Film #292: Mommy (2014)

director: Xavier Dolan
language: French
length: 138 minutes
watched on: 15 May 2017

I last watched a Xavier Dolan movie about two years ago, I Killed My Mother. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Dolan has a lot of mommy issues, and is putting those into his work. (Also, the mother in both movies is the same actress, which I didn’t realize.) And those who know me well might know why I perhaps am intrigued by those themes…

As for this movie, I tried to watch it on DVD – I rented it along with Sing Street and a few other movies, but I forgot that there wouldn’t be English subtitles (not for the first time, I might add – I tried to rent an Almodóvar film a while back). Normally, I’d just attempt to muddle my way through the movie, but the second or third line of dialogue is one character asking the main character if she even speaks French, to which she replies that it may not be proper hoity-toity French but it’s still French. And if the other characters in the story can’t understand her, then I’d have no hope. At that point I gave up and just resolved to stream it later with English subtitles, and finally got around to that in May.

The movie is about Die, a single mother, and her son Steve, who has a violent form of ADHD. Parts of the story is contingent on a fictional future government of Canada, that puts into place a law allowing families of young offenders to bypass the due course of justice and put them straight into institutions. At the beginning, she chooses to take her son out of hospital to avoid him having to go to jail instead. Then the movie follows their struggle to get along with each other, and introduces a shy woman with a stammer from across the street who bonds with them and starts tutoring Steve.

Visually, the film is unique in that it uses a 1:1 aspect ratio, reminiscent of Instagram pictures, and creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. The cinematography is also really nice, and the camera likes to linger on contemplative images – characters bored or listening to music, or of nature.

Perhaps it’s a spoiler, but when the mood lifts around the halfway point and everyone is feeling elated, the boy pushes the frame out with his hands and it fills the screen in the anamorphic widescreen ratio. It does this again later – but both times it subtly pushes back in when the mood dampens again.

The soundtrack is nothing but throwbacks – like they’ve looked into my pre-teen listening history and chosen some select tracks. They use Wonderwall, and then it’s the first time I’ve heard Dido, or that song Blue Da Ba Dee in many years. These parts of the movie are also very colourful, and I enjoyed them a lot.

Anyway, where I Killed My Mother was all about a boy trying to escape from the grasp of his evil mother, this one is much more Oedipal. Steve doesn’t know where to draw the line, getting jealous and lashing out when his mother flirts with another man, and tries to kiss her and tell her he’ll take care of her instead, precipitating the more catastrophic events towards the end of the movie. In contrast to Dolan’s earlier movie, it’s told from the mother’s perspective.

And while Steve is nominally the one with violent outbursts and mental health problems, Die is not much better – she is alcoholic, and a lot of the movie is the two of them shouting and swearing at each other. Like mother like son.

It’s quite a slow movie overall, and the ending is a bit of a downer, but I definitely enjoyed it, and liked a lot of the imagery. I can definitely see a lot of myself and my family relationships in both characters, too. Fortunately minus the violence and constant swearing.

Film #291: Girl Goned (2017)

directors: Yukiro Dravarious & Duncan Whom
language: English, some Japanese, couple of sentences of German and French
length: actually not sure but about 2 hours
watched on: 4 May 2017

This is that rare review which I know will be read by the creators, since they’re my friends making an amateur project last year. I’ll try to be nice…

I got a sneak preview from Duncan about a month before watching this, and then went to the second screening on the premiere night – in a BDSM dungeon, of all places, with cages and strange-looking seats. (By the way, I just grabbed this image from a google search, as I usually do, managing to somehow filter out images from Gone Girl – I think it’s from Remiko’s blog. If you’d like me not to use the image, or have a better thumbnail image, please let me know)

The movie is set in Tokyo’s underground drag scene, so it features a few people I know from going to their shows. The plot, insofar as there is one, follows an American private detective who travels to Japan in search of a missing girl, somehow involved in the drag scene. Meanwhile, the drag queens conspire to set about armageddon. Or something. The film deliberately eschews plot at many moments, but it was more coherent than I’d expected from the previews I’d had. It has a deliberate B-movie aesthetic, and a lot of ridiculous gore, with fake blood spattered everywhere.

The main problem with it is that it’s probably incomprehensible to people outside our social group – I think there are too many in-jokes. A lot of the drag queen characters especially weren’t fully introduced. Also, it does have a bit of an episodic feel, and might be too ambitious. But I enjoyed it, and I think it’d stand a second viewing, to help me better understand it.

The other thing, although I think this is part of the aesthetic of amateur B-movies, and not necessarily a big problem, is that the sound and image were sometimes unbalanced. But I think this could be fixed.

It was long-awaited by all, so it was great to finally see it, and I enjoyed the sensation of recognizing quite a lot of the cameos. Thumbs up!

Film #290: Head On (1998)

director: Ana Kokkinos
language: English and Greek
length: 104 minutes
watched on: 3 May 2017

I think I just found reference to this movie on Tumblr or something, and decided to try and watch it, as usual not really knowing much before going into it.

It’s about a gay guy (Ari) in the Greek immigrant community in Australia. They faced, and as far as I know, still face a lot of racism, and the movie tackles that for a lot of its runtime. The rest is Ari’s search for happiness, which (spoilers) he never quite finds.

A lot of it – and it might just be the period – reminds me of Trainspotting, at least things like Walkmans and the 90s music, but also the copious amounts of drugs that are being consumed in almost every scene. A lot of marijuana, but also cocaine and heroin at some points. But I wouldn’t want to give the impression that it’s as well-made as Trainspotting.

I liked the movie’s realism. It has realistic-sounding bilingual dialogue, with a lot of the characters randomly switching from one language to the other. It doesn’t shy away from showing disturbing things, such as the guy and his transgender friend being abused in jail by a pair of cops. One of them is also Greek, who has to up the ante a bit to kind of show off to his buddy that he’s willing to dole out the abuse too.

The gay encounters in the movie are all ultimately unfulfilling to the main character – they’re either violent or he gets robbed. Ari also tries it on with a girl, but she rejects him as he obviously isn’t “into it” (although I think I had to be told this by the dialogue, as the acting wasn’t quite up to scratch). Similarly and more annoyingly, the film builds to the final encounter with this cute guy that Ari and the camera have been eyeing up for the entire movie, but he gets super angry and throws Ari out into the stairwell after sucking him off. Like he was angry at Ari for ejaculating in his mouth or something. Honestly, this was the least comprehensible part of the whole thing, and the bit that got me the most angry at the movie. I don’t see why the main character wasn’t deserved a happy ending by the end of the film. And the whole outburst came out of nowhere.

Basically, I wouldn’t recommend this movie. It has some high points, but it didn’t pull together coherently. The acting was poor, the film was dimly-lit, and tries to shock more than anything else. I can’t recall the plot in any significant detail, it felt more like a progression of not-really-related scenes. Plenty of better gay movies out there.

Film #289: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

director: Stanley Kubrick
language: English
length: 137 minutes
watched on: 2 May 2017

I’ve put off watching this movie for a long time – I think I always thought it would be more gruesome or shocking than it ultimately turned out to be. I did the same with films like Se7en, or even Sebastiane. Or The Silence of the Lambs, which I actually have but just haven’t gotten around to yet.

The film was made in the 1970s by Stanley Kubrick – along with Sebastiane, The Devils, and a few others, I borrowed it from my friends. Incidentally, I’m kind of getting used to some of the tropes of 1970s cinema that have died out since, like brightly-coloured credits cards. The film is set in the future, which is interesting to see, because the image of the future from back then is one of brutalism and strange outfits. The main characters in the film speak with this unusual argot, whose apparent purpose is to stop the film from dating badly. At any point, it could potentially be future slang.

It starts with scenes of gruesome violence and rape – and I didn’t know this, but apparently, Kubrick actually pulled it from UK distribution because he didn’t want to influence the youth of the day. But although we’re later invited to sympathize with the main character Alex, and the film takes an ambiguous stand about the violence itself, I did definitely see the satirical blackly comic side of it – especially later on, or in the prison scenes. And there’s a lot of homoeroticism in the movie. It has a lot of layers.

For sure, the famous scene where Alex gets his eyes clamped open in a form of extreme aversion therapy is pretty horrific (apparently Malcolm McDowell’s eyes were actually damaged during the scene), but I didn’t find the rest of it as shocking as I thought, basically. I was more just surprised because I hadn’t realized he had a Yorkshire accent. I think I expected it to be set in America. I can be really ignorant sometimes…

Kubrick’s signature styles, such as being very exacting about the contents of the movie’s frame, are comparable to his other work like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen his other work, so I enjoyed that aspect of the movie. I saw about half of Full Metal Jacket a couple of years ago, so I think I should go back and watch the rest of that. That movie is reflected in the attitudes of the authority figures in the prison scenes.

There’s a debate in the third act of the film, when Alex gets out of prison but now starts to retch and get sick because of the aversion therapy whenever he considers violence or sex, about whether this constitutes a violation of his free will. I thought it was interesting, especially since it’s made clear he doesn’t really know the terms he’s signing up for, but I’m not sure I believed that the aversion therapy would be so successful if it were real.

So I liked it overall. I should have watched it ages ago – that’s my only regret. How about you, what do you think?

Film #288: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

director: Danny Boyle
language: English and a bit of Bulgarian
length: 117 minutes
watched on: 30 April 2017

This is one of the big ones: one of the films whose release date I’ve been eagerly expecting for months. It was released in the UK back in February, but for once Japan was only about a week behind the release in the US. Perhaps they had to have it subtitled over there!

I was pleased with the overall film, although generally I thought it had elements that didn’t fit, or didn’t gel together as well as the original movie had.

I liked seeing my hometown depicted in such exquisite detail, and the sense of humour appeals to me – it’s very black, and if you don’t laugh at the opening gag, when Renton falls off a fast-moving treadmill, you’re probably not going to laugh at the rest of the movie. And I was in stitches when Kelly MacDonald makes a cameo as a lawyer to ask the Bulgarian girl if she’s vajazzled. Unfortunately (naturally?), it went down like a lead balloon in Japan. I think the guy next to me was sleeping during the film.

I also liked how Franco Begbie was really menacing in this film. He has held a grudge for twenty years against Renton, and upon realizing that he’s back in Scotland, starts to hunt him down. This unfortunately means that all the characters are never together all at once, and the movie feels somewhat episodic as a result, and less focused. And one of the famous publicity shots, of the four characters revisiting the Highlands as they did in the first movie, isn’t actually in the movie.

However, the movie is much more full of Danny Boyle-isms than the last one twenty years ago. Words sometimes appear in the air when characters are talking, or characters draw shapes that appear as sparkling lines. The original Trainspotting didn’t have as much of this stuff. Boyle’s later films like 127 Hours or Slumdog Millionaire have it in droves – it seems to be something he’s developed in the intervening years. There’s also more of the film stopping for a second or two as if to take a photo, which had been present in the original but is overdone here.

For that, and a few other things, like the constantly-appearing train motifs that were more understated in the original, I felt the tone didn’t quite match what I was expecting. That said, I liked the nostalgic aspect of it, even though I’d agree with what some of the characters are saying, that it gets tiresome easily. And as I say, I liked seeing Edinburgh.

I also enjoyed the modernity of a lot of it – for example, there are a lot of glass-walled offices that represent power and money. However, I didn’t much like Ewan McGregor’s updated-for-2017 Luddite “Choose Life” speech, taking potshots at social media and Snapchat. And there was an undercurrent of what could be interpreted as anti-immigrant sentiment – Spud calling himself one of the few natives left in Edinburgh, for example, or Renton clearly put out by the fact that the greeters at the airport are actually from Slovenia. Later they use an EU scheme to try and scam the government out of money.

Despite all those problems, I rate the movie pretty highly. It taps into something deep in my psyche, perhaps. But more than the original, I saw it as a series of scenes that had been haphazardly put together, so it’s not quite up there.

I’d be interested to hear what you think – let me know!

Film #287: Lloyd Neck (2008)

director: Benedict Campbell
language: English
length: 16 minutes
watched on: 28 April 2017

I decided to return to the world of gay-themed shorts that can be found on Youtube – the first since All Over Brazil back in February. As usual, I didn’t know what it was going to be about, so a relative shot in the dark.

This one was apparently shown in Sundance, and its name refers to a place in New York state. It’s about a boy and his younger sister, and another boy. The film is short and scant on details – we are seeing a snapshot of a point in their lives – but it seems clear that the two boys had been involved at some point. One is a photographer, and one is a sportsman, and the film starts with a montage of them doing their separate activities. Away from the sister, they talk about the future, going to college, and guys that they might both get involved with.

Meanwhile the sister might also have a crush on the other boy, but she’s also perceptive enough to assume that he and her brother might be boyfriends. She seems excited by the idea.

It’s a nicely-shot film, and it has bright, bold colours. It leaves a lot to the imagination. And for once, although the boys are secretive and presumably closeted, the film is not about coming out, or the aftermath of coming out, or homophobia. So I liked that aspect of it. It’s more about atmosphere, and the uncertain transitional periods of the characters’ lives.

It can be watched at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L3iHMZKMO0 Check it out and let me know what you think!

Film #286: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

creator: Walt Disney
language: English
length: 83 minutes
watched on: 28 April 2017

I think I watched this as a child, but it was so long ago I can’t remember it at all. Anyway, recently some of the less reputable shops in Japan have been selling old Disney movies for ¥80 a pop – it says on the sleeve that they’re now in the public domain. I suspect that this isn’t the case in America or the UK, but I don’t know. The knock-off DVDs are pretty low quality, though, of course. You can see the interlacing and it skipped a couple of times during the movie.

I kind of assume you all know what happens in this movie. I knew the basic story already, it’s just the details that have escaped me. I don’t really know what I expected from this period (compare with His Wedding Night (1917), for example), but the gender roles are ridiculously strong in this movie. Snow White controls everything around her with her beauty (the animals do her bidding when she sings), and her role in the dwarfs’ lives is to be a positive feminine force – she basically makes a deal to stay with them if she can do all their housework for them, and before she arrives, they’re slovenly, like college students. As for Prince Charming, I think he has a total of about two minutes’ screen time. Not quite enough to establish a romance, I’d have thought.

Things I liked included Dopey, basically a silent film character whose role is to provide slapstick humour, and the few sequences in the movie that were actually kind of scary, like when the dwarfs chase the witch away up a cliff during a thunderstorm. The dwarf characters are all established well and have distinctive characters, even when they have very little screentime – this is in direct contrast to movies (and indeed books) like The Hobbit. Over the course of that trilogy, I could only reliably distinguish about three of the dwarves by character, and I couldn’t remember any of their names.

It was also nice to hear the songs, although “Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, it’s off to work we go” is still the only one I actually know in any capacity. And I found the film funny, mostly. It’s nice to revisit things like this. I got two more ¥80 DVDs at the same time, so I will eventually watch and review those too. Watch this space, I guess.

How about you? What’s your favourite Disney movie?

Film #285: Gerontophilia (2013)

director: Bruce LaBruce
language: English and a bit of French
length: 82 minutes
watched on: 20 April 2017

I’ve known about Bruce LaBruce for a long time as a provocateur. He likes to make out-there films. I haven’t actually seen any of the others all the way through – I have seen a bit of The Raspberry Reich, I think it was, which was released in a porno and non-porno version in the UK – all I remember is a guy sucking off a gun. I can’t remember why I didn’t finish it. Probably just didn’t have the time.

Anyway, I clocked this movie a while ago, but it wasn’t a high priority to buy or download. I borrowed it along with The Devils, Grey Gardens, and some others, from my friends.

It’s definitely not as provocative as The Raspberry Reich or LaBruce’s other pornos. It’s about a boy who has a fetish for old people, and starts a relationship with an old man he meets when volunteering in a nursing home. Adventures and drama ensue – people are initially unaccepting, and the main character has to fight these prejudices.

I wonder if the choice of old people is because regular same-sex relationships have become more accepted in the mainstream these days. LaBruce seems to be trying hard to be counter-cultural at every opportunity.

An interesting movie, but the ending was ultimately predictable, and the acting from the main character wasn’t the best. There are a few interesting points – I found it very Canadian, set in Montreal with a mixture of French and English at some points. Basically it was fine, but not something special or outstanding.

Film #284: The Devils (1971)

director: Ken Russell
language: English with some Latin
length: 107 minutes
watched on: 19 April 2017

My friend gave me this DVD (along with other recently-reviewed films like Sebastiane and Grey Gardens – the connection with Sebastiane is that Derek Jarman was also the set designer for The Devils). The cover promises something that was very controversial at its time of release, and has been specially restored to a previously-unavailable version.

A bit of digging and research later, (i.e. listening to Mark Kermode’s introduction and looking at the DVD notes) I found that it is actually still missing some key scenes that were in the original uncut movie – ones that were much more explicitly blasphemous such as the infamous “Rape of Christ” scene. The BBFC made some cuts to the original, and the MPAA in America made further cuts – the latter version was available on DVD in both countries, and this DVD is the original BBFC-cut version. It’s a bit confusing!

I’ve never actually seen any of Ken Russell’s other work, but his name precedes him, and I went into this movie not really knowing what the story was about in detail, but hoping for the best. It’s based on a historical story, and set in Medieval France. The two biggest characters are a corrupt priest and a nun with a hunchback and a lot of suppressed sexual desire. The main scene is one where the nuns are consumed with hysteria and dance naked through the halls of the church.

I think the DVD cover built me up to expect something a lot more shocking – the fact that it’s the first time it’s been restored, for example, and that it has an 18 certificate. But I think the most shocking and gory scenes have still not been reinserted into the film. I also reckon I’d be more shocked if I was religious – as it stands, what is in the film doesn’t shock me so much.

The film seems to be in a parallel reality – apparently they wanted to convey that Loudun, the setting of the majority of the movie, was considered a modern city by the standards of the time, so they designed the sets and dressed the characters as if it was modern in the 20th century. Sometimes, anyway. Bits of it look like the Paris Metro in shiny breeze blocks, and other bits are made of stone. The costumes seem to be period-accurate… until you get to the guy wearing purple sunglasses, and the 70s haircuts. I’m quite glad that the characters didn’t put on French accents for the movie, too. Occasionally we’re reminded that if it were real they would be speaking French, and they switch to Latin for some of the Catholic parts, but otherwise they use their normal English accents. I’m reminded of movies like Chocolat where some of the actors use faux-French accents and the others don’t, and the result is incongruous – not so in this film.

It’s generally a well-edited film, and it often does the thing I like that The Fifth Element also does, where it jumps between different sets of characters having the same conversation, and uses this to set up comedic moments. There are quite a lot of comedic moments in general – I liked the cardinal who never walks anywhere, for example, or that the nun is irrationally worried about her hunchback.

The cuts made by the BBFC somtimes jar a bit – it was obvious to me when watching the exorcism scene in the third act that this had been sloppily cut and re-edited. Shots I’d expect in a modern movie were just missing, like cutting to show the result of some violent action, which was deemed too gory back in 1971 but might have been left in if it had been released today. I’ve watched a lot of films, and know the rhythm that they usually take, and the cut scenes obviously didn’t flow as well as the others.

So overall good, I just hope I can see the uncut version someday!

Film #283: Grey Gardens (1975)

directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
language: English
length: 94 minutes
watched on: 16 April 2017

I pretty much had this movie thrust in my hands, along with Drive, Sebastiane and a bunch more, with the promise that it was fascinating. I had never heard of it, but apparently it’s had quite an influence on filmmaking.

It’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary movie about two women – a mother and a daughter, both named Edith Beale and nicknamed Big Edie and Little Edie – living in their decrepit, falling-down mansion. They’d repeatedly had complaints about their overgrown garden and were threatened with eviction, which is how they came to the attention of the filmmakers, the Maysles brothers who were famous documentarians. They appear to be former rich folks who had fallen into poverty. Evidently they also were or had been socialites.

Their personalities are definitely over-the-top, and I’ve definitely seen these kinds of people as archetypes before. They’re very aware of the camera, but they’re also presumably acting as they would if the camera wasn’t there, and they occasionally stop each other and scold each other not to say something in front of the camera. They argue a lot throughout the film.

Little Edie is very strange for me – she wears a headscarf in every scene and often talks about her devotion to the Catholic church, although from a modern perspective that kind of headwear would definitely be more associated with Islam. She often dances around on screen and likes to show off her happy-go-lucky side. Her mother often disparages her, and she often stays in bed or sitting down due to age.

It’s definitely a fascinating look at a world I didn’t know existed. I kind of like how much they don’t give a shit about the squalor around them – she is literally dancing around in the filth of her house on more than one occasion, and she feeds the raccoons that live in the uninhabitable parts of the mansion. Apparently when the house was sold later it was just full of raccoon carcasses…

I think it’s worth a watch. Not my favourite that I’ve watched recently – I like the energy that the two women bring to the work, but it was a bit relentless. It’s also difficult to say anything concrete about it because it’s a fly-on-the-wall character-driven piece, and has no plot. It tries to stay neutral about its subjects, although the Beales try their hardest to get the Maysles to participate in their arguments. I tend to prefer my documentaries to have more of an opinion.