Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
You don’t need to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again more than once. That’s still one more time than you needed to see the original Mamma Mia! when Meryl Streep bopped and pranced around the streets of Greece’s dreamy Kalokairi island. One very famous woman’s infectious buoyancy, however, couldn’t entirely save the jukebox musical’s no-fun drudgery, nor could she cleanse Pierce Brosnan’s croak of a “voice.” For good reason, then, Streep bowed out of Here We Go Again – almost, anyway (her single scene is literally otherworldly and more tearfully tender than it ought to be; also, I’m a crybaby). But no matter: Your mom’s favorite movie of 2018 is a brand of stupid-fun I support, probably best viewed after eating an edible. It tells the story of Streep’s Donna without Streep (played in her youth circa the 1970s, through flashbacks, by a very alive Lily James), as she journeys to matriarchal womanhood with the man triad who swept her off her feet, naturally set to deeper-catalog ABBA bops/ballads not in its predecessor. Like an amusement park ride you promised yourself you’d never go on again but then you just couldn’t help yourself, Here We Go Again is just that, with the gratuitous and appropriately dramatic and well-lit addition of a mini Cher concert. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, after all, isn’t really a movie anyway; it’s a gay reason for gay sons and their gay-adoring moms to bond together and want to plan a trip to Greece together and emphatically say “OMG, don’t you just love Christine Baranski?!” together. So just surrender to its dumb charms and then gaily skip to the special features to see Meryl do a drag-worthy vocal impression of Cher.
A Simple Favor
Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick making out in A Simple Favor was the lesbian kiss 2018 needed, so thanks a million for that, Paul Feig. The comedy writer-director who we love because he loves putting women first in his films (particularly his muse Melissa McCarthy, in both Spy and Bridesmaids) has his finger on the pulse of so many gay things in his latest flick, merging dark, twisted comedy with his signature farce. Beyond the Lively-Kendrick hookup that rocked our world, Feig somehow knew exactly what was missing from queer cinema: a frothy Hitchcockian crime soap opera about a bisexual mom (Lively) and a straight mom (Kendrick) that also features a Mr. Mom (Andrew Rannells, gay). Kendrick’s cat-sock-wearing Stephanie meets the sophisticated, wouldn’t-be-caught-in-cat-socks Emily, deliciously played by Lively, at their kids’ school. They are night and day, and their mom differences (Stephanie would never hang a giant painting of her bushy vag in her home!) makes for some genius comedic awkwardness. But things get weird and twisty and gayer when Stephanie disappears after asking Emily to pick up her son from school. Emily goes into Nancy Drew search mode: “We are soldiering on with cookies and origami,” she bravely shares with the moms who watch her dorky domestic vlog. Come for the kiss and Blake Lively in men’s suits; stay for the bonkers shift into “Murder, She Vlogged.”
Before we knew straight men could look as good as gay men and not even identify as gay, there was Warren Beatty as George, whose sexuality was the subject of speculation in 1975’s raunchy sex dramedy Shampoo. During a business meeting, George explains to aging private investor Lester (Jack Warden) that beauty school led him to his profession as a hairdresser, leaving Lester looking as stumped as any old white guy who can’t conceive of breaking gender norms. Little does Lester know that George’s bedhead poof of a Mick Jagger mane is the result of the lady carousel he’s riding hard. One of those women is Jackie (Julie Christie), Lester’s mistress. Lester is blind to their affair: “You think George is a fairy?” he asks Jackie. (Later, when the two are caught in an intimate hair-styling moment, George feigns gay.) Then there’s Goldie Hawn and Lee Grant, as Jill and Felicia, respectively; George keeps both women around for different reasons, though role-wise Hawn got the feebler of the female parts while Grant got an Oscar. Set against the 1968 presidential election, Shampoo is a sign of the times with regard to evolving homosexuality and big-picture politics, marked by an intimate love story that’s messy, bittersweet and holds up timelessly in 2019. During one of many supplemental features on Criterion Collection’s new restoration, critics Mark Harris and Frank Rich discuss Carrie Fisher’s use of the word “faggity” and the film’s striking gay implications.
The new Halloween is not great. If you’ve never seen a horror movie before or lived through America in 2018, there are some scares, and one particularly effective and artfully shot sequence is thrilling: a long, strolling shot of the franchise’s masked terror, Michael Myers, on Halloween night amid trick-or-treaters going about his usual knife-bludgeoning business. It’s the perfect throwback to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, his legendary score still bone-chilling 40 years on. The big sell here is Jamie Lee Curtis returning as Grandma Laurie Strode, even though she fell to her death in 2002’s Resurrection, a movie that doesn’t matter (and never mattered; it’s bad) because director David Gordon Green’s Trump-era Halloween asks you to forget that Curtis was even in a movie with Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. This contemporary pseudo-feminist take featuring generations of women standing up to an evil man (sound familiar?) serves as a direct sequel – and, occasionally, slick homage – to Carpenter’s classic. Curtis’ Laurie is one-note frayed and fierce, but at least watching her kick major ass is more inspirational than anything the other Grandma Lauries watch on the Hallmark Channel.
For just under five minutes, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Mary Steenburgen, along with openly gay screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, reflect on the intent and legacy of their landmark AIDS-centric drama Philadelphia. These new interviews featured on the 25th Anniversary 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray Edition of the 1993 film, renowned for giving a human face to AIDS and gay discrimination, are slight. Perhaps that’s because viewing this historical snapshot all these years later – post same-sex marriage, post PrEP – does most of the speaking on its own. It speaks to a time. It speaks to a community. It speaks to those outside of the community: “I don’t think Philadelphia was made for gay people,” Hanks says. “It was made for straight people who didn’t understand how you could be gay or why you were gay.”
Some Like It Hot
American cinema will tell you that if you’re a man in peril – running from criminals? looking for a way to see your kids after losing custody of them? – slipping into a dress, plopping on a wig and powdering your face can free you from your troubles. Beloved crime-comedy caper Some Like It Hot, to which Mrs. Doubtfire and those White Chicks owe their thanks, would become the definitive landmark crossdressing farce, and the 1959 film is preserved as beautifully as Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis (and, of course, Marilyn Monroe) in lace and lipstick with this new 4K digital restoration Blu-ray from Criterion. Special features are plentiful: a 1988 talk between Curtis and critic Leonard Maltin, a new costume-centric featurette, and a wonderful essay written by author Sam Wasson.