When I read the synopsis of Netflix’s ‘The Half of It,’ I uttered to myself, “ugh, another insipid variation of Cyranno de Bergerac,’ and I have to admit I went into the film with that bias. I find that these teen Netflix projects can be hit or miss. But I should have known that Alice Wu, the director would give us something unique. The film stars Leah Lewis as Ellen Chou (does Netflix only cast Asian actresses with Western names?) an intelligent teenager living in a small town in Middle America. She is so smart that her gig economy side job is to make term papers for her classmates. Enter Paul (Daniel Diemer) who hires Ellen to write letters for him, as he is enamoured with Aster (Alexxis Lemire) Upon the course of this, Ellen gets a realization, that she is falling for Aster herself. Things get convoluted quite quickly – Paul starts to fall for Ellen, as Ellen gets deeper with Alexis, and is Alexis really responding back to Ellen? This is the kind of film you probably have to rewatch to get the small details you may have missed the first time around, but I thought Lewis and Diemer had fantastic chemistry and was kind of rooting for that. Aster is religious so I thought it would have been kind of impossible for her to respond to Ellen, but all this headiness i exhilarating. Not that this is the kind of movie that ties everything in the end properly, but the ending is satisfying and, above all things, realistic. If, like me, you had doubts going into this film, get over it and enjoy.
Ryan Murphy, again, produced the new documentary ‘A Secret Love’ on Netflix and just like the earlier ‘Circus of Books,’ it is wonderful and a testament to power of gay love, and well, any kind of love. The film, directed by Chris Bolan was supposed to debut at SXSW Film festival in Texas, but that shuttered after the pandemic. It is about a couple, Pat and Terry, who meet in the 40s, and, at the start of the film, had been together for almost 66 years. They tell their love story, with Pat being on of the first female baseball players in the All American Teams, which was the basis for the Penny Marshall Movie ‘A League Of Their Own.’ For decades, they have made their home in the Chicago area, and now have to face obstacles from aging – Pat has been experiencing tremors, and their home has started to be an unsafe place for both of them. Terry is resistant at first, unable to let go of the life they have shared together there. This seems like a simple story, and it is, as we see their struggle as they grow old together – and finally able to marry. The last fifteen minutes of the film is heartbreaking, as we see them finally move to an assisted facility, and then get married. ‘Love is love’ is not just a saying, this film is the embodiment of it. Don’t proceed to watch without tissues.
Rachel Mason directed the Netflix documentary ‘Circus of Books,’ about the popular porn bookstore in Los Angeles. Tt turns out, she has a personal connection to the subject. Her parents, Barry and Karen Mason, were the proprietors of the one-time largest distributor of gay porn in the country. In this moving and engrossing documentary, she explores the beginning (and eventual ending) of the family business. Who would have thought that a nice Jewish couple were the owners? Barry answered Larry Flynt’s newspaper ad looking for secondary distributors for his Blueboy Magazine, and before they knew it, they were the owners of Book Circus in West Hollywood, taking over from its troubled business owners. And we see the business grow (eventually expanding to Silverlake and Sherman Oaks) But of course, the bookstore had other significance in the gay community – it was a place where gay people can interact with other gays, a haven where they can feel that they were not alone in the world. The back alley, dubbed Vaseline Alley, was a huge cruising spot as well. Porn was huge in the 80s and we see the couple move to production, eventually producing Matt Sterling productions fo Jeff Stryker films.
But there’s a deep personal story to the documentary as well. When their kids were growing up, they were very tight-lipped about the business, as they didn’t want to be a distraction for their kids growing up. Karen is pretty religious, and that dichotomy is explored here as well. They are a very sensitive couple, and some of the most touching scenes are when Barry would take about friends and colleagues that passed during the AIDS epidemic. And wouldn’t you know it, but they also have two queer children, and we see Karen go through hardship in accepting them, to being proud PFLAG members.
In a lot of ways, the book store is a perfect backdrop for how gay life has changed over the years, and with the internet moving content to online, there was no choice but to eventually close the store – we see the bittersweet ending at the end of the documentary. There is a silver lining, though – Chi Chi Laroue has rented the space and transformed it to ChiChi’s Circus, now a gallery/store space, still for queer content.
What does the statement ‘love is blind’ really mean, because for me it has a lot of connotations. But for the sake of the new Netflix reality show “Love Is Blind,” this is what it connotes: a bunch of strangers are housed in some warehouse in Atlanta, and they date in pods, hearing only each other voices. When a match is set, the guy proposes to the girl, and not until then that they meet in person. Then they are whisked off to a resort to Cancun, where they adjust to the ‘physical’ stage of their relationship. I am only up to Episode 4 of the series, and one couple has already disintegrated in Mexico.
So what do I think? Well, I am normally not a fan of reality dating shows (I don’t get the appeal of ‘The Bachelor’ or its female counterpart) maybe because I am more of the hopeless romantic kind – I can be conservative that way. I found this series well-edited. They stop the first episode at a spot where you instantly want to find out what happens next so you cannot help but keep on watching. It hasn’t been appointment television for me just yet (I feel like an episode a night is enough) but I gotta admit I am interested enough to keep on watching, and probably finish the first season. I am amazed that there are five couples engaged by now, though it doesn’t surprise me one couple has separated by the first night in Mexico – a bisexual guy revealed his orientation and well, you can just imagine what happens next (juicy!) There’s a lot of drama, but it doesn’t feel as exploitative (though it is) because of the sleek production.
I have finished watching the first season of Netflix’s ‘Next In Line,’ and I have some thoughts. First of all, it took a little bit of time for me to get into the show, and as I said before, it could be the pacing or getting used to the format. But i did finally get its groove, and was able to enjoy the series. There are some things in the format that are not as clear. For example, do they have free reign over the fabrics? Maybe they should create limits to that, so it will create more tension. I also like the fact that there is a lot more men’s fashion here, as obviously I like looking at male models. By the end, I was rooting for Daniel to go all the way, as he is cute (he looks like a young Hugh Grant) but I guess it makes sense that Minju Kim won, as it is the era of the South Koreans, what with ‘Parasite’ winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. I personally liked Daniel’s aesthetic better, but I guess it could be seen as being very British. As a whole, I was entertained by the show, and yes I even warmed up to the hosts, Tan France and Alexa Chung. I liked most of the contestants and there seems to be less emphasis on petty conflicts here, whether that is intentional or not. If there is a second season, will I watch? Sure.
And here we are, on Valentine’s Day with the ultimate of all ultimates when it comes to romantic movies (in these times, anyway) – Netflix’s ‘To All The Boys P.S. I Love You,’ which is a mouthfu-ltitled sequel to the smash hit ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.’ I loved the first movie, and have been eagerly awaiting this one, and of course, why not see it on Valentine’s Day? (Remember when we used to have old-fashioned old-school romantic movies on this day?)
So the verdict? This one is a less successful film than its predecessor – it meanders before settling into a predictable love triangle story line. But yes, it still works, thanks mainly to the cast. Lana Condor (Lara jean) and Noah Centineo (Peter Kavinsky) are so charming separately and together that it hardly matters. (Is it just me or does Centineo read older this time around) that you have no choice but to just go along with them for the ride. They make such a cute couple and you totally believe them, their pairing so effortless.
When the film offers distraction it kind of stalls a bit. I never believed John Wesley McClaren (Jordan Rivers) as a threat, though I loved Holland Taylor’s sassy turn as an older lady where Lara volunteers.
What matters most is how I connected with these characters. I don’t think there were any surprises here but still I was a weepy mess by the end of the film. For me, this brought Valentine’s Day messaging front and center, just the way I wanted it.
I was never a huge fan of Taylor Swift, though, of course, she has been in my peripheral. I had her records of course (back when I used to collect them as physical pieces) and her songs are on my playlists, but I never stop and truly listen. But after watching ‘Miss Americana,’ I have a new found respect for her. I admit I am guilty of sometimes dismissing her, and I often cite the alleged Quincy Jones quote that he told her ‘a hook doesn’t make a song’ (I don’t know if that is an authetic quote, to be honest) But we see a glimpse of Swift in this documentary that is of a woman coming into her own, and I admire this woman. I think my doubt of her stems that she is from country music, and a lot of those folks seem to be conservative and anti-gay but here she shows herself to be not just a champion of equal right, but a fierce and loyal one. (“How can I go on stage and shout ‘Happy Pride Month’if I don’t take a stand) And when she sees the how horrible Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn is in her home state of Tennessee, she is implored to take a stand on her Instagram addressing her twelve million followers – against her management team, who tells her to not do it. You gotta give her props for that.
Still, you can tell she decides what she wants to share. Where is this ‘squad’ of friends that she reportedly has? And we really do not see this young man who she is supposedly in love with. To me, I am not heartbroken about not seeing those things but I bet her loyal fans are. But no mistake, this was an engrossing documentary that gave me a glimpse of a woman I can support, and you know what? It made me play and appreciate her new album, ‘Lover.’