s gay man. Nina Siemaszko is somewhat more successful as Mona, playing the character with more vulnerability, but also looking like she’s cosplaying Chloe Webb as Mona. Diana Leblanc takes over for Frannie Halcyon who has a much bigger role in this story, and bears a startling resemblance to Barbara Garrick who plays her onscreen daughter.  Françoise Robertson takes over for D’orothea and also is an improvement for a character getting a bigger role.  Finally, Whip Hubley plays Brian, and while he looks too much like a 70s sitcom character, he does inhabit the role well.

The miniseries overall does have more of a sitcom feel and a lot of the cinematography and direction that made the original Tales of the City great is replaced by more pedestrian styles. I find the plot twists over-the-top (SPOILER) such as Beauchamp dies in a car wreck, Michael is suddenly paralyzed by Guillain–Barré syndrome, and Burke uncovered a Episcopalian cannibal cult! Again, though, those all come from the original source, so they do the best they can.

The main plots of the story involve Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Michael going on a cruise to Mexico.  Mary Ann finds romance with a man who has amnesia regarding his time in San Francisco, Burke (Colin Ferguson), while Michael is reacquainted with Jon (William Campbell).  Meanwhile, Mona, feeling lost in life, journeys to Nevada where she ends up working as a receptionist at a brothel for Mother Mucca (a cracking good Jackie Burroughs who is actually 8 years younger than Olympia Dukakis, despite appearances).  Brian, enjoying voyeurism from his new penthouse apartment, starts a long distance fling with a mysterious woman (Swoosie Kurtz, 14 years younger than Olympia Dukakis) in another building via binoculars. DeDe has her babies with the help of her new friend-come-lover D’orthea.

It was interesting to finaly see this after 21 years, but unlike the original, I don’t think it would be worth an additional viewing.