Elitists (Movie Thoughts: Coastal Elites, HBO)

Some (most?) of the material presented in Paul Rudnick’s ‘Coastal Elites’ was supposed to have been staged at The Public Theater in New York City, but because of the pandemic, it has been relegated to Zoom-type monologues. This has proven difficult – I think some of the pieces in the film work well in the medium, but I could just imagine it being better on stage.

But I like most of what I saw. But then again, I am the target market for this – a coastal elite, I can identify with most of what the characters her say. Some i have even said myself.

Bette Midler stars in the opening monologue, about a Jewish NYC woman. I like the character, and I have known a couple of them in my lifetime, and Midler is effective – funny and colorful. But it wore a little bit after a while. Issa Rae’s section to me was the most effective, and it was probably good that I didn’t realize it was her until later one, having been unimpressed by her everything in the past. Dan Levy’s section was weak for me – it felt unconnected to the rest of the pieces, and Sarah Paulson’s was as bti forced, too. All in all, though, most of it was entertaining enough.

Call It By Its Name (Series Thoughts: We Are Who We Are, S01 E01, HBO)

When I read that Luca Guadigno had a HBO series, I knew right away I would want to see it. Then came the description: teenagers in a US Army base in Italy, and I was more piqued. Could it be? Then I saw it stars a young curly haired twink, and I asked myself, is he messing with me? This show screams call my whatever, and people will just sit idly? My heart was pounding when I saw the trailer and I couldn’t wait till the premiere. (The title is even referencing a song from my fave ‘La Cage Aux Folles’)

And it did not disappoint. It is wonderful, heady, moody – just everything I am looking for in the series. In the first episode, the action revolves around Frasier (Jack Dylan Grazer) who looks like post-teen Bieber, without all the messy tattoos, but with the brooding complicated edge of an Elio – edgier even. Frasier is curious, questioning, fashion-forward. It is not clear yet what his sexual orientation is, but just like most young kids nowadays, no one really cares. He has an odd relationship with his mothers, and you know as this story progresses, he will get involved with something you will love – you can smell it in the air. It captures base life accurately – I should know because my father worked in one in my youth – capturing a place that looks acts and feel American even when it is in a soil that is not.

This is the perfect summer series, even as I feel the mornings getting a tad chillier right now. I want to live in its world.

Ain’T She Cute? (Film Thoughts: Cuties)

‘Cuties,’ on Netflix has sparked controversy because of a poster that was used for marketing it. In said poster, four pre-teen girls are scantily clad, and because of this, ‘sexualized.’ There is an outcry among Trump supporters because of it, and calls to boycott Netflix. Phew. Much ado. Oversexualization of girls is the point of the film, and yes, the poster may have been misguided, but is it any different from anything you see in TikTok?

That’s a shame because that can push people away from seeing this film, the debut feature from Maimona Doucour√©, and it is a fine coming of age film about a young woman finding herself in the midst of all the ‘noise’ in the age of social media. The one thing I really love about the film is its specificity: it’s about living in the poor section fo Paris, where Senegalese immigrants come an d live. You can see the diversity of nationalities in the school scenes, and more or less, the kids live and play together, and the dilemmas facing could have been anywhere in the world. Fathjia Yopusoff is Amy, the young girl lured into a group of young girls and their dance troupe, and I don’t want to say anything else because it will diminish the shock of what Amy goes through. Parts – well a lot of it – of the film will make you cringe, but it will make you think about everything you ever did when you were young in order to ‘belong’ to something.

The D in Duchess (Series Thoughts: The Duchessm Netflix)

Netflix kept on recommending ‘The Duchess’ to me – via email, via the home screen when I log on – that it tired me out and I just pressed play without knowing ANYTHING from it. Well, to my surprise, it is (kinda) British so I fell in love with right away.

It’s about a mom (played by Katherine Ryan) who is raising her school-age child, and she is saucy. She curses, she fights with other moms in her school, but she does it all in shiny sequiny designer clothes. So what’s not to love?

And in the first episode, she gets the realization that she wants another child, because her first one turns out so well. She tries the local sperm bank, but is disillusioned by the teenage boys depositing sperm. So could it be her kinda boyfriend Evan? Nah, she doesn’t want to mess up what they have by adding fatherhood to its plate, so she speaks to her daughter’s father, a lapsed boy band member, because he did such a good job with their first child. This is a fun and witty show – sometimes crass but they say it with a British accent so its classier! I can feel the six episodes fly already.

In Any Language (Music Thoughts: Tokyo Sessionds, Delfina Oliver)

Delfina Oliver is an Argentinian jazz singer who got a gig in the prestigious Tokyo jazz room featured in the movie ‘Lost in Translation.’ When in Tokyo, she recorded ‘Tokyo Sessions,’ her fourth album, and really, that is all I know about this singer, and this album.

But the music says it all – Oliver has delivered a fine jazz vocal album. I was initially drawn to the album because of the cherry blossoms design on the cover, but the music is just as fragrant.

Oliver has a nice tender touch to these songs, and I like her nice Ella-esque version of ‘Moonlight In Vermont’ very much – it’s pure and heartfelt. But she can rhythmic, too, as evidenced in her ‘Love for Sale.’ And she gives tribute to her native Argentina with ‘Tonada del Viejo Amor,’ which is a tradional folk Zamba and in ‘Takeda No Komoriuta,’ a Japanese one. In any language, she is terrific.

The Immigrant Experience (Film Thoughts: Futur Drei/Moonson)

The immigrant experience already brings out complex emotions and I recently chanced upon two films about it. But, the great thing about these two films is that it doesn’t show the American immigrant experience.

Futur Drei/No Hard Feelings, for example, is about Parvis, an Iranian-German gay man. His family moved to Germany, so in a sense he is more German (there is a running joke wherein he speaks Iranian with a German accent) but he certainly has very close ties to his roots. He spends his days and nights just like any other gay German youth – Grindr, clubbing. But things change when he meets Amon while working at the Iranian refugee center.

The film becomes a sort-of love story between the two. I like the fact that the film doesn’t go straight melodrama when it could have – we see scenes of the two of them having fun, when the situation is dire. We see Parvis’s parents supportive of his sexual orientation, which I think is atypical of Iranian families. When the film takes a serious turn towards the end, you feel the shift in tone, and it highlights how you are affected. This film won the Teddy at Berlinale this year, and is slowly making its way via the digital platforms.

Henry Golding was a Crazy Rich Asian, and in ‘Moonsoon,’ he is a gay British guy who goes back to Vietnam after his mother dies. I was very interested in seeing this film after I found out it was directed by Hong Khaou, whose earlier film ‘Lilting’ I loved. And it is nice to see Gokding tackle this kind of role, which is a brave choice considering he could have gone anywhere after his hit film.

‘Monsoon,’ though suffers a bit from its indie credentials. The story is a bit unfocused, though we get that general sense of a man trying to go back home, and realizing he does not know this ‘home.’ His family fled to England after the reunification, and when he sees his cousin whose family got left behind, we see him realize what could have been. Still, the film is a great effort, and I was especially touched by Golding’s performance.

An Afternoon Gift (Stage Thoughts: The Callaway Hideaway – Ann Hampton Callaway sings The Bergmans and Beyond)

It must be really tough for artists to find an avenue to showcase their talents nowadays. But somehow, art persists and they create, we just need to sometimes seek where they show. Ann Hampton Callaway launched a series of Zoom-based concerts called ‘The Callaway Hideaway’ and it is great for her – who knew that Zoom would make her intimate music feel more so?

Her latest effort, ‘Ann Hampton Callaway sings The Bergmans and Beyond’ is wonderful. The concept alone would have made me cross hoops to join: a celebration of Marilyn and Alan Bergman.

The Bergmans have provided lyrics to some of the most wonderful love songs, and Callaway sang a whole lot of them with her inimitable warmth and feeling – you can really tell she loves these songs as much as we do, as she sang the most beautiful versions of ‘What are you Doing the rest of your life,’ and ‘How Do You Keep The Music Playing,’ just for starters. My favorites were all of them, but I tore up in the beauty of ‘On My Way To You,’ the wedding song for my wedding that would probably never happen. I couldn’t help but feel that the whole show was a gift – I felt so many emotions just in a span of seventy five minutes.

Love Bleak (Film Thoughts: Cicada)

Matthew Fifer’s ‘Cicada’ is one of the featured films from thsi years (kinda virtual) Outfest 2020. He directs, stars and writes in this film about a gay millennial in New York City. It is one of those films that is difficult to categorize – there are both comedic and dramatic elements in it, and is quite heavy in theme. It is also a little abstract and at times too obtuse to figure out.

But the film got me thinking. It initially made me a little detached from it, but as I thought about it more, felt it creep up on me. His character, ben, is tortured – he has been sexually abused and has to deal. He spends most of his days and nights in random sexual encounters with men and women.

But things change when he meets Sam, and they try to embark on a relationship. he comes with his own set of issues – he hasn’t come out to his family yet. All of this is filmed gorgeously and you feel their worlds crumble even as they try to patch it up. There’s a sense of dread here, and you try to insert your own kind of hope in it.

There’s The Tea (Perfume Thoughts: Vera Wang Embrace Green Tea and Pear Blossom)

It was one of those things, from a targeted ad. I saw this perfume on sale from those on-sale-for-a-day sites. I was intrigued about the green tea, because I love tea scents. It is by Vera Wang Embrace, which I had never heard about. ‘Green Tea and Pear Blossom’ sounds like an interesting combinations, and I thought that the scent is pretty much fool proof. At worst, I thought to myself, it would be a pleasant fruity floral.

It turns out that the perfume is actually very nice.It is of the Jo Malone vein – fruity and fresh – and it makes you smell like you just stepped out of the shower. The green tea accord is there, and it is very nice, well blended and not too dry (I like it drier, for sure, but I am not complaining here) There is a slice of bergamot here and the pear blossom is nice and sweet, but not sickeningly so. The scent stays close to the skin, but the thing is so cheap that I can reactivate it sparingly. I say this is a win.

Hear Helen Roar (Movie Thoughts: I Am Woman)

Unjko Moon’s ‘I Am Woman’ tracks the life of Helen Reddy, and I think most people have forgotten her already, but once upon a time she was a force – the singer who may not have been the hippest, but whose anthem song roused females, and became the theme for the feminist movement.

Musically, I remember more from her, and also once upon a time little me would sing her other big hit ‘You and Me Against The World.’ I realized I knew next to nothing about her life, so I welcomed this film with open arms.

The screenplay, by Emma Jensen, is by-the-books music biography, not dissimilar to VH1’s ‘Behind The Music,’ and no cliche and trope is left untouched. But somehow, I liked a lot of this film still. Tilda Cobham Hervey’s performance as Reddy resonates – she takes command of the screen when she is on, both as an actress and as a singer. The visuals are topnotch – the cinematography and production design take you instantly to the cheesiness of the 70s aesthetic, And Evan Peters as her husband/manager Jeff Wald somehow manages to make a human out of a cardboard character. Against all odds, you will feel for these people, because they feel real – they were. I think perhaps the story and the film could have been tightened (its running time is just short of two hours) but as it is, the film would probably be a crowd-pleaser. It’s not any worse than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for sure,