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!

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Film #277: Bad Education (2004)

aka: La mala educación
director: Pedro Almodóvar
language: Spanish and a bit of Latin
length: 101 minutes
watched on: 24 March 2017

This was my first Almodóvar film way back when, and still my favourite. It’s probably my fourth time watching it, but the last time was a whopping nine years ago. As such, I could only have given a very simple outline of the plot before watching it. I’d forgotten exactly how the main twist turns out.

There are so many layers to this movie. It starts with a film producer reading a script given to him: the first film within the film, which follows two transgender characters trying to blackmail the Catholic priest principal of their former school. But there’s also a story within the story, as it flashes back to the characters’ childhood – their abuse by the priests, and their own sexual awakening to each other (in a cinema, which is perhaps the only known example of a film within a film within a film within a film?).

It’s many stories rolled into one, but it stays coherent, and has a strong anti-establishment message. It has a compelling mystery at the centre of it that unfolds slowly. It’s super gay, too (although I remember some of my university friends complaining that my tastes were too predictable in this regard – to which I say they had too much internalized homophobia and I hope they’ve changed). And perhaps its greatest appeal is seeing Gael Garcia Bernal in drag – but he basically plays three different characters during the movie too, a very diverse role (and not even in his native accent, apparently).

I hadn’t noticed before that when the film switches to the story within the story, the frame also shortens from the wider cinescope ratio to a smaller frame, signifying when we’re switching from one story to another. It did this similarly to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but not quite to the same degree.

I also talked about stories within stories recently with Magpie Murders, and I think this film is a much higher calibre of such a story, not to diminish that book too much.

So I like this movie a lot. It still has power to shock and amuse almost ten years later, which can’t be said for many movies. How about you? What’s your favourite Almodóvar film?

Film #265: Any Day Now (2012)

anydaynowdirector: Travis Fine
language: English
length: 98 minutes
watched on: 3 Feb 2017

My favourite anecdote about this film is that back in 2014, when the movie was released in Japan, one of my middle-aged students recommended this movie to me (and the others in the group). I don’t generally talk about my sexuality or relationships with my students (have to draw a line somewhere), so I have to wonder whether she’d sussed me out and was trying to wheedle it out of me, or whether she’d just thought it was good and worth sharing. Aw, I kinda miss them.

Anyway, the movie is about a gay couple in the late 1970s / early 80s who take a disabled kid under their wing (he has Down syndrome) when his mother ends up in prison, and eventually go to court to try and get legal custody of him. One is a lawyer who’s summarily kicked out of his job by a homophobic employer. The other is a drag queen and singer played by Alan Cumming. Spoilers ahead, watch out!

The movie has all the hallmarks of something based on a true story, but digging a little into the background after watching it, I found that only the beginning part – a gay man taking care of his neighbour’s disabled kid – was based in reality. The second half of the film, where they have the legal battle to try and get the kid, is realistic based on the period, and researched very well, but entirely speculative and fictional. It might be an amalgamation of a few real court cases.

To be honest, I felt kind of cheated that it wasn’t. I don’t know which part of the story it was that felt like it couldn’t be fake – perhaps the court case itself, or the personalities of the characters, or the particularly speedy start to the two men’s relationship (it blossoms cutely and naturally, but very quickly), or the fact that it ends on a really massive downer. I mean, I’ve watched plenty of other period drama recently (Sing Street, High-Rise, Stranger Things, etc), and it’s not like I believed they were real. I think it’s just the nature of the bold leaps of faith in storytelling – or perhaps I had a preconceived notion that it was based in reality.

On the other hand, perhaps all that is just testament to the realism of the film (although it is a bit kitschy at times). I believed every second of it, and I thought the characters were smartly portrayed by all the actors – of course Alan Cumming was great in his role, and I loved the young actor playing the kid. I thought I recognized the other man, but I saw other pictures of him online and I don’t think I know the actor.

So it’s a smart film, I thought. I’d like to hear from others who’ve seen it – what did you think?

Film #236: Alaska Is a Drag (2012)

alaska-is-a-dragdirector: Shaz Bennett
language: English
length: 14 minutes
watched on: 16 October 2016
Boys on Film 11 (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

I quite enjoyed this one, the third short of “Boys on Film 11”. It’s about a drag queen in Alaska, who feels trapped at what he calls “the end of the world”. He works in a fish packing plant, and deals with daily homophobia (and/or racism) from his coworkers, which often gets very violent. Then a new guy comes to town, shaking things up as he obviously enjoys spending time with the first guy, and comes to see his drag routine in the local gay bar, which is absolutely deserted. He helps the first guy defend himself from the homophobes.

It’s left ambiguous, technically, whether the new guy is actually interested romantically or just platonically. He has his arm round his shoulder at the end, though.

What I really liked about this one was not just the drag routines, which are gloriously colourful, but also the mise-en-scène and the contrast between the dreary outside world and the colourful drag world. I thought an obvious parallel was drawn there. I also liked some other stylizations, like that the homophobes are obvious pastiches of 1980s high school movie archetypes, what with the girlfriend hanging on to the alpha-male in charge of the group, and their general bullying demeanour.

I’m quite glad to see this one is getting the feature-length treatment. Obviously it’s not going to be that popular, but I’d be interested in watching it to find out how they will expand it.

Film #21: 9 Dead Gay Guys (2002)

directed by: Lab Ky Mo
language: English
length: 80 minutes
watched on: 14 July

Apparently this movie was universally panned by critics when it was released. I quite liked it, although I thought the acting was a bit terrible, and the premise was a bit naff (probably the best word for it), and the production values were a bit low. I certainly wasn’t offended by it, which I think was a criticism regularly levelled at it.

The characters, which is ultimately the aspect which this film is going to prop itself up with, were funny, I thought (if badly acted a lot of the time), although it is true that every single one of them is one crude stereotype or another. The DVD extras say that they were all based on a weird story that the director was told by mates in the pub… not sure how much of that I believe, but I think some of the ideas in there are quite funny, like the “discreet” Jewish guy who loves massive cock, or the Indian taxi driver with a foreskin problem (his nickname is Knobcheese), desperate for a blowjob that he’ll never get.

The premise is just a bit silly; it’s basically two Irish guys prostituting themselves to gay guys for a bit of easy cash, leading into a convoluted gambit plot involving the Jewish guy’s legendary money. A lot of it’s very predictable, of course, even aside from the obvious hint given away in the title of the movie – like one of the guys coming to a “realisation of his own” halfway through the movie. Essentially, it’s a movie that should be taken light-heartedly, because if you take it too seriously, you’ll probably just get angry at how stereotypical and awful it can be. I’d say, take it or leave it. Quite funny but not hilarious.