Stage Mother (2020)

Release Date: August 21, 2020

A Texas Choir Mistress (Jacki Weaver) inherits a San Francisco drag club from her late son, Rickey, (Eldon Thiele) with whom she hadn’t been in touch since he came out.

 

 

I’m going to be 100% honest with this review and tell you that I equal parts loved and hated Stage Mother. A mother loses her only child with whom she was very close in his early years to a drug addiction. The audience sees him indulge in his drug of choice, go out on stage and pretty much drop dead. His mother, Maybelline, who is the epitome of fabulous is notified of her son’s death and is determined to attend the funeral, disregarding the objections of her husband (Hugh Thompson). Once in San Francisco she seeks to build bridges with the family she feels she has left which are her son’s partner and the people he valued in his life. 

Stage Mother is a wonderfully acted movie with weak storytelling. There are number of storylines and if just one or two had been followed and developed it would have been a much stronger piece but the actual focus seemed to be an almost masturbatory “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone/ fabulous straight mother figure saving the motherless.” I wondered what scenes had been deleted that would help the weaker story threads come together. Rickey is addicted to drugs; people tell Maybelline there’s a lot of drugs in the drag community; Maybelline intervenes when she sees one of Rickey’s drag sisters taking drugs basically verbally smacking her hand and staying up with her and all is good? It’s took simple. I’m not saying that this would have been a better movie with a focus on that storyline but with a better focus on any storyline. 

Now, let me just say, I wept when Maybelline honored Rickey toward the end of the movie. It was beautiful and, if nothing else, a connection was made with the characters. I would have loved to know more of Cherry Poppins’ (Mya Taylor) story. We meet Cherry and the other queens with a superficial overview and when Cherry goes to speak with her estranged wife, Maybelline tags along but the depth of Cherry’s struggle is unknown to the viewer other than that brief moment. Its the filling in the blanks moment that we often see in fiction that because the audience maybe knows a transgender person, they’ll assign that struggle to Cherry.

Stage Mother also too easily course corrects for the mother of this late gay man. Jacki Weaver is a wonderful actress and the emotion with which she plays the role convinces the audience that the “loss” of her son has weighed on her for many years and she mostly crumbled to the pressure of her husband. We’re supposed to believe the husband is a villain but Hugh Thompson plays that role unconvincingly. We don’t really get a history of why, for so many years, Maybelline didn’t reach out because if we know nothing else about her from this movie it’s that she’s a woman that does what she wants to do. 

I had mixed feelings about Stage Mother but overall it’s a very watchable movie and one that people should see. Jackie Beat is great as Dusty Muffin even if she is in the piece too little. Allistair MacDonald as Joan of Arkansas and Oscar Moreno as Tequila Mockingbird are wonderful in their roles. I would love to see movies following each of them and expanding on who they are and where they came from.

Watch it and let me know. Am I offbase in this review? Did you cry as I did during the honorary musical piece?

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Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder by Patrick Brode

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

On November 6, 1920, in the midst of Ontario’s prohibition, Provincial liquor inspector, Reverend  J.O.L “Leslie” Spracklin walked into the Chappell House Hotel in Windsor, Ontario and shot Beverly “Babe” Trumble at close range, killing him. What happened that day and how did Spracklin get away with murder?

 

 

Given the part that Ontario played in the US prohibition, which started in 1920, one would not assume that Ontario was dry at that time. The Ontario Temperance Act was passed in 1916 and while liquor could be produced and exported, it was not legal to consume. Brode begins Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder outlining Ontario’s history with alcohol and its citizens lack of reverence for the newly established rules after prohibition passed. Windsor, which is across a river just south of Detroit, Michigan,  was a special concern for the officials in Toronto as liquor seemed to flow freely back and forth across the water. There were speakeasys everywhere and hotels and social clubs would serve both locally produced and homemade products.  There are stately homes now in the lovely Walkervile area of Windsor, built by people that got rich off of the illegal flow of alcohol.

The Ontario Attorney General of the day, William Rainey, opted to bypass the local police and engage private enforcement for the liquor laws. He appointed Spracklin, the Pastor of Sandwich Methodist Church, a liquor inspector and Spracklin brought on board his own force including a very dubious Hallam brothers. From the start, there was a massive overreaching on the part of the team and allegations that when “inspections” would happen, things would go missing. The team didn’t shy away from violence and didn’t seem to care about the optics of their raids or the positions of the subjects. Rather than seeming the law of the Wild West of Ontario, they were coming off as bullies. What caused Spracklin and his men to raid the Chappell House on that November night is unknown but stories of what happened varied wildly and seem to have been the last straw for those that employed Spracklin. It may seem a spoiler in the title to say that Spracklin got away with murder but, as in any true crime, the journey is key.

At 216 pages, a quarter of which is bibliography, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a quick read. Brode, a local historian, covers Prohibition and how it was passed before going into the lives of the participants and the difference in the ways they were raised and how they looked at life. Their mothers came from the same area of Ontario to Windsor and were friends. The retelling of the event itself it brief with more detail going into the subsequent trial. It was interesting, as someone who has lived in Essex County, for 21 years, to read the names that remain familiar in the city of Windsor. Trumble’s body was handled by Janisse Funeral Home which is still in operation 100 years later. Spracklin’s men stopped people leaving Our Lady of Assumption Church, a church that was a risk for a few years but is now being restored, to search vehicles for alcohol. The trial took place at Mackenzie Hall; now an event space and where Mr. Rabid Readers and I had our wedding reception. There is a historic courtroom preserved with original furnishings in the building that is now used for Landlord-Tenant Court and as an interpretive display piece.

If you are interested in the subject, Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is a great read. The start is a bit dry so one must bear with the work but once the author gets into the local events and his subjects; Dying for a Drink: How a Prohibition Preacher Got Away with Murder is utterly fascinating and a very quick read.

 

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Human Rights Day 2020: Starlight Tour; the Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild by Robert Renaud and Susanne Reber

Publication Date: November 23, 2005:

On November 29, 1990, two construction workers found the body of 17 year old Saulteaux First Nations tribe member, Neil Stonechild. His friend, Jason Roy, last saw him in the back of a police car on November 25, 1990. The initial inquiry into his death by the Saksatoon police ruled it to be accidental and not as a result of foul play. When a surviving victim of a Starlight Tour came forward, it led to the reopening of the case in 2000 and would shine a horrible and cruel light on the practices of certain Saskatoon Police Officers and the full coverage they received of the “Blue Curtain,” a practice in which a police officer doesn’t inform on his fellow officer.

 

In the wake of police brutality in the United States, I see a lot of people from other countries saying “We feel for you but we can’t relate.” In Canada, we sit atop the United States and look down our noses at our seemingly less evolved neighbors. What we completely ignore when doing that is the treatment of First Nations people in Canada which, frankly, is what allowed the Saskatoon Police to go unchecked as long as they did and, maybe still do. Our First Nations people don’t have potable drinking water and scores of women go missing without the authorities taking their disappearance seriously (Go to this website for information about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls).

Starlight Tour refers to the Saskatoon Police taking mostly male member of the Indigeous community, often intoxicated, and dropping them off in the middle of nowhere. They would sometimes take their clothing, abandoning them in extremely cold temperatures. The first documented “tour” was in 1976 and continued until recently and, considering that no officer has been convicted of this offense, may still go on to this day. Indigenous people often don’t come forward probably due to the troubled relationship with the police and the knowledge that these members of the community have gone unchecked so what stops them from coming back after the person makes a report? If they do, as one man found out, there’s a good deal of victim shaming. 

On that November night in 1990, Stonechild and his friend, Jason Roy, were drinking together. They parted ways and in the initial inquiry in which Roy gave a false name, he said that he didn’t remember what happened after that event. In a secondary inquiry in 2000, he said that he last saw Stonechild in the back of a police car bleeding profusely from a cut on his face and crying out to his friend for help. 

The authors of Starlight Tour are not looking for cheap sentimentality. The case of Neil Stonechild, and the others who died and suffered at the hands of the Saskatoon Police, in it’s facts will inspire the reader.  The authors wrote the book with cooperation from the Stonechild family and their lawyer, Donald Worme. Starlight Tour chronicles their struggle, frustration and sorrow. The goal was to expose the horror of the events and the injustice served to Neil Stonechild and other members of the indigenous community and Starlight Tour delivers.

I am delighted to report that this book was curriculum in my daughter’s Grade 11 English class. The light is shining on this subject and we can only hope that attitudes change and that events long covered by shadows and ignored come to light. We can only hope for a day where those in authority won’t victimize a marginalized community and ignore the crimes to which they’re subject. There’s a reason that serial killers tend to prey on the vulnerable and marginalized. Our hope is that one day every crime will be investigated no matter race, creed or the criminal history of the victim. And, as this book will show, even when the horrible cruelty comes to light and those responsible pinpointed, it doesn’t mean that any actual justice will be meted out. 

Pick Starlight Tour up today. If you’re in Canada, this should be required reading. Value your fellow human and be aware of what is going on in your world. 

 

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Eubeltic Descent by Nadine Keels

Publication Date: August 22, 2018

Abigaia Grena has only known a life of crime. A talented thief, she has come to hate what she’s become. She dreams of returning to her ancestral home but her intended isn’t interested in making the trip across the ocean. What will she do when the Euebeltic Realm needs her?

The author, Nadine Keels, gave me a copy of Eubeltic Descent in exchange for my review.

We learn the most important thing about Abigaia in the first few sentences; she rationalizes morality. She’s a thief but vendors anticipate thievery and make allowances so Abigaia suggests that it’s something of a social contract. At her core, she’s a deeply principled person caught in a situation she’s unable to control but she can dream and, perhaps; find the strength to make dreams reality. She’s a master of distraction and analytical thinking in her craft and uses that not only to misdirect vendors and readers. She’s led a rough life having lost her mother young and while her father was physically there for a while and impressed upon her the importance of her heritage, she’s terrified of him. Abigaia, now living with her aunt, has turned to something of a pack of thieves. Her aunt knows she can’t afford the things she brings from market but asks no questions. Keels impresses on us that these are desperately poor people living on the edge and hence, the world to which Abi’s ancestors immigrated isn’t quite the bright land of opportunity it once was and as she learns about her ancestors, her hope grows.

There’s a metaphor of modern life in Eubeltic Descent. The class system and shattered lives and the proud ancestry that one would hope is re-found. Keel’s writing style is an intelligent mix of a classic world and a carefully constructed progressive plot that shows massive growth in its main character that is in keeping with the girl we meet in the first few chapters. Abi starts as a little girl sure she’s too old for the games and matures into a strong and capable woman. Keel’s skill with the language is visceral. We see Abi’s hair fall to act as a disguise, we see Tarek’s raking smile, we stand in the kitchen with Abi’s aunt as she makes apple tarts. Its hard to go into the story without revealing massive spoilers but the lines of the plot come together smoothly taking readers on a journey to the unexpected.

As fantasy novels go, Eubelic Descent is a good one. It flows well and is a fast read. If you like character driven fantasy, be sure to pick this one up today.

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About Nadine Keels
For more information about Nadine Keels, visit her blog. You can connect with her on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter @nadinekeels.