TV: Please Like Me season 2 (2014)

creators: Josh Thomas & Matthew Saville
language: English and a bit of Thai
length: 10 episodes of about 25 minutes each
finished watching on: 1 May 2017
previous seasons: season 1

I can’t remember why I took such a long break from this series – there were a few months when I didn’t watch it at all, before picking it up again sometime this year. But I still get a strong impulse to watch it whenever I cook food, perhaps a habit, but perhaps also influenced by the importance of food in the series (they provide motifs for a lot of episodes and the episodes are named after food).

Basically, the series has found its feet here, but I feel it’s still far too full of cringe humour for my liking at the end of the day. Josh, the main character, is insufferable, to be honest, constantly nagging other characters for attention and validation.

I like how it deals very frankly and directly with mental illness. But it often goes from these moments straight back into something very cringeworthy for comedy’s sake, and perhaps back again, even ending one episode with the surprise suicide of a side character – I said in the review of the last season that I was annoyed that my favourite character had been killed off by the show, and this is the same. I think the tone wasn’t consistent in this area. Balance is important.

But it’s got some high points – Josh and his mum in the wilderness of Tasmania was a really nice episode, and I liked the introduction of Arnold, who as far as I know will end up with Josh in the next season.

Despite its negative points, I still identify with a lot of the characters and recognize the situations. I’ll still be continuing with the next season. Soon, perhaps!

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 #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 #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.

Film #264: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

secretlifedirector: Chris Renaud
language: English
length: 87 minutes
watched on: 2 Feb 2017

After Sing Street, this was the second of three DVDs I borrowed from Tsutaya. (The third was another Xavier Dolan film, but it turned out to be in a very thick Quebec dialect and had no English subtitles, so I gave up on it … for now anyway.)

I wasn’t so hotly anticipating this film, but it was out last year too, and I hadn’t seen it in the cinema. It’s a kids’ film, or something that’s marketed as “family”. It’s by the same people as Despicable Me and the Minions films, which I’ve tried to avoid. Despicable Me was intelligent and funny, but the minions have blown up to something much larger than they have the right to be… and I’m tired of seeing them. I was a little worried when I saw a minion on screen in the first few seconds of the movie, but it was just the company’s logo.

The story of the movie is the same as Toy Story, but with animals instead of toys – the idea being that animals have their own conversations and go on adventures when their humans are out at work or whatever. Louis C.K. plays the main character Max, who loves his owner – but one day she comes home with a new, much bigger dog, who tries to impose himself. But through a series of unlikely events they get separated from their dogwalker in the park, and get lost. They’re found by a group of homeless pets that hate humans. Shenanigans ensue.

To sum up the movie, unlike Pixar, it doesn’t have as much aimed at adults. It has a definite kiddy atmosphere about it. I’m certainly not the target audience. But it has enough for adults to laugh at if they take their kids to it – there’s a joke from Some Like It Hot, for example, that had me in stitches. There is enough physical and slapstick humour in it that I found funny, but there’s also a definite divide between the kids’ jokes and the adults’ jokes, and I think the best of this kind of movie just has one kind of joke that everyone can laugh at.

The animal characters are really well-observed, too – except for parts where they’re talking and so on, they generally act like real animals. The way of moving and reacting is spot-on. I noticed when watching a couple of the DVD extras that many of the actors and producers said their main motivation for wanting to make the movie was because they were pet owners themselves, which I can’t quite relate to, but I have interacted with enough animals in my life to know it’s accurate. But if I compare this to something like Finding Nemo or its sequel, the latter is much more effortlessly comedic. Just to spoil something a bit, though – Finding Dory and this movie both have scenes where animals drive trucks, and I kind of want to know where that trope came from. That’s a part where I generally stop suspending my disbelief.

I must admit, too, that I didn’t feel much emotion from the movie. It’s a shame, but again I think that Pixar can do that better. And there’s one other thing that bothered me – of the two “villain” characters I can think of, one had a British accent, and the other was an African-American actor (the bunny in the picture above). Seems fishy to me…

Given all the above, though, I was suitably impressed by the movie. I wasn’t expecting much, I must admit, and I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic, but the movie managed to deliver on my expectations and much more. It’s pretty funny in spite of its flaws.

Anyone else seen it?

Film #263: Sing Street (2016)

singstreetdirector: John Carney
language: English
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 1 Feb 2017

Following a bit of a theme at the moment, I’m currently making my way through several movies I missed in the cinema last year (this follows The Jungle Book, Your Name, and a few others). I had a cold, and since Japan still has DVD rental stores, I went there instead of doing exercise, and Sing Street was plastered gaudily across the entrance as the latest release of that week. I also finally put my sofa to good use (I’ve had it for a few months, maybe since November), and the new wireless headphones my dad bought me for Christmas, and made a mini cinema setup in my room.

The movie is set in the 1980s (another theme I’ve noticed recently alongside things like Stranger Things is this 80s revival that seems to be happening), in Ireland. The economy is in freefall, and everyone is trying to get out – characters are constantly talking about going to London. The main character Conor’s parents are just realizing that they don’t want to be together anymore, and they have to take him out of private school and send him to the local public school. Then he starts a band to try and impress a girl, and the movie takes it from there. Basically all I knew before watching it was it’s an Irish musical film.

So first of all, the music in this movie is excellent, and I actually bought the soundtrack after watching the movie and still having the songs in my head for the next few days. The songs perfectly complement the story and the journey of the characters, and the kids who play the music are all very talented (a few of them are very much background characters of course). The visual style is equally important, as it’s the story of the pursuit of the perfect music video.

It’s a real old-fashioned feel-good movie – despite the rough situation economically and despite the homophobic and racist attitudes that are rife in the film, it’s still a very optimistic film. It blurs the line a lot between reality and the main character’s dreams and aspirations, never more obvious in the big setpiece scene where his imagination of what the music video should look like takes over, only to crash back to reality.

Like Departure, the scenes showing the parents’ divorce hit close to the bone, too. The movie has real heart but could be very raw with the emotion. Like Your Name, I was worried that the romance would be trite and hokey, but I was cheering them on by about halfway through when the romance kick starts properly.

It’s also a very funny movie – it produces laughs very easily. I was giggling at a lot of the lines, but not just that – as I mentioned, the movie in general has a good visual sense, and the director knows how to pull off a good visual or slapstick gag. I’m thinking in particular of the “cool” boyfriend having trouble driving his car, or the cut to the kids smoking in the shed moments after telling their mum that they never did such things.

It’s a small thing, but one thing I liked a lot was the teenagers in this movie are really teenagers. Especially the ginger kid who does all the filming – he looks really young, as do the main characters. When I was growing up, there was a strong tendency to put 20 year olds in teenage roles, especially in American movies, and I’m glad to see that movies have by and large moved away from that.

Another comedic moment was the disclaimer in the end credits – beyond the usual “this is fiction” disclaimer, there’s a note that says the real Synge Street school, where the film is mostly set, is, 30 years later, much more multicultural and a really accepting environment. The intolerant attitudes from the teachers and pupils in the film don’t make it come across well, of course.

I’m just sitting here writing it trying to think of a way to fault the movie. Too much homophobia, perhaps, but as in the disclaimer above, this is accurate to the era in which the movie is set. Perhaps I find it unrealistic that they get so good at music so quickly, but again, this is part of the whole thing the director is doing where it’s unclear where the music ends and where Conor’s imagination takes over. Everything seems to just… fit.

So yeah, I liked it. I think everyone should see it. What did you think?

Film #254: His Wedding Night (1917)

hwndirector: Roscoe Arbuckle (Fatty)
language: silent
length: 19 minutes
watched on: 26 December 2016 (plane 5/6)

Along with Cops, this was also in Air France’s Buster Keaton collection, and was randomly the one I decided to watch next. It’s actually not a Buster Keaton vehicle, and was made by another comedian I hadn’t heard of called Fatty Arbuckle. It’s a hundred years old this year.

Some things haven’t changed, and some things definitely have, in that century. I was going to say we don’t have comedians or characters who are just called Fatty, but then there is Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect. We’re also (sensibly) a bit more sensitive about consent and related issues than this movie, although the related tropes of the Nice Guy and the Friendzone are still around.

Basically this movie is about Fatty (a professional con, and liquor smuggler in prohibition-era America) and his girlfriend who he wants to marry. They’re very cute together. But his girlfriend has to fight off Al, the Rival – the original Nice Guy. He gets very aggressive when she rebuffs his advances (but he gets his just desserts, don’t worry). Buster Keaton shows up about halfway through, immediately falls flat on his face, as he’s wont to do, to deliver the girlfriend’s wedding dress. But he ends up showing it to her by trying it on himself – as a result, Al steals him away instead of the girlfriend. He tries to force the girl to marry him but he marries Buster instead. Gay marriage, how hilarious!!!

The cryptic comment about consent above is actually about a weird, and totally unnecessary, scene in which Fatty uses chloroform to knock out women who come into his drug store, so he can kiss them without their knowledge. He winks at the camera, like hey guys, wouldn’t you all love to do this? But he has to also knock out an old man in the corner who starts to complain. And the second woman he tries it on just drinks the chloroform and is on her merry way – wait, what? I dunno, except for generally adding to Fatty’s established con-man character (we already know that he swindles rich people and pushes liquor), it doesn’t really add to the movie. It’s an interesting look at what used to be acceptable. I’d hope that such scenes wouldn’t make it into a movie these days, but I fear that’s also not the case. But there is a vocal crowd who will call them out on that now. And it’s better that way.

Anyway, I wasn’t as impressed with this one as with Cops (one other issue was that it’s missing a soundtrack – Cops had a nice piano accompaniment, and I think this was supposed to but didn’t), but it was enjoyable, and it might be the earliest movie I’ve watched, except for some ancient shorts that are more akin to modern animated gifs. I was running out of time on the plane, though, and I was getting tired due to imminent jet lag, so I abandoned this series and went for another feature film, before it was time to land in Paris and continue back to Scotland from there.

Film #253: Cops (1922)

copsdirectors: Eddie Cline & Buster Keaton
language: silent
length: 18 minutes
watched on: 26 December 2016 (plane 4/6)

Pursuant to the discovery of the short film collection on Air France in which I found the last movie, I found a collection of remastered Buster Keaton movies in there. I’ve watched very few movies from Keaton’s period – indeed, this movie is me popping my Buster Keaton cherry.

It’s about twenty minutes long, obviously much shorter than I’m used to with modern movies, but it tells an entertaining story, if a bit fast-paced (part of that is the old-style camera work that makes everyone move really quickly). Through a series of increasingly unlikely coincidences, Buster finds himself being chased by a whole town’s worth of cops, having unwittingly stolen a family’s possessions and then ended up riding through the middle of a policemen’s parade. Meanwhile a bad guy throws a bomb into his lap and he’s blamed for it.

The climax is when Buster ends up on a ladder being used like a seesaw by policemen trying to catch him from either side, which is entertaining. He knows how to do physical comedy. I feel like it’s a lost art these days – it’s still around, but very few can do it properly. In contrast, it was positively necessary in the silent era.

Timeless (except for inflation – a horse in those days cost $5, apparently) and funny. I liked it so much I went straight to watch another.

Film #252: Children of History (2016)

cohaka: Les enfants de l’histoire
director: Aurélien Kouby
language: French
length: 5 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 3/6)

Air France had a really extensive selection of films this year, and instead of making the mistake of picking a random “comedy” movie from the list of French films (as I did last year to my dismay), I found the “short films” section. That’s basically how I watched six movies this time around: this one is only five minutes long. I picked this one because it seemed like a nice way to see some French talent, and I was searching through the list for anything vaguely LGBT-themed. This certainly has overtones of that, although the two subject matters are twelve years old, and I wouldn’t actually class it as an LGBT movie.

I think I’d class it as comedy, although subtle. The two boys are changing after a swimming class. The teacher tells them to hurry up, followed swiftly by chastising them for running – it’s that kind of humour. The white kid quizzes the other boy about his ethnicity (Jewish), and then proceeds to talk about how he found a photo of his grandparents doing a Hitler salute, which he demonstrates. The Jewish kid is initially dumbfounded and gets angry. But by the end of the five minutes he’s agreed that whatever the grandparents did, he can still be friends with the other boy. History is history, or something. The boy isn’t his grandfather.

It’s less of a film than a slice of life, or a fossilized moment. Interesting in passing, certainly, and it raised a chuckle. But unless you’re also going to catch an intercontinental Air France flight, you’re unlikely to come across it.

Book #123: Just One Damned Thing After Another (2013)

jodtaaauthor: Jodi Taylor
language: English
length: 570 minutes (9 hours, 30 minutes)
finished listening on: 16 November 2016

This book is another one that kept coming up in the sci-fi section of Audible, and eventually I got around to listening to it. It’s about time travel, and some historians who go back to investigate real life events and get a better insight into what actually happened.

It’s an interesting idea, and it’s one that is obviously carried out lovingly by someone who’s well into her history, as a lot of things are described in great and accurate detail. Linguistic and cultural matters are not glossed over, so the characters take a great deal of training to be ready for their travels.

The book’s sense of humour very obviously takes after Terry Pratchett, especially with the idea of a very disorganized band of misfits saying “bloody hell” a lot. It works well, but I think it’s Taylor’s first book, and I think she needs to find a bit more of her own style.

One thing I found, though, was the book was so full of ideas it was often spilling over. One the one side, there are the sci-fi aspects with time travel paradoxes and the like, and the intrigue plot with the breakaway characters from the future timeline, but it’s also trying to depict a bunch of disparate time periods, and the present-day characters’ relationships and interpersonal drama – and there are also a lot of characters to juggle. There’s also frank discussion of issues such as sexual assault (which is dealt with sensibly and sensitively), but it often comes as a bit of a shock after the romping nature of a lot of the rest of the book.

I felt when listening to the audiobook that I could often miss key points due to the fast pace – the time travel paradoxes were often explained in an almost throwaway sentence, or five years suddenly pass in the middle of the book when it glosses over their years-long training period, or a character seems to go missing and I had presumed her dead until she arrives back in the story later on. I think a slower pace would work well for this. I also had a bit of trouble distinguishing minor characters, or even major characters like the “chief” and “boss”, who were different, although the narrator had a good voice for accents and could mitigate this a lot.

But the story was well-told, overall, and it left enough mystery at the end that I might like to continue with the series. I’ll see, though – it’s pretty long at about nine books already. I don’t know if I have the stamina!

Anyone else read this?