Diana Ross debuted her single “Thank You” today. This is the first time in 15 years that she has put out original music. Interestingly, the song sounds fresh and modern while also retaining the vibe of her 70s tracks. The melody and production contribute to this feeling. Lyrically, she sings about how grateful she is to have been given so much love and support over the years. It’s a beautifully positive message. “Thank You” comes from the album of the same name that is set to be released this fall. I’m looking forward to hearing more new music from Ms. Ross.
In 1971, Carole King released her landmark album, Tapestry. It’s the perfect name for the mix of rich beautiful songs she crafted. Up until then Carole was known primarily for being a songwriter, creating memorable hits for other artists. Tapestry allowed her to step fully into the spotlight as a singer. The album stayed on top of the charts for 15 weeks, launched two #1 singles, and won 4 Grammys. Lets wrap ourselves up in Tapestry and take a look back.
Like a fairy tale set to music. You’re not quite sure what she’s trying to say or how you should interpret it. Not a bad thing. The melody is quite pretty.
11. Smackwater Jack
SJ sounds like an old folktale you’d hear growing up about outlaws and lawmen. It’s fun.
An inspiring ode to self-confidence and loving yourself. If you believe you’re beautiful and put that out into the world, the same energy will come back to you.
9. Where You Lead
Carole is so devoted to her man she’ll follow him anywhere. The right person is worth trekking across the world for.
8. Home Again
“Snow is cold, rain is wet”. It’s a simple lyric but you feel the pain and longing in her voice. Wanting so badly to be home and comforted.
7. Way Over Yonder
This sounds like a traditional gospel song you’d hear in church. Carole and the amazing Merry Clayton bring so much soul to it. I want to get to over yonder too.
6. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
Carole originally wrote this for The Shirelles in the 60s, one of their biggest hits. This version is stripped down and raw.
5. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
Of course, this song is always going to be associated with the Queen of Soul, but Carole wrote it. She pours all of herself into it.
4. So Far Away
We can all relate to pining for loved ones that are miles away. It’s gorgeous and timeless.
3. It’s Too Late
A sad song lamenting the end of a romance. They’ve outgrown each other and the relationship can’t be salvaged. I particularly like the line, “Somethin’ inside has died and I can’t hide and I just can’t fake it”.
2. I Feel the Earth Move
Love feels like an earthquake for Carole. Everytime her man comes around her world starts shaking. It’s an apt description for a passionate new love.
1. You’ve Got a Friend
A heartfelt song about the power of friendship. I love her vocals and the beautiful piano arrangement. “Winter, spring, summer, or fall/All you have to do is call…”
The legendary Cicely Tyson has passed away. She leaves behind a prolific award-winning career in film, TV, and the stage. She was a trailblazer who opened the door for other black actresses that followed. Moreover, she used her work to show how multidimensional black women are and their deserving of respect. I’ll remember her most for the dignity and poise she possessed. Like a regal queen. She always seemed sure of herself and what she wanted from the world. Recently, Miss Tyson completed her memoir, Just As I Am. I’m looking forward to reading it and learning more about this incredible woman.
The legendary Dionne Warwick turns 80 today. Singer, actress, Solid Gold host, Godwill Ambassador, reality tv contestant, and, recently, prolific Tweeter. Dionne has done it all. Let’s say a little prayer for her on her milestone birthday.
In his latest film, Uncle Frank, writer/director Alan Ball explores issues with family, identity, and acceptance. The story, set in the 70s, focuses on Beth (Sophia Lillis), a bright young girl growing up in a small town in South Carolina. She doesn’t feel like anyone in her family understands her with the exception of her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany). He is a smart witty college professor who encourages her to choose her own path and get out of the South. Years later, Beth takes Frank’s advice and enrolls in New York University, where he also teaches. She discoverers that her uncle is gay and lives with his partner, Wally (Peter Macdissi, Ball’s real-life husband). Frank has kept his sexuality hidden from his family for decades. Before Beth can digest this new information, they learn that Daddy Mac, her grandpa/Frank’s father has passed away. Frank is reluctant to return home for the funeral because he and his father had a contentious relationship. But Beth and Wally convince him to go. On the trip back home, secrets are unearthed and demons come back to haunt Frank.
Family dramas are Ball’s strong suit. Just like with his series, Six Feet Under, he creates an interesting clan here. At the forefront is Bettany’s compelling performance. Frank’s defiance and strength hide a lot of hurt. That pain comes to the surface in several well-acted scenes where Frank has to face his past. On the flip side, Macdissi delivers comic relief with Wally. But he also shows a lot of depth underneath the humor. Lillis is a great new talent. Her character comes of age before our eyes, growing from a timid teenager to a confident young woman. The rest of Frank’s family is filled in with fantastic supporting actors like Steve Zahn, Margo Martindale, and Judy Greer.
Ball loosely based Uncle Frank on his own experience with his father, who was closeted. He continually hits home the message of being true to yourself. Moreover, despite how smothering family can be and how you feel like you need to run away from them, once you return home you may realize that you actually do belong and this is where you’re supposed to be.
The Boys in the Band has gone from a play to a film to a revival of the play and finally to a screen version of the revival. It really has come full circle. The recent iteration came out on Netflix this week, fifty years after the original movie debuted. I was eagerly awaiting its release and I have to say that I enjoyed it as much as its predecessor.
Gay, Gay, Gay
The Netflix movie employs the exact same cast from the stage play. Having seen the play, I’m glad everyone was able to reprise their roles. They’re an extremely talented group. What’s also noteworthy is that all nine actors are openly gay. Back in 1970, some of the actors were gay, but nobody was out. It would have been career suicide. As it was, all nine actors, found it hard to find work after playing gay on screen. So, decades later to have actors who can be both open about their lives and still have thriving careers is incredible. Coming along on the journey was the late screenwriter Mart Crowley, who wrote the original play and movie. He was assisted by Ned Martel this time. Plus, Ryan Murphy and Joe Mantello acted as the producer and director, respectively, on the revival and the movie. Both are out. Overall, this project was pretty damn gay. As it should be.
Because the movie is so insular, chemistry between the actors is very important. They all have it and work very well with each other. Jim Parsons (Michael) and Zachary Quinto (Harold) do a particularly great job of playing off one another. Their characters are the best of friends and the worst of enemies. A kind gesture can quickly turn into an evisceration. Finding that fine line between love and hate takes skill. Similarly, Andrew Rannells (Larry) and Tuc Watkins (Hank) play a battling couple. They’re supposed to be lovers, but they can’t stop fighting. Conveying that love with all the underlying tension and strife comes easily though. It’s also sweet to know that Watkins and Rannells fell in love, in real life, while making the revival.
Cowboy, Donald, Alan
The script for the remake stays close to the original, but there were certain additions. I noticed that the Cowboy (Charlie Carver) had a few more lines. This made it so that he was more self-aware as opposed to how stupid he comes off in the original. It seems like Donald (Matt Bomer) was fleshed out too. I think Bomer’s expressiveness added to the character. He says so much with that handsome face. On the flip side, I’m happy that they didn’t add much to Alan (Brian Hutchison). It has always been a big question about whether or not he was gay. Crowley could have updated his work and made that clearer. But I think it was better to keep it ambiguous and let the viewers draw their own conclusions.
As I’ve said before, Michael’s NYC apartment in the original movie is one of my favorite sets in cinematic history. I wanted to move in and live in that world. The Netflix version is equally admirable. A spiral staircase, the huge living room, and beautiful rooftop space. Amazing. But this time the set was deliberately made to look a little run down, which was smart. It made it seem more lived in. Plus, Michael could never afford to fix it up. He spent all of his money on sweaters.
Outside the party
Aside from the opening montage of the characters out in the city, the original contained the action to Michael’s apartment. This added to the play-like feeling when you watched it. This go around Mantello takes the audience outside the party. As they’re playing the brutal telephone game, Bernard (Michael Benjamin Washington) and Emory (Robin de Jesus) flashback to their past loves. In Bernard’s case you see the dreamlike night where he swam naked with a rich white boy. With Emory, you experience the humiliation he felt at a school dance after everyone finds out he confessed his feelings to his crush. Each flashback gives you the chance to understand and connect with these characters, moreso than the original allowed. On that note, after Michael’s last line, when the story normally ends, you see all of the characters and how they’re coping after that intense party. It gives the audience another chance to check in on them.
The more things change…
Despite some changes, the remake retains the essence of the original. I had a friend who asked if this version had the same self-loathing and bitchiness. I said, yes, and that’s the point. This is a look back at a time when gay men couldn’t be out or even legally gather together. They were made to hate themselves and some lashed out internally or externally. Shame can be dangerous. The 2020 version doesn’t shy away from that. But then there are the lighter moments. I found myself laughing at the same jokes I’ve heard many times before or delighting in the dance number at the party. The highs and lows make the story interesting and relatable. For that reason, The Boys in the Band, however it’s presented, will always be worth seeing.
D’Arcy Drollinger wears many hats (and wigs) in her new movie Shit & Champagne. The drag icon stars in, writes, and directs the action comedy based on her stage play of the same name. Set in 1970s San Francisco, the film centers on Champagne Horowitz Jones Dickerson White (so she’s been married a few times, it’s none of your fucking business!) a foxy stripper caught up in a tangled plot. She witnesses her boyfriend Rod’s murder at the hands of two hired goons (Manuel Caneri & Adam Roy) and sets off on a quest to find out who had him killed. That person turns out to be Dixie Stampede (Matthew Martin), an evil mastermind with a dastardly plan involving hard drugs and big box retail. Champagne vows to take down Dixie and avenge Rod’s death.
It only gets more outrageous from there, but that’s intentional. Champagne is a send up of Blaxploitation films from the 70s, except with a white lead this time. So Whiploitation? It’s supposed to be over the top. Drollinger does a nice job of balancing the zaniness with well written comedy. It’s ridiculous in the best way possible. The production quality is great as well. At one point, Champagne and a goon get into an insane knockdown fight in a small bathroom. The sequence looks like something out of a mainstream movie with a larger budget. Well, minus the death by plunger.
Drollinger’s performance is the heart of the movie. She moves easily from sex kitten to clown and back again. Without her charisma the movie wouldn’t work. She gets ample support from Martin, the best campy high-kicking villain, and Steven LeMay, who plays Champagne’s ill-fated adopted stepsister, Brandy. LeMay steals every scene with her comedic timing and perfect calves.
If I have to offer any criticism, it would be that Champagne’s runtime is a little long and the leading man, Detective Hammer (Seton Brown), is dull. Aside from that this a dragtastically entertaining movie.
Director Joel Schumacher passed away yesterday at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer. He started out as a costume designer (The Last of Sheila) in the 70s before transitioning to screenwriting (Sparkle, The Wiz). In 1981, he made his directorial debut with the comedy The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Looking at his IMBD page, you can see how eclectic his directing career was. There were big blockbusters (BatmanForever), dramas adapted from books (A Time to Kill, The Client), thrillers (Flatliners), and even a musical (The Phantom of the Opera). He didn’t allow himself to be pigeonholed as one type of director, but instead made the movies he enjoyed.
I’ll remember Schumacher best for The Lost Boys. It’s one that I have to stop and watch whenever I come across it on TV, which is often. He was able to put together the perfect mix of horror and comedy. It’s a very fun film.
I’m looking forward to re-watching my favorites from Schumacher and discovering his other films that I haven’t gotten around to seeing.
Activist and writer Larry Kramer passed away yesterday at 84. Over the years, his writing was critically acclaimed and won many awards. But he’ll be remembered most for his unbridled activism. Kramer was on the frontlines when the AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s. He helped to form the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and later the more militant ACT UP. His approach was usually abrasive and confrontational. However, that anger was necessary in order to get people in power to implement changes. I enjoyed Kramer’s book Faggots and was moved by his play TheNormalHeart. I’m also very thankful for the battle he fought and the lives that it saved.