Screen Queen: The Comeback, It Follows, The Nanny

By Chris Azzopardi

The Comeback

When HBO gave their beloved mockumentary "The Comeback" the dreaded cut after its 13-episode run in 2005, it was a sad, sad time for us gays. How would we go on living without our favorite cupcake, Valerie Cherish, a narcissist we loved almost as much as she loved herself? After the show disappeared from our lives, we were now those same Team Val fans hootin' and hollerin' at the end of the first season finale. "Give her another take! Give her another take!" Then, bless them, HBO did. Yes, that's right. Nearly 10 years later, Valerie Cherish got her much-deserved comeback. It would make sense if this was the plan along - resurrect the show nearly a decade later to further meta-ify its very title. Or maybe it was just that "The Comeback" finally made sense to those who couldn't wrap their heads around the pre-Kardashian world the show inhabited. Never one to miss an opportunity to admire herself, Valerie subtly acknowledges the latter in the first episode, noting that she was hip to reality TV before everyone else. So what now? Shoot a show about a show, cast Valerie Cherish as herself, and have her nemesis, Paulie G, direct it. Get Seth Rogen to play Paulie G. Make even sharper observations about sexism in Hollywood. Then end with some of the most perfect, tear-inducing 10 minutes to ever exist on TV, with Lisa Kudrow turning in a complex, layered performance to demonstrate that, yes, we do need to see that. And thanks to this comprehensive set, you can. Forever. With past and present commentaries from Kudrow and show co-creator Michael Patrick King, the short "Valerie at 'Dancing with the Stars'" and the loopable queer-loved classic in its entirety (yes - both seasons!), "The Comeback" on DVD is probably the answer to all of life's problems.

It Follows

Modern-day horror has not been good to us. Every now and then a studio switches off the conveyer belt and churns out something other than a trashy sequel (see: "The Conjuring," "The Babadook"), but, otherwise, the genre rarely has anything new to say (yes, you, "Saw" 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...). When it does, it's a big deal. "It Follows," then, is a big deal. Bigger than big, actually. Huge. On the surface, the premise seems like yet another teens-in-peril whodunit, but writer/director David Robert Mitchell's masterful ambiguity gives way to deeper, more provocative musing. After all, what is the "it" that's following these kids? It could be AIDS; it could also be just the mere paranoia surrounding the epidemic's onset in the '80s. Beyond its lingering storytelling, "It Follows" is a horror buff's horror movie, creepy and skin crawly. And the acting? It's refreshingly on point. So is the camera work, which is gorgeous and moody. On the whole, "It Follows" - as much a tribute to the classics as it is one in its own right - does just that. It stays with you. Scant supplements include a critics-only commentary that breaks down varied facets of the film, including some of its classic-horror influences. And, also, the menacing musical compositions are explored during a standalone talk with their creator because, well, without them, "It Follows" wouldn't be this bloody good.

The Nanny

Fran Drescher's nasally-voiced nanny set the bar high for caretakers everywhere - who could compete with her queerness? I mean, first of all, that garish wardrobe, which was obviously drag-inspired. And that mouth, unfiltered and TMI-ready. Fran Fine spoke her mind, which, of course, made it horribly awkward when a job listing brought her to the Sheffields' swanky palace (in zebra print, naturally), where she shamelessly flirted with the widowed patriarch, Maxwell, razzed his kids, and then, during dinner, dished on a "natural digestive." She passed the test, got the job, got fired, then got the job again. That was 1993, when the show premiered, but eventually Drescher's delightfully zany role as "The Nanny" was notable for more than the whiney way she talked. She lived for Barbra Streisand (remember the impersonator during the final season?). One episode was titled "Oy Vey, You're Gay" and involved a lesbian pass to Fran from none other than Catherine Oxenberg of "Dynasty." Also, how about that time Fran actually did drag? And, you know, her star-powered Rolodex, which might as well have been the GLAAD Media Awards guest list: Bette Midler, Estelle Getty, Elton John, Cloris Leachman, Patti LaBelle, Margaret Cho; you get the gist. Because yes. A lot of important gay (ish) icons appeared throughout the span of the show's six-season, 146-episode run, all of which are permanently etched on discs - with ample commentaries and flashback featurettes - so you never have to forget why you want the '90s back.

Bessie

As the leading lady in HBO's "Bessie," Queen Latifah's portrayal of the Roaring '20s singer Bessie Smith is a crowning achievement. No, really, bow down; you haven't seen Latifah this good since... maybe ever. Latifah's Bessie is a dynamo who knew what she wanted career-wise, got it, and then became an influential force of nature in the black struggle for equality. The Queen encapsulates her empowering gumption in a rangey role that goes for miles (she goes topless, too, so you know she's committed). Over 20 years in the making, the pursuit of a Bessie biopic is long overdue, and out writer / director Dee Rees ("Pariah") knows just where to take this story, portraying Smith as more than a divine singing voice because, well, she was. Bessie was the voice of a community. And of survival. She shut down the KKK when they attempted to set fire to her performance tent, and when a man got too handsy with her, she jabbed him with a piece of stray glass like the baddest badass you've ever seen. She slept with men, and she also slept with women. She was unstoppable, and Latifah's scenes with Ma Rainey (a fabulous Mo'Nique) illustrate Bessie's unwavering determination to be the best she could be. Rees' film is a galvanizing slice-of-life biopic rooted in the universality of self-expression. During the extras, which cover the film's long journey to the screen (featuring Latifah's less-confident 1996 screen test), Latifah briefly talks about "Bessie" being the most challenging film of her career. A challenge the Queen meets with consummate flair.

Also Out

The Rose

Winifred Sanderson may have put a spell on you - and you don't have to pretend you didn't sob buckets during "Beaches" (CC Bloom, we love you) - but the Divine Miss M first brought her most faithful bathhouse-going fans to their, ahem, knees in her star-making role as Mary Rose Foster in "The Rose." Loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, Midler turned her now-pristine image inside out to take on the tragic life of a self-destructive rocker. Bette wears her battered heart on her sleeve as she suffuses the part with grit, pathos and musical verve, eventually tearing into your heart with the film's eponymous send-off song. In addition to archival interviews circa late '70s, Criterion's re-release of "The Rose" - the film's Blu-ray debut - includes a new sit-down with Milder, who dishes with fascinating candor on the difficulties of "The Rose" and how "I sang until I bled."

Clouds of Sils Maria

Contrary to popular "Twilight" belief, Kristen Stewart can act. Her eyes aren't just empty, lifeless Bella vessels after all, and if given the right role - see also "Still Alice," where she stars alongside Julianne Moore - Stewart can slip out of herself and into the psyche of someone else with remarkable ease. As Juliette Binoche's assistant, a confident Stewart is effectively orderly as she oversees the day-to-day endeavors of Maria Enders' (Binoche), a veteran French actress. Starring in a theater production with a younger actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) who's playing the same role she once played, Maria is forced to face some serious truths. Revelations abound in this chatty showpiece that requires patience to slog through its heady storytelling. Extras... wait, what extras?

Hot Pursuit

In "Hot Pursuit," Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara are on the run. But from what? To flee every frame of this hot mess of an odd-couple cop comedy? Though you wouldn't blame them if they tried, not quite. In this laugh-now-feel-bad-about-it-later buddy comedy, Officer Cooper (Witherspoon) and her mob witness (Vergara) bumble their way out of awkward situations, like feigning lesbianism to mitigate a dangerous run-in with a crazed Southerner. Reese does boy drag as she... demonstrates that her cuteness can defy gender? Yes, "Hot Pursuit" is dumb fun. Yes, "The Heat" was much better. And no, we don't need a sequel. As for the special features: Reese and Sofia bond onset like the real-life BFFs they may or may not be.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.

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