Films #193-201: Boys on Film 2: In Too Deep (Short film series)

Boys-on-Film-2Released: 2009
Length: 147 minutes in total
Watched: 22 and 24 June 2016

As I mentioned with the last DVD I watched, I’ve had stuff sitting in my folder since before I came to Japan, and if I didn’t buy this gay short film series before I came to Japan, it could have been the first time I went back to the UK – either way, it’s a pretty long time. Similarly, I left the box in the UK, so I no longer have all the information with me – and thus I didn’t really know what to expect.

I do know it wasn’t bought in Japan, though. Good luck finding LGBT media here… the gay shops in Nichome only have porn, which saddens me. Compare and contrast the UK, where almost every DVD shop I went to (Fopp in Edinburgh, the shop in the BFI cinema in London, etc) had a gay section. This will eventually be the thing that pushes me out of this country, let’s be real. Anyway, Amazon is a bit better, and I’m able to find relevant stuff… sometimes. I often end up having to just use the UK Amazon site. In fact, that’s what I had to do when I bought another DVD in this series. Excuse me if I end up having the same rant when I write that post.

I was actually spurred into watching these on the same day as watching Get a Room, as all the other shorts on my Tumblr to-watch list were trailers, or not actually appealing. And four years is long enough to wait before watching something!

Speaking of this series, it’s still going even now, which pleases me. The newer boxes boast that it’s the world’s most successful short film series, but that just makes me wonder how they work that out. As for the DVD itself though, as with gay movies in general, it has its ups and downs. There were nine movies in this collection – I’ll try to give a short review of each one individually – but probably only a couple of actually good ones. The series is prolific, and doesn’t always filter the bad ones out well. But (proving that I haven’t matured that much since I was 19) I get a warm fuzzy feeling when media is actually aimed at me, and recently I’ve been really needing the connection and comfort that these kinds of movies afford me – I watched these still only a couple of weeks after the news came through about the shooting in a gay club in Orlando and our entire community was smarting. The Brexit vote was also just happening so it was nice to take my mind off that, too.

In general, one thing I’ve enjoyed about watching these short movies, and the other series that I’ve watched since this one, in July and August, is that short movies tend to be by first-time filmmakers, or those near the beginning of their career – this does mean that they’re often not so good, or the acting is wooden, but it also means that the makers are more aware of filmic minutiae, such as framing and foreshadowing. Perhaps they’re more recently out of film school, for example. There’s also not pressure to adhere to a three-act structure with short movies – again, this can work against a movie that obviously has more potential or is the germ of a larger idea, but it often means a short movie can stand on its own and do just what it needs to.

Anyway, here’s the full set. Just to be clear, spoilers may come up.

Watched on 22 June:
the_island_51Film #193: The Island (2009)
Director: Trevor Anderson
Language: English
Length: 5 minutes

A nice relaxing start to the series, this features some CGI animation and a man walking through a snow-covered lake in Canada, and narrating about a homophobic letter he received saying gays should all live on an island – he considers what this would be like, a kind of gay utopia.

It’s very short and kind of amusing. I think it’s on Youtube.

bof2cowboyFilm #194: Cowboy (2008)
Director: Till Kleinert
Language: German
Length: 35 minutes

This is a German film where a real estate agent goes into the country looking to buy up a disused farm. He meets a topless young man, who steals his car, and then seduces him. After some veiled references from the young man about the situation, the film jumps into something unexplained and creepy at the end. I don’t really want to spoil this bit actually, it’s worth watching – although my reaction was mostly “what the hell?”.

A lot of the movie is voyeuristic – the characters don’t talk all that much, and it’s all about one guy watching the other. There is also the creepy streak throughout, and adding that to the desolate setting, I’d say I enjoyed this probably the most out of all the films.

One thing I found weird about this, though, and that I find weird about a lot of gay films, is that the main character has a wife or a female partner – and like, yes, bisexuality exists (that’s not the issue), but films like this are always about the characters catching the first inkling that they like the same sex, and then jumping straight into full anal (*cough*brokebackmountain). In these films the female partner is always shorthand for “he doesn’t know he’s gay yet”, and that doesn’t ring true to me – not least because it seems to deny bisexuality. Or at least that’s how I read it. In any case, a man the age of the main character here – I’d guess at least my age and perhaps in his 30s – is someone I’d expect to have considered his sexuality already. I so much prefer the ones where the main character starts already knowing they’re gay (or bi, or whatever). I think I’m just done with coming out.

Watched on 24 June:
bof2kalimaFilm #195: Kali Ma (2007)
Director: Soman Chainani
Language: English and Hindi
Length: 14 minutes

A guy is bullied for being gay at school, and then his very Indian mother confronts the bully, who is naturally also the guy’s crush (a popular gay movie trope). She and her son come very close to killing the bully. A bit weird, to be honest.

When I searched for the title online, I got an image of a Hindu goddess, so I’m guessing Kali Ma has a meaning I’m unaware of. I can only assume that the goddess is represented by the mother. I’m not interested enough in this movie to find out, though. The tone was too strange for me, especially the belligerence from the mother.

LUCKY_BLUE_2Film #196: Lucky Blue (2007)
Director: Håkon Liu
Language: Swedish
Length: 28 minutes

This is probably the other one I really enjoyed. I actually had this on my aforementioned list of gay movies on Tumblr, but the version linked on Youtube had Vietnamese subtitles. In the film two boys, both pretty introverted, meet at a campsite when they go with family. They share a kiss after swimming naked together (if I remember correctly), but then the main character gets scared and runs away (also a standard trope). He has to win the other boy back by the end. Lucky Blue is the name of the other boy’s pet parrot.

Fairly standard stuff, and it establishes most of the relationship on furtive glance, which I find overdone at this point. I related a lot to the characters, though.

This one is one where the short length of the film worked against the movie, though – I think it might have worked better at double the length, where it could flesh out the characters. The movie struggles to convey life outside the microcosm of the introverted main character – a brief scene where he sees the other boy laughing with many friends seems tacked on, because instantly I want to know where these friends came from.

love bite_confessionFilm #197: Love Bite (2008)
Director: Craig Boreham
Language: English
Length: 3 minutes

A studenty short film with a quick punchline. There are two boys, bored Australian high school students taking drugs, and… there’s no way not to spoil this. One comes out to the other, and the other starts to spew homophobic abuse, but it turns out he’s not coming out as gay, he’s a vampire, so he bites the other boy. It’s super low budget, and the acting is wooden. It’s fine for what it is, and three minutes isn’t much of your time, but I wasn’t particularly amused. I bet you can find it on Youtube.

Bramadero-2Film #198: Bramadero (2007)
Director: Julián Hernández
Language: N/A (Spanish titles but no talking)
Length: 22 minutes

OK, this is porn. I know, I know, there’s a debate going around about whether things are porn or not if they’re arty, and my opinion usually boils down to, no, being arty doesn’t mean it’s not porn. But in any case, this is porn (using standard porn sequences: starting with foreplay, progressing through oral and anal sex strictly in that order, and ending with climax) interspersed with the two men acting like animals or being violent toward one another. It takes place in a half-constructed building somewhere in Mexico – there’s also a lot of longing looks out at the city. Honestly I spent most of the time confused as to why they’re crawling everywhere, or why they’re acting out weird mating rituals.

It reminded me a lot of the film “Broken Sky”, another Mexican film about boys suffering break-ups, with little to no dialogue. Although that other film also had a few beautiful moments, the overall effect was something boring, and that applies here too. Having just checked right now, the other movie is by the same director, so it… kinda makes sense that they’d be similar. Maybe this is the porn version of that.

The title Bramadero refers to something animalistic, such as violence, if I remember correctly – the movie provides a dictionary definition at the end along with some other nonsense about animals in heat, how profound it is to be violent and how sex is inherently animalistic. It’s not my thing, it’s safe to say.

weekendalacampagneFilm #199: Weekend in the Countryside (2007)
aka: Week-end à la campagne
Director: Matthieu Salmon
Language: French
Length: 17 minutes

This movie shows two boys – I read them as boyfriends from the start, although I’m not sure if that was intentional – going on a trip to the countryside somewhere in France, to an uncle’s house. When they get there, it turns out that the uncle has three massive dogs, and the other boy is scared to death of dogs, which makes up the rest of the story. He eventually has to leave, and his boyfriend doesn’t even help him with his fear – in fact, he sends him off with a homophobic slur.

I’m still not sure if they’re meant to be a couple, for that reason. At one point the first boy tries to initiate sex with the boy who’s scared of dogs, in the shower, and it’s not clear whether he is rebuffed because the other boy is shaken up, or because he doesn’t want to anyway. There are also a few other unanswered questions here – when he sees the dogs, the other boy also hallucinates a dead girl, and I’m wondering now who that is and whether she was killed or something.

Nice cinematography, though (tying in to what I was saying about short movie earlier). It’s a shame the movie itself isn’t all that good. I think I was losing my patience with the movies at this point, I’ll be honest.

workingitoutFilm #200: Working It Out (2007)
Director: Tim Hunter
Language: English
Length: 6 minutes

Yeah, I was definitely losing my patience quickly with this movie after the last ones (my notes are very sarcastic). It’s also a very quick one, so it’s not like I wasted a lot of time watching it. It’s about a couple who like to go to the gym together, but one is very jealous of the other looking at another man, and they have an argument about it. A simple love triangle. The title is a simple pun.

Like the other Australian movie, it’s low budget, the image obviously worse quality than the other movies, and the acting is wooden. There’s a kind of twist near the end, and if it’s not obvious what it is, I recommend checking your vision. I kind of enjoyed the movie, though, because it was light, and I liked hearing Aussie slang like “root” instead of “fuck”.

futures_and_derivativesFilm #201: Futures (and Derivatives) (2007)
Director: Arthur Halpern
Language: English
Length: 19 minutes

This was a bit of an odd inclusion in the series, because the gay content boils down to a three second shot of one of the characters with his boyfriend near the end. It’s set in an office, and they need a temp to come in overnight to finish off a presentation. It turns out he made something flashy and colourful instead of following the orders to the letter, which sends the rest of the workers into a kind of trance, enabling them to suddenly find beauty in everyday sights. Or something. It was a bit weird, but I liked the contrast between the drab first half and the colourful second half.

More than any other movie in this series, however, this movie has aged badly. It was produced in 2007, and it really shows. The other movies in this series were also produced in the same period, between 2007 and 2009, but while the atmosphere or zeitgeist is perhaps different to equivalent movies produced now, in this decade (for example, movies produced between 2009 and 2012 tend to have an apocalyptic aspect or an atmosphere of despair), the other movies here have managed to stay somewhat timeless. Not so with this one. Flip phones are all the rage, and the computer software depicted seems positively decrepit now. What’s more, a shot of Times Square at the end has an advertisement for the Lehmann Brothers – that symbol of corporate America in 2007 that was brought to its knees only a year later. I can’t fault this movie for that, though. It’s just ironic that it’s something that may have been accidental, but may have been in the movie as a representative of corporate America.

I do like the period of 2007-2009. I was at university and I did a lot of maturing during that period, and stuff from that time still gives me nostalgic feelings. But the world has definitely moved on from then. It’s weird to think it’s almost ten years ago now.

Apart from that, the movie is kind of funny, even if the main twist is nonsensical, and the dialogue is also absolutely nonsensical, seemingly parodying corporate speech that tends to be full of meaningless buzzwords. The title, too, was difficult to search for on the internet – a Google Image Search literally turns out similarly titled, completely unironic business strategy books and stock images of graphs.

Now you may be thinking I didn’t like this series, given that I’ve resoundly trashed most of the movies in here, so I just want to clarify that I liked the DVD in general. I like seeing things that I didn’t choose myself, sometimes, and this is a good way to get some movies in. I’ve already bought and watched another DVD in the “Boys on Film” series. I’m not so keen on paying an arm and a leg to keep watching more of these DVDs, though, and I will have to import them from the UK as only some are on the Japanese Amazon (being sold to be imported from the UK) – but I like having curated series of movies like this, instead of having to find the movies myself online, which can be difficult. I’ve actually watched several more short movie series since this one – one was in the Tokyo LGBT film festival (now called Rainbow Reel). So I’ll be back with another super long post soon!


Film #192: Get a Room (2016)

tenholocalaka: Tenho Local
directors: Mauro Carvalho & Thiago Cazado
language: Portuguese
length: 19 minutes
watched on: 22 June 2016

I’ve been collecting gay short movies to watch on my Tumblr, although a lot of them turn out to be unplayable, or merely trailers, but this one popped up and was playable, so I decided to watch it. It’s pretty new, I think released mostly online just this year. One of those rare movies that I can’t find on IMDB yet.

It’s about a single encounter, essentially, and it starts out full-on homophobic, one guy drawing a gun on the other and calling him homophobic names, but there was a twist in the middle which turns it into something else – (spoiler alert) fetish play between boyfriends. A little unexpected, and it makes it sort-of acceptable… but I don’t get why anyone would accept being degraded like that. It doesn’t turn me on at all, shall we say. I should mention I don’t think there’s explicit sex in the movie.

After the reveal it’s kind of cute, though. Pretty average for a gay short movie, though – it’s a microcosm of the real thing and not really substantial enough. Anyway, it’s only 19 minutes long and should be easy enough to find on Youtube if you’re interested.

TV: Orphan Black season 4 (2016)

orphanblack4[spoiler alert]
Creators: Graeme Manson & John Fawcett
Language: English
Length: 10 episodes, about 44 minutes each
Finished watching on: 17 June 2016
Previous seasons: 1 | 2 | 3

I was a bit nervous about this show because season 3 had been a bit of a let down, but my fears were very quickly allayed when I watched the first episode – the writing, at the very least, is back on form, and the atmosphere of the show is darker than ever – in fact, compared to the previous seasons, I was surprised at how much dread I felt in each episode.

Fortunately, Allison doesn’t have a ridiculous, irrelevant side plot in this season, and the writers manage to find other ways to make comedy out of the situations – and Donny, since mid-season 3 a member of clone club, plays a much bigger part in the story this time.

The other character Krystal now plays a bigger part too, and I was glad to hear that her character is directly based on the comedy characters in ”PubLIZity”, which has some kind of meme status on the internet and is very funny.

The show also manages to partly redeem itself (and this is a massive spoiler) for making us think that Delphine had died a horrible death – presumably having seen the backlash against the constant murder of lesbian and other LGBT characters, they somehow brought her back to life at the end of the season.

As before, the season leaves off on a massive cliffhanger, as Sarah is I think left for dead having been attacked by Rachel, and as I mentioned, the atmosphere is very dark. But it was miles better than the previous season, and I definitely welcome this return to form. Tatiana Maslany is at the top of her game. Still wondering where they will go from here, though – it has still been getting weirder every single episode!

Film #191: Made in U.S.A. (1966)

madeinusaDirector: Jean-Luc Godard
Language: French plus some English
Length: 81 minutes
Watched on: 15 June 2016

I got this for Christmas over a year ago, and it’s been sitting in my DVD folder since then. Something has been spurring me to actually go through a few of the DVDs that I have, since I have so many lying around – for whatever reason, I haven’t watched DVDs much recently, and I’ve had some in that folder even since I came to Japan four years ago.

Anyway, I don’t have the case for this one, and couldn’t remember what it’d be about, and it turned out to be a Godard film from the 60s. I couldn’t work out where it was supposed to be set – it has the atmosphere of actually being set in the USA, as the title suggests, but everyone speaks French – I think it’s really meant to be Atlantic City. The story is pretty ephemeral, but it follows Anna Karina’s heroine around as she tries to track down a killer. There are a lot of gangsters.

For me the film is memorable for its visuals, which is usually the distinguishing feature of Godard’s movies. A lot of scenes are done in single shots, and there is one moment when the two main characters are speaking at the same time, and have to individually deliver a soliloquy to camera while the other is speaking – which seems like the most difficult thing to do!

But basically, I’m not such a fan of Godard’s work. Beyond the visuals nothing ever stands out to me, and I usually can’t recall other details about the movies later. It’s all atmosphere, and sometimes that’s all it needs to be effective and have an impact, but I much more appreciate something with a meatier narrative.

On a side note, I watched the DVD extra, which was an interview with Karina, who pronounces the movie with “Made in” the English was and “USA” the French way, which threw me. I didn’t know it might be natural for people to say it that way…

Film #190: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)

holygrail4directors: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
language: English
length: 86 minutes
watched on: 11 June 2016

It’s easily the world’s most overquoted movie, except perhaps its sequel, but I realized recently that I hadn’t watched this in about six or seven years, and I felt like giving it another go – the only reason I’m including it on here today is that the last time is before I started this blog, so I’m trying to follow like, a pattern or something.

I’ve watched it enough times, including the special features, to notice all the areas where they cut corners that weren’t meant to be noticed, as well as the ones that were signposted and danced around – such as the fact that almost all the castles in the movie are the same (I’ve always gotten deja vu with at least one of the scenes, which looks the same as before).

But I’ve also seen it enough times that this viewing didn’t really add anything to it. The only thing is in the scene with the black knight, there are some sound effects that were later used in the game Civilization II, and I only just had the rather obvious revelation that their use in Civ II was probably a reference to Monty Python – not just that they were part of some sound effect bank, like that screaming sound that’s been used in Hollywood pretty much since the introduction of sound in movies.

I also came to the conclusion that Holy Grail is the quintessential road trip movie, just set in medieval times – it’s basically composed of single scenes in which the main characters meet another in a string of characters, monsters, baddies and obstacles. Most are somewhat non-sequitur. But that’s not such a logical leap, nor a bad idea. It allows the group to keep a sort of sketch structure like they’d done on TV, but the story connection throughout keeps it fresher. Life of Brian more effectively tied a single story together without the need for a road trip structure, though. The Meaning of Life, decidedly not my favourite, does away with this totally and is back to straight-up sketches.

Anyway, I’m preaching to the choir here. I’d like to hear from someone who doesn’t like it, actually. I have my reservations – I intensely dislike that it’s so quoted all the time, as I lament the perceived loss of originality in comedy, for example. But I also think it’s still funny, has stood the test of time, and that the situations are still applicable to the modern day – and that’s worrying because it means nothing’s changed since the 60s and 70s.

Film #189: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

kaguyahimeaka: かぐや姫の物語 (Kaguya-hime no monogatari)
director: Isao Takahata
language: Japanese
length: 137 minutes
watched on: 7 June 2016

This actually came out quite a while ago, and I realized only recently that I’d missed it. My standard thing to do with Ghibli movies is to wait until they come out on DVD anyway, and I watched the previous movie, The Wind Rises in a more timely fashion back in 2014, after it was released on DVD – actually only a few months before this one. Oops – this movie is actually better than that one.

The animation style isn’t what I usually associate with Ghibli, in that it’s not Miyazaki’s style, and uses paint and broad brush strokes to create a very different kind of scene. It’s most similar to My Neighbours the Yamadas, which I only now realize was Takahata’s last movie before this one. A fourteen year hiatus is pretty long, but it’s good to see Takahata back on the Ghibli scene (even if the two directors have now called an indefinite hiatus on Ghibli productions…).

The style is at times basic, and at times allows the director to create really lush landscapes, such as the one pictured above, but it always feels like a bit of a dream, especially as the background often wasn’t filled in fully. Another scene in the middle of the movie in which the main character gets angry was more obviously different from the ones around it – the colours were much more vivid, and the animation filled the whole screen. It was around that point that the animation style really came into its own.

The story is based on a Japanese fairy tale, and involves a magical girl discovered in the forest by an old woodcutter, who takes her into his home, instead of running away in fear and panic as I think I would. They’re also showered with gold and riches, and the woodcutter and his wife, who simply call her “Princess”, decide to make good on the name and take her to live in the capital to become a literal princess – she is initially a fish out of water and desperate to head back to her idyllic life in the countryside. The main part of the story is the princess having to take suitors, but setting them some impossible tasks as a prerequisite – they all pretend to succeed but actually fail. The ending is a bit strange and kind of unexpected.

One thing I was confused about in the story was the passage of time – the princess grows up very fast in the first act, literally getting bigger hour by hour and day by day. Later she shows a propensity to learn very fast and without effort. There are four seasons depicted over the course of the movie, strongly implying that the total time span of the movie was barely a year – but the other characters all grow beyond that, implying it’s longer than that and the seasons were merely symbolic.

But aside from that, the animation was beautiful, the story simple and at times heart-wrenching, and the characters were as realistic as they could be in a fantasy tale. It’s way better than The Wind Rises, and there’s basically nothing in here that could possibly offend. I wholeheartedly recommend it – whoever you are!

Book #105: Moon Over Soho (2011)

rivers2author: Ben Aaronovitch
language: English
length: 601 minutes (10 hours, 1 minute)
finished listening on: 7 June 2016

I think I downloaded this one pretty soon after finishing the last one, which made for a smooth transition. This was then the book I was listening to when I went on my long cycle ride up to Gunma (ill-advised when you already have wrist trouble, FYI). Good though it was, I started to lose track after an hour or two – that’s what the featureless roads of Saitama do to someone!

The story of this one is mainly set around Soho, and the author relishes in the opportunity to describe different parts of London in great detail, as he did in the previous book Rivers of London, describing London’s rivers and other regions of that. The main mystery of the plot is a series of unusual deaths all connected with jazz.

As far as I can remember, this is also the book which introduces the main characters’ nemesis, the “Faceless Man”, and discusses Black Magic, although the main character rejects that nomenclature, and prefers “ethically-challenged”, in a decade-too-late pastiche of politically-correct language that was never actually seriously proposed. I did find that on more than one occasion, like the way people talk and act isn’t fully up-to-date. Could that be the intervening five years since it was published? The time I’ve been out of the UK, come to think of it?

There’s not much I can cover in this that wouldn’t feel like a re-hash of the previous review, as it’s basically more of the same. The narration of the audiobook is again superb. I also want to give a shout out to the book series for mentioning the existence of gay people in a casual way, even if it’s a mention of a minor or dead character’s ex-boyfriend, or the scary lesbian sergeant in the police force that the main character has to answer to. If that’s the representation I can get outside things that are aimed exclusively at LGBT people, that’s what I’m gonna grasp to with both hands…

Film #188: Deadpool (2016)

deadpooldirector: Tim Miller
language: English
length: 108 minutes
watched on: 1 June 2016

I don’t feel like I need to introduce this movie because there was so much hype surrounding it – enough, indeed, that I felt compelled to go see the movie on its opening day back at the beginning of June. I had a bit of time off work, but I ended up not going many places because I was nursing an overexerted wrist (still am, in fact).

The problem is, of course, that the hype was back in February when the movie came out in literally every other country in the world. It’s only Japan where it was released four months late, and the hype on social media had died down a lot (it didn’t gain as much traction here, I think) – as such, I went in and saw it for what it really was, a superhero / anti-hero movie with a truckload of knob gags.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re actually kinda funny knob gags, but there’s something about a responsive audience that makes me like a movie more – there have been a few occasions on which I’ve rewatched a movie later and found it’s much funnier when everyone else around you is also cracking up. And a mixture of ineffective translation and cultural attitudes makes Japanese audiences very unresponsive, meaning that they only chuckled a few of the more blase jokes (the ones I wasn’t so enamoured with, to be honest).

So I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I perhaps would have liked. I also found it a bit drab, especially the colour palette of the main setpiece and found that the story was much more confined than I expected. I thought it would be a crossover with Spiderman and the other Marvel movies, but in fact it seems to be connected to the X-Men movies, so this was confusing for me. I don’t really follow superhero movies, and still haven’t seen the Avengers movies. I pretty much saw this one because it’s supposed to be funny and a bit different.

Another thing is I generally don’t find fourth-wall jokes so funny, and this movie is basically alternating between them and knob jokes for the whole time. Meh.

But on the other hand, I was surprised at how poignant it got in the middle sections during Deadpool’s origin story and his relationship with his girlfriend – although he suffers from the classic movie problem of not talking things out. There’s a joke poster going round that makes it look like a romantic comedy… and it’s not far from the truth, because his girlfriend seems to be Deadpool’s raison d’etre in the movie. If anything, although I’m of course happy at the suggestion, by Ryan Reynolds and the filmmakers, that such a major character could get a boyfriend in his sequel movie, I’d just be surprised he’d ever break up with her – or not be suicidally depressed if she died.

I’m glad I saw it, basically – I’m just not sure it was worth the four month wait. Get your act together, Japan!