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Forgive and never forget

Melissa McCarthy in a breakout role

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Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ (Photo by Mary Cybulski for Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

A top comic suddenly changing course and taking on a serious dramatic role is no new thing — Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Rooney, Jerry Lewis and a host of others have done it before. But Melissa McCarthy’s turn at the “serious” bat in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is something quite special. It’s a dramatic role with some comic underpinnings, but it bears not a trace of the performer’s past — even when it raises a chuckle or two.

Ever since her breakout performance in “Bridesmaids” (2011), coupled with her sitcom “Mike and Molly” and her stinging parody of Trump spokesman Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live,” McCarthy has been the “go to” person for broad, almost cartoonish roles.

None of this is on view in her “Can You” portrayal of writer-turned forger Lee Israel. There’s plenty of humor here but it doesn’t proceed from McCarthy’s wheelhouse. She doesn’t exaggerate in any way. Moreover none of it can be called “Chaplinesque” either. She’s not “bittersweet,” like Giulietta Masina in “Nights of Cabiria” or Roberto Benigni in “Life is Beautiful.” If any comparison could be made it would be with Peter Lorre in a less intense version of “M.” For the character she plays can feel fate closing in on him just as Lorre’s child-killer does. And while the film’s anti-heroine is no murderer, she’s just as desperate and pathos-invoking.

Adapted by Nicole Holofcener (“Walking and Talking” and “Enough Said” ) and Jeff Whitty ( a leading player in “Shortbus”) from Israel’s memoir of the same name and directed with considerable sensitivity by Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”), “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is among other things one of the most refreshingly original LGBT films seen in years. What marks it is the exceptionally subtle way its LGBT aspect reveals itself, not just through McCarthy’s performance as a very low-keyed lesbian, but Richard E. Grant’s sparkling supporting turn as Israel’s gay pal Jack Hock. We truly haven’t seen their quirky, highly singular likes on the screen before, and they’re a major reason why this film is so special.

Lee Israel had been in the ’60s and ‘70s a successful writer of celebrity profiles for upscale magazines. A piece she wrote about Katherine Hepburn in 1967 for Esquire was the closeted lesbian actress’ first full-throated performance of the myth she proceeded to sell for the rest of her life of her grand love affair with her frequent co-star Spencer Tracy. Israel went on from articles to full-scale write biographies of Tallulah Bankhead, Dorothy Kilgallen and Estee Lauder. The last-mentioned a failure as the famous beautician decided to pen an autobiography — which scotched commercial prospects for Israel’s book. After that Israel’s career dimmed drastically — which is where the film begins.

“No one is interested in a Lee Israel book,” an editor tells her of her desire to write a new book about Fanny Brice. Desperate for money, Israel sells a note that Brice had written that came into her possession. The dealer who she first shows it to says it’s nice but would be more valuable had it included colorful details of one sort or another. So Israel forged new lines to supply such details and made a sale. That proving a success, she set about manufacturing forgeries from start to finish, using a dozen old typewriters and carefully “treated” paper (to create the appearance of age). Specialty booksellers were happy to buy them — believing their authenticity. By the time her criminal career came to an end it was estimated that Israel had forged some 400 letters supposedly penned by notables such as Dorothy Parker (that’s where the title of the film and the book it’s based on comes from) Noel Coward and other literary wits.

As shown in the film, this all came to an end with her unsuccessful attempt to steal documents from a specially housed collection in order to copy them. In June 1993, Israel pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport stolen property, for which she served six months under house arrest and five years of federal probation

In the film our first view of McCarthy’s Lee Israel shows a desperately sad woman trying to care for her sick cat, seemingly her only companion. As we’re introduced to her pal Jack Hock the picture fills out considerably. Hock is taken to very forward flirting with the waiter at the coffee shop they go to. Israel’s sexuality doesn’t come into play until a bit later on when she takes to wooing a bookstore owner (nicely played by Dolly Wells) to whom she has sold a number of her forgeries. McCarthy is especially subtle here, portraying the loneliness of a woman who, while adventurous in her letter-forging, is exceptionally shy in her personal life. In this way Hock comes to embody the daring that Israel wishes she had.

Grant’s Hock is right in line with the performances he’s given in “Withnail and I,” “Hudson Hawk” and “The Player.” But McCarthy’s is quite new in every way. As a result we regard Lee Israel in full as a flawed but oddly sympathetic human being. There’s already Oscar buzz about McCarthy’s performance.

But what’s more important is the question of whether this hard-working actress will get a chance at playing a role this deep again. I, for one, sincerely hope so.

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Sports

San Diego runner celebrates the end of their trailblazing season

Nikki Hiltz came out as trans nonbinary this year and is aiming to compete in the next Olympic Summer Games scheduled for Paris in 2024

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Nikki Hiltz (Photo Credit: NYRR Media Relations)

SAN DIEGO – Sunday marked the last race of 2021 for Santa Cruz native Nikki Hiltz, and they described their season on social media as “filled with ups, downs, and a whole lot of self discovery.” Hiltz, who came out as trans nonbinary in March, reflected on all they’ve achieved.

Far from their home in San Diego, the 26-year-old Adidas sprinter finished second on Sunday in the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile in New York City, with a time of 4:23.0, just over a second behind first-place finisher Olympian Jemma Reekie of the United Kingdom. Shannon Osika of Ann Arbor, Mich. was right on Hiltz’s heels to finish third.

“I think with any sport, especially running, you bring your whole self to the starting line,” Hiltz told the Los Angeles Blade. “It’s not like I’m bringing just the athlete part of Nikki; I’m bringing my whole identity.” 

Their coming out as trans nonbinary, they said, definitely impacted her performance. 

“The closer I can be to myself and stay true to myself, the faster and the better I run, essentially,” said Hiltz. “I am someone that runs with a lot of emotion and grit. And so when I’m at war with myself or when I wasn’t out of the closet, it really shows on the track. And then when I’m at peace with myself and I’m living my most authentic life, that also really shows on the track.” 

Off the track, Hiltz has been exploring their passion for the LGBTQ community and their interest in pushing for equality and justice, much like out San Diego Loyals midfielder Collin Martin. As the Blade reported last week, Martin has joined Common Goal, a partnership with Adidas and soccer players around the world working toward ending gender inequality, combatting HIV/AIDS and other causes. He’s also pledged 1% of his salary to Play Proud, a project aimed at improving LGBTQ+ inclusion in soccer.

“Within the past two years, I’ve really leaned into advocacy and fighting for things that I believe in,” Hiltz told the Blade. “That has been really fulfilling when I have been injured or when COVID happened and I couldn’t race.” 

Hiltz organized her own event for its second year this summer, a race in which all the proceeds benefited the Trevor Project

“I put on a Pride 5k and that was so fun,” they said. “Whether I had a good or bad performance, the highlight of every race this summer has been meeting and connecting with members of the Pride 5k family from across the country. They can always so quickly put everything into perspective. This community seriously means the world to me.”

The Nikki Hiltz Pride 5K on July 17 in Mission Bay, San Diego, raised $42,270 for the Trevor Project, the largest national nonprofit dedicated to crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. 

“I think that’s something I want to continue to do when my running career is over. I love running and I love the community and I love everyone that calls themself a runner.”

Next up for Hiltz is to train for the Olympics. The next Summer Games are scheduled to be held in Paris in 2024, followed by Los Angeles in 2028. But they told the Blade that at age 26, they know they’re not getting any younger. 

“Professional middle distance runners usually retire early 30s-ish, 30 to 33, or they switch events and move up to the 5 or 10K or marathon event. But I think for me, you kind of go through Olympic cycles. So I think, if I were to retire, it would be in 2024 or 2028. And I think when I get to 2024, I’m going to reassess. ‘Am I still happy doing this? Do I still love it?’ And if it’s anything less than, ‘Yes!’ Then I think it’ll be time to retire.”

For now, Hiltz is focused on celebrating the end of the 2021 season with their girlfriend, collegiate runner Emma Gee, a graduate student at Temple University and the first out LGBTQ athlete at Brigham Young University. 

“I can’t think of anyone better who has been more supportive throughout this whole journey,” said Hiltz.

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The New Balance 5th Avenue Mile 2021

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Online Culture

Twitch goes after two originators of “hate raids” against LGBTQ+ streamers

‘Hate raids’ are organized attacks which bots flood chats streamers with racist, homophobic, sexist and other harassing content

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(Los Angeles Blade Graphic)

SAN FRANCISCO – In attempt to shut down repeated malicious attacks on groups of its marginalized users known colloquially as ‘Hate raids,’ Amazon’s Twitch video live streaming service has filed suit against two users for what the company says have targeted those marginalized streamers, specifically LGBTQ+ and people of color.

In court documents filed last Thursday, Sept. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the company listed two individuals as defendants by their usernames, Cruzzcontrol from the Netherlands and CreatineOverdose from Vienna, Austria.

In an email to Wired magazine a spokesperson for Twitch noted, “We hope this Complaint will shed light on the identity of the individuals behind these attacks and the tools that they exploit, dissuade them from taking similar behaviors to other services, and help put an end to these vile attacks against members of our community.” 

‘Hate raids’ are organized attacks on various Twitch channels in which bots flood chats streamers with racist, homophobic, sexist and other harassing content in violation of its terms of service. It’s been a problem for months, but didn’t come to widespread attention until this past month PC GAMER reported, when multiple targeted streamers planned a one-day boycott of the platform, using the #ADayOffTwitch hashtag.

Even though few big-name streamers took part, Twitch saw a significant decline in viewership on the day of the protest.

According to the court documents filed against the two users named in the suit, they created multiple Twitch accounts and thousands of bot accounts to create the hate raids. The lawsuit also stated that Cruzzcontrol and CreatineOverdose can “generate thousands of bots in minutes” for these hate raids, citing that Cruzzcontrol alone is behind about 3000 bots.

Buzzfeed highlighted one user who tweeted;

“These attacks obstruct the chat so significantly, victimized streamers are unable to engage with their community through chat for the duration of the attack, and some even choose to avoid streaming altogether until the attack ends,” the lawsuit read.

In addition, the company alleges in its suit that these relentless ‘Hate raids’ creates an atmosphere where the discouraged users quit streaming altogether “eliminating an important source of revenue.”

“Despite Twitch’s best efforts, the hate raids continue,” the lawsuit states. “On information and belief, Defendants created software code to conduct hate raids via automated means. And they continue to develop their software code to avoid Twitch’s efforts at preventing Defendants’ bots from accessing the Twitch Services.”

PC GAMER reporter Andy Chalk noted; “The lawsuit seeks a legally-binding injunction that will prohibit the defendants from using Twitch, as well as various sorts of damages and legal fees. But it has some high hurdles to clear before it gets there, including determining the real identities of the defendants, who are currently known only as CruzzControl and CreatineOverdose. That in itself may not be a major issue—lawsuits are often filed against anonymous “Does” (Bungie and Ubisoft’s joint suit against cheat-makers, for instance, names 50 of them)—but there may also be jurisdictional issues, as CruzzControl is believed to be a resident of the Netherlands, while CreatineOverdose is from Austria.”

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Celebrity News

Lil Nas X wins the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards Best Video of the year

The Out artist has been receiving extreme backlash after the release of “Montero,” from anti-LGBTQ groups who labeled the video demonic

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Screenshot via YouTube

NEW YORK – The 2021 MTV Video Music Awards were presented Sunday in the Brooklyn borough of New York City with musical artists Lil Nas X, Justin Bieber and first time nominee Olivia Rodrigo, winning the top awards. This year’s ceremony marked the 40th anniversary of MTV since its inaugural broadcast in 1981.

Out artist Lil Nas X took home the top prize of the evening with the MTV Moon Person for Video of the Year trophy award for his “Montero: Call Me By Your Name.” He also won an award for Best Direction; “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” Directed by: Lil Nas X and Tanu Muino. 

Canadian transplant Justin Bieber received a trophy for MTV Artist of the Year award and he also secured an award for Best Pop video for his collaboration with Daniel Caesar, Giveon for the song “Peaches.”

Olivia Rodrigo secured three awards for Song of the Year for her song, “drivers license,” Best New Artist and also an award for Push Performance of the Year.

CBS News reported during during his acceptance speech Lil Nas X shouted; “First I wanna say thank you to the gay agenda. Let’s go gay agenda!”

The openly Out artist has been at the receiving end of harsh critique and extreme backlash after the release of “Montero,” including from anti-LGBTQ groups such as the Washington D.C. based Family Research Council, Colorado Springs, Colorado based Focus on the Family and the Tupelo, Mississippi based American Family Association who have all labeled the song and the video demonic.

The song debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and according to CBS Entertainment, the music video made headlines after its premiere for its depiction of Lil Nas X sliding on a stripper pole to hell, where he proceeds to give Satan a lap dance.

The altered Nike Air Max 97 shoes accompanying the song’s release were dubbed the Satan Shoes and caused Nike to file a lawsuit against the company that produced them. 

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Lil Nas X – MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) (Official Video)

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