Christian Camp (Movie Thoughts: A Week Away)

Use the ‘High School Musical’ formula, insert Christian elements in it, cast same fresh-faced bland teenagers, and what do you get? Netflix’s ‘A Week Away.’ You could just imagine that the film is rife for mocking, but you know what? It all went down smoothly for me – the songs can be mostly forgettable but it kept the screen moving, and in a bizarre iconic twist, the male lead is a dead ringer for a young Brent Corrigan. So what’s not to like? It was enjoyable in the most basic and simple way.

My New York (Series Thoughts: Pretend It’s A City S01 E01, Netflix)

They say once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker, and I would like to hope that’s true. At times I certainly still feel that way a lot of the times, even if I no longer live there. ‘Pretend It’s A City,’ on Netflix will probably not appeal to a lot of people, but I bet you any New Yorker will love it.

I wonder, though: Fran Lebowitz polarizes a lot of people, and she is honest and raw in here, in conversation with Martin Scorsese. I tend to agree with a lot of her ‘rants’ – she opens the first episode of the series by saying ‘I hate Times Square,’ and I dare you to find a real NewYorker who disagrees with her.

All throughout the first episode, she raises very important points. For example, one always loves the New York they knew, however horrible that may be in retrospect. My New York is the New York of the 90s, and she mention s that she loved the New York of the 70s even though in reality the city had a lot of struggles then.

So yes, it’s that kind of show – you will either nod in agreement with her, or disagree vehemently – but for a New Yorker, this show will definitely not be boring.

No Laughing Matter (Film Thoughts: Funny Boy)

Deepa Mehta’s ‘Funny Boy’ is Canada’s entry to the Oscars Foreign Language film category (Post script: It was rejected by the Academy because English is spoken in the film for more than half the running time) and it is good to see the film streaming on Netflix where it can capture a wide audience. It is a noteworthy film on paper, based on a best selling novel about a gay nan growing up in Sri Lanka during the country’s civil war unrest. He is also Tamil, who have been discriminated against in the country because of ethnic cleansing, so it is kind of a double whammy for Arjie, the main character in the film.

The film is beautifully shot, and is a joy to watch. But most of the characters are cardboard. The actors aren’t given much depth so we get over-the-top melodramatic performances. The political storyline that serves as a backdrop to the coming-of-age story felt half-baked and muddled. I wish the focus was more on Arjie, which was the more interesting narrative here. But this is a story worth telling.

Christmas is Love (Series Thoughts: Dash & Lily, Netflix)

I’m in love with the Netflix Holiday-themed series ‘Dash and Lily.’ It’s light without being dumb, and it oozes romance from its pore, and it never feels forced. Looking at the poster, you might be tempted to think that it is a generic Christmas story, like something you would see on Lifetime or The Hallmark channel, but it is much better than anything you will find in those channels. It is smartly written, and even though it has YA sensibility, most people, especially hopeless romantic, will not be immune to the show’s charm.

The series is about two teenagers, Dash and Lily, who ‘meet’ through a red notebook filed at The Strand Bookstore right next to Franny and Zoeey. From there they give each other a series of dares where they both get out of their shells, and int he process get to know each other more. The series give their love story obstacles, but they are all plausible – the show never insults your intelligence.

It also celebrates New York City during the Holidays. I have always felt that this is the time when the city is most beautiful, and the show captures that completely. I will probably be alone on Christmas this year and I plan on re-binging this show during then.

Sophia Onscreen (Film Thoughts: La Vita Davanti A Sé/The Life Ahead)

At eighty six years old, Sophia Loren still has formidable screen presence, and that is very evident in ‘La Vita Davanti A Sé,’ (The Life Ahead) which is available to stream on Neflix. The film, directed by her son Eduardo Ponti, is based on the 1978 novel ‘Madame Rosa.’ (There has been an earlier film adaptation of the same novel, but I have never seen it) Loren plays Madam Rosa, and it is a juicy role – she plays a former Holocaust surviver who is also an ex-street walker. In her older age, she takes care of children of other street walkers.

A young Senegalese kid, Momo, is sent to her care, sand played by Ibrahima Gueye, Momo is your typical troubled kid. They first ‘meet’ when the kid steals a bunch of candlesticks from her. But as these things go, they form an unlikely couple, and blah blah blah, you know what happens next. To be honest, the narrative here is reed thin, but the small moments that make up the film somehow make a great platform for Loren (and Gueye) to shine. There are no surprises in how the story unfolds, but you believe it still, and will even be touched by it.

Minus Ten (Movie Thoughts: Holidate)

Since I just wrote about a Holiday album, I should follow it up with a Holiday film. Right? Right? Well, I am doing it. From Netflix comes ‘Holidate,’ a promised romantic comedy offering. Sometimes I wonder where some of these Netflix films came from – did the streaming service buy this film already done, I wonder, or were they instrumental in developing it?

Because ‘Holidate’ is bad. Yes, really bad – it’s neither romantic or funny, despite a cast that’s genuinely interested in trying to make something out of this crap.

What is it with modern rom-coms and their quest to always put something very crude in their stories – is this the Judd Apatow influence? Because some of what is in ‘Holidate’ is terrifyingly offensive, devoid of wit and charm. I felt bad for Emma Roberts who as an actress is amiable enough but in here is asked to do a lot of undignified acts. And Kristin Chenoweth, one of my favorite Broadway performers is cast as a witless aunt. All the comedic antics made me squirm. And there was no chemistry between the leads, so I felt no romantic anything in there, too. This film is justr another abomination in the list of 2020 failures.

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.

Sing Out, Louise! (Series Thoughts: Sing On, Netflix)

There is this karaoke contraption called the ‘Magic Mike’ that is very popular in Asia. It’s a microphone you connect to your television set, and there you can take your pick of songs wherein the contraption plays the instrumental tracks for you to sing to. At the end of each song, the machine calculates a score based on your performance. This score is based on how well you sang it, by that it measures if you were on time hitting the notes, and how much you were correct in spacing said notes. It’s kind of deceptive, you just need to follow the bouncing ball, so to speak, and you can ace the songs.

I bet you that’s where the creators got the premise for ‘Sing On,’ a singing competition series from Netflix. Apparently, they already have Spanish and German versions of the show, and now have launched the US version with Titus Burgess as host. He is a fun host, slightly campy without getting too threatening for the hetero crowd.

And the show is a fun one, short and breezy at thirty minutes, more or less, per episode. They have gotten some interesting contestants who are for the most part game for the concept. It’s harmless, and perfect for times when you can’t decide what to watch, and want something where you don’t have to think much.

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 Doucouré, 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.