Culture Club

A sexy gay thriller, Jessica Lange’s monkey business & a queer climb

Sequin in a Blue Room

Whatever your entertainment needs, we got your back (and hopefully your mind) with Queerty’s weekly “Culture Club” column with some of the highlights of new releases, streaming shows, classics worth revisiting, and what to drink while you watch.

The Must: Halston

Ryan Murphy delivers another wild chapter in queer history with this new Netflix series. Halston focuses on the life of the single-named fashion designer–the first American to break into the world of international fashion. Throughout the 1970s, Halston became known for his eccentric designs and use of celebrity models (particularly Liza Minnelli) in his runway shows, and as a fixture at New York’s Studio 54. And, like so many showbiz stories, it all came crashing down. The 1980s saw Halston lose his fashion empire before his death of AIDS in 1990.

In the title role, Ewan McGregor delivers his usual splendid work, portraying Halston as a brilliant, conflicted, volatile man constantly haunted by his own shame. Some critics have already condemned the series for casting the heterosexual McGregor in the lead, though, for our money, it’s hard to imagine anyone being better. Gian Franco Rodriguez and Rebecca Dayan also deliver fine work as Halston’s boyfriend Victor Hugo and his longtime muse/design collaborator Elsa Peretti. Vera Farmiga also turns up for a brief role as a perfumer who huffs a jockstrap in a scene that needs to be seen to be believed.  The real MVP here, however, is Krysta Rodriguez who manages to step into the role of Liza Minnelli without ever veering into camp or parody. Given that drag queens have been doing Liza for decades, that’s no small feat.

If we have one complaint, it’s that the series doesn’t emphasize what made Halston’s designs so groundbreaking: they often had only a single seam to hold them together. On the other hand, it’s clear Murphy identifies with Halston’s personal journey and sense of showmanship, which gives the series an odd, personal feel. Exciting, entertaining and oh-so-addictive, we have a feeling you’ll be binging Halston this weekend…possibly amid frequent searches for his designs on eBay.

Streams on Netflix May 14.

The Reunion: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2

The ironic, way-too-ridiculous-to-be-this-good musical hit returns, bringing with it no shortage of teen neurosis, romance and theatre kid drama. This season of HSM: TM: TS find the students of East High School mounting a stage version of an iconic Disney classic, the title of which we’ll not reveal here. We will say, however, that the excellent score leads to some terrific production numbers to punctuate the adolescent angst. Critics of Disney over its decision to move Love, Victor to Hulu (allegedly under homophobic pretenses) should also tune in, as this season also focuses on the blossoming love between gay boys Frankie (Carlos Rodriguez) and Seb (Joe Serafini). It’s a sweet, if chaste, high school fantasy, and one that is unapologetic about its gayness. We’re fine with that.

Streams on Disney+ May 14.

The Hike: Who’s on Top

This George Takei-narrated hiking documentary traces the efforts of an all-queer team of climbers in their effort to climb Mount Hood. Their journey, of course, becomes a metaphor for all the personal journeys of the adventurers, in particular, 61-year-old transgender woman Stacey. As with just about any mountaineering documentary, Who’s on Top features it’s share of setbacks, quarrels, moments of doubt and beautiful vistas as the climbers continue along their expedition. The journey itself become an allegory for the entire LGBTQ community, and how when we work together, we can achieve incredible feats. Uplifting, eye-popping and with a group of characters we just wanted to root for, we recommend the film for anyone who loves mountain climbing…or who feels a bit too timid to make the hike.

Streams on iTunes & VUDU May 18.

The Camp: King Kong – Special Edition

Jessica Lange lovers and fans of 1970s camp won’t want to miss this new Blu-Ray set, courtesy of the Shout! Factory. This 1976 mega-production marked the first remake of King Kong, as well as the screen debut of Ms. Lange, who has never looked more beautiful. Story-wise, the broad strokes remain the same: an expedition led by an environmentalist (Jeff Bridges) and a nefarious oil hunter (Charles Grodin) stumble on a remote island that plays home to a giant ape. Kong falls hard for Lange’s Dwan (here portrayed as an adult film actress…it was the 70s), and upon getting abducted to New York, creates havoc by kidnapping her and climbing to the top of the World Trade Center. Whereas the original played like a classic monster movie and Peter Jackson’s remake felt more like an adventure, the 1976 King Kong follows the mold of the 70s disaster movie, complete with thousands of extras screaming amid the monkey business.

This version of King Kong pushed the envelope in terms of composite and animatronic effects: legendary SFX masters Carlo Rimbaldi and Rick Baker created Kong as a man in a suit with puppeted expressions. Groundbreaking at the time, the Kong effects look fairly ridiculous by today’s standards. That, coupled with Lange shouting “Good monkey” and “Chauvinist ape” will have viewers in stitches. Shout! Factory once again proves it’s the best in the business when it comes to physical media, as this new set also includes new commentaries, extensive interviews and other treasures that elaborate on the movie’s troubled production (everyone seemed to hate director John Guillermin), its elaborate special effects (including a 40-foot life-size animatronic which almost killed several crew members) and how the unknown Lange beat out Barbra Streisand (!), Melanie Griffith, Farrah Fawcett and Meryl Streep for the lead. Those ladies probably dodged a bullet in the long run; King Kong isn’t exactly a classic, but it is a fascinating artifact that’s always bananas to watch.

Available on Shout! Factory Blu-Ray.

The Erotic: Sequin in a Blue Room

We caught this erotic drama at Outfest 2019, and at least, it lands on streaming services. We’re excited to finally share it with you, dear readers, both for its subject matter, and its remarkable visual style. Sequin in a Blue Room follows Sequin, a 16-year-old beginning to explore his sexuality on dating apps. A chance encounter at a sex party leads to obsession, as Sequin dives further into a shadowy, queer underworld in search of the object of his affections. Writer/director Samuel Van Grinsven has unique, captivating visual style that is always interesting to watch, while leading actor Conor Leach makes Sequin into a character equal parts puckish tease and obsessive. Mysterious, captivating and very erotic, its one of the sexiest and most provocative films in recent memory.

Streams on Amazon & iTunes May 18.

The Rock: Bad Lemon “Different”

Pop group Bad Lemon drop their latest single this week, a rock-pop raging celebration of queer identity. “Different” channels the glam rock of Queen and the pounding beat of Christina Aguilera’s “Stronger” into a powerhouse tune that cries out for a Pride parade. The accompanying video also plays like a pride parade, featuring a diverse montage of queer folks living their truth…and a whole lot of glitter. After one listen, we found ourselves ready to get out a rainbow flag and party. We have a notion you’ll feel the same.

Streams on YouTube.

The Poppy: Matt Palmer’s “I Don’t Want It”

Handsome, queer R&B crooner Matt Palmer released his newest tune, a song about a man afraid to commit to the man he loves. The track recalls the pop-tenor music of Bruno Mars and Drake, mixing a sensual melody with a restless beat. The video for the song—filmed during COVID—features Palmer in a series of hilarious situations that both literalize and symbolize relationship frustrations. We say give the song a spin; we know you’ll identify with how he feels.

Streams on YouTube.

The Sip: The King Kong

via Flickr

How could we resist a chance to celebrate the release of the new King Kong Blu-Ray set with an eponymous libation? This iced, fruity, potent blend of spices, banana and pineapple channels both the hairy ape himself as well as tropical vacations. We’d also add to that many a gay pool party. Strong as a giant ape, it will have you climbing buildings and beating your chest in no time.

  • 1 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 oz of banana liqueur
  • 8 oz of ice
  • 3 oz of pineapple juice
  • 2 tbsp of 151 proof rum
  • 1 oz of coconut rum
  • 1 splash of orange juice
  • 1 of maraschino cherry
  • 2 oz of light rum
  • 1/2 of banana
  • 1/2 can of cream of coconut

Mix ingredients in a blender and blend well. Serve immediately.