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 #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 #251: The Infiltrator (2016)

infiltratordirector: Brad Furman
language: English and Spanish (plus a bit of French)
length: 127 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 2/5)

Just for a bit of a contrast to the movie I’d just watched, I decided to watch this thriller-type movie with Bryan Cranston. I heard about it a few months ago, and I guess I’m a fan of the guy. He’s a good actor, after all.

Drug cartels are, of course, no stranger to Bryan Cranston, but he’s on the opposite side of the conflict than he was in Breaking Bad this time, as a undercover CIA agent who pulls a sting on some bad guys, but not before becoming best friends with the guy at the head of the cartel. Apparently it’s based on a true story.

The movie is set in the 80s, and I think it’s partly so the makers had the excuse to homage some outrageous insults to the art of interior design and personal fashion. Cranston starts out the movie with a 70s porn ‘stache and Paul Rudd’s hair. There are also some “chic” design choices and a distinct lack of mobile phones. In that it’s very similar to Stranger Things, but that series was quite in-your-face about its dated style – this movie reminds you of it occasionally, pulling you slightly out of suspension of disbelief as you marvel at the weirdly shaped landline phone.

Drama comes because Cranston’s character can’t quite keep his family life and his alterego separate – he invents a fiancée to get out of sleeping with a hooker, which leads his CIA bosses to get angry but assign him a bombshell blonde as his potential wife, much to the chagrin of his actual wife. Later, he is accosted by one of his cartel buddies in a restaurant, and ends up punching out the waiter, in front of his wife, in order to save face.

I don’t really want to spoil the ending too much – the final scene worked pretty well, I thought. The problem is that the rest of the movie didn’t really make up for it. It dragged a bit in the unmemorable middle sections, but more importantly, the characters’ attitude to women is really atrocious. The amount of misogyny in this movie might be accurate and justified in the sense that this is what people are really like, but I don’t think the movie did a good enough job in denouncing this outright.

Whatever, really, though. The movie is enjoyable and all that, but it’s no classic. It doesn’t live up to Breaking Bad, of course. But I’m happy that Cranston is still getting heavyweight roles like this. I wonder if he’ll ever go back to comedy.

Anyone else seen this? What do you think?

Film #228: 420 (2014)

420director: Jacob Brown
language: no dialogue
length: 3 minutes
watched on: 22 September 2016
Link to the movie: https://vimeo.com/92510442

Just a short one this time. To be honest, it’s kind of softcore porn. Two boys get high and make out. It’s erotic and exhilarating. It’s claustrophobic and shot very well.

It’s basically a punchline movie, like the Australian vampires in one of the movies of Boys on Film 2, or Disc of Love. It doesn’t take much to watch it, and there’s a kind of joke at the end.

Anyway, it’s about marijuana, so it’s not for everyone. I’m not even that into weed, I only really watched it because someone linked it on Tumblr and it was only 3 minutes long. But I am into boys making out in short movies. A nice little distraction. I was kind enough to link it directly this time. Go watch!

Film #61: The Hangover (2009)

20120802-192030.jpgdirected by: Todd Phillips
language: English
length: 97 minutes
watched on: 25 July

Awful, racist and homophobic.

I guess I’ll never understand the American straight guy tradition of the bachelor party. OK, so we have the tradition in the UK, too, but I’ve never been close enough to someone to get invited on one. This was just some kind of exploitative rubbish that got churned out of someone’s dick the other year.

To some extent their situation is relatable for me, in that I’ve certainly had drunken nights that I can’t remember, and the hyperbole (they find a tiger in their bathroom and a baby in the cupboard) is indeed a standard comedic device which has the potential to work. Overall, the premise could quite easily have made a good movie. However, they didn’t pull it off. It’s just like all the Judd Apatow movies (and that is, to be fair, what I expected of it, so I guess it didn’t underperform on those expectations, but still!), only those weren’t so bad. I mean I remember laughing more than twice in the entire movie at those ones… After a while I kind of sat in dull disbelief at what I was watching.

Apart from the racism and homophobia, which I can’t really be bothered going into in much detail (the main antagonist is a camp Chinese man, along with the incessant “no homo” type gags), it also rehashes some very old and demonstrably false stereotypes about Las Vegas – particularly that you can get married on such short notice while steaming drunk. Also, what is a beautiful woman like Heather Graham doing with a cunt like whoever the fuck it was she married, who was off his face when they met? And the plot is almost exactly the same as that episode of The Simpsons from ten years earlier.

It’s just not worth anyone’s time – don’t bother!! Unfortunately, audience figures were still high for the movie, enough that they made a sequel. No thanks.

TV: Breaking Bad Seasons 1-4 (2008-2011)

Created by: Vince Gilligan
Language: English, Spanish, and a tiny bit of Chinese
Length: 46 (7, 13, 13, 13 resp.) episodes of 47 mins each
Finished watching on: 23 Apr, 11 May, 28 May, 8 Jul resp.

I first heard about this series a while ago, but I got the chance recently when a friend offered me the series from his hard drive. The first thing anyone should know is that it contains the dad from Malcolm in the Middle in a decidedly more dramatic role. For a few episodes this is amusing, as I could only see Hal, but Bryan Cranston is in fact a really good actor (not that we couldn’t tell this from his performance in Malcolm anyway), and in his role as the protagonist of this series, Walter White, he is quite formidable. Plus, his appearance changes quite dramatically during the first season, so it gives a good visual hint that Walter and Hal are two very different people.

The basic premise is fairly easy to sum up: an overqualified chemistry teacher gets cancer, and then decides that since he’s about to shuffle off the mortal coil, he’d better leave something behind for his family, but since he isn’t making anything in either of his two jobs, he promptly starts cooking the finest batch of crystal meth known to man (he’s a really good chemist). He takes a partner in a former flunk-out student of his named Jesse, who likes saying “Bitch” and “Yo” a lot and presumably knows the business… but is also a meth addict. You win some, you lose some, perhaps.

It’s mostly a drama, I’d say, although there are certainly elements of black comedy in there, and the show doesn’t waste any time starting its body count; I think at least one or two characters are dead by the end of the pilot. This will continue to mount for the rest of the show, essentially.

Generally, I really liked it. It has a good sense of realism about it, which I like. When I directly compare it to the last American drama I watched, which was United States of Tara, I see a rather upper-middle class family who don’t really have any major life problems except for those directly posed to them by the drama itself, while here the family aren’t particularly well-off at all and have all sorts of problems that don’t relate directly to the main narrative. Apart from the dad with cancer, there’s a pregnant mum and a son with a minor-but-noteworthy disability (rarely referred to directly, incidentally; the fact that it doesn’t even come close to defining the boy’s character feels quite refreshing), and a house that is massive by UK or Japanese standards, but probably fairly average in suburban America.

To round off the cast of main characters, there is also the mother’s sister and brother-in-law, who works for the Drug Enforcement Agency, and is constantly on Walter’s tail without ever actually sussing him. There’s also a hilariously corrupt lawyer and various drug barons that the pair work for; first the violent Tuco, and later Gus, who looks a bit like a lifelessly scary Obama and is usually acted in an ominously emotionless way.

I don’t want to give too much away, though. The story is excellent, and it twists and turns all over the place throughout the series’ run. In general I can’t find fault with the characters or the acting. As they develop, the story gets darker, which I sort of expect from many dramas – it feels more like a romp in the first series or two, and starts becoming thicker and more eerie during the third, where people really start mistrusting each other. By this point there is also a main antagonist, too; for the first and second season this was often just Walter’s wife Skyler, who didn’t think too much of him disappearing all the time with flimsy excuses.

I guess the main criticism is that it’s fairly dry. I could never watch more than one episode in a day, because even though the drama and the storyline are generally great, sometimes you have episodes where not much happens, or stuff only happens in one part of the episode, with the other half focussing on something that is perhaps important to the storyline, and may even be funny, but is basically mundane. Again, this stands in contrast to the last American drama I watched, which was more like an addictive pageturner. This means that it took me several months to finish, rather than a couple of weeks, although it took longer because I got distracted by various other series too. I don’t know whether this is a good or a bad thing; I guess it’s probably good, because it’s the perfect amount of drama and tedium that makes you want to watch more, but not immediately, and therefore watching it once a week and keeping up with the TV schedule wouldn’t be too much of a problem for me. Less tedium would still be nice, hoewever. Speaking of which, the new series is starting in America on Sunday. I guess I’ll have to find a way to -ahem- acquire it then.

All in all, comes with a full recommendation…

Film #55: Jitters (2010)

AKA: Órói
Directed by: Baldvin Zophoniasson
Language: Icelandic (and a bit of English)
Length: 97 minutes
Watched on: 10 Apr 2012

A trite waste of time.

Oh, you want more than that? Well, I guess I can put it all into context first. I’ve always had somewhat of a soft spot for films involving gay teens, and those involving Iceland, and the opportunity to watch this film came up recently. It came after a long day off in which I watched the entire first season of “United States of Tara” (a review will be forthcoming) and went on an unsuccessful date with a boring twat.

So I’d gotten somewhat drunk while out on said date (I managed to find cheap beer in Tokyo!), and when I watched this film, I just found it terrible, and this feeling was exaggerated by the tipsiness.

When a film bills itself by comparing itself to another film or TV series, that’s always a bit worrying. In this case, the advertising declared the film to be “the Icelandic Skins”. Oh dear… no. Skins actually had definable and interesting characters and didn’t focus so heavily on drunken parties (despite using them extensively in the advertising, in a weird logical loop).

Perhaps it’s just that I’m too old now to be interested by coming-out stories… after all, for about half the film I was just getting angry at the guy for not being honest to his friends, and for apparently being paranoid about coming out in one of the most accepting countries in the world. As for his lying, it was just totally unbelievable.

Then at the end, the film makes cheap drama by killing off an unimportant character to make the others learn an important lesson about mortality… I guess? I don’t even know who it was who died, since I wasn’t emotionally involved with the characters, and it happened offscreen anyway.

So, unrealistic and boring. Plus points, well, it’s always nice to listen to Icelandic.

Film #11: Trainspotting (1996)

director: Danny Boyle
language: English
length: 94 minutes
watched: 23rd April

Danny Boyle is a stylish motherfucker. Perhaps too stylish, because while this film does portray all the horrors of drug abuse… they still come across as having a more exciting life than viewers do. Oh, I can’t even be bothered reviewing this properly, just gonna jump straight for the beating heart of that old “is it glamorising drugs???” chestnut. And my answer is a boring, non-committal “Maybe, maybe not…”. It’s not exactly nice about them, put it that way…

So yeah, I could easily harp on about the complex characters or scene composition, but I can’t be bothered – I’m two months behind on my film reviewing now (even though there are a couple of massive gaps of like 3 weeks). Gotta catch up.