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.

Kiss Again (Movie Thoughts: The Kissing Booth 2)

large_kissing-booth-2I’ve been burned too many times now with these Netflix teen films that I was ready to write off ‘The Kissing Booth 2’ right away. Besides, I cannot remember a lick about the first movie, only that I kind of liked it? And anyway, the sequel, directed by Vince Marcelo, clocks in at two hours and twelve minutes. I mean, who does it think it is, Titanic? About a couple of minutes into in, I was already sold. Joey King is really great, and she can make you believe in anything here, and she enjoys a breezy chemistry with Joel Courtney that you can kind of forgive the silly plot, and the sillier circumstances that their characters get into. And I did not need a lot of convincing in the story, even if some of it is far fetched. They even give the gays a throw-around minor storyline (every representation helps!)  Before I knew it, I was swooning, I was crying and laughing along with the characters. I am sorry I doubted you, kissing booth, I eagerly await the third installment.

Amor Always (Movie Thoughts: Mucho Mucho Amor)

MUCHO-MUCHO-AMOR-Poster-788x1024Walter Mercado passed away recently, and I have a lot of Facebook friends who noted and grieved his passing, mentioning how fabulous he was. I honestly wasn’t too familiar with him, though I kind of remember him from my New York years. The Netflix documentary, ‘Mucho Mucho Amor,’ through a lot of archival footage shows what a grand and majestic presence he was on Latin television, as he gives the daily horoscopes clad with capes ornately designed with glitter and Swaroski crystals (Gianni Versace made him one) I have to admit doing the gay gasp seeing some of these costumes, and also wonder how Latinos just embraced him, considering how a lot of men embraced the Macho culture. I guess Walter Mercado was non-binary before anyone knew what that was – he looked kind of like a woman, and not really like a man. It is safe and sexless, though, so in a way it felt ‘safe,’ kind of like the eccentric uncle from that side of your family.

The documentary doesn’t really try to dig deeper, Directors Cristina Constantioni and Kareem Tabsch are obviously enamored by him, so they present him in grand fashion. He sits on his pedestal, and wears his capes as he sits for interview with them. He is given the narrative, as he narrates his life, and the times when he ruled the televisions screen and seen by millions every day. Sure, thats’ nice and all, and essential for viewers like me who did not really know him that well, but I think some depth would have been nice as well. We hear from people around how devastated he was when he was betrayed by his manager Bill Bakula, but he puts a mostly brave face when he discussed it, with his guards up.

Still, you cannot help but be swept by his positive messages. For sure, Walter Mercado is a product of his times, but we all could use some of his magic right now.

Cloying (Series Thoughts: Crash Landing On You, Netflix)

I may be the only one I know who is not hooked on KDramas. Everyone I talk kep on telling me to indulge in them, that they are dreamy and romantic escapers.

Fine. I acquiesced by watching the first episode of ‘Crash Landing On You,’ which is available on Netflix. And of course I have thoughts.

First of all, I have to marvel at the technical aspects of the series – it is shot beautifully, and the production values are definitely stellar – they pour a lot of money and effort into the series.

Still, it’s saddled with a lot of baggage fort me – the chemistry seems to be manufactured enough to succeed – you know everything has been picked apart in there. And yes I admit that the main cast – the lovers – are beautiful but Hyun Bin, who skyrocketed to fame because of this, just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s just a personal taste thing – all on me.

The question is – will I keep on watching? I think I will – the story is interesting enough. I’ll keep you in touch if it keeps me reeled in.

Stop The Beat (Movie Thoughts: Feel The Beat, Netflix)

Feel_the_Beat_(film)_posterIs Netflix really ushering a new age of teen movies? Or is it just the same old crap?  Hav e to say that nowadays it feels like there’s more trash than gold there, and you can put ‘Feel The Beat’ in the meh department. Elissa Down’s film is formula through and through, and I just couldn’t get into it – it took me two days to watch this when something like this should be a nice easy viewing. I think it may also have to do with Sofia Caron, who stars in the film. I guess she has done a slew of Disney films as a teen, but i really did not know. She is one of the most wooden actresses I have ever seen. There is not a lot of characterization here, and I felt nothing for her character. The kid dancers were cute, and Wolfgang Novogratz’s crooked smile got me, but honestly, there is nothing here for me to write about.