Vibes (1988)

As is often my wont, I was recently extolling to a friend about the virtues of our local library, and declared I would purchase said friend an inexpensive DVD player the next time I saw one at an estate sale (there’s a one-in-four chance there will be, in my experience) so that he could enjoy some of the more obscure picks that are available. This was perhaps days before the announcement that Netflix would be discontinuing its DVD-by-mail service, which was very close to my heart and which flung wide the doors for me to discover a plethora of movies and shows that had been out of my reach before. I couldn’t afford to have internet in my home when I was in college, but even at nineteen I could spare $8 a month for a constant stream of discs into my apartment, and although my local library can’t boast that it has a copy of everything (and for some reason doesn’t do interlibrary loans for media), there are thousands of things that are otherwise inaccessible now. My friend joked (I hope) that everything is streaming now, and that there’s no reason to own such a thing; I pointed out that I have been watching a lot of episodes of Ebert & Roeper at the Movies recently and that it’s opened my eyes to a huge number of movies that I never would have known existed otherwise. Every episode, the boys discuss 4-5 movies, with two of them usually being films that have remained in the public consciousness or otherwise has some kind of name brand recognition (your Top Gun, your Beauty and the Beast, a Silence of the Lambs), one or two movies that fall into the moderately obscure “oh, yeah,” category, (Uncle Buck, for instance, or She-Devil, or Major League: Back to the Minors; anything that you’d watch at a hotel when you’re on vacation and it’s raining on a Saturday afternoon), and then one or two movies that have, for all intents and purposes, vanished from the face of the earth. Is it worth listing those? We Think the World of You from 1988 and 1994’s BackBeat aren’t the kinds of titles you drop when you’re trying to impress someone. Buried among these episodes, I stumbled across their review of Vibes that sparked my interest and, having finally seen it (thanks, libraries!), has also stolen my heart. 

Ostentatious but insecure Sylvia (Cyndi Lauper – yes, really) meets staid museum curator Nick (Jeff Goldblum doing the platonic ideal of a Jeff Goldblum performance) under strange circumstances; they and several others are guests of Dr. Steele (Julian Sands), a parapsychologist. They’re both psychics; he’s a psychometrist, meaning that he can read the history of an object and even information about the people who have touched it, while she gained clairvoyance via a psychic guide named Louise, whom only she can see and hear. Louise, via Sylvia, warns Nick that his long-term girlfriend has been unfaithful while he’s been away, and although he doesn’t believe it, he’s confronted with the truth when his powers inadvertently reveal her deceit. Sylvia, meanwhile, meets her occasional flame Fred (Steve Buscemi) at the racetrack, where she is cajoled into using her powers to pick a winning horse on his behalf, only to be unceremoniously ditched for another woman moments later. Returning home, she finds a man named Harry (Peter Falk) in her kitchen, where he offers her $50K to help find his son, who has gone missing in Ecuador. Sylvia then enlists Nick to go along as well, since two psychics are better than one, and he opts to go rather than continue to spiral out and stew over the failure of his relationship. Once they arrive, Nick deduces with his powers that Harry has deceived them, and the older man admits that he’s actually seeking a fabled room of gold in the mountains, which was previously discovered by his business partner, but the latter man has since been hospitalized in a persistent vegetative state. The two psychics reluctantly agree to go, falling in love while being pursued the whole way by Steele, fellow psychic Ingo (Googy Gress), and a sexy assassin (Elizabeth Peña). 

I mentioned above that Gene and Roger reviewed this movie; I didn’t mention that they both hated it. Not hated hated hated it, but neither was very impressed. In fact, most critics seem to have felt this way, as it’s sitting at 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve never considered that a perfect metric for a movie’s actual quality, but as a measurement of critical favor, it’s very telling. About halfway through this movie, my best friend, after several chuckles aloud, asked me how the film could have been reviewed so poorly, and neither of us could believe it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that long after this that the film’s quality dipped, to the point where I could understand how a general audience may have been turned off by the pacing issues in the film’s third act. We can’t really go any further without noting, however, that Lauper is incredibly charming here, and a delight to watch. 

I can’t remember the last time I watched one of these kinds of movies—you know, where a non-actor performer (or sports star) is trying to break into pictures—and the non-traditional actor really disappears into the role. She has great comedic timing for someone with no real background in that field, and she and Falk have amazing chemistry. She and Goldblum are a delight to watch together as well; according to her autobiography, they didn’t get along, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from how well they play off of each other here. Goldblum’s decision to go full Goldblum matches her energy perfectly, as even though Lauper’s hair, make-up, and sartorial choices are always completely over the top, her vibe (sorry) is much more subdued than the man standing next to her, eyes bugging and stams stammering. 

The first few scenes in Ecuador are fun, as the trio arrives there to head for the mountains, albeit there’s some All in the Family-era racism from Falk’s character that doesn’t pass the sniff test these days. At first, these seem like mannerisms of the character Harry is playing, of the terrified father of a missing boy, but he spouts off a few other Bunkerisms even after the reveal that are jarring in an otherwise very goofy movie. Travelogue scenes set prior to the cresting of the mountain are gorgeous, capturing the natural verdant beauty of the Ecuadorian mountains, like something out of a movie with a much higher budget. Unfortunately, once Sylvia, Nicky, and their pursuers get to the mountaintop where Harry’s partner found a small, glowing pyramid in the film’s cold open, the plot drags considerably. All of this takes place on a set, which is fine, but the effect of being at the top of a high peak with nothing in the background makes the whole thing feel like it’s taking place in a void. Right before they arrive, we’re treated to a gorgeously rendered matte painting, but once on the actual mountaintop set, characters move around and make choices that feel like shuffling the deck before the denouement. This goes some way to explain why contemporary critics may have turned on the movie when the third act trended toward boredom, but I’m more forgiving, especially when there’s so much charm and appreciable humor on display. 

The film manages to run the gamut of different comedic styles. When the trio first arrive in Ecuador, Sylvia teases Nick for bringing so much luggage, assuming that he’s overpacked. He reveals that one of the suitcases contains an entire month’s worth of dehydrated rations; when Sylvia points out that it’s normally the bacteria in the water that caused travellers of the time to become ill, Nick reveals that another suitcase is full of giant jugs of water, which he also brought along. Later, after Harry’s deception has been revealed, he and Sylvia find themselves at the tiki-themed hotel bar, where he is drinking directly from one of the jugs, which has a festive paper umbrella embellishment. It’s a good visual gag, one among many, including one in which the 5’3” Lauper and the 6’4″ Goldblum perform a tango that ends with her arms around his shoulders, essentially being carried, with her legs dangling back and forth. It all leads one to believe that the contemporary audiences and critics of the time may simply have misunderstood that the film understands that its zany, sometimes cartoony plot is intentional, not the result of poor writing or direction. 

The real crime here is that the public reaction pushed Lauper to abandon film business, albeit not completely. She’s effervescent here in a very real way, like she’s trying some things out. At one point, when Nick rejects her because he misunderstands the reasons that she’s expressing interest, Lauper shifts into an affected Transatlantic accent and mockingly blurts “I want you bad all right. I dream about you and me and a house in Long Island. I’m only half a woman until I make love to you.” For someone who’s not really part of the business, she’s making interesting acting choices that reveal a talent range that most people wouldn’t assume. Reportedly, Dan Aykroyd was first interested in the project (which makes sense, since he’s a big believer in the paranormal in real life) but left because he refused to be in a movie with Lauper, which is both absurd and for the best, since Goldblum’s take on Nick is a much more believable match for Sylvia than I could imagine Aykroyd providing. As a fun bit of fluff, this is one worth tracking down. 

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Signature Move (2017)

I remember Jennifer Reeder’s surrealist high school melodrama Knives & Skin harshly dividing the audience at Overlook Film Fest in 2019, with the more macho Horror Bros in the crowd grumbling that it was the worst film they’d seen all fest and with other scattered weirdos gushing that it was the best.  Personally, I dug it, especially for the way it warped the teen-friendly Lynchian melodrama of early Riverdale by submerging it in a hallucinatory Robotrip aesthetic.  I wasn’t especially surprised that Knives & Skin confused the more rigidly horror-minded section of the crowd, though, since it’s a Laura Palmer-style murder mystery that doesn’t care as much about the murder as it cares about teen-girl bedroom decor and eerie vocal choir renditions of 80s pop tunes.  Hell, even my own reaction was confused.   I left the theater thinking I had watched a messy but ambitious debut feature from a boldly stylistic genre nerd.  I was wrong.  Reeder had not only made a name for herself as a prolific short filmmaker on the festival circuit, but she also had already completed her first feature in 2017’s Signature Move.  And now having caught up with that debut, I’m as confused as ever.  After the slow-motion, high-style freakout of Knives & Skin, I was expecting a lot more visual panache out of the straightforward, Sundancey romcom that preceded it.  I still don’t have a clear answer to the question “Who is Jennifer Reeder?” Maybe I never will.

Signature Move stars Fawzia Mirza as a closeted, thirtysomething Chicagoan who hides her lesbian social life from her first-generation mother, an agoraphobic shut-in who spends all her time watching Pakistani soap operas and needling her daughter about marriage.  As an act of private rebellion and stress relief, Mirza secretly trains as a professional wrestler between dull dayshifts working the desk at a law office.  She also sneaks around the city’s lesbian bar scene, where she meets a much more out-and-proud love interest played by Sari Sanchez.  Her new girlfriend lives a freer, more honest lesbian life, having grown up with an actual professional wrestler as her mother – an open-minded luchadora named Luna Peligrosa.  As one woman struggles to reveal her true self to her conservative parent and the other refuses to regress into the closet, conflict ensues.  From there, there isn’t much to Signature Move that you can’t find in any 90s festival-circuit romcom or, more recently, any streaming-era sitcom.  Even the lesbian-scene setting isn’t especially distinctive amongst similar, superior titles like Saving Face, Appropriate Behavior, The Watermelon Woman, or whatever was the first queer romcom you happened to catch on IFC before Netflix “disrupted” (i.e., gutted) the original purpose of cable.  I suppose there’s some value in documenting the food, fabrics, art, jewelry, and bootleg DVDs of Chicago’s Muslim & Latinx neighborhoods as our two mismatched-but-perfectly-matched lovers negotiate their new relationship, but in some ways those moments of cultural window dressing almost make the film more anonymous among similar low-budget comedies that pad out the programs at Sundance & Outfest every single year.

If there’s any detectable trace of Jennifer Reeder auteurism in Signature Move, it’s in the inevitable climax where Mirza’s shut-in mother bravely ventures out of their shared apartment to witness her daughter’s pro wrestling debut at what appears to be a lucha-drag hybrid event akin to our local Choke Hole drag-wrasslin’ promotion.  There’s a heightened artificiality to that queer-dream-realm wrestling venue that Reeder would later intensify & expand in Knives & Skin until it consumed an entire fictional suburb.  Otherwise, I can’t say I found much to either praise or pick apart with any fervor in Signature Move, which is just as straightforward & unassuming as Knives & Skin is uncanny & confounding.  It’s a cute enough movie on its own terms, though, and there can never be enough media celebrating how gay wrestling is as a microculture.  Otherwise, it appears that I time-traveled in the wrong direction when trying to get a firmer handle on Jennifer Reeder’s signature aesthetics as a director.  Her two follow-up features after Knives & Skin—last year’s Night’s End and the upcoming Perpetrator—are both supernatural horrors that promise a lot more room for the high-style, low-logic playfulness that caught my attention at Overlook than this cookie-cutter indie romcom was ever going to deliver.

-Brandon Ledet

Fire Island (2022)

In my needlessly personal and passionately incoherent review of and apologia for Bros, I neglected to mention that it was not the only gay romcom that came out this year. It wasn’t even the only one with Bowen Yang in it. Fire Island flew a bit further under the radar than Bros did, and although I’d like to give our dear friend Billy Eichner an object lesson about how something that isn’t associated with a Twitter tantrum might end up being better received critically than something that is, we can probably chalk the overall absence of Fire Island from the conversation up to racism. The only upside is that being outside of the conversation also puts you outside of The Discourse. Small mercies. 

Fire Island is a contemporary gay update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, sort of. Here, the biological Bennett family of the novel is replaced with a family of choice. Mrs. Bennett is replaced by Erin (Margaret Cho), who turned the misfortune of accidentally eating a piece of glass at an Olive Garden (or equivalent) into a house on notorious gay mecca Fire Island. In lieu of daughters, she is visited for a week every year by five gay men who are all at some point in the process of crossing the threshold from young adulthood to plain old adulthood adulthood. Max (Torian Miller) is the big guy of the group who loves to pretend that he’s “above” getting down and dirty on the island but who’s really the dirtiest of them all; hyper femme Keegan (Tomás Matos) wears crop tops and as little else as possible and also loves Marisa Tomei; while Luke (Matt Rogers) is also largely defined character-wise by his love of Marisa Tomei, although he also gets to be more involved in the actual plot than Max and Keegan as he takes Lydia Bennett’s role of being socially compromised by an immoral interloper. The real stars, however, are Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster as Howie (the Jane) and Noah (the Elizabeth and therefore our primary viewpoint character), who are clearly the two closest of the group, despite Howie having moved away from NYC to work on the west coast. The sexy, gym-bodied Noah provides the voiceover for the film, which starts with the famous opening lines of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Noah then reveals his playboy nature to us by noting that not every man is looking to settle down. This is less true of Howie, who, at age thirty and dad-bodded, is stressed that he’s never had a boyfriend and fears that he’ll never get the romcom romance of his dreams. 

Upon arrival to the island, Erin reveals that she’s broke (she invested too much in Quibi) and will have to sell the house soon, meaning that this is the last summer that the crew will have together at the house, unless one of the sisters can marry a wealthy man like Mr. Darcy. Wait, no that’s not quite right; everything before the Darcy stuff is accurate, but no one needs to marry, sorry. Noah agrees to avoid getting laid until he successfully wingmans for Howie and, having committed himself thus, sets out to accomplish his mission with gusto. Howie immediately hits it off with Charlie (James Scully), while Noah is initially drawn to the sullen Will (Conrad Ricamora) but then is put off by him after overhearing Will being grumpy in that traditional Mr. Darcy way. I’m being quite literal, by the way; Darcy says of Elizabeth that she is “not handsome enough to tempt him,” while Will says of Noah that “he’s not hot enough to be that annoying.” But of course, as we all know, you can’t keep an Elizabeth and a Darcy apart forever. They may loathe each other for a while due to operating under bad first impressions, but they’re going to end up together. That’s just how this works. 

Fire Island is a fun, breezy, unpretentious movie. While I might have gotten more actual chuckles out of Bros, Fire Island is much more charming. One of the problems with Bros is the extent to which it felt the need to announce how important it was. And, I mean yeah, I wrote almost 3500 words about it; it is important. But it also never lets you forget that it knows how sophisticated and ground-breaking it believes itself to be, while Fire Island aims to be exactly what it is and quietly succeeds in being the best possible version of that thing. The pop culture references are funnier without needing to be so … explicative? Debra Winger’s bog monologue about how all gay men come to her with their relationship issues because in their minds she’s Grace Adler is funny, sure, but it has nothing on Keegan and Luke reciting dialog from My Cousin Vinny in an increasingly agitated hysteria because they’re stuck playing a celebrity guessing game with someone who doesn’t know who Marisa Tomei is. The jokes that allude to or directly cite other movies here are refreshing both in brevity and the fact that the film doesn’t need to belabor the audience with an explanation when, for instance, one character calls out another for being catty with the line “Way harsh, Tai.” If you get it, then you get it, and if you don’t, the movie’s already moved on to the next plot beat.

What also makes things work here is honesty. Noah and Howie are kindred spirits because each recognizes in the other the way that Asian men are ostracized within the community, and it brings them closer. Noah, however, can’t see past this surface similarity to be completely open and honest with himself about the way that he and the schlubbier Howie are treated differently on the island because of how one matches a very particular set of beauty standards and the other doesn’t. As someone with a fat body that prevents me from having the same social cachet as my better looking friends, this really hit home for me; not to keep comparing this to Bros, but in that movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the white, conventionally attractive Eichner feeling sorry for himself for his lack of a boyfriend while consistently hooking up with other attractive people was alienating and, frankly, dishonest. Howie’s emotional scene in which he begs Noah to really look at the two of them and see that although they are both two East Asian gay men who face the same ostracization from the mainstream, pretending Howie has the same more social credit as Noah—with his toned abs and perky pecs—is actually hurting Howie, even if Noah is trying to hype his friend up. Bros felt the constant need to draw attention to itself as “groundbreaking” gay cinema while Fire Island creates something that is fresh and new and hopeful simply by modernizing one of the cornerstones of romantic literature. If you’re only going to watch one, it should be this one.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Movie of the Month: A New Leaf (1971)

Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before, and we discuss it afterwards. This month Alli made Boomer, Brandon, and Britnee watch A New Leaf (1971).

Alli:  Oh, heavens! I’m so glad to finally share this movie with y’all.

Elaine May’s 1971 black comedy A New Leaf is about bachelor Henry Graham (Walter Mathau), who goes absolutely broke after squandering his fortune on his Ferrari, horses, exclusive clubs, fancy restaurants, and his impeccable art collection. After getting the idea from his butler, he decides to marry a rich woman and kill her for her money. His target is botanist Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May), who is a hopelessly clumsy, gauche, and stunted adult. As their marriage and the movie progresses, Henry takes on more and more responsibility in their household in the hopes of having the opportunity to murder Henrietta and become independently wealthy again. I like to describe this movie as the “anti romcom.” There are plenty tropes of a standard romcom with none of the actual romance: a bachelor who has never considered marrying, a meet cute featuring lots of spilt tea, an impossible deadline for the wedding, and disastrous boat trip (although this one is a disastrous canoe trip). I’d even argue that there’s a sort of “opposites attract” dynamic at play.

Except they’re not exactly opposites. Henry. Henrietta. Two sides of the same coin. They’re both adults unable to handle the day to days of adult life. For Henry, it’s because he doesn’t want to. For Henrietta, she’s just so caught up in her ferns that she’s clueless. Both are unmarried and not actively searching until now. With Henrietta getting the confidence to hang off cliffs to find her ferns and Henry learning the practical logistics of household management and taxes, they find a way to—for lack of a better term—complete each other. By the end of the movie, I find them endearing together somehow. 

What did y’all think of the movie? Do you think they belong together even if they’re not lovers and—with some obvious queer subtext—Henry has no interest whatsoever in women?

Brandon: Funnily enough, when I search for “Walter Matthau A New Leaf gay subtext”, the top Google result I’m getting is Alli’s original review of the film for Swampflix in 2016.  Considering how much online movie nerds like to read into fictional characters’ “queer coding”—intentional or otherwise—you’d think we’d be in our usual spot in the double or triple digits of results pages.  All I can really confirm is that Henry’s sexuality was on my mind throughout the film. I kept trying to pin him to a specific modern queer context every time he intimately grabbed his butler’s arm or scoffed when a country club manager expressed surprise at his sudden (financial) interest in women.  Elaine May has enjoyed some recent reappraisal as an overlooked auteur in historically macho film canons (alongside other greats like Varda, Ottinger, Wertmüller, and Campion), an effort that’s intensified even since we covered Mikey & Nicky as a Movie of the Month in 2017. So, it’s a little curious that there doesn’t seem to be much consensus on how this marriage-cynical anti-romcom could be interpreted through a queer lens.

Ultimately, I settled on both Henry and Henrietta being some form of ace.  They are both so unbothered with and oblivious to physical sexual attraction that it doesn’t even occur to them that the everyday companionship of marriage might be emotionally beneficial even if they have no desire to fuck.  The entire arc of Henry’s character here is the painfully gradual realization that he enjoys & benefits from Henrietta’s company.  That delay is, of course, comically ridiculous, since no reasonable human being could watch Elaine May nervously unravel under those gigantic glasses without immediately blurting “Marry me!” (whether or not they also want to murder her for her inheritance).  Plot-wise, the two movies A New Leaf most reminded me of were Charlie Chaplin’s against-type black comedy Monsieur Verdoux and its Ealing Studios descendent Kind Hearts and Coronets, both about the convenient financial gains of murder. The difference is those predecessors have ice-cold hearts that May’s film only pretends to emulate in its earliest stretch.  This ultimately is a very romantic movie about two absolute weirdos who belong together but don’t know how to express—or even realize—their mutual fondness in a world oblivious to their asexuality.  At least, “Walter Matthau A New Leaf asexual” leads to much more credible online resources than this unpolished, self-published blog.

Boomer: I’m also going to throw my hat into the ring for Henry being asexual. There’s that scene right around the 25-minute mark where Bosley from Charlie’s Angels tries to fob Henry off on a water skier at some social event, and, when the two are alone in the night, she attempts to remove her bathing suit top and Henry bleats in terror: “No! Don’t let them out!” I laughed quite a lot at the delivery, but there’s something so bone-deep terrified in that line read that doesn’t say “gay,” to me, it says “completely and abjectly terrified at the very prospect of sex in any form.” It’s also the first time that we’ve seen Henry hit an emotional peak; he’s mostly just gruffly irascible and impatient, but he never hits a boiling point and instead stays in a low, simmering annoyance. The closest he comes before this moment to showing a positive emotion is when he surveys his favorite lunch restaurant and speaks, not to the handsome waiter but to the dining area itself, as if he is a lover bidding a final farewell. “Desire” only exists to Henry insofar as he can only tolerate the finest that life has to offer. 

To be honest, at first this felt like it was going to make me hate this viewing experience. When Henry’s attorney, Beckett, is finally able to make contact with him in order to tell him that he’s used up all of his (vast, incomprehensibly vast) funds, it follows closely on the heels of a scene in which Henry is about to go gallivanting around the skies in a fighter plane, and he doesn’t even seem like he’s having a very good time doing it. But even with all that rich assholery, it’s impossible not to love Walter Matthau in anything that he’s in; even when he’s a total jerk, you can’t help but be charmed by him and his curmudgeonliness. By the time he was wistfully bidding farewell to all of the cultural hallmarks of excessive wealth, I hadn’t come to like him necessarily, but I wasn’t taking delight in laughing at his downfall either. When it comes down to it, he’s ultimately very good with the household finances and starts plugging up holes in Henrietta’s estate budget immediately, which immediately stops her unscrupulous family lawyer from continuing to leech from her. That was the first scene where I really liked Henry, and it carried through the rest of the film. 

Britnee: I really enjoyed this! It’s the asexual “romcom” that I didn’t I needed. A New Leaf is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. It reminded me of one of my favorite films of all time, What’s Up, Doc?. Both came out in the early 70s and are so comically chaotic. Walter Matthau’s performance as Henry, the spoiled middle aged man-child, completely blew me away. I’d only previously seen him in the Grumpy Old Men movies, Dennis the Menace, and Cactus Flower. He somehow looks like he’s been 70 years old forever. What a face! His emotionless delivery of back-to-back sassy lines had me howling. The scene where a child walks in on him while he’s getting dressed for the wedding is one of the best. When he yells at her to get out and repeats “I won’t have her touching my things!”, I saw so much of myself in his character. It’s very “psychobiddy,” even coming from a 50 year-old man.

I also have to mention how impressive Elaine May is. To manage such a brilliant film as her directorial debut while starring in it herself is such a major accomplishment. I’m ashamed to not have known of this sooner. This is why Movie of the Month is so great! Also, I’m dying to try one of Henrietta’s Malaga Coolers. Not only has May made her mark in the film industry, she’s also made it into the world of fragrance, as the Demeter fragrance line has a perfume based on the beverage. I’ll have to get one for my purse!

Like Boomer and Brandon, I also picked up on the asexuality of the main characters. It made sense for Henry, but I had to think a little more to figure out Henrietta. She was more into Henry than he was into her (obviously), but she was more interested in the companionship Henry offered than anything sexual or romantic. They both remind me of these old neighbors I had many moons ago. They would sit on their shared porch and nag each other constantly, but they hung out every day and appreciated each other in their own weird way. 


Britnee: Renee Taylor (Sharon) is fabulous for her entire four minutes of screentime. That waterski scene is comedy gold. The character played like a younger version of her famous role in The Nanny (Fran’s mother, Sylvia Fine), which makes me wonder if that’s her true personality or just a character she’s developed. Either way, I’m so thankful for her existence. 

Alli: I’m also fascinated by the Malaga Coolers. All a quick google search on them brings up is this movie, so it was obviously the worst imaginable offense against wine snobs she could invent, which I love. BUT I actually have tried this beverage. Once, as an adult, I went to my grandma’s house, and she busted out the Mogen David and soda to whip some up.  It was … not great, as you would expect.

The Malaga Cooler: the drink of awkward botanists and crazy Grandmas everywhere. (RIP my grandma, who died this year. She was quite a lady.)

Boomer: So after having to drive my friend’s car back from the Halloween party last weekend because someone forgot to eat before drinking, I took my own car out for a midnight drive to get some fast food. Unfortunately, after passing the Whataburger because the line was insurmountable and getting halfway to Jack-in-the-Box, my check engine light came on, so I turned around and went straight home. After going to the AutoZone first thing the next morning for their free diagnostic, it turned out that there was an issue with my catalytic converter. You see, I had carbon buildup… on my valves. The man at the store asked if I took mostly small, short trips (I do), and apparently I, like Henry, simply don’t take my car out for enough long drives to “clear the throat” of my car, as it were. As a non-car-guy, I didn’t realize that this was what was happening with Henry’s car as well; I just let that whole scene float past me in the stream. Luckily, I went and got it checked out quickly enough that the AutoZone employee was able to recommend something called Cataclean, which you pour into your tank and it clears out all the carbon (from the valves). I’m happy to say that, four days later, my check engine light has gone off! (Not sponsored.) So this is my advice to all of you out there in readerland: if you take a bunch of short drives, like I do, then get you some of this stuff and use if before it becomes a problem. And if your check engine light comes on, don’t ignore it; get it checked out right away. The life you save could be your own (car’s). 

Brandon: Having now seen all four of Elaine May’s feature films, I find myself struggling with the question of whether or not she’s a “great” director.  She certainly makes great films.  Even the worst of her catalog, the misunderstood anti-comedy Ishtar, deserves more attention and praise than it gets.  At the same time, each of those movies was delivered over-schedule & over-budget, so it’s not like she was especially adept at managing her shoots.  This relatively laidback, low-budget debut stretched 40 days past its shooting schedule, with an entire hour of extraneous bits & bobs that the studio edited out of the final product despite May’s protests that it needed to be a three-hour romcom to work.  If she had delivered A New Leaf on-time, on-budget, and properly trimmed, it would’ve been considered a huge hit instead of just breaking even, and she might’ve had an easier time fighting for her cut of similarly troubled productions like Mikey & Nicky down the line.  Instead, she toiled away in the background writing screenplays for some of the most beloved Hollywood comedies of all time, poor thing.

I suppose Elaine May is a great director in the only way that should matter to audiences: her movies are sharply funny & uniquely entertaining.  How she manages time & money is more of an issue for Hollywood executives to worry about; they’ve certainly invested a lot more financial capital on projects with a lot less cultural value than May’s four modest bangers.  I only really bring up the question here to note that her management of the practical & financial aspects of filmmaking is remarkably similar to the disastrous, hands-off way she runs her inherited estate as Henrietta in A New Leaf, adorably so.

Next month: Britnee presents Peyton Place (1957)

-The Swampflix Crew

Love and Leashes (2022)

The two genres I’ve noticed thriving exclusively on Netflix in recent years have been cutesy romcoms and steamy erotica.  The erotic thriller heyday of the Verhoeven 80s and the romcom heyday of the Meg Ryan 90s have long been absent from theatrical marquees, so Netflix has stepped in to, um, fill those gaps, so to speak.  Somewhere between the quiet success of titles like 365 Days (erotic), To All the Boys I’ve Love Before (romantic), Deadly Illusions (erotic), and Always Be My Maybe (romantic), the streaming behemoth has gotten its algorithmic wires crossed and decided to split the difference with an erotic romcom set in the Korean kink scene, Love and Leashes.  Not since Gary Marshall’s Exit to Eden has kink play been treated with such a fluffy, mainstream, sexless touch (unless, of course, you include other recent Netflix properties like the kink-themed sitcom Bonding or the kink-themed home improvement show How to Build a Sex Room).  And since Netflix does not share verifiable data about their streaming numbers, we’ll never know how much demand there is for such an unlikely mix of theme & tone . . . unless they start commissioning more romcom erotica to fill out their splash page in the next couple years.  All I can say for now is that Love and Leashes is as adorable as its existence is absurd.

This is a cutesy, formulaic comedy about an unexpected BDSM office romance, essentially Secretary re-imagined as a femdom romcom.  When a new hire at a media marketing firm risks having his human dog collar shipped to work, his vanilla (but kink-curious) coworker accidentally receives the package instead. In their struggle for possession, the seedy Amazon order flies in the air as they both fall to the ground, flustered.  It’s a kinky re-imagining of the standard dog walking meet-cute of two destined-to-fuck strangers getting tangled up in leashes while trying not to spill their Starbucks orders.  Only, the rope bondage comes much later in the plot.  The man is sensitive and turned on by masochistic play; the woman is naturally bossy but uninitiated to the scene.  She finds a genuine thrill in transgressing the assumed submissiveness of her gender roles, though. She also uses the excuse of learning more about her new co-worker’s fetishes to attempt dating him in a more traditional, romantic dynamic.  Sometimes they play at work, charged by the thrill of potentially getting caught.  More often, they test the uneasy waters of their new mistress/sub dynamic in hotel rooms and in public, both pretending they’re only into the kink activities, not each other (for reasons that can only be explained as Romcom Brain).  It’s the kind of nothing conflict that could be solved by a single, honest conversation, but that’s true of most romcoms, with or without the leather gear.

Of course, there’s an inherent incompatibility in attempting a romcom/erotica genre mashup; most traditional romcoms are excessively chaste.  As a result, Love and Leashes is strangely sexless, considering all the butt plugs, harnesses, and ball gags that hang in the background as set decoration.  In terms of actual, onscreen sexual activity, the most we get is some flogging, hair-pulling, foot worship, rope bondage, and the same dripped-wax fantasy as the “Livin’ La Vida Loca” music video.  We can hear sex in the next hotel room over, but we’re in the room where a man is wearing a leash and yipping like a dog for comic effect – no insertions necessary.  This might have bothered me more if the pup’s mistress-in-training didn’t ask (in Sex and the City-style narration) “Is it weird to play this hard without having sex?”, noting the absurdity of their chaste dynamic.  She spends a lot of time online researching the standard dynamics of domme-sub relationships and chatting up anonymous kink veterans on message boards for newbie tips (setting up an obligatory, last-minute Gossip Girl reveal), totally unaware of how much sex she should be having with the sub under her “control.”  A lot of the central conflict is in the weirdly out-of-sync couple finding a way to enjoy transgressive kink play and start up a traditional, adorable romance on vanilla dates – the same conflict the movie has in its own dueling tones.

This is both my first K-drama and the first movie I’ve seen adapted from a “webtoon” (originally titled Moral Sense), so I can’t speak to how well Love and Leashes translates its source material to a new medium.  I’m an expert in scouring Netflix for low-level horny novelties, though, and it’s one of the better attempts at harmless erotica I’ve seen on the platform.  It’s a little sexually timid & cruelly overlong, but it’s a decent throwback romcom with just enough naughtiness to make the genre’s stalest tropes feel freshly amusing & cute.  The obvious next step for the platform is to get into the business of romcom softcore, but we’ll have to see how well this mashup does before they take that risk.

-Brandon Ledet

Radhe Shyam (2022)

I am often in way over my head when choosing which mainstream Indian blockbusters to attend at the local multiplex.  Since most of the Bollywood & Kollywood titles that populate on AMC Elmwood’s marquee are not covered by Western press outlets, I usually have very little context to go on besides a one-paragraph plot synopsis and an un-subtitled trailer.  Finding my footing with the recent romance epic Radhe Shyam was even more of a challenge than usual, though, and it’s one I’m not sure I fully overcame until most of the way into its runtime.

Firstly, I could not settle on which language to watch Radhe Shyam in, since it was simultaneously filmed in both Hindi & Telugu, with two entirely different music composers hired for both audio versions.  I assumed checking what region the film was produced in would help solve that puzzle, but it was shot on-location in Italy, so I just went with the most convenient start time.  Then came the confusion over the film’s price tag.  While most movies I watch at Elmwood are $8 matinees, tickets to Radhe Shyam were $20 a pop ($24 with the AMC app’s outrageous service charges), which is more than I think I’ve ever paid for a single movie ticket in my life.  The best I can figure is that the distributors had to four-wall its theatrical run, since the Amazon Prime logo in the opening credits indicates that they will not be adhering to the rigid theatrical window that AMC demands.  If I were going by myself, I would have bailed as soon as I saw that ticket price and just waited to see it on streaming in — soon, apparently.  However, since I had dragged a friend to the theater (podcast co-host James), we were too fully committed to our playdate to turn back.  Which is how we ended up paying $48 to watch Radhe Shyam at 10:45am on Saturday morning in an otherwise empty theater.

My confusion over how to best approach this film did not end with that hasty ticket purchase.  Getting a firm handle on its tone & genre was also an adventure in itself.  Pre-intermission, Radhe Shyam is a cutesy romcom with an extremely broad approach to humor (to the point where punchlines are scored by bike horns & slide whistles).  Post-intermission, it’s an epic romance melodrama of Titanic proportions — complete with explosive, fist-pumping superheroics.  Altogether, it’s a thoroughly entertaining 128 minutes of volatile fluff, worth all 4,800 pennies.

Prabhas (headliner of the over-the-top action spectacle Saaho) stars as the world’s greatest palm reader, the Einstein of Palmistry.  Reading his own palm and finding no discernible Love Line, he decides there is no romantic love in his future and can only look forward to a series of casual Flirtationships.  His resolve is challenged when he meets a beautiful doctor played by Pooja Hegde, an adrenaline junkie with a bizarre fetish for hanging out the sides of speeding trains.  After a death-defying meet cute aboard one of those trains, they enter a whirlwind Flirtationship that tests the palmist’s conviction that he will never love.  If this were a mainstream American rom-com I’d say you could predict where the story goes from there, but it’s much more explosively entertaining than that.

Radhe Shyam is thematically hung up on binaries.  Because the central romance is between a medical doctor and a palmist, most of its scene-to-scene conflicts are built around the tension between hard-facts Science and faith in Hindu religion.  More importantly to the romance, it’s a story of Love vs. Destiny, as its two central lovers are decidedly not destined to be together but rebel against their pre-determined futures to transform their Flirtationship into a proper Relationship.  The early, comedic half of the film details their adorable courtship phase.  The late, thrilling half details their violent rejection of their fates in an all-out visual spectacle you’d never see in a Julia Roberts romcom.  That jarring genre structure is itself a binary, and it’s the one that makes the film an exciting novelty instead of just a cute diversion.

It’s near impossible to not be charmed by Radhe Shyam, at least not by the time its two destined-to-separate lovers are heroically cheating death to fight their way back to their sweet, flirtatious beginnings.  This is a movie that covers both major touchstones of Celine Dion romanticism—the flowy curtains of the bodice-ripper “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” music video and the ocean-liner disaster epic of Titanic—so you cannot reasonably claim that it doesn’t deliver the goods.  Whether a $24 theatrical ticket is too steep of an admission price for those heart-soaring pleasures is subjective, but I will say this: the go-for-broke action finale looked incredible on the big screen, and my audience of two had a great time cheering it on in that empty auditorium. 

-Brandon Ledet

Golden Eighties (1986)

When reviewing movies for this blog, I often push myself to contextualize them within how they relate to my personal life or the current moment in pop culture at large.  I doubt many people are reading these webcasts into the abyss anyway, so I mostly treat these posts as diary entries that help me tether my moviewatching habits to a specific moment in time or personal headspace.  If I’m going to be entirely honest in these personal moviewatching diaries, I have to admit that there isn’t much room to contextualize my thoughts on Golden Eighties within a larger discourse, either personal or universal.  I watched Chantal Akerman’s shopping mall romcom musical simply because its screengrabs looked beautiful, and I loved it for that exact surface-level reason.  The film’s pastel cosmetic palette and soft neon blue lighting registered as a vision of 80s Shopping Mall Heaven in my mind, and my only frustration with it as a motion picture is that I can’t find a way to drink those colors through a funnel.  It’s not a movie I wanted to watch so much as it’s one I wanted to drown in, but I still greatly enjoyed the experience of firing it up on the Criterion Channel.

To put it as reductively as possible, Golden Eighties is a Young Girls of Rochefort for the Madonna era.  Besides restricting all its action to a single shopping mall, there isn’t anything especially challenging or avant-garde about its tangled web of unrequited loves – at least not on the level of what you’d expect from a Chantal Akerman film.  The drama mostly concerns three parallel tales of missed romantic connections: a lonely waitress who trades long-distance love letters with a beau who moved abroad, an elderly couple who reunite after having their flame extinguished by The Holocaust in their youth and, the main attraction, a she-loves-him-but-he-loves-the-other-one love triangle you’d find in just about any 1950s teen musical.  There are some political, often Feminist angles to how these relationships play out onscreen, especially in Akerman giving the equal space to an older, Jewish woman’s romantic & sexual desires (through her Jean Dieleman avatar Delphine Seyrig) among the vast cast of young, buxom Gentiles.  Mostly, though, the drama is kept intentionally light & swoony, and it all culminates in the declaration that falling in love with different suitors is like trying on pretty dresses: not all of them fit you, but it’s fun to explore.

Akerman’s arthouse background shows more in the surrealism of the cheap sound stage setting than it does in the romantic themes.  In real life, shopping malls are public, bustling spaces, but this deliberately frothy melodrama plays out in an insular, self-contained world consisting entirely of a clothing store, a hair salon, a movie theater, and a café.  It’s an odd effect, especially as those limited, rigid settings fill with a chaotic flood of singing, dancing, chattering, fashionable women.  I was fully convinced that the obligatory wedding climax was going to be staged right there in the food court, but it never came to that (unfortunately?).  I don’t know that the dreamlike artifice of the faux shopping mall was entirely intentional, since Akerman spent years scraping together funding for a larger production she never got to realize.  It really heightens the romance & melodrama at the film’s core in a way that makes it feel like a singular work of art, though, as evidenced by my desire to drown in the beauty of its screenshots.  Every frame is a gorgeous beaut, as long as you have an affection for pure-femme 1980s commercialism, as I apparently do.

Golden Eighties is imperfect, and I suspect Chantal Akerman would’ve been the first person to admit that.  Its shambling, let’s-put-on-a-show quality is just as charming as its playfully risqué pop music dance numbers, though, and my only real complaint at the end is that I wanted more songs and more costume changes.  I went in desperate to see more of its dreamlike mall-world imagery, and I left with that same insatiable hunger, which I’ll chalk up to it being a total success despite the shortcomings of its production.

-Brandon Ledet

Gregory’s Girl (1980)

The opening scene of Bill Forsyth’s cult-classic teen comedy Gregory’s Girl sets audience expectations for something much crasser and more irritating than what’s ultimately delivered. A group of horny high school nerds spy on a nurse via telescope as she changes out of her uniform in a hospital window. They hoot & guffaw at the shared sight of naked breasts, as if it were the opening to a Scottish version of Porky’s. It’s incredible, then, that the film that follows is such an earnestly sweet, heartwarming examination of pubescent awkwardness, not a ribald romp about bouncing boobies & lost virginities. In fact, the main thrust of Gregory’s Girl is in reforming the social & sexual awkwardness of those boys instead of drooling over women’s bodies along with them. It’s less of a teen sex comedy than it is a romantic heist film, wherein a gang of small-town Scottish girls conspire to hijack & reform the sexual attentions of the neighborhood boys so they can walk away with more charming, better socialized dates than the drooling idiots we’re introduced to.

Like with most eccentric comedies of the era, the characters who populate Gregory’s Girl are each fixated on a singular personal obsession: photography, cooking, window washing, soccer, etc. The gangly teenager Gregory’s obsession just happens to be another human being, as he develops a major crush on a girl on his soccer team who’s a much better athlete (and much better socialized) than him. The conspiratorial heist portion of the film involves a group of fellow teens breaking Gregory out of his fixation on this girl, who’s way more interested in playing soccer than she is in his goofball ass. There’s often an all-or-nothing singular obsession to hormone-addled teenage crushes, and most of the film dwells on that period of horse-blinders fixation. Watching Gregory become deprogrammed from his own romantic self-brainwashing is a major relief from the dumbass teen-boy behavior of the first hour, and it’s outright miraculous a movie this small in scope & budget taps into an observation so sweetly profound.

It’s a testament to John Gordon Sinclair’s central performance that Gregory remains an adorable goof long before he’s deprogrammed. His awkwardness in his own acne-riddled skin and unwieldy noodle body is consistently hilarious from the start, even when he’s just failing to look comfortable & confident sitting in a chair or crossing a road. He plays the part with the same energetic juvenalia as a Pee-wee Herman or Mr. Bean performance. It’s an absolutely lovely caricature of pubescent awkwardness, perfectly capturing the adorable but embarrassing stretch where you don’t know what to do with your body or your heart. The low-key absurdist humor of the world he awkwardly navigates also reminded me a lot of Better Off Dead & Rock n Roll High School—two of my all-time favorite high school comedies—in the matter-of-fact inclusion of students smoking pipes & playing chess in the boys room or aimlessly wandering the halls in a penguin costume as if it were a standard matter of course. Those subtly absurdist delights are just as difficult to convey to the uninitiated as the romantic sleight-of-hand of the film’s heist climax, but it’s movie magic alchemy all the same – turning horny teen-boy awkwardness into pure Scottish charm.

-Brandon Ledet

Is It Just Me? (2010)

When I went on my writing retreat a few months back, I didn’t come straight home after my internet-free cabin sojourn. For what was supposed to be two nights but ended up being only one, I made my way to the outlying areas near San Marcos to a separate isolated location, and that place did have internet, and a Roku TV, which I had never encountered before. I found my way to the Tubi app and was shocked by the width and breadth of its LGBTQIA content, although while scrolling through the trailers that the app featured, I realized why: 70% of them were releases from either TLA Releasing or Breaking Glass*, which both had major runs in the post-Brokeback pre-Trump era of independent filmmaking, churning out gay flicks at a rate faster than Blumhouse can pump out installments of Into the Dark. Most of them … are bad. I imagine they’re also very cheap to license, especially if you’re looking to fill out a free streaming service. Releases from these distributors are rarely just bad movies, they’re bad art not in the sense that they’re bad at being art, but in the sense that it’s a true, pure, intense look into the soul of the writers and directors (in this genre/time period, they are often one and the same), poorly made. These films are inscribed by limitations on their quality in every way, from material to performance to equipment. Most YouTubers now have better hardware than a lot of TLA releases from that time, and it shows. Sometimes, however, they manage to break through and somehow manage to be better than the sum of their parts.

I didn’t end up watching any of those movies in the hills outside of San Marcos. I happened to be driving through (and having to kill time while also following strict COVID protocol) on the day when Texas State was having their graduation. I had hoped to set up somewhere on or along the riverwalk to get some more writing done or finish reading Alias Grace, but all of the picnic tables were covered in plastic wrap to discourage congregation. After walking around the park for a while, I drove around aimlessly, seeing lots of young graduates and their families (following less strict COVID protocols) and ending up on-campus accidentally, where people who now seem impossibly young to me were leaving their dorms and loading up their cars to go home for Christmas. In that cabin just a few short hours later, I couldn’t bring myself to watch dated, ugly movies from the time when I was that same age, a time that was such a short season ago but which was nonetheless a completely different world, one without marriage equality or queer intersectionality or that extra decade of distance from the AIDS crisis. But knowing that they were out there meant that, eventually, I would be drawn back to them, moth to flame.

I recently watched three such films chosen at random. As luck would have it, the first one was a Breaking Glass film and the second was a TLA release, with the third actually coming from Wolfe Releasing, which is cut from the same cloth but seems to have a … let’s say “classier” output. All three also contained go-go dancing/dancers prominently and extensively, which was not something I sought out as a thematic throughline, but that encapsulates this era in gay cinema better than the previous two paragraphs did, doesn’t it? (Not better than the footnote, though.) The first of these, from Breaking Glass, captures what I think of when I think about their other distributions: a lead actor aiming for deadpan and missing, landing in the realm of dull surprise; a gay twist on one of the nine basic well-worn romcom templates (in this case Cyrano de Bergerac); a cast consisting mostly of actors with only two other credits and no headshot on IMDb; and one older gay delivering withering barbs and alluding to youthfully sleeping with Tennessee Williams. You know, a tale as old as time.

Is it Just Me? opens with our hero protagonist waxing fauxlosophical in his Carrie Bradshaw-esque lifestyle article/voice over about wanting more out of life than sexual liberation, although he doesn’t phrase it that way. Meet Blaine (Nicholas Downs), who writes pseudonymously as the “Invisible Man” for USA ToGay, his pen name reflecting how he feels in the gay community of L.A. Part of what makes him feel invisible is that he shares his living space with super hunky Cameron (Adam Huss), a go-go dancer who’s forever hooking up with someone, and against whom Blaine compares himself and falls short. “Is it just me,” Blaine asks his readers, “or am I the only one in this town who’s interested in more than what’s behind a man’s zipper?” Blaine has a meet cute with handsome, guitar-playing Texan Xander (David Loren) at a local cafe, and the two coincidentally start chatting online shortly thereafter, then graduate to spending hours talking on the phone. Xander reveals that, improbably, he actually reads Blaine’s column and, even more impossibly, he likes it. When Xander shares his photo after the two get to know each other better virtually, Blaine is delighted by the serendipity of the situation, until he realizes that Cameron had left himself logged into the dating site when Blaine got online, so Xander thinks Blaine is Cameron. Whoops.

This is actually a cute premise, and I wish that I could say that the movie pulls it off, but it doesn’t quite pass muster. Downs’s credits list a lot of lead performances in short films and web series and bit roles in well-known properties (I feel like, if you’re reading this site, you know exactly what I mean when I say that he’s has the credit “Bellman” on NCIS: Los Angeles and a lot of credits in the exact same vein; you know what I’m talking about). The one that stood out to me most was a short entitled Orion Slave Girls Must Die!!!, obviously about Star Trek; I watched the trailer for that and he’s not giving the same flat performance in those clips as he is in Is it Just Me? In this, he delivers every line in an inflectionless monotone, and it seems to be a deliberate character choice, but—no disrespect to the actor—it doesn’t work. When a man in a bar flirtatiously asks Blaine what his sign is and he replies “Exit” and leaves, he doesn’t seem witty or sharp; he seems like a dick. Contributing to this is Blaine’s actions and attitudes regarding his desire for a monogamous, traditional relationship; that’s a perfectly fine goal and there’s nothing wrong with wanting that (I certainly do), but Blaine expresses his frustration with his lack of a solid relationship through slut-shaming his roommate and other queer folks who are still sowing their wild oats. Consider this exchange:

Antonio: “I totally wanna write for USA ToGay. I’m working on this sample column called ‘Circuit News.’ It’s important news for, you know, circuit people in the crowd.”
Blaine: “That’s a great idea. Another guide to where you can find cheap, empty, unfulfilled, drug-induced sex.”

Blaine: “That’s a great idea. Another guide to where you can find cheap, empty, unfulfilled, drug-induced sex.”

Blaine. Dude. Just keep that shit to yourself.

Gay romances of this era always have a lady best friend for the lead, and this one is no different. I honestly can’t tell if Michelle (Michelle Laurent) is intentionally comically toxic or just utterly superfluous. Her only role in the film is to give Blaine bad advice while they’re jogging. If it’s intentionally bad because she likes drama, that’s actually pretty funny, but if the script is simply defaulting to having her give bad advice because she’s not actually allowed to affect the course of the plot, that’s less funny. Her role as Blaine’s friend and confidant is duplicated in Cameron, who’s surprisingly helpful, thoughtful, and generously patient with Blaine’s nonsense, especially given that Blaine’s internal monologue regarding Cameron is dismissive and, frankly, mean. At one point, Michelle tells Blaine explicitly that “Cameron is [his] roommate; he’s not [his] friend,” but Cameron is a better friend to Blaine than (a) Michelle is or (b) Blaine deserves.

Blaine drafts a reluctant Cameron into pretending to be him, and vice versa, in order to meet Xander IRL for the first time. Cameron warns Blaine that this is doomed to failure, but Blaine is for some reason convinced that wacky sitcom hijinx will have a better outcome than just being honest about the mix-up, because this is a romcom and there wouldn’t be a plot if there wasn’t unnecessary farce. Cameron-as-Blaine does his level best to be friendly with Xander while gently pushing him towards Blaine-as-Cameron, but the miscommunication takes another twist when Blaine overhears Cameron-as-Blaine helping a vomiting-drunk Xander navigate their apartment’s bathroom in ambiguous, offscreen dialogue that mirrors the noises Cameron makes when he’s fucking. Now Blaine thinks that Cameron broke his trust too, and when Michelle hears about it she eats that shit up with a spoon because she’s messy.

Xander has his own sounding board in Ernie (single serving sci-fi vet Bruce Gray from Cube 2: Hypercube), an elderly gay man, long-widowed but scared to re-enter the dating scene. Ernie has a popcorn machine in his movie den and I covet it. He generally wanders into a scene to cut the dramatic tension, and every time he exits the screen it’s accompanied by a line about his dog shitting in the house. He delivers little nuggets of wisdom like “Listen: writers [like Blaine] when they’re alone, they’re prophetic; when they’re with people, they’re pathetic. They’re just too in their heads.” He’s really as superfluous as Michelle, but if we didn’t cut to them from time to time, the threadbare nature of this plot would be even more exposed.

Obviously, Xander eventually realizes that he’s been lied to (from the credits of a slasher movie in which Cameron played a camp counselor, no less) and confronts Blaine, feeling betrayed and angry. But then he decides to give it a chance anyway and writes a song for Blaine, Blaine (and I cannot stress this enough impossibly) gets a job offer from the L.A. Times as a columnist, and Ernie gains the courage to start dating again. Everyone lives happily ever after, I guess.

There are cute moments scattered throughout this film, but on the whole it’s desperately lacking in critical areas. Not every narrative needs to have a main character that we empathize with or even understand, as long as we can form some kind of emotional attachment with them, but Blaine is a character that defies any attempts at empathy by virtue of being a complete dick. I don’t want to blame Downs as an actor without seeing more of his work, but although Blaine’s bon mots seem like they would work really well on the page, as delivered here, it just doesn’t work. Loren’s Texan accent is inconsistent and distracting, but Xander is so likable (if naïve) in comparison to Blaine’s bitter, jaded little pill that it’s a relief when he’s on screen. The MVP here, however, is Huss, who not only never skips chest day, he turns up the charm to distract you from some of the film’s larger, more glaring issues.

Although this happened to be the first of this loose non-trilogy that I saw and thus in a very literal sense it was my first choice, in a larger sense, this wouldn’t be my first choice. It’s a prime example of the TLA brand when it comes to its politics, style, and structure, but with the least effective love story of the lot. Even when Blaine is supposed to be hitting it off with Xander (like discovering that they like the same obscure band), he feels more like a gatekeeper than a keeper because of his monotone delivery. I’ve seen worsea lot worsebut I still can’t recommend it.

*No one ever seems to talk about this, probably because no one cares but me, but these two completely eclipsed Ariztical Entertainment, didn’t they? Ariztical’s bread and butter were a sex comedy franchise that had pretty severe sequelitis and vanity projects like Ben and Arthur (edited, produced, written, directed, scored by, and starring Sam Mraovich), but I can’t remember the last time I saw that logo in front of anything. Their website still has a New Releases section that lists a movie that came out in January, but their homepage is also full of broken Quicktime plug-ins, so take from that what you will. The catalog page for Eating Out 3 has still-visible deadlinks to the film’s Blogger, Facebook, and MySpace pages, as well as a suspended Twitter account. A lot of their films are unsearchable on JustWatch, and as much as I’m interested in seeing their adaptation of Other Voices, Other Rooms, I can’t justify paying $18 for it, especially since it could end up being in a file format that won’t play on anything I own. All TLA had to do was release their own so-so sex comedy and Ariztical basically disappeared from the marketplace. At least Eating Out will always have longevity and legacy over Another Gay Movie with regards to sequels (Another Gay Sequel featured Perez Hilton as himself and was DOA). At least we’ll always have The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Episode #127 of The Swampflix Podcast: Music and Lyrics (2007) & A Romcom Grab Bag

Welcome to Episode #127 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Britnee, James, and Brandon discuss the 80s Nostalgia romcom Music & Lyrics (2007) and other gems in the romantic comedy genre.

You can stay up to date with our podcast by subscribing on  SoundCloudSpotifyiTunesStitcherYouTube, or TuneIn.

– The Podcast Crew