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!

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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?

Book #106: On the Road (1957)

9780141182674author: Jack Kerouac
language: English and a few lines of Spanish
length: 281 pages
finished on: 5 July 2016

I was moderately impressed with some of the other Beat Generation works that I’ve consumed over the past couple of years (such as The Wild Boys or the biopic Kill Your Darlings), and picked this book up thinking it might have some LGBT content (I’ve been pretty single-minded about that recently, sorry to my detractors and all that). It’s not so unreasonable – after all, that seems to be most of what Kerouac’s contemporaries (Burroughs and Ginsberg, anyway) wrote about, and the cover suggests something between the two men on the cover, but actually it’s not like that. There is subtext, to be sure, but that’s not what I’m looking for.

I eschewed the introduction, which explained in detail which characters equalled which real-life people, but it might have been more interesting to read the book and understand who he was talking about at any one time. It also might have prepared me for the book’s unique style.

On the Road is fairly transparently autobiographical – it seems that the only way Kerouac would get through a whole novel was if he didn’t have to invent the story – and is, also obviously, a quintessential road novel. Its story consists of the main character Sal, representing Kerouac, travelling across America multiple times with his best friend Dean, representing Neal Cassady.

The book is written in stream-of-consciousness style – more accurately, Kerouac was basically writing without stopping to collect his thoughts, as a kind of experiment to push the boundaries of fiction. He wrote the whole thing in the space of a couple of days, so it is often repetitive, or introduces story points without properly developing them. I often also didn’t feel a proper sense of continuity or development in the story – the characters often return to the same conceptual space. It’s also difficult to follow at times, because characters or new obstacles for the main characters seem to spring from nowhere, and consequences aren’t always followed up.

The book’s main strength, then, is in documenting an era – it is very evocative and goes into the gritty underbelly of the post-war United States, which few other books do. For me I noticed the prices being ten times what they should be – $5 is $50 in today’s money, for instance. Small things like that, or (weirdly) how racist the language would be considered today – those things firmly root it in a bygone era.

So I recommend it for that, and the final sequence in Mexico – but I’m not sure I’d recommend it overall. I didn’t really like the unorganized style much.

Film #131: Bridesmaids (2011)

brDirector: Paul Feig
Language: English with a bit of Thai and Spanish
Length: 125 minutes
Watched on: 29 Nov 2014

This film had been on my backburner for a while. It came out a few years ago, and was generally well received despite being billed as the female version of The Hangover. Fortunately, as its good ratings showed, it is much more than that. This may, it should perhaps be pointed out, be because it has a twist halfway through, and doesn’t quite go where the trailers implied it would in the third act.

At the heart of the drama, the central conflict is between the main character, appointed as the maid of honour to her best friend, and the best friend’s new friend, who is rich and has connections, and is actually capable of pulling off a decent wedding. They start battling early on, to comedic effect.

True to its crass comedy roots, toilet humour is used to full force, at least in the first act. I still don’t understand the appeal of toilet humour, as an adult at least, but clearly the most egregious scene was there as a kind of hook to get people to keep watching. After that, the movie pretty much matures, and rather suddenly too.

It explores the emotional state of its protagonist well, I thought. She starts out just a bit down on her luck, his rock bottom halfway through the movie, and is outright depressed for most of the movie. I thought it was realistically portrayed, if a little ridiculous in the extent of the bad luck that she gas for the sake of comedy. The movie managed to avoid making comedy out of the depression itself, though, which I think deserves merit.

As a whole, I would say that I liked the movie. The other main thing I remember about it is being surprised and slightly confused by the appearance of the Irish guy from The IT Crowd as the love interest. Perhaps aside from the toilet humour, my main complaint about the movie was that it sometimes relied too much on fat jokes for a cheap laugh. However, none of the characters were in any way one dimensional, even the ones that originally looked like they would be. So a bit ambivalent about some of the humour, but I think overall I’d recommend it.

Film #120: Easy A (2010)

Easy-A-Movie-Stills-emma-stone-15356071-1222-817director: Will Gluck
language: English
length: 92 minutes
watched on: 7 June 2014

I think, as with the other chick flicks I’ve watched in the past few months, I was led into this by constantly seeing images of it online, and wanting to find out more. The story in this one is about a young girl in small-town California who lies once and it spirals out of control – a rumour spreads that she’s actually a slut, and she helps out a few of the boys in her class, starting with a closeted gay guy and continuing to the fat nerds, who need their social status bolstered.

It gets even more out of control when she is implicated as a carrier of an STD by one of the Christian boys trying to cover up his relationship with the school counsellor (played by Lisa Kudrow, who I still can’t fully separate from Phoebe Buffay in my mind), and is told from the point of view of a webcast that she makes to finally tell the truth about the whole affair.

It also has a literary bent: “Easy A”, and the motif of her sewing a red A to all her clothes comes straight out of a book she had to read for English class, the title of which escapes me now, a month later. In the book, a woman is forced to wear a red A because she’s an adultress – in this movie, she chooses this fate herself when she chooses to big up her false identity as a slut. It’s an obvious way in which the movie examines the central theme of the double standard between men and women – the men who she supposedly had sex with suffer no consequences of the theoretical sex, while she becomes a social pariah.

Like the other chick flicks I’ve watched recently, it’s excellent in its comedy and delivery, with many funny lines and characters. Her family is especially amusing, I thought. But the story itself, while spot on in its treatment of the double standard, is ridiculous in itself. Like many movies, I feel like she could have dealt with any of the problems she had very easily just by talking to them or her teachers honestly. Problem would have been solved, I’d say. That said, I’d recommend it for the comedy alone.

Film #110: Mean Girls (2004)

meangirlsDirector: Mark Waters
Language: English plus German, Vietnamese, Swahili
Length: 93 minutes
Watched on: 11 January 2014

I don’t have a lot to say about Mean Girls other than that I like it. I do remember when I first watched it at around the age of 17 expecting to hate it and being pleasantly surprised – I’m sure there was a not inconsiderable amount of anxiety that if I was seen to enjoy it people would think I was gay… whoops.

In many ways I’m kinda glad that I still like it and the writing is still funny enough to make me giggle most of the way through, because recently I’ve become so cynical that it’s hard to entertain me, even with films that I used to love – case in point: Austin Powers. The comedy in this is much sharper and almost every line can be construed as a joke and that’s the best way for a movie to be. I should really find more of Tina Fey’s work, because I haven’t actually seen her that much.

I hope I will continue to like this movie as I grow older. I hope I will see more like it in the future. It’s now the 10th anniversary, and I’ve heard people are planning to wear pink on the anniversary of the US opening, April 30 – because it’s a Wednesday.

Film #86: Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

big10_musical4director: Joe Gallen
language: English
length: 89 minutes
watched on: 6 May 2013

As the final part of my spree I watched this. I remember this being hilariously funny, but I think that’s because when I watched it the first time I was around 16 – ie, the target audience. Now I find a lot of it overplayed and I don’t find most of the jokes funny (although I caught more of the references than I did the first time, because I’ve seen the movies they refer to since then, such as The Breakfast Club or American Beauty). But I still laughed, and it’s in a whole other league than things like Epic Movie.

Of course, don’t go in looking for something intelligent. The plot is lifted straight from “She’s All That” (although I haven’t seen that one so I don’t know how exactly), and successfully parodies the fact that all the heroine has to do to become “beautiful” is to take off her glasses and let her hair down. All the characters are stock characters (“the Jock”, “the Geek”, “the Cheerleader”, etc), and they get around this by having them explicitly point out their flaws. But beyond that there’s little substance.

Similarly, while most of it is straight parody making references and jokes, there was one gratuitous gross-out toilet humour scene that I could have done without. Overall, kind of funny but probably much better if you’re 17.

Film #79: Ratatouille (2007)

ratatouilledirector: Brad Bird
language: English and some French
length: 111 minutes
watched on: 7 January 2013

The last of four films that I watched on the long journey back from the UK. I think I watched some truly terrible comedy afterwards just in the final hour or so, but I can’t even remember the name, just that it had Mark Heap and the kid from the Inbetweeners in it. Anyway, I was on a streak of Pixar and realised that this was the perfect opportunity to catch up on one of the few by them that I haven’t seen – apart from this, I think I’ve missed out on Cars, which I’ve heard isn’t very good by their standards. There’s probably at least one more. I don’t know.

Ratatouille is alright, not that great, especially compared to some of the other classics. It basically lived up to my expectations; one area in which it didn’t was that I was expecting a full-on talking rat, whereas here we see an intelligent rat but not one that can talk – he communicates with the boy by pulling his hair.

The concept of a rat pulling a boy’s hair to use him like a puppet is inherently comedic, but beyond that I didn’t think the movie does anything special with it. There’s a lot of slapstick humour, and a caricaturish villain in the head chef of the kitchen where the boy works. Nothing special.

Oh, one thing I remember was that it was a bit of a mess regarding accents: it’s set in Paris, but the main characters have American accents, while some other characters have put-on French accents. Annoying at best. And there was a tepid romance between the boy and a woman working in his restaurant, which was predictable and boring (actually, much of the plot was).

So I’d say it’s not bad but I’d rather watch most other Pixar movies over this one.

Film #75: Die Hard (1988)

bruce-willis-john-mcclane-20th-century-foxs-die-970431329director: John McTiernan
language: English and some German
length: 131 minutes
watched on: 26 December 2012

Would you believe it’s the first time I’ve watched this film? My dad was keen to watch it around Christmas, as it’s set at Christmas. Having had no emotional attachment to it as a teenager, I came to it with skepticism. In the end? It was alright, for me.

I don’t really know, to be honest, how much of the movie was original in its time, although I’m willing to bet a fair amount of it, perhaps of the way the characters speak, as John McClane is famously foul-mouthed.

I found the setup a bit ridiculous, although to some extent at least plausible, but I was particularly unimpressed by the fact that the antagonists were Germans, you know, forty years after the war was over and everything. I was surprised by Alan Rickman’s appearance as the main villain (because I didn’t know he was in the film), and I thought he gave a great performance, but he did it all in a faux-German accent, and it started to grate on me quite quickly.

The action sequences were fun, though, as was watching Bruce Willis’s tank top magically turning from pearly white to dark brown over the course of the movie. And as was seeing Bruce Willis with hair, to be honest, this being 25 years since the film was made.

I probably wouldn’t watch it again, but I enjoyed it. I’d say it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it already (like me).

Film #73: Despicable Me (2010)

despicable-medirected by: Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin
length: 95 minutes
language: English
watched on: 23 December 2012

I quickly realised on the plane that all the interesting movies were basically in the family section, and thus I ended up watching Despicable Me, a movie I’d missed when it came out in the cinemas a few years ago. It was alright; the expected fare from a kids’ movie, to be honest. Rather simplistic but with the odd joke thrown in for adults.

The central premise is that the main character Gru is in the villainous (and ridiculous) business of stealing landmarks, gets outdone by an upstart, and decides to try and steal the moon, with the help of some orphan girls (for some contrived reason that I’ve forgotten) who steal his heart. This works out into quite a sweet story and actually works alright in the end, as they realise that they quite like each other.

As a character, despite his “evil” intentions and being surrounded by stereotypically evil things, Gru doesn’t seem to be that bad a guy. He’s surrounded by countless minions, who are weird yellow aliens, and yet seems to know all of them personally by name, suggesting that he’s actually not a bad employer. But he was voiced by Steve Carell, who for some reason did a ridiculous Russian accent. In 2010? I thought we were past that. Or are we lampooning old habits now? I facepalmed a little bit when I realised his assistant had a London accent. Oh come on.

The girl characters are fun, if predictable, and I enjoyed how they all went to the funfair together and realised that they’re all quite alike. I didn’t like the portrayal of their orphanage, though. It was some kind of ridiculous, draconian institution headed by a caricature of Miss Trunchbull who locks girls in a tiny box at the slightest infraction. I just think that in real life orphanages probably aren’t as bad as that, and it’s a bit disrespectful to kids that do live in those environments to imply that they are.

Funnier than I expected, anyway.