Top 25

I forgot, for some reason, to brag. Glimmertrain was a marvelous outlet for short stories and short shorts and they stopped publishing some time ago. I submitted for one of the very last short story awards and made it to the finalists. I didn’t win. But it’s a credit. They had 1st, 2nd, 3rd place. The finalists and then honorable mentions on a separate page. I was going to try to embed the page here but it’s too complicated. Writers have to take every small thing they can get, including a runner up mention.

Here’s a screenshot.

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Almost everyone in New York has experienced a group of young women, who sometimes call each other bitches, trying to live the life that the Sex and The City gang of four lived fictionally. I once accidentally went to one of the restaurants that was a location in that series and my friend and I had to leave. It was so full of women trying to be those women: Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, with most of them trying, probably, to be Samantha in particular.

But I didn’t dislike the first two episodes of the sequel “And Just Like That…” as much as others have. To be sure, there were some idiotic scenes and costumes: Miranda’s outfits in particular were atrocious. And the scene where she enters a classroom, somewhat late because she’s been drinking (very heavy handed foreshadowing, btw), and sits in the professor’s chair which is one in a circle of chairs, and then proceeds to make all sorts of modern micro-aggressive mistakes after the professor arrives, was absolutely embarrassing. If she’s really getting her masters to be a social justice warrior, she would already know that you have to ask someone what their pronouns are, and she wouldn’t have stumbled around making all sorts of mistakes about “black” hair. It was a dreadful scene and there was nothing natural about it. And the others in her classroom, young people, were rude and shocked, just downright shocked, that Miranda assumed someone was a “she.” How dare she make such an assumption.

Likewise between Big and Carrie, there was just an unnaturalness about their relationship that kind of told you that Big was doomed already. Would have been much more interesting if they’d been having problems — or had gone into a bed death phase. They basically made the worst choices.

They talked too much about Samantha just packing up and leaving in anger, but I suspect that’s some shade they’re throwing at Kim Catrell. But what I did like about it is the simple fact that they are older. Simple as that. I like seeing people confronting some of the problems I’ve had to confront as I’ve aged — even if it’s as stupid as grey hair. So we’ll see. Big has died and Miranda is going to be hitting the Chablis ever more frequently until she’s confronted by someone. I just hope the writing gets better.

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Anthony Veasna So, acclaimed fiction writer, dead at age ...

Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wish I had liked these stories better. Some are compelling — especially the ones toward the end, but for the most part they’re forgettable. It’s especially sad to me as I wanted to like it. I feel terrible that he never got a chance to write, really, and that he died of crystal meth, which is a real scourge among gays that is equal, I think, to the opioid crisis. And in his acknowledgments he writes that someone looked past what “most readers saw in his work, and found its pulse, its soulful longing, the urgent questions it was trying to answer.” But I have to wonder what did most readers see in his work, if it had to be looked past? I don’t know that the Cambodian refugee (survivor) experience is any different than, say, the Jewish one, but there are peculiarities that are very interesting, such as the belief that those who were killed in the genocide can be reincarnated in their grandchildren or great grandchildren, and at great expense to those grandchildren or great grandchildren.

One of the most harrowing movies I ever saw was The Killing Fields, a 1984 film which won 3 Oscars including best supporting actor for Haing S. Ngor. He was a refugee himself and was shot to death in California. Some speculate it was because of his work to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice.

So wasn’t even born then, and a lot of these stories deal with an inheritance that he didn’t ask for. But I just didn’t feel any of the things people have said: that the stories were witty, laugh out loud funny, satirical, etc. I was mostly bored reading them. But to his credit, 8 of the stories were published in The New Yorker, n+1, Granta, The Paris Review, American Short Fiction, BOMB and ZYZZYVA. He was a graduate of Stanford University and he taught at Colgate University and other places, and that’s no small feat for someone who overdosed at 28.

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Coming Out Colton

[Movie] Coming Out Colton season 1 review - a bit cringe ...

Colton Underwood is basically a gay media whore who, according to him, went on The Bachelor (a show of nearly unbelievable banality) because he thought it would make him straight. Given his basic blindness to himself and all those around him, I can probably believe this.

I could only watch this six episode series in short segments (no more than 10 minutes each), because of how embarrassed I felt just watching it. I cringed constantly, primarily because as an older person, I can’t stand to hear young people talk about anything. I always want to jump through the tv and say, “Yes, I know. I’ve lived for a lot longer than you have.”

But besides having to listen to him and others (the completely obnoxious Olympic medalist, Gus Kensworthy) pontificate on what it means to be gay, or what it means to come out — there’s an artificiality about the entire project that reeks of Valerie Cherish and “The Comeback:” Lisa Kudrow’s brilliant, multi-layered, reality project that isn’t a reality project. The problem with these shows is that they don’t acknowledge that they are behaving for the cameras. They are standing in a certain way. The scenes are staged. Lisa Kudrow (in the second season) used one of the “real housewives” of Beverly Hills to say, “I know what they’re doing,” and the “real” housewife said, “Who’s they?” as if she had forgotten there were producers and camera people scripting this pseudo reality.

What really bugged me was the “Friends” episode, where Colton interacts with exactly 0 friends but rather, a group of guys brought in to play his friends. They all stand around drinking at a “party” and they play ping pong and then whack each other in the back with ping pong balls. They go “oooohhhh” in that artificial way that’s so common. I’ve never seen that happen, ever, at a gay party. One of the guys says, “This is the gayest shit we’ve ever done,” and Kensworthy says, “You just got fisted earlier and you’re like this is the gayest thing.” The guy he’s talking to (the one who thinks this is the gayest shit) is an older, heavily tattooed guy, who they’ve brought in so that Colton can hook up with him, which I think means, fuck. Presumably 29 year old Colton is a virgin, but that is just conjecture based on his nickname on The Bachelor. He declined to fuck the guy, as I would have done.

What was compelling, but completely misinterpreted by Underwood, is that his actual friends from church (although I couldn’t tell if these men were actual friends or just recruits for the reality show) and his former pastor at the church, all said he was evil but that they loved him and would continue to pray for him so that he would find the right path and turn away from the most evil of sins, homosexuality. Colton, instead of rejecting these people, returns in another episode and says something like, “Well now that I’ve come out to my mom and dad, and I have the support of my friends, I’m ready to go on Good Morning America.” What support? Anyway, the behavior of the evangelicals was illuminating and clear. They are all about evil and stress an almost medieval interpretation of the bible: not that the flesh should be punished for existing but that there is evil in all men, and Jesus was sacrificed to redeem that evil, making it possible to get into heaven after death. The problem with that, as many great thinkers and scholars have noted, is that it simply does away with individual morality and responsibility. If you murder my friend or relative, you need to ask for forgiveness from me, not from Jesus. Jesus has nothing to do with it. And Jesus, basically a bystander, has no right to step in and say “I forgive you.” Who cares if Jesus forgives you, murderer? I am the one you must ask for forgiveness. And Colton’s experience with these “Loving” but unforgiving evangelicals is a perfect example of how they simply don’t understand that shading themselves under the Jesus umbrella has allowed them to insert themselves where they don’t belong: either in a woman’s womb or at the mouth of a gay man who’s about to suck a dick or at the anus of a gay man who’s about to take another man’s fist.

After the utter nonsense questions from Roberts (Why does viability matter?) and Barrett (but what about adoption?) I had this image of the courts winding their way up a woman’s reproductive system: first from the vagina to the uterus, up the Fallopian tubes and into the ovaries — that soon a woman who has a hysterectomy will be a criminal.

And they are not far from carving out religious exemptions to the equal accommodation rules so that evangelical Christians, the vilest of all religions I think, don’t have to sell us cookies.

Colton kept talking about his new LGBTQ Plus community, as in, “Now that I’m part of the community.” There is no community. There is some shared experience and some history that might be relevant to any young person coming out, but “community” is a loaded word and I don’t think it’s appropriate here — especially because what you’re left with, if you can stand to watch the entire program, is his deep disconnection and loneliness. His friend is Twitter.

I’ve heard that he has a boyfriend now — older, which he said he wanted, but not particularly attractive. So maybe that’s a good thing. But I found this whole series pathetic and sad and not representative of the gay “community,” if there is one.

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'Succession' Season 2 Trailer Revisits HBO's 'Happy Family'

Generally when you’re trying to decide who the main character is in any given story — if it’s not immediately obvious that is — you would ask a bunch of questions: “Who changes the most?” “Whose want drives the story?” “Who has the hardest journey?” “Who is the enemy trying to kill?”

But those are questions you can only ask when you’ve reached the end. If you ask, “Who is the main character of Star Wars,” it would probably come down to Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. But Han doesn’t change, his journey is the least arduous, and what he wants is mainly to not get caught. Luke wants to be a fighter pilot; he has to face things he doesn’t even yet know (that Darth Vader is his father, e.g.); and he has the harder journey in that he must be trained by Yoda.

In Succession, I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of characters who I find more repulsive than this family. But I was thinking about the fact that everyone wants something (money); no one changes at all; and none of the characters have any kind of journey to make. They might go through some sadness in their lives, but as Shiv said to Ken when he thanked her for coming to his birthday party, “It was just a few blocks.” That, of course, is part of the problem. His thanks was probably insincere or could be insincere. Everyone lies. The Roman character has a fondness for saying things out loud, but he’s still a liar and a manipulator. So then I think about the enemy, or the fact that they are all enemies of each other, and zero in on the main enemy: the father. The one that the title is all about. He is the main enemy, and his main enemy, in turn, is his son Kendall.

Kendall is mentally ill (no other characters seems to understand this, though they call him crazy), and watching his birthday party episode, at one point, I wanted to scream because he was literally not saying anything at all. Just babbling noises. “We good? Are we good? What? It’s a thing? Yes? No? Yes?” He is surrounded by sycophants who despise him and do not give him truthful advice but merely acquiesce to his every idea, including singing “Honesty,” by Billy Joel while chained to a cross that’s suspended in the middle of the room. (Fortunately, he sees the error of doing that, and doesn’t, but this realization leads to him finally understanding how pathetic his 40th birthday party is, and perhaps that he doesn’t have a single actual friend.)

And then I was thinking about how the show can be resolved. It can’t, without Kendall either being committed, or inheriting the company, or killing his father (figuratively or literally). He has already tried once and this third season picked up from that moment when he decided to kill his father rather than let his father send him to jail. But he seems to be losing the fight and also his mind.

Everything else is unnecessary. The older brother is an ass of extraordinary uselessness — a gelding. The sister and younger brother have journeys but both have already shown the same sycophantic and masochistic tendencies toward their father that their own underlings have towards them.

It’s a good example of how plot — and perhaps too much of it — can get in the way of understanding the essential question of the novel (or in this case, a tv series). Every week we get another investor or deal that has to be done to save the company. This time it was something to do with a failing app service company, or something. I don’t know. It didn’t matter.

And one thing I really dislike about the show is that it does not take on the fact that Rupert Murdoch has done everything he can to sow division and hatred in this country through The NY Post, Fox “News” channel, The Wall Street Journal, etc. The show is based on Murdoch and his family and their media company is an alt right bastion of lies and misinformation. But they don’t address this — although I think Kendall might have obliquely at some point — can’t remember. Anyway, I’ll be glad when it ends. Someone I know said that the characters were blind but didn’t know it. I think that’s true and I don’t care about any of them.

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Spencer by Stephen Knight and Pablo Larrain

There are two images for this movie: one has Diana in a red dress with a thin veil over her face, posing for the cameras. The one at the left is the less used one because it is (in the movie) Diana in front of a toilet, puking.

A lot of people won’t like the movie even though many reviews have called it a masterpiece, because they make the mistake thinking that it’s about Diana during one weekend of her abysmal life. It is actually about authoritarian regimes and the impossibility of living under them. In this case, the royal family stands as a metaphor for a political system in which all its members are trapped. Diana is the only citizen of this regime to demand her freedom, and she pays the consequences.

To some extent, it stays within the facts of her life and the weekend she stayed at Sandringham when she knew the marriage was falling apart. But it takes huge fictional turns and I think it’s because the director wanted to emphasize the prison like aspect of life in this world. When she tries to go visit her childhood home (compete fiction), she comes up against fence with barbed wire at its top. When someone complains that she didn’t close the drapes to change into one of her 15 to 20 dresses she is supposed to wear that weekend, the drapes are sewn shut, also with wire. This is done because there are supposedly photographers prowling around the grounds, even though the grounds are patrolled constantly. She even gets caught by two of the guards who insist they must report the incident. Most of this is probably not true. But every moment, including scenes at dinners with the family and even in the Queen’s Christmas day speech, the question of freedom is the central question. And Diana’s bulimia and self cutting, and even some hallucinations she has, are really questions about suicide being an answer to a lack of freedom.

This isn’t a film about Diana, and I think that’s part of the reason it’s called Spencer. And it’s not about the pomp of the royal family, or the worthiness of the Windsors to even be royalty, whatever that means today. It’s almost an anti-royal story and there are many times it’s hard to remember that the director and writer are using Diana Spencer as a model for what they’re trying to say. You won’t think, by the end, that you saw a story about the real person and that’s what makes it so powerful.

When “the firm” allows Diana’s favorite dresser to return from Kensington Palace, where Diana lived until she was evicted, the mood suddenly changes and joy returns. This is because — and this is probably the ultimate message of the story — her dresser is in love with her. Not just a sisterly love but a head over heels gay love. Diana can’t reciprocate, but it’s love that saves her in this movie, including the love she has for her boys and the innocent pheasants that are just “there to be killed,” as the Queen mother’s equerry explains.

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Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Peril remains. That is the overarching theme of this narrative of Joe Biden’s decision to run, the two presidential campaigns and then the pandemic which turned those campaigns upside down, the election and then Trump’s gradual descent into the narrative he continues to this day: that he won and the election was stolen from him. (His rage began with Fox News announcing that Biden won Arizona. That seemed to be the main trigger — and then traveled elsewhere, like Georgia.) Most alarmingly, it came down to a very detailed plan written by Eastman to throw out the votes of millions of people in blue states and let the house decide the election which, because the house is limited to 1 vote per state, would have gone to Trump. That plan, and any version of it that they could come up with, relied on Mike Pence seizing power he did not have. But the book goes beyond Trump finally leaving the white house to show how people like Lindsey Graham and many other Trump sycophants are still working at disassembling democracy in order to have Republicans control of all branches of the government. The title “Peril” is present tense. I found it easy to read and was never confused, and I was glad that it did not go into the many “outrageous” things that Trump did, or only mentioned a few of them. And it gives a pretty good overview of how Trump made a deal with the Taliban without including the Afghanistan government, and then drew our troops down from 86,000 to 3,000, basically handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban and leaving Biden to take the blame for whatever happened. General Milley also turns out to be one of the good guys.

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Tammy Faye was a pioneer.

I didn’t see The Eyes of Tammy Faye documentary upon which the film of the same name is based. So I don’t know how accurate it is or if Jessica Chastain’s version is embellished with a newer sensibility about Tammy Faye than what’s come before, but what was clear in watching her transform from Jessica Chastain to an almost look alike of Tammy Faye, was that she, Tammy, was uninterested in catering to the patriarchy that is so repugnant in the Evangelical and tele-vangelical world. When Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, began their career on Pat Robertson’s network (Christian Broadcast Network), they devised a formula that would mimic Johnny Carson or other late night talk shows, but have it focused primarily on Christian issues. They called it The 700 Club and it was a huge success for the CBN. When Jim and Tammy walk into the Pat Robertson mansion for a luncheon, they gape and wonder how much Pat Robertson is paying himself. Jim tells Tammy, both correctly and incorrectly, that they paid for this. He is correct in the sense that The 700 Club was an enormous success and a great fund raising vehicle. He is incorrect (and this will lead to his later downfall), in that it was the viewers and their donations who paid for it.

At this same luncheon, the men are at one table, discussing important male things like the importance of destroying feminism and homosexuality, while the women are at another table discussing — who knows, we don’t get to hear. But Tammy, who’s got a kid in her one arm and a plate of food in the other stands between the hen’s table (which is out in the hot sun) and the men’s table (which is under the shade) and she decides to sit at the men’s table. That’s not the first significant instance of where Tammy Faye doesn’t do what she’s told, but it’s the first sign that a female is trying to have a voice and much to Jim Bakker’s embarrassment, she uses it. Jerry Falwell, who is invited to this luncheon, calls her, behind her back, a “firecracker,” which I took to mean as a woman who doesn’t know her place. Except that she does know her place, and it’s not at the wives’ table.

Pat Robertson stole The 700 Club from the Bakker’s but, perhaps being young, they simply decide to do the same thing and create their own network, which turned out to be the PTL (Praise The Lord) network. It was probably the beginning of their downfall, because it was too much for a somewhat unsophisticated couple like Jim and Tammy to handle. It became so popular that almost 20 million viewers tuned in every night, they opened a Christian theme park called Heritage, USA and sold what were basically time shares and it was, for a time, the 3rd most visited theme park in the U.S.

But details aside, for the rest of the movie, much of the conflict stems from what a woman is supposed to do, and Tammy Faye’s refusal to do it. On her way to give her husband a kiss, she witnesses him making fun of her makeup, and then sees him get into a very homoerotic wrestling match with the longtime PTL producer. But she says nothing and seems to understand why Jim doesn’t touch her the way she’d like to be. When Jim is trying to sell the Heritage USA theme park to the developer Roe Messner, it’s Tammy Faye who comes to the rescue and gets him to do it. (The irony, which is not mentioned in the movie, is that when Tammy Faye comes into the living room where her husband Jim is failing at trying to sell this amusement park idea, she takes the hand of Roe and her husband, and then Jim takes the hand of Roe and they pray together. Roe Messner eventually became Tammy’s second husband until he also landed in jail for very similar reasons.)

When the envious snake Jerry Falwell comes to look at the amazing television setup they’ve created, which included a satellite feed that went to 56 countries, he happens to notice an episode of Tammy’s Hour (or something like that — maybe Tammy’s Corner) where she is interviewing via television, a former gay pastor about coming out, his struggle with his parents, and his dealing with AIDS and, what was very common for her, she cried and her mascara ran down her face. Falwell leaves saying he can’t abide this abomination. (He could have been talking about both Jim’s wife and the AIDS patient.) But, the envy with which he looked at the studio, and maybe the Christian theme park, could have been the reason for the rest of what happened to Jim Bakker (who is still alive, and was just fined for trying to sell a “cure” for Covid19.) Yes, Jim Bakker was a terrible financial idiot, and he was probably a loving husband but gay at heart, but whatever he was he could always rely on Tammy to bring in the dollars because so many people loved her. Somehow, he was set up to have sex with Jessica Hahn, who was then paid some hush money that was taken from the PTL accounts. (This is, by the way, exactly what Michael Cohen did for Trump, using the election funds to pay off a woman who had dirt on him.) Jim Bakker gave control of PTL to the viper Jerry Falwell who had promised to keep it going while the scandal blew over. He promptly evicted the Bakker’s (including Tammy’s mother and step father), sold all of their belongings and then persuaded the newspapers to look into the shady dealings of the PTL company. He took everything from them, including the theme park. Tammy Faye had to move into a small trailer house while Jim Bakker was sentenced to 45 years. One of the people tele-evangelists who had called Jim Bakker a cancer, was Jimmy Swaggert, who was later caught in a hotel room masturbating to a stripper.

I might have the order of things wrong, but in Bakker’s trial, Messner (Tammy Faye’s future husband) testified that he had been told by Falwell to pay off Jessica Hahn for her silence. Except she wasn’t silent. That still puzzles me. And I’m sure Murdoch Post got its tip from Falwell. But all sorts of people, many of whom are dead or almost will be, would have to testify to the suspicious aspect of the most successful Christian televangelist couple, the equality they gave each other, and Tammy Faye in particular, and why they went down in flames. The donations to their organization kept rolling in as long as they were on tv. It only went up in smoke when Falwell took over (probably to take over that time on the satellite.)

I always felt bad for both of them. I enjoyed watching their show. There was a weird charm they had, and I respected them because they never vilified people like Falwell and Swaggart and Pat Robertson did. When they said they loved everybody they meant it. And (even though I’m an atheist) when they said Jesus loved everyone, I could feel their belief. I never felt they were lying.

One thing they left out, was that after Tammy Faye was on her own and with very few options, she said it was the gay people who supported her after her downfall. It may be that we gay men like a good female-focused tragedy. But the tragedy in this case, is that the patriarchy was too strong and too determined to destroy her.

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It’s Time To Talk About Mike White

The writer Mike White is a gay man who grew up in California, born in 1970 and got his first writing credit at 28. In 2000 he acted in a movie he wrote called Chuck & Buck, which was the first time I noticed him and my first introduction to his work. Then The Good Girl, Pasadena, Enlightened, and most recently, The White Lotus, the series he considers to be his best work. That’s him on the poster for Chuck & Buck.

His characters are usually emotionally conflicted and/or stunted. But in Chuck & Buck it was so extremely broken the character came off as a stalker rather than someone with an obsession about an old boyfriend.

Don’t really need to speak about The Good Girl or Pasadena as I don’t remember them. Enlightened I loved and watched the series several times. In that show there was really just one broken person: Amy (played by Laura Dern who gets increasingly brilliant as she gets older). There might be 3 broken people if you include her former boyfriend (Luke Wilson) and her mother (Diane Ladd.) All the other characters were “others.” They were corporate stooges. But one of the funnier things for me was the way each episode would begin and end with Amy reciting all these aphorisms, like “Change Begins with Me.”

Her character was so un-enlightened it earned all the comedy from the satire and what we call dramatic irony — that is when the audience knows more than the character. So we, the audience, see Amy’s corporate friends laughing at her and gossiping about her and we see how hypocritical her former assistant “Krista” played by Sarah Burns is. We see her mother’s sighs and eye rolls which Amy, sitting right in front of her, doesn’t, apparently see.

But I think it was that focus on the one character that made it an easy comedy to watch. It probably deserved a few more seasons, but it got two and the show was completed — it wasn’t left in the middle like many other good shows. And in the end she got what she wanted, which was to bring her company down.

The White Lotus comes ten years after Enlightened, and this time, just about all the characters are deranged. That, perhaps, is one of the reasons some people have said they can’t stand it. As I wrote somewhere else it’s a very hard comedy to laugh at. The Mossbachers (a family of four who have brought with them a dark skinned friend of their daughter’s. Her ethnicity matters in the plot.) are played by Steve Zahn (Mark), Connie Britton (Nicole), Sydney Sweeney (Olivia) and Fred Hechinger (Quinn). Paula is Sydney’s friend and is curiously, not given a last name in the series, but is played by Brittney O’Grady.

Jake Lacey arrives on the same boat with his brand new wife Alexandra Daddario. They are Shane and Rachel Patton. The last guest on the boat is one of my favorite actors, Jennifer Coolidge who plays Tanya MacQuoid which she explains is pronounced with “one syllable.” That sort of nonsense is the kind of thing all the hotels workers have to put up with and the leader of these “others” is Armond, played by Murray Bartlett and the lesser ranked Belinda Lindsey (Natasha Rothwell) who runs the spa, which seems to be the only reason Tanya has come to this Hawaiian resort. There are also a couple of cute assistants: Dillon and Hutch (Lukas Gage and Alex Merlino.)

The series starts almost at the end of the story with a very morose looking Jake Lacey waiting by himself at the airport. He tells some inquiring tourists if he liked his stay and when he said he stayed at The White Lotus, the couple say, “We heard someone died there.” He tells them to fuck off, goes to look out the window at the plane and sees them loading a coffin size box with the words “Human Remains” on the side. The scene cuts to 7 days earlier when all those mentioned above are first arriving at The White Lotus. So from the start, there is a mystery about who died and who is the coffin at the end.

People have said — probably correctly — that this is about white privilege or rich white privilege because all the characters, with the exception of Paula, is white and they are all rich. The staff is either Hawaiian or white, and all have to work. But I think what Mike White shows, or believes, is that it is not possible to “mingle” or really even co-exist when half the people in this resort are working their asses off to please the other half who are doing nothing but eating or funtivities like learning to scuba. The service class — which is now 77% of America and includes 16 to 17 million people working in hotels and resorts — is very much a suffering silent class with almost no unionization and low pay. When things go wrong, and everything more or less goes wrong for these people, it is the service class who will pay the price.

The first thing to go wrong is a genuine mistake. Murray has accidentally double booked the Palm Suite which Shane Patton thinks is his honeymoon suite. Murray lies and says it must have been booked wrong by Shane’s mother, but says correctly that the Pineapple Suite is a better suite. This isn’t good enough for Shane and, in fact, nothing is ever good enough for him. His wife is already having doubts about having made a mistake marrying him because she knows she’s just eye candy for his ego. She’s a trophy wife and he is also unable to listen — most of the time because he’s obsessed with not getting the room he wanted. Tanya in the meantime, is a drunken mess, but makes friends with Belinda at the spa and invites her to dinner. She repeats several times that Belinda ought to go into business for herself and she could finance it. The fact that she’s repeating herself should have been a clue for Belinda that she’s constantly drunk and not remembering things.

The family is a shit show. Perhaps the most unlikeable group of the bunch. The daughter Olivia and her friend Paula are constantly mean, to everyone. They pretend to read books and have a book consultant tell them what to pretend to read. The mother is the breadwinner in this family and she’s always going on about having to zoom China. (In real life, Connie Britton speaks either the Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese.) The little brother Quinn, is the picked on runt of the group and the girls make him sleep on the beach because they don’t want him fapping while looking at Paula. He’s addicted to his devices, but they fall off his chaise (or chayze if pronounced by Tanya) while he’s sleeping, the tide comes in and washes them away. The girls have brought drugs, including ketamine, and do some but forget to take Paula’s backpack with them. The pack gets turned in, eventually winding up in Murray’s hands who, coincidentally, is 5 years sober. Not anymore. The hilarity of all these people being mean to each other continues for six days until finally, someone is accidentally killed. I had, by the last episode, a pretty good idea of who the victim was, but was hoping it was not. There’s enough info in this review to make a guess, but you’d have to read between the lines abit.

Slapstick is a strange form (well all comedy is strange I think) — but slapstick in particular is usually at its funniest when the characters are all in a struggle to live. They’re running in and out of doors so that the man with the axe doesn’t get them, or the police don’t catch them and take them to jail. Slapstick is desperation. The sitcom is a mini tragedy. In each episode the characters do the wrong thing — think of I Love Lucy and how many times she did the wrong thing that got her into trouble and antics. There’s a reason Ricky kept saying “You can’t be in the show.” Think of Mary Tyler Moore giving dinner parties. How many times did Murray try to insult Sue Ann Nivens, only get an insult ten times as nasty, usually about his baldness.

This show made me think of the line of Thoreau’s that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” He felt this was caused by misplaced value. And one very cogent reviewer said, of this series, that the series is about people who are being made miserable by all their things and posessions, but would rather hang onto them than give them up. I think that’s half an explanation because it fits in with Quinn, the overlooked little brother, eventually finding some emotional satisfaction in paddling an outrigger with some local men who affectionately call him “fucka.” But this wasn’t by choice. His sister and her friend made him sleep on the beach and the waves took his devices. It was only when he was freed from these chains that he found something else. I think most of the characters were desperate, in one way or another, but I don’t always think that came from wealth, phones, devices or drugs. I think the deeper answer is that we are living in an impossible situation — perhaps one of the reasons people in this covid era of reopening are not going back to work like everyone expected. As Murray said, before he started doing some drugs, “I exploit you, they exploit me, that’s how it works.”

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Two movies, completely different.

Annette, written by Ron Mael and Russell Mael of Sparks, and Carax.

Free Guy, written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn.

First one first. Annette is a musical disaster, but it is such a peculiar disaster that it’s actually interesting, and in a completely bizarre way, it’s saved by a puppet and perhaps by Adam Driver and Marianne Cotilliard’s naked bodies. The theme is moonlight, pop culture, parental abuse, male rage and drunkenness. You can look on Wikipedia for the entire plot, which is dull. (More or less A Star Is Born, as Marion Cotilliard’s career as an opera singer who dies in almost every performance becomes more famous, and Driver’s career as some kind of weird comedian gets lost in his internal rage — kind of like Lenny Bruce — until he is finally, thankfully, booed off the stage.) At that point, they have already made love, in a gorgeously filmed sex scene where their white and hairless bodies look ghostly and strange, had a girl baby, performed by a puppet, who seems preternaturally thoughtful, and sung many awful songs. The end doesn’t matter, except like Pinnochio, the little girl puppet, who has managed to put her father in prison, turns into a real young girl with an astonishing ability to sing.

Ultimately, there is no point to the movie. There is no internal reflection and it’s not even clear what either of the parents want (the third adult in the movie is the puppet/girl’s probable father and he has a very clear want, but the film makers turn him into a passive participant in his own death, so that bit was ruined). Adam Driver can barely sing — though he sings better than Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. I thought Cotilliard’s singing was dubbed, but I wasn’t sure. The very young girl at the end — the live version of the puppet — was extraordinary for the fact that she could sing, but is so young she can’t pronounce the words properly. Most people, leaving the theatre, were amused by the piece. But it’s basically a musical written by a not very good band.

Free Guy I had wanted to see because I once read a story that was told from the point of view of NPCs in a video game. Normally, Non Player Characters (NPCs) just walk around in the background of a video game completely ignorant of the Players that are trying to kill each other. They’re not even “ignorant” because that would imply consciousness. They are no more animated than the trees or grass of the game which might, depending on the people coding the game, move a little. This story tries to take “blue shirt guy” and make him “real” — also like the puppet from the movie above — by linking him to a core component of the programming, which was an attempt at AI (artificial intelligence). In the real world McKees (Joe Keery) and Millie (Jodie Comer) are the creators of this AI programming and Millie has launched a multi-million dollar lawsuit against their boss (an insufferable Taika Waititi), who has stolen their code and embedded it in a secret place inside the world of the game, which is called… I can’t remember. But the difference is that in a normal MMORPG game, you can’t interact or do anything with the NPC unless they have a specific purpose, like to sell you a drink or a toy or a piece of equipment. In this game, you can kill, maim or harass any NPC you want. Well one day this guy, “Blue Shirt Guy,” played by Ryan Reynolds in his usual dim way, wakes up. He doesn’t know he’s in a game, yet, but he does know that he can do things differently. And that begins his transformation — not from puppet to human, but from computer code to slightly more aware computer code. If the movie had been at all interesting, they might have tackled subjects like “Is a computer code that is self aware considered to be alive, and what might the obligations be for us to keep that universe alive?” As technology nerds continue to work on AI, they might, if they were smart enough or moral enough, actually have to ask themselves this question. It’s already been brought up several times and the movies I can think of right now are three: AI, by Spielberg, and the two Blade Runner movies. A book is Never Let Me Go, by Ishiguro. And of course, P.K. Dick addressed this in so many ways. Blade Runner is based on his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I’m sure Isaac Asimov addressed the question — perhaps in 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the computer HAL being heartbreakingly aware of itself and its own slow murder. Star Trek (the ones with the android Data) also tried to tackle this thorny question and eventually just gave him the rights of all humanity and even tried to let him age a little. Alien, in most of its versions, gave us an android that was almost always a villain, even when he seemed heroic as happened in Alien: Prometheus (heroic) and Alien: Covenant (back to evil).

But the movie was entertaining and slightly funny. Ryan Reynolds is always nice to look at and I wonder what will happen in five or six years when he’s not so good looking. I also wondered if people my age would even understand it. The terminology of young people and the way they talk now is so different and strange. They speak in acronyms and are plugged into their music all day. I’m not sure this movie will work for anyone who isn’t young. I happen to know some of these terms. But when the “real world” decides to “reboot the server” in order to change the game to its original factory settings, does anyone who’s not worked in technology even understand what that means? When they are searching for the AI code inside the game itself, does it even make sense to someone who has no experience with technology, other than looking at the cracked screen of their cellphone? And will anyone even notice the reference to The Shining when Antwan decides to take an axe to all the servers in the server room. I don’t think so. This is a world where people don’t want to take a vaccine because they fear they will be tracked and traced by a secret microchip, and they express this fear while they hold their cell phone in their hand.

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