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?

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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.

Film #282: Sebastiane (1976)

director: Paul Humfress & Derek Jarman
language: Latin
length: 82 minutes
watched on: 14 April 2017

This is a movie I can’t quite believe it took me this long to get around to. I certainly could have had the chance to watch it before, but I had a bunch of DVDs shoved into my hands at my friend’s house – this one following Drive.

I referenced this film last year when reviewing Bavo Defurne’s short film Saint, which also deals with the execution of Saint Sebastian, but putting a lot more erotic emphasis on the execution itself, and treats it more like a crescendo.

Apart from a frankly iconic opening scene with colourfully-decorated men dancing with giant dildoes, it’s set in the desert, where a group of Roman soldiers have been sent. But Sebastian, once the emperor’s favourite, now refuses to fight, as he’s a Christian, and they’re pacifists (what a change from then to now!). He’s strung up and whipped as a result. It’s also implied that his eventual execution, bare nude, is because he refuses to return the love of his centurion. The other characters make fun of him.

This movie is basically a parade of naked male flesh. There are so many penises on display throughout the movie that I’m frankly surprised it got past the 1970s censors. There’s a really erotic scene between two of the side characters that I’m definitely surprised wasn’t censored, although they don’t do any “actual sex”.

I was also very pleased and surprised to find that the film’s dialogue is entirely in Latin, although the way it’s pronounced varies in quality by actor, some of them using more accurate pronunciations than others. It lends some kind of strange, if absolutely unnecessary, authenticity to the film, as if we’re really looking back in time to the 3rd century.

Not a lot really happens as such in the movie – it’s mostly characters lazing around in the sun and tackling each other – but I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the fit young bodies on the screen. Definitely worth it.

Film #281: Moonlight (2016)

director: Barry Jenkins
language: English
length: 111 minutes
watched on: 11 April 2017

I spoke a bit of the perils of hype last year when I reviewed Deadpool. I first heard about Moonlight at least half a year ago, when people were talking about it online. As it’s a film about a gay black man in America, I never thought it’d even be released in Japan – it only became apparent that it would even get a release here when it became a front-runner for the Oscars, and it even had its release date moved forward a few weeks to the end of March when it was announced as the winner. Sure enough, it didn’t play well here, and it’s already finished its run at my local cinema. (Not to pit them against each other, but La La Land is playing much better here.)

So I had this movie hyped to me for such a long time, and I should have just streamed it ages ago. It turns out I’ve already seen a lot of the pivotal moments of the film in Tumblr gifsets without spoiler warnings.

It’s undoubtedly a beautiful film, especially in its use of colour, and it’s definitely groundbreaking for being the first LGBT film to win Best Picture at the Oscars – and one of very few with an almost 100% black cast.

But the subject matter is definitely depressing – it deals with all kinds of issues including drugs and other trappings of life for young black people growing up in such housing estates in Miami. Its main character is very repressed over the story, especially about his sexuality.

The film is split into three acts, the three stages of the main character Chiron’s life, as his identity shifts in various ways and he comes of age – starting with him in elementary school, then in high school, then as an adult revisiting his past.

The three acts actually feel more like shorts, since the actors playing the main characters change each time. I also expected Mahershala Ali, who plays the boy’s mentor in the first act, to continue into the next act, but he disappears from the story. In the end, the only actor who is in all three parts is the boy’s mother, Naomie Harris, who’s addicted to drugs, causing one of the film’s central conflicts.

So basically, I wanted more. I also found the main character, in all three incarnations, to be a man of few words, frustratingly so. Other characters do the talking for him, and he often just stands there looking torn and hurt – and his actors all do this effectively, but I wanted to hear more of his story rather than just have it all implied. But no wonder he’s repressed, given the circumstances. You can take this part either way – I can see that it might be poignant for someone else watching this, perhaps with that lived experience. For me the repressed sexuality and possible coming-out seemed trite compared to other gay-themed movies.

That said, I’m definitely glad I got to see the movie, especially to see it on the big screen. I think it was crafted very well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the director can do in the future. I have a feeling he’s going to have a fruitful career ahead of him.

How about you, what do you think?

Film #280: Drive (2011)

director: Nicholas Winding Refn
language: English
length: 96 minutes
watched on: 5 April 2017

I must admit, I always thought this movie would be more like The Fast and the Furious, a series I’ve never been interested in watching (although perhaps I’m missing out). Cars don’t generally do it for me. So I was surprised to see it actually bore a lot more resemblance to Tangerine, at least in that there are a lot of shots of driving around suburban Los Angeles.

Ryan Reynolds Gosling is the main character, a getaway driver who also does stunt work for the movies as his day job. Bryan Cranston (love of my life) is his unscrupulous boss. Ryan is morose, and a man of few words – he grunts and barely says anything throughout the movie, except for a spiel about his five minute getaway rule. He falls in love with his neighbour, whose husband is in prison. After the husband is out, there’s a tense relationship between them, but they seem to make friends and do a job together.

Basically, without wishing to spoil anything, the movie gets very violent very quickly and often suddenly. There are moments that I felt it went too far – Ryan’s character obviously has unresolved issues of some kind when he’s beating up bad guys, and it’s enough to show him staving a guy’s head in without then jump-cutting to the bloodied cadaver. We see enough without seeing everything.

The romance for me was also too boring – I’m not sure they even kiss. The director said this was some kind of Platonic ideal romance, or something. The Disneyishness of it contrasts too much with the ultra-violence.

But I liked the movie’s visual style, and its simplicity in composition and plot. There are a few good action sequences too. And I liked the music – I even looked some of it up to listen later. It’s definitely on the high end of the movie spectrum and has a lot going for it, even though I also think it goes too far with the gore and violence.

Book #133: A Symphony of Echoes (2013)

author: Jodi Taylor
language: English
length: 524 minutes (8 hours 44 minutes)
finished listening on: 3 April 2017

This is the sequel to Just One Damned Thing After Another, a book I listened to back in November about time travel. I was a bit lukewarm about the book, I think – it kept me interested but it was a bit too madcap for my liking.

This book is more of the same. Its historical sections are great and well-researched – this time they visit Edinburgh during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, for example, to try and “correct” the timeline. They also go forward in time to a future version of their institution, but I got confused at this point how far forward it was meant to be.

The book itself suffers a few structural problems: mainly, it’s too episodic. I feel like I’m reading (well, hearing) three or four short stories instead of one coherent novel. It’s unclear what the central conflict of the novel is meant to be. For example, at the beginning, the author introduces Jack the Ripper as this kind of monster that is difficult to kill, which they manage to do, but it’s never mentioned again. Where did it come from? Perhaps it’s for a later instalment of the series – Taylor has been pretty prolific, after all.

On a similar note, there are so many characters and timelines, it’s very easy for Taylor to just kill off characters. Like there’s a character called David, the main character’s assistant – I can’t remember when or how he was introduced, but he suddenly dies in the middle of the story of something unrelated to the main plot, and the main character is upset, but it’s ultimately inconsequential and didn’t really shed any insight.

One of the things I liked about the other book was it didn’t shy away from depicting sexual assault or the other nasty things that women often have to go through, and there was still a bit of that theme, but not as strongly as the first book. It comes up as a moral dilemma at the end, but I thought it cheapened it a bit this time, didn’t quite work as well as I would hope.

The other thing was the narrator of the audiobook. She’s good at accents, but not so good at timing her speech to match the tone of the words. There’s a bit in the middle where the main character is so shocked by something that happens, and she goes on a literal rampage, driven by these words echoing in her mind, and the way the narrator says them doesn’t match to how I think they “should” sound. It was too frantic. It’s not the only example. I feel like she was trying to read through the book as fast as possible.

The book really just needs a bit more focus, because I think there’s a lot of compelling stuff there. As it is it’s a bit of a mess. But maybe that’s the point. After all, the main character is proud – in a very English way – of how messily her cohort all work and how much they love tea. Taylor needs to learn not to apply that quite so strictly to her books, though.

Film #279: Tangerine (2015)

director: Sean Baker
language: English and some Armenian
length: 88 minutes
watched on: 30 March 2017

You may have already heard about this movie for being shot entirely on an iPhone 5. Actually, I hadn’t, I’d only heard its name whispered on the wind a few times before my friend sat us down to watch it on their big projector. Watching movies in style. I should get me one of those…

Anyway, the movie is groundbreaking for that in itself, and it also features a diverse cast of genuine transgender people – something Hollywood has yet to catch up and try themselves.

They are playing hookers, though, not exactly the most positive of portrayals, and they’re very bitchy characters, but the movie rests on their shoulders – it’s very much character-driven and not so much plot-driven. And they carry it well.

It’s set in LA on Christmas Eve, but you could have fooled me – it looks like it’s still summer in California. A lot of the movie features driving around suburban LA, particularly of one taxi driver, and of the guys that pick up the girls on the sidewalk.

The movie was interesting and funny in a black way, and although it’s not my favourite one that I’ve seen recently, I definitely recommend it. There are a few storylines, and it’s unclear at first how they will interact, but it all comes together for the climax. For me the only real problem was (spoilers?) the guy they’re fighting over. I don’t quite see the appeal in him!

But yes, good coherent style and tone. Well worth a watch. Still don’t understand why it’s called Tangerine, though.

Film #278: Sing (2016)

directors: Christophe Lourdelet & Garth Jennings
language: English and a bit of Japanese
length: 108 minutes
watched on: 26 March 2017

I caught this movie after work, because I’d heard it was alright and I didn’t want to go to the gym that day.

But I was a bit disappointed by the movie. It’s like a crap version of Zootopia with an unlikable protagonist, predictable plot arc, and singing animals having a go at the latest pop hits.

In terms of setting, it is reminiscent of Zootopia, but is clearly set in a version of San Francisco. I have so many questions about how all the species coexist like they do – we barely see two of the same species in the same shot at any one time – and yet seem to only pair off in heterosexual same-species couples. And for some reason the pig couple has twenty children or something. And they’re clearly trying to fit into a human sized world, viz. the tiny mouse in a regular sized car. It just ends up with a lot of weird side-effects.

The other thing is that all the main characters are anthropomorphic mammals – in fact there are very few non-mammals in the movie, a few establishing shots of fish in water and so on, a lizard supporting character, and little else. I’m so confused – do insects exist in their world? Are they sentient?

The film is also trying to bring together a lot of disparate stories and ideas – the London-accented gangster gorillas on their hijinks bare little resemblance to the rest of the movie, for example – and it doesn’t quite manage to tie it all up. I also got very annoyed at the main protagonist, played by Matthew McConaughey – so much that he did was annoying for me, especially the lying and stealing.

But it was funny enough to amuse me for a couple of hours, and despite all the above I enjoyed watching it… but it was definitely inferior to Zootopia, and the pop music in it will date it badly in a few years. It’s also telling that the only joke that the Japanese cinema audience laughed at was the one directed at them, when the main character tries to speak Japanese and says something offensive. I could put this down to bad subtitling (it’s a perennial problem), but I shouldn’t be so generous. Its comedy is lukewarm and childish.