Call Me By My Nigerian Name (Series Thoughts: We Are Who We Are, S01 E05, Right Here Right Now V)

In my opinion, a great episode, probably my favorite so far this season in terms of having the narratives move forward. The stories are told in a languid manner, and so subtle that you sometimes don’t even realize it is telling you a story, or moving the narrative forward. 

At the show’s core is the friendship between Fraser and Caitlin. It is ever deepening, as they bond over moments big and small – Caitlin holding Fraser’s penis as he pees, or when Caitlin finally buzzes her hair. They are both giddy at the prospect, and Fraser is hesitant at first, but they realize its importance and symbolism after it is done. As such, their giddiness is about it is infectious. I as a viewer was first saying ,’No!’ then laughign with them afterwards. When Caitlin finally makes a move meeting with harper, he is there to take her. When Caitlin gets ‘called out’ by Giulia, we see her reaching for him, but he is involved with his own storyline of looking for his own identity. It’s dizzyingly fascinating. 

I don’t know about you, though, but I gasped when Maggie and Jenny kissed. I truly did not see it coming. When you analyze the timeline, this episode is months after when they first meet, so clearly the affair has been going on. I don’t know where the connection formed from – loneliness? inattentiveness of their partners? I wonder where this will go. 

With regards to the obligatory compare with CMBYN weekly reference, at first I was at a loss looking for one. Sure, I could use the bicycle scenes, how it is used to propel the stories in both, but looking at the episode deeper I found a bigger connection – between Elio and Fraser. I found their flirtations with both Oliver and Jonathan similar – look at Fraser’s puppy dog eyes when he sees Jonathan, doesn’t it remind you of earlier Elio/Oliver scenes?

All these things make me love the series more. 

Unglorious (Movie Thoughts: The Glorias)

A lot of ‘The Glorias’ seem like a good idea – Julie Taymor directing, Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander sharing roles as adult Gloria Steinem, an all star supporting cast – but how come the movie falls flat? The film has a feel of a Wikipedia page, and Moore looks bored in the role. It’s a shame because Steinem is certainly an important figure in modern history, and surely there has to be more to her than this lifeless biopic?

The first half tracks better – we see her childhood and her relationship with her father, played by Timothy Hutton. Vikander is helped by a more interesting plot line, but when Moore comes in, the script goes nowhere, as Steinem just goes from one rally to another, without any interesting narrative to go with it. Taymor tries to keep things busy, with whimsical fantasy sequences that seem to come out of nowhere (and feels a bit out of context, top be honest) Bette Midler and Janelle Monae are both breaths of fresh air, having fun in their roles as Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Bella Abzug (Doesn’t Abzug remind you of AOC?) but their presence are brief to be truly meaningful. When you see the real Steinem towards the end in a 2017 rally appearance, you get a glimpse of the energy of what the film could have been.

Soul Dian (Music Thoughts: My Funny Valentine, Dian Pratiwi)

If you have been reading this, I think you probably know when I discover people from around the world are singing songs from the Great American Songbook. I recently discovered the singer Dian Pratiwi, who has released an album titled ‘My Funny Valentine.’ She lives in Bali, Indonesia, and was born in Jakarta. Her album is a mixture of classic songs and newish soul standards.

Upon listening, though, she has more a soul-funk sound than a jazz one. Her singing is very robust and strong, and her improvisations lean more soul. It’s not bad, just not what I was expecting. The album is culled from live performances, and they show her strength – I bet she is a pistol when she is performing. Her ‘Route 66’ rocks, and there’s a whoel lot of herself in ‘What’s Going On.’

Knowing When To Leave (Film Thoughts: French Exit)

My old workmates used to say that I am the Queen of French Exits. Whenever there was an after-work event – a party, a bar meet up – I would always make a grand entrance, make sure my presence is felt, and then slyly make an unannounced exit. I think I do that mostly when I don’t really want to attend something – it’s my way of ‘being there’ even if i really do not want to.

That’s just one reason why I was looking forward to seeing Azazel Jacobs’ ‘French Exit.’ Mainly, I wanted to see it because everyone has been talking about Michele Pfeiffer’s performance here. She plays Frances Price, a widow who learns from her financial advisor that her money has run out. She has spending it frivolously, and she realized she has no plan. So she sells everything and with her son, played by Lucas Hedges, takes a transatlantic cruise to Paris. She takes her cat with them, Little Frank, which embodies the spirit of her late husband.

This is one of those films that one would probably describes as ‘quirky.’ It is nowhere near a drama. It has elements of comedy, and farce, but the film never goes fully in any of those genres. It’s somewhat like a Wes Anderson film in tweeness, with elements of talky Noah Baumbach perhaps. Pfeiffer is indeed glorious, one of those caricature-ish New York City Upper East Side dames. Pfeiffer is smart enough not to play it like a cartoon, though, injecting a whole lot of humanity in her performance. Hedges is a good match for her, playing his character with a huge stroke of understatement.

I liked the film enough. I think I understood what the filmmakers were trying to achieve. What was lacking for me was connection to any of the characters. I knew what the characters were doing, but I couldn’t understand why.

Smoky Journey (Perfume Thoughts: Journey Man, Amouage)

I am wearing Amouage’s Journey Man today – I found a sample of it from my stash, probably a couple of years old now. It’s still a good sample, thankfully.

My first reaction to this – it’s such a ‘warm’ scent. It’s very incense-y and I get a lot of pepper (Sichuan pepper to be exact, as per the notes) and at first I was concerned because it is not the coldest of days, but I felt the scent as not very heavy, even with those warm notes.

I like the scent quite a bit. It is nicely layered, and there are tonka beans, and tobacco in the base notes to make it interesting. What is great about it is that you get whiffs of all the notes still in the end – it may sound dense but it gives a very light and airy incense-y feel. It smells quite niche-y and expensive, and will suit a black tie affair as well as an office scent. You get the feeling of ‘dressed up’ with it.

Love Carries (Film Thoughts: I Carry You With Me)

Sometimes all you need is a good love story. In the heart of Heidi Ewing’s ‘I Carry You With Me,’ there is a poignant love story that starts in the 90s and transcends to today. Ivan (Armando Espitia) lives in Pueblo City, Mexico and has dreams of becoming a chef. HJe went to culinary school there but isn’t getting his break – he is cleaning toilets at a restaurant. One day he meets Gerardo (Christian Vazquez) and the two fall in love. Everything is fine, but Ivan is fixated on his dream, and thinks the only way he can achieve it is to cross the border.

Ivan ends up in New York City, and after some trials, Gerardo is able to follow him. They start to build a life, even opening up a restaurant. But of course, they are both undocumented, and Ewing shifts the film from a narrative to a documentary, interviewing both gentlemen as they struggle to be able to leave and visit Mexico without disrupting their lives. As I said, this is a pretty rich love story, full of twists and turns, and with a satisfying outcome. A lot of reviews I have read have been jarred by the sudden change of tone in the final part of the movie, but I did not mind it. It was good to see the ‘characters’ as real people towards the end, and for me it even makes their story more meaningful.

Love, Bomer, and Compassion (Film Thoughts: The Boys In the Band, Netflix)

I was born a year before the original play of ‘The Boys In The Band’ was staged, but as a young gay man, everyone I met was referencing it, and its 1970 film to me. Someone told me you will understand yourself better after seeing the film. But when I finally saw it, I was nit really impressed. I think I was too young to fully understand it – a lot of the references went over my head. In my mind, it was a film that defined a certain generation of gay men, and it was one before mine.

Cut to now. It has been decades since I saw the original film, and there was a new revival on Broadway, this time with an all-gay cast. I thought the production was stellar, and here I am now, a middle aged gay man, and the play finally blossomed right in front of my eyes. I saw myself in some, even a couple, of characters. I finally got it, realizing its context in modern gay history.

And now most of that production has been adapted for a Netflix under the helm of the Broadway director, Joe Mantello. And in this medium, the play even blossoms more. For me, the cast brings most of it to life. I had never been a major fan of Jim Parsons (I think all his characters act the same) but he was able to give his Michael here a lot of depth. In the original play, Matt Bomer’s Donald is probably thought to be more neurotic, but in today’s world, he comes off as very ordinary and plain, and even bland. Bomer isn’t the most exciting actor, and the character comes off more like paper. Zachary Quinto’s Harold is great, and the actor is more than game for the role. And Robin de Jesus’s showy role is just as colorful on screen Everyone gets a moment, and even Charlie Carver registers his handsomeness ten times more in 1080 pixels.

But above all, this is. perfect way to view gay life then. Stonewall hasn’t happened yet, and the world is starting to get more comfortable with homosexuality, though most of these characters still have a lot of guilt and shame. The world is better now in a lot of ways, but curiously, some of their issues still exist.

Dreamily, Emily (Series Thoughts: Emily in Paris, Netflix)

Darren Star is back and he is now on Netflix with his new series, ‘Emily in Paris,’ and it is a watchable bingeable show that I took all of it in (almost) one sitting. I think it’s the best thing for our pandemic quarantined times – it’s fun, frothy, and it takes place in Paris, and this Paris never looked better – the clothes are chic, the food delicious, the men delectable. I know we cannot travel there right now, and watching it is the next best thing to being there. I was instantly hooked.

All of this despite the fact that I have a little problem with the premise. Emily (Lily Collins) is sent to Paris by her Chicago-based Marketing company to be their liaison. Why they would do this is baffling as she does not speak French. And Emily at once displays all the traits of an ugly American – she sends back her steak because it is ‘bloody,’ creates a commotion in her building because her shower breaks, mocks French women sho smoke outside gyms, acts entitled at her office – but Collins is charming and appealing she somehow overcomes these character traits and you still tae her side.

And also, just like in other Darren Starr shows like ‘Sex and the City,’ and ‘Younger,’ you are in awe of the fashion sense. Collins looks cute in all her outfits (we don’t even care how she can afford them) from her eyelet cropped top she uses for running to the black ball gown she wears to the Opera. Fashionistas will have bulging eyes looking at everything she wears.

And of course, the men. Lucas Bravo, who plays her love interest, plays the French man in all the best way possible (I bet you fall in love with him instantly, too) From their meet-cute to cliffhanger endings, their storyline cute and complicated enough for all to pine for.

I can’t remember the last time I finished a series so quickly, and have been texting friends who I know will lap this series like a French poodle in heat. It’s made for you and me, and you know who you are,

You Shouldn’t Have (Movie Thoughts: Then Came You)

Against my best judgement, I kind of like Kathie Lee Gifford. I used to watch her with Regis and found her funny, and liked that she did not take herself too seriously. I loved that she was a great champion to New York Cabaret and was an angel to Nancy La Mott. I know she is probably a fundamentalist Christian at heart who secretly hates gays, but for the most part I show her kindness. I am kind of fond of one of her albums, the one she did with Christopher Marlowe, and some songs from those are from my daily playlist.

So I come into ‘Then Came You’ with a little bit of hope. In my heart, I knew it was probably going to be bad, but I was hoping it would be at least a fun time. Sadly, it wasn’t. The script, by Gifford herself, rehashes some of tritest tropes there is, and I thought maybe she could sell it, but found her trying too hard, and failing. Craig Ferguson has a character that is kind of hard to like, and their chemistry, while relaxed and sure, believable enough, not enough to carry the deficiencies of the script. The Scottish scenery is beautiful, and Gifford has an assured presence – her wardrobe is fantastic – but all in all, the film comes up short. It’s really too bad.

The French Voice (Music Thoughts: Enchantée, Marie Oppert)

I love me a good soprano so I was excited to discover Marie Oppert, a young French singer based in Paris. I had never heard of her, but saw that her new album, ‘Enchantée,’ has a fantastic repertoire of French and American standards. One note of the album and you will be filled with joy.

She never sounds like she is ‘slumming’ when she sings these songs, as you see her relaxed and comfortable singing them – no arched shoulders for sure.

She takes on Broadway classics like ‘I Got Rhythm,’ and ‘Over The Rainbow’ and sings them not just competently but with firm understanding of the songs’ meaning. She includes more recent choices like ‘The Light in the Piazza,’ and ‘Electricity,’ from Billy Elliot. And when she sings in her native French, you can see she is in her element: her ‘I Will Wait For You’ is pure magic. Marvel in her great voice.