IT’S A SIN. (2021) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

IT’S A SIN. (2021) A FIVE-PART DRAMA MINISERIES WRITTEN AND CREATED BY RUSSELL T. DAVIES.
STARRING OLLY ALEXANDER, LYDIA WEST, OMARI DOUGLAS, CALLUM SCOTT HOWELLS, KEELEY HAWES, SHAUN DOOLEY, STEPHEN FRY AND TRACEY ANN OBERMAN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Wow. I binge-watched this drama series in one night on Netflix, as it was so good there was no question of my leaving any of it unwatched till the following night. It’s the story of a group of young people, four or five gay men and a woman, sharing a house and a life in London from 1981 to 1991.

It’s the era that encompasses the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in Britain, and the series shows us how the five young people are affected by the epidemic and how they cope with it when it affects them, either directly or indirectly, either personally or through a friend.

Olly Alexander from the band Years and Years plays Ritchie Tozer, who leaves his painfully traditional upbringing on the Isle of Wight behind him to be a flamboyant, fun-loving and optimistic drama student in London.

His friend and housemate, Roscoe Babatunde, is a black man who works in a bar, having narrowly missed out on being forcibly dragged back to Nigeria by his male relatives to have the ‘gayness’ exorcised- or excised- from his body. Just how they were planning to do that, well, we don’t know, but his sister reckons it might have involved a small bit of Death…

Ash Mukherjee is a handsome young Indian man whom all the lads love. Jill Baxter, the only woman in the group, is kind, fiercely and steadfastly loyal and compassionate and kind of acts like a mother to the group of lads. Her particular best friend is Ritchie, and Ash also favours the popular Ritchie, but as a boyfriend.

Colin Morris-Jones is a young Welsh laddie who comes to the metropolis to seek work and finds it in a posh gentlemen’s outfitters. Gregory Finch, a Scottish bus conductor, is sort of on the periphery of the group, and floats in and out of it when he has the time.

I’m not going to spoil this excellent drama series for you, but I can tell you that at least two of the people in this solid little group of BFF’s will go on to contract the ‘plague,’ as it was also known at the time. By their reactions shall ye know them…

This was the era when a lot of information was coming out of the United States about the so-called ‘gay cancer’ that was decimating the gay communities of America from the early ‘Eighties. Gay cancer, the plague, ‘that’ disease, the one that made your parents disown you and your employer give you the elbow.

First it seems like a disease that infects gay males only. But then the haemophiliacs, drug addicts and those who receive contaminated blood by means of a transfusion become apparent victims too. When it turns out that heterosexual people can get HIV also, and that mothers can pass it on to their babies in utero, AIDS is suddenly a horrible disease that pretty much anyone can catch.

Information, and mis-information, filters over to the UK from the USA. Ritchie, our charismatic drama student, who hasn’t come out yet to his parents and family, practises what can only be described as a promiscuous lifestyle with multiple sex partners and little or no protection being used.

There’s no such thing as AIDS, Ritchie insists to his friends. It’s all a ploy by the drug manufacturers to sell their pills and things to the gay population of the world. He’s an AIDS denier, who doesn’t like using condoms because they reduce the sensations he feels during sex.

Let’s just all keep partying, urges Ritchie, and use poppers to increase stimulation and booze it up till we puke, because life is short and we need to fit in so much living before we check out. Oh, the irony, the tragic irony of it all…!

It all happens quite gradually. A friend falls ill and needs hospitalising. Another friend gets hauled permanently home by his mother when he gets a mysterious sickness. Someone suddenly gets unexplained purple splotches on their body or face, another someone gets a cough they can’t quite shake off.

Words like Kaposi’s Sarcoma, pneumocystis, dementia and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy are introduced into interested parties’ day to day vocabulary.

Suddenly there’s a proliferation of funerals, all young gay men, and sometimes the dead man’s family won’t let the dead man’s lover or even his gay friends come anywhere near the funeral, because they and the ‘gayness’ are what caused this person to die in the first place.

Misinformation abounds, such as, drinking battery acid cures you of your AIDS(!!!). There’s a lot of scare-mongering about too, like, oh, you can get AIDS from simply touching an infected person, or, AIDS victims are bad people and they brought this terrible judgement down upon themselves by behaving so promiscuously.

People are going for AIDS tests under assumed names and men are scared to death that their employers, families or even landlords will find out about their HIV status and give them the push.

Victims of the disease feel fear, paranoia, isolation and rejection and sometimes even experience poverty and homelessness as well. The aura of shame surrounding the whole epidemic is nearly touchable.

There’s a horrible stigma attached to being diagnosed as HIV positive or with full-blown AIDS. The actors, in particular Olly Alexander, do a superb job of communicating their sheer terror and feelings of marginalisation and stigmatisation once the threat of AIDS becomes more than just a mere threat.

Stephen Fry has a small but memorable role as a closeted Tory MP who, in his own words, ‘likes to stick his face in the shit every now and then.’ What a dirty boy. Nanny will have to spank him, clearly. Tracey Ann Oberman, who played Chrissie Watts in EASTENDERS back in the day, turns up briefly also as Ritchie’s acting agent.

Keeley Hawes is brilliant as Ritchie Tozer’s sexually repressed mother who has tremendous difficulty acknowledging that her son is gay, has AIDS and is now dying. Stunned parents often had to learn those three facts all at once, which, in fairness, is a lot to take in.

Ruth Sheen, an actress I think I’ve seen before but I’m not sure, only has a small part in the drama, as another AIDS mum, but her words to Mrs. Tozer in the kitchen of the hospital’s AIDS unit are magnificently delivered. Shaun Dooley as Ritchie’s dad, with his casual everyday racism and homophobia, tells a dying Ritchie that ‘he’ll scour the AIDS out of him.’ It’s powerful, frightening stuff.

The ‘Eighties soundtrack is terrific. Took me right back, did that. Also, it was good to observe the progress of the deadly epidemic from a British point of view, as the AIDS films I’ve seen to date have been mostly American.

This drama series is moving, beautifully acted and super-powerful, and should be seen by pretty much everyone over eighteen. Given that thirty seven million people worldwide are currently living with HIV, the message is as valid and urgent today as it was then.

 AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. (2013) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. (2013) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. DIRECTED BY JEAN-MARC VALLEE.
STARRING MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY, JARED LETO, GRIFFIN DUNNE AND JENNIFER GARNER.
REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I’ve never liked the actor Matthew McConaughey, but he’s so damn good in this based-on-real-events drama film that he won a Best Actor Oscar for it, and I whole-heartedly agree with the Academy’s choice, as it happens.

He’s virtually unrecognisable as Ron Woodroof, a Dallas electrician and rodeo cowboy who, in 1985, is hospitalised after receiving an electric shock at work and is told that he is HIV-positive, with such a low T-cell count that the doctor tells him he only has about another thirty days to live. Ron’s response will tell you the kind of charming individual he is when we first meet him:

‘Get the fuck outta here! I ain’t no fucking faggot. You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.’

Oh yes, our Ron is deeply sexist, foul-mouthed and homophobic; I don’t know how he feels about people of colour…! He’s devastated when his diagnosis sinks in (he remembers the intravenous drug-using prostitute from a few years back) and also when his friends, the lads with whom he’d normally hang out, drink himself insensible and pay hookers for sex, all reject him. This is because they assume he must be a ‘faggot’ to have contracted HIV. He even loses his big macho-man job at the rodeo and his trailer park home, all thanks to good old-fashioned ignorance, prejudice and fear.

Ron demands drugs, all the drugs he needs to fix him, from Doctors Saks (Jennifer Garner) and Sevard of his local hospital. All that’s available to AIDS patients at the time is AZT, which can kill off more cells than it helps if given in the high doses normally given to AIDS patients. This is what Ron finds out for himself when his condition worsens after taking AZT through the hospital.

A dying Ron pops off to Mexico to see a Dr. Vass, who’s been struck off the medical register in the States for treating AIDS patients with unapproved drugs, that is to say, drugs which may not necessarily be illegal but which may not be approved by the all-important FDA, the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Vass treats Ron with a cocktail of his own drugs and food supplements, and, three months later, Ron is feeling much more like his old self. Ron realises that he can make money out of importing these drugs himself and selling them directly to AIDS patients who are willing to pay a one-off fee of four hundred bucks. Thus, the Dallas Buyers Club is born…

Ron’s partner in not-quite-a-crime is Rayon, a trans woman whom he meets in the hospital. There’s often a trope like this in AIDS movies: the tough, possibly homophobic male who has somehow found himself HIV-positive comes in contact with the kind of person to whom he’d normally refer as a ‘raving queer’ or a faggot or a queen. ‘Don’t put yo’ faggotty-ass hands on me,’ and so on.

The gay or trans person normally initiates contact by being friendly, upbeat and often making a joke of their shared plight. The macho man initially rebuffs the gay or trans person, but gradually softens towards him/her when he discovers that this person is the one other human being in his life who knows what he’s going through and fully, properly empathises with him.

This is the way of it with Ron and Rayon. The latter is beautifully played by another actor who is virtually unrecognisable as himself, the normally-plays-a-tough-guy Jared Leto. Leto won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Rayon, who has been rejected by her family for being gay, and they don’t even know she has AIDS yet.

The scenes with Rayon and her lover, a young man also dying of AIDS, are just tragic, and it doesn’t get any cheerier when Rayon bravely goes to her homophobic dad and asks him for the money Ron needs to keep the Dallas Buyers Club open and operational for the people who need it.

One of my favourite moments in the film is when Ron and Rayon are shopping for food together at the supermarket, and Ron forces a deeply homophobic old mate of his to be polite to Rayon and shake her hand. One gets the impression that it’s the nicest thing that anyone has done for Rayon in many a long day.

Ron and his Club run afoul of the cops and the FDA, but it’s all part and parcel of the chaotic life that Ron has only partially chosen for himself. When he eventually dies, it’s a good seven years since he was told by Dr. Sevard that he only had thirty days to live.

He buys himself seven years more of life through his willingness to go out and find the drugs that work for him and others. In that seven years, doctors like Ron’s good friend Dr. Eve Saks come to realise that the drug AZT may be more efficacious at a lower dosage, but I’m no doctor, so you might want to research those medical facts for yourselves. I do know that the drugs Ron used and advocated the use of for others were not always effective or even necessarily safe, and that’s why he was often in conflict with the FDA.

The film is set in the era when the American public feared and reviled AIDS patients because not much information was available to the public at the time, other than the fact that AIDS was initially known as ‘the gay plague’ or ‘gay cancer,’ not exactly terms to invite tolerance, compassion and understanding.

The American government of that period allocated much less money for AIDS research than it did for other aspects of the health service, even though full-blown AIDS had a one hundred percent mortality rate in these scary years.

Early treatments often had horrible side-effects too. By the time the mid-Nineties rolled around, it was discovered that AZT worked quite well in conjunction with two other anti-virals, as this reduced the chances of the virus becoming immune to any one treatment, but that all came too late for Ron and Rayon.

The film is grim, depressing in places and sublimely touching in others. McConaughey and Leto are superb in their roles and that’s about all I can say about the film. Watch it if you can, because it’s a great inspirational story and a masterclass in character acting.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv
   

FATAL LOVE, or SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR: THE ALISON GERTZ STORY. (1992) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

FATAL LOVE, or SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR: THE ALI GERTZ STORY. (1992) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. WRITTEN BY DEBORAH JOY LEVINE. DIRECTED BY TOM MCLOUGHLIN.

STARRING MOLLY RINGWALD, LEE GRANT, MARTIN LANDAU, PERRY KING AND GEORGE COE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Ali, Darren died three years ago of AIDS. I thought you knew.’

I think I remember seeing this one on the television in the ‘90s. It’s one of those really good, made-for-tv early AIDS movies that came out in the ‘90s when, from what I recall, we were still a long way from knowing everything there is to know about the horrible disease known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Molly Ringwald, queen of the Brat Pack, does an excellent job playing pretty little rich girl, Ali Gertz, who develops AIDS from a one-night-stand with a handsome, long-haired bartender called Darren who sleeps around big-time.

The reason everyone’s so shocked that Ali gets AIDS is that she’s not a gay man hanging around the notorious bath-houses or a homeless drug addict begging on the streets. She belongs to a group of people that doctors didn’t realise could get AIDS at first… the heterosexuals.

In fact, Ali is young, white, rich, female, heterosexual, the pampered child of rich parents, Carol and Jerry, all living happily living in their fabulous Park Avenue apartment. The world is her oyster. She can do anything, go anywhere, have anyone. She’s a very privileged young lady indeed.

When Ali is fifteen or sixteen, however, she goes through a bit of a wild child phase. She sleeps with a bisexual bartender at Studio 54, and then seven years later, after being struck down by a mystery illness, is told by her family doctor, not that she is HIV-positive, but that she already has full-blown AIDS.

She’s devastated. So are her parents, her much older boyfriend Mark and her friends. One female friend, Tracy, can’t get her head round the fact that she, as Ali’s partner in crime in the boozing, drugging and sleeping around, could just as easily have been the one who got AIDS. Ashamed but unable to act any differently, Tracy jumps ship, as does Mark, Ali’s boyfriend, who can’t stomach the idea of having sex with a woman who has AIDS.

Another friend of Ali’s, a gay guy called Peter, chides Ali for never having paid any attention to AIDS until she gets it herself. Where was she when Peter was a terrified wreck, having lost half his friends to the deadly disease the whole way through the ‘Eighties?

Now it’s Ali’s turn to feel ashamed, but she more than makes up for it, I think, by becoming an AIDS activist and presenting herself as ‘the face of AIDS’ to the kind of people who need to hear it most, heterosexual, sexually active school-going teenagers who all think that AIDS doesn’t apply to them. By saying to them, look at me, I didn’t think it applied to me either, she stands a very good chance of getting through to them.

Bernie Siegel, American writer, inspirational speaker, retired paediatric surgeon and the author of LOVE, MEDICINE AND MIRACLES, is the catalyst that turns Ali’s attitude towards her illness to positivity rather than negativity and apathy. She attends one of his seminars on illness and healing, and comes out of it with renewed hope and energy.

The thing she finds hardest to come to terms with is the fact that, as she’s got full-blown AIDS, she may now never experience what it feels like to be a wife and mother. She’s been loved and spoiled and pampered her whole life. She can’t bear the thought of never again being touched in love by a man she cares for.

Ali paints a horrible but accurate picture to her parents about what she can ‘look forward to,’ AIDS-wise, in her ‘future.’ The terrified parents, Jerry and Carol, react by tearing strips off each other and playing the ‘Blame Game.’

‘It’s all your fault! You never disciplined her! You spoiled her, you still do!’

It’s true that a fifteen-year-old should not have been allowed to drink alcohol at Studio 54, to take drugs and have one-night-stands. But the Gertz family paid the highest price for it, so I’ll hold the lecture. There but for the grace of God go any of us, anyway.

It says at the end of the film that Alison Gertz is still talking to people about her experience and inspiring them with her amazing courage and positivity. Then I looked up the date of her death online. 1992, just four months after the release of the film. Well done, Molly Ringwald, for a terrific performance, and rest in peace, Ali Gertz. You’ve earned it.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv
 

IT’S MY PARTY. (1996) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

IT’S MY PARTY. (1996) WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY RANDAL KLEISER. BASED ON TRUE EVENTS.

STARRING ERIC ROBERTS, GREGORY HARRISON, BRONSON PINCHOT, BRUCE DAVISON, OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, MARLEE MATLIN, MARGARET CHO, GEORGE SEGAL, LEE GRANT, NINA FOCH, RODDY MCDOWALL, SALLY KELLERMAN, DIMITRA ARLISS AND CHRISTOPHER ATKINS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an American AIDS drama by the man who directed musical romantic comedy GREASE in 1978, and, in fact, his female lead, Olivia Newton-John, appears in IT’S MY PARTY as one of the quite large cast of characters.

It’s based on true-life events, ie, the death of director Randal Kleiser’s lover, Harry Stein, from AIDS, and the farewell party he threw when he himself was ‘checking out,’ as they call it in the film.

The party in the film is thrown by Nick Stark, brilliantly played by Eric Roberts, who is actually Julia Roberts’s handsome older brother. Nick is a gay, HIV-positive architect and designer, just like the real-life Harry Stein.

When he discovers that he has the disease known as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a disease that in only a few days will result more or less in the rotting of his brain and the loss of his vision and mental faculties, Nick decides that he’s had enough. He’s going to commit suicide while he still has the ability to do so.

First, though, he hosts a two-day party for his family and friends, all of whom know his plight. His parents, estranged from each other but not from their beloved son, are top of the guest list, along with his deaf sister Daphne, ably played by Marlee Matlin. Nick’s best gal-pal, Charlene Lee, played by Margaret Cho, is also present.

Olivia Newton-John and Bruce Davison play a married couple who are either relatives or very close friends of Nick’s. Their son Andrew, gay too and unsure of himself, already sleeping with his own boyfriend, idolises Nick and is devastated by his plan to ‘check out’ early. But Nick’s made his mind up.

The way he sees it, in a few days he’ll be a blind ‘vegetable’ with memory loss who won’t be able to control his own bladder. He doesn’t want to live through that, if you could call it ‘living.’ His diagnosis of PML means he only has a few months at the most to live anyway. He wants to die now, tomorrow, when all his guests have left.

Christopher Atkins, famous for starring in THE BLUE LAGOON alongside a teenaged Brooke Shields, plays Jack, one of the pals who’s come to say goodbye. Roddy McDowall portrays a guest called Damian who doesn’t believe in suicide and tries to talk Nick out of it. No dice, though.

Another guest is played by Sally Kellerman, who was the original Major Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan in Robert Altman’s movie, M*A*S*H, about a military hospital, a role famously taken on by Loretta Swit in the series that followed on from the movie. It’s kind of an all-star cast, this.  
 
Bronson Pinchot, better known for playing Eastern European immigrant Balki Bartokomous in popular American sitcom, PERFECT STRANGERS, from 1986-1983, does a brilliant job of playing Nick’s gay best friend, Monty Tipton.

Monty has been HIV-positive for eight years himself, so he knows what it’s like to live with the fear of AIDS. You’d never know he had a thing wrong with him, however, as he’s bright and lively and full of quips, bitchy witticisms and movie quotes. He gives a right tongue-lashing to Nick’s ex-lover, film director Brandon Theis, who reluctantly turns up at the party because Charlene has invited him and not Nick.

Nick was devastated when Brandon kicked him out of their shared home the year before, because Brandon basically couldn’t handle Nick’s HIV-positive diagnosis. He was scared stiff, that’s the beginning, middle and end of it, and he broke his promise to Nick to stay with him forever because of that fear. Now Nick is about to die and Brandon is riddled with guilt and love for his ex-lover. Will Nick be angry he’s here, or glad to see the love of his life one last time…?

The film is full of the grim, macabre black humour gay men with AIDS or who have friends with AIDS seem to use. Stuff like:

‘It’s your funeral, babe…!’

‘I wouldn’t be seen dead in those colours.’

‘Oh, why don’t you fuck off and die already?’

‘It’s my party and I’ll die if I want to…!’

Stuff like that. We witness the earlier death-by-suicide of a friend of both Nick’s and Brandon’s, and Nick’s treatment of the corpse and the situation is irreverent in a way that probably only another gay man with AIDS would be allowed to get away with. I hope I myself am not being irreverent when I say that it’s almost like some kind of club that excludes everyone else who’s not an official member, albeit a club that no-one, literally no-one, ever asked to join…!

Everything’s a huge big joke and no-one’s allowed to cry except Nick’s mom, Amalia, who is in bits over her son’s near demise. That cry of pain she gives when Brandon carries Nick off to the bedroom to let the pills he’s swallowed take effect is heart-rending. I cried at that bit myself. It’s a very sad movie, with a very sad subject. You would cry too if it happened to youuuuuu…!

Who wants to ever be in that position of having to decide to kill oneself because the future has shrivelled up and withered in front of you? No-one, of course. And there’s a big difference between saying you’re going to kill yourself and actually doing it.

What must that ‘this is it’ moment feel like, knowing that after all your talk and planning and wondering, it’s finally happening…? Would there be an awful moment of regret, of wanting to change your mind and go back, and what if it was too late? I can’t even imagine being in that situation, can you?

Here’s another grim thought, courtesy of my brain. Being Catholic and both God-and-law-fearing (I can’t help it, it was bullied into me at school AND at home!), I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the movie continued on past the death of Nick…

Is it illegal to commit suicide/assisted suicide in America? Would the people who physically helped him to do it, like Brandon, be accused of complicity in an illegal act? Would the bystanders?

When the police are called out to this sudden death, can whoever’s there to let them in tell the truth and say it was deliberate and there was even a party with music, food, drink and presents to celebrate it, or would they have to pretend they just came over and found the deceased, well, deceased…? I don’t know.

Great film, anyway, bit over-long, available to watch on YouTube, but you’ll need a ton of hankies to get through it…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: