culture club

What to Watch: Madonna gets artsy, Shangela conquers and homophobia, ‘Cured’

We’re Here

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 Finale: No Time To Die

Daniel Craig bids farewell to James Bond in this much-delayed action romp. We happily report that after more than a year on the shelf, a revolving door of directors, writers, and extended time in development hell, No Time To Die more than satisfied us as casual Bond fans. Craig returns to the role of Bond in top dramatic and physical form, while director Cary Joji Fukunaga turns in some wild, raucous action sequences. The plot: several years after retiring from MI6, Bond has fallen in love with the beautiful Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) and looks forward to domestic life. An attack by the nefarious Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) breaks up the couple and sends Bond into a tailspin. Mysterious murders of some of Blofeld’s former associates leads the former agent back to M (Ralph Fiennes), and to a secret government project hijacked by the mysterious Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), an eccentric alchemist bent on destroying Blofeld.

As mentioned, Craig comes back to the role of Bond in full form, while Waltz and Malek both deliver the goods in terms of creepy Bond villainy. The real standout here, however, is writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of Fleabag), who adds a hearty dose of charm and wit to the mayhem. Bond Girls have never had this much personality, grit or wit before as exemplified by Lashana Lynch’s new 007, and in particular by Ana De Armas (Knives Out), whose brief, ass-kicking cameo damn near steals the movie. Fans of Ben Whishaw should also rejoice at his amount of screentime in this installment, and a dash of queerness added to his character. With Craig exiting the role, we’d love to see Lynch, Armas and Whishaw get their own spinoff. Note to Amazon/MGM: we’re here for it.

In theatres October 8.

The Return: We’re Here Season 2

Small town America should brace itself for the return of We’re Here, the dragtastic series about unity and queer visibility. As with Season 1, this new season finds Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara and Shangela traveling the states, stopping off in small towns to put on a drag show…and offer a bit of healing and encouragement for the local queer community. Unlike Season 1, however, Season 2 gets profound, in particular, in a visit to Selma, Alabama in the fourth episode of the season. When the queens sit down with actual veterans of the 1965 Bloody Sunday Massacre—a peaceful Civil Rights protest dispersed through police violence—dark memories of racism and homophobia come to the fore, as do feelings of survivor’s guilt. In short, the episode left us deeply moved.

We’re happy to report that the rest of We’re Here Season 2 also lives up to the standard set by the aforementioned episode, both in terms of touching stories, and in terms of fabulousness. Seeing the vets of Bloody Sunday cheering and dancing at a drag show filled us with joy, and made us think about the power of drag performance in a whole new way. With an ever-increasing glut of drag-related content on TV and on the web, We’re Here stands out from the pack as a show with actual depth, and one with three extraordinary performers at its center. Watch, and get ready to glitter.

Streams on HBO Max October 11.

The Scary: Cured

We caught this documentary back on the 2020 festival circuit. Now, it comes to PBS, and just in time for Halloween…which is all too appropriate. Cured spotlights the history of conversion therapy in the United States, including the brutal methods employed by doctors to try and “cure” queer people of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For all the horror, though, directors Patrick Sammon & Bennett Singer also offer a story of heroism, focusing in on the brave LGBTQ activists—namely Frank Kameny and Rev. Magora Kennedy—who pushed back against homophobia, and lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality as an illness from diagnostic manuals.

Told with professionalism and a holdover sting from years of being labeled “sick,” Singer & Sammon highlight a much-needed passage from queer history, and sing the praises of heroes that deserve to be household names. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in queer history, or anyone looking for previously unsung role model activists.

Airs on PBS October 11.

The Special: Muppets Haunted Mansion

Anyone looking for an old-school style Halloween special should look no further than Muppets Haunted Mansion, the new spooky special on Disney+. This Muppet outing finds the popular characters Gonzo and Pepe (as always, performed by Dave Goelz and Bill Barretta), get sidetracked on their way to Kermit & Miss Piggy’s Halloween party. Instead, the pair find themselves wandering inside a mansion that bares more than just a passing resemblance to a famous theme park attraction. Taraji P. Henson, Will Arnett and Darren Criss show up as some of the creepy residents of said mansion, one of whom has hardcore romantic designs on Gonzo.

Even if Muppet Haunted Mansion isn’t exactly the Muppets’ best outing, we couldn’t resist the goofy mayhem of the endearing puppet troupe. Disneyphiles will also have fun watching for all the Haunted Mansion Easter Eggs and in-jokes amid the proceedings, not to mention celebrity cameos from Yvette Nicole Brown, Chrissy Metz, John Stamos, Danny Trejo and the late Ed Asner. Kermit & Piggy also have a hilarious costume theme, which will not spoil here (it helps make up for the pair’s lack of screentime). If we have one complaint, it’s that director Kirk Thatcher shoots most of the special against virtual backdrops. If Jim Henson had directed this show, he’d have had the characters running around a real cemetery, or even visiting the actual Haunted Mansion to give the whole thing a greater feeling of reality. As it is, we can’t resist the Muppets, and found Muppets Haunted Mansion a fine way to get into a spooky mood.

Streams on Disney+ October 8.

The Rockin: Madame X

Madonna’s latest concert film blasts onto Paramount+ this week, bringing her oh-so-avant-garde Madame X tour to the small screen. In full disclosure, we’ve not actually seen the film, though any opportunity to spend an evening with the Grand Dame Goddess of Pop is good enough for us. With a setlist that mixes Madonna’s latter-day experimental tunes such as “God Control,” “Medellín”and “Extreme Occident” with standards “Vogue,” “Express Yourself” and “Like a Prayer,” Madame X, much like the tour it documented, should show off Ms. Ciccone’s musical range as well as her greatest gift—that of reinventing one persona after the next.

Streams on Paramount+ October 8.

The Camp: Elvira’s Haunted Hills

We continue to rejoice over the announcement that Cassandra Peterson—better known as her alter-ego Elvira—has proudly come out as a member of the queer community. How better to celebrate than with this overlooked romp that arrives on Blu-Ray this week?

Elvira’s Haunted Hills pays homage to Victorian horror as popularized by Hammer Films, and Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle that made Vincent Price into an icon. As Elvira makes her way across 19th century Europe to her new nightclub act, she gets sidetracked into visiting Castle Hellsubus, a spooky old fortress owned by the eccentric Lord Vladimere (Richard O’Brien, of Rocky Horror infamy). Vladimere takes an immediate interest in Elvira, who curiously resembles his dead wife.

Ok, so Elvira’s Haunted Hills isn’t exactly The Witch, but it is a fun and campy romp. Horror fans will have fun spotting all the allusions to other classic, B-grade Gothic horror, while lovers of slapstick will relish the over-the-top performances by Petersen and O’Brien. Veteran director Sam Irvin (who also happens to be gay) keeps the story moving at an energized pace, and knows how to get the most out of physical comedy. Spooky, nostalgic and apologetically silly, we suggest giving it a watch alongside other Halloween camp such as Hocus Pocus or Death Becomes Her.

Available from Shout! Factory.

The Jam: Jayli Wolf “Lead Me”

Indigenous, bisexual recording artist Jayli Wolf drops her latest single this week, a dark, sultry track about dealing with addiction. “Lead Me” combines industrial beats with melancholic synth sounds to create a mood of struggle and dangerous ecstasy. The accompanying video, also directed by Wolf, visualizes her struggle between her indigenous roots, her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, and the demons of substance that she turned to out of shame over her sexuality. Beautifully photographed and atmospheric, we recommend the song and the video as a trip into the delightfully dangerous, and as the heralding of an intriguing new voice in underground music.

Streams on YouTube.

The Pensive: Jake Wesley Rodgers “Pluto”

Queer crooner Jake Wesley Rogers drops his new album this week, and this title track finds the singer taking on an introspective and reverent tone. “Pluto” muses on growing up, self-image and never-ending yearning for love. Both Rogers’ vocals and the musical composition of the song remind us of the work of Sam Smith, while the accompanying video finds Rogers writing amdi sci-fi visuals that channel the body horror of Alien and the stark surrealism of The Man Who Fell To Earth. Countless would-be musicians fade into obscurity. With “Pluto,” we have a feeling Rogers is here to stay.

Streams on YouTube.

The Sip: The Mistress of the Dark

In honor of Elvira and her Haunted Hills, we offer up this sexy, sweet libation as this week’s cocktail. A variation on a martini, it packs one heck of a wallop, so be careful! You may well end up seeing nothing but dark, as opposed to slinking like a mistress of it.

  • 1 ½ oz. vanilla vodka
  • 1 ½ oz. Patron XO
  • Maraschino cherry
  • Dry ice (optional, for effect)

Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Add cherry and dry ice. Serve.

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