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 #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!

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.

Film #274: Se7en (1995)

aka: Seven (much more sensible)
director: David Fincher
language: English
length: 127 minutes
watched on: 12 March 2017

I’ve dropped off the radar a bit with this blog – blame sickness. I had some grand plans to go on a cycling trip this month, but I had some kind of nasty throat infection and that looks like it’s not going ahead either. But I’ll have a few days off at least.

But anyway, this post is meant to be about the film I watched. It’s now been one month, and not a lot of Se7en has stuck with me. I had wondered why I waited so long to watch it, but 18-rated films that came out when I was a kid were never really on my radar, that much is obvious.

And the film has that rating for good reason – it’s pretty gruesome. There are a lot of mutilated bodies in it, and we follow two detectives, the old-timer Morgan Freeman and the newbie Brad Pitt, in their search for a serial killer who’s killing people he believes have committed the seven deadly sins.

The film is now over twenty years old and is considered a classic of the crime-thriller genre, so it’s pretty easy to go out there and find information about it. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed. I did think it was thrilling and exciting, to a degree, and I was interested to see what would happen next and so on. But there’s a major twist near the end that turns Pitt and Freeman’s decisions into a moral quandary, and I just kind of shrugged my shoulders at that point.

The rest of the film is mostly a bit monochrome, like I wished they would add a bit more colour into it.

But I don’t think I’m going to convince anyone to see this film or not by writing this – it’s a pretty old movie – so let’s turn it into a conversation: what do you think? I’d like to hear your comments!

Film #227: Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

jdosdirector: David Gelb
language: Japanese
length: 82 minutes
watched on: 14 September 2016

I watched this at a friend’s house – we’d bought snacks from the Japanese discount store Don Quijote, and were going to put it on as background noise, but ended up getting engrossed in it. It’s a documentary about Jiro, the sushi chef in Ginza who was awarded with three Michelin stars a few years back. Ultimately, it’s food porn, especially the middle section, which is voices talking over images of perfect little bitesize nigiri-zushi being prepared. And there we were with our junk food sitting in front of a TV.

About halfway through the movie, I came to the sudden epiphany that this movie is the reason I “know” anything about Michelin star restaurants in Japan, anything about professional sushi chefs, in fact even going so far as the Japanese work ethic (at least before I came to Japan; my thoughts are more nuanced in some ways now) – I think a lot of what Westerners know about Japanese food culture come directly from this movie. And people like to generalize.

Some things I’ve heard include that all Michelin star restaurants are tiny little stores that are impossible to book, and where the master of the shop doesn’t have a menu, he’ll just serve you food in the way he sees fit, in the perfect order. I’m sure some other Michelin star restaurants do this too… but I’m not convinced that’s the norm. Or that sushi chefs must take a ten year apprenticeship – I’m now realizing that this is probably only the case with Jiro, as it would be an untenable industry if this were the case generally. Or that sons always inherit the family business in Japan. Or that Japanese people always have an extreme live-to-work attitude like Jiro… I could go on.

Jiro’s restaurant is undoubtedly in a dingy location, downstairs, tucked in a corner of Ginza metro station. But Ginza is very upmarket. His son’s almost-identical restaurant is in Roppongi Hills or somewhere nicer.

Certainly his food looks absolutely delicious. Not only the fish sushi, but also stuff like the tamago-yaki, which does not look like omelette, more like a cake. Apparently this is the thing that takes the apprentices the longest to learn. Even the rice looks more delicious than usual, and a whole section of the film was devoted to waxing lyrical about the rice.

But that’s what a lot of the film was: waxing lyrical. Not a critical word is offered to Jiro. It’s only positive words that we hear. He’s the best, he’s such an amazing chef, and so on. Never mind that he doesn’t seem to be very friendly, or that his children’s upbringing was less than satisfactory, or that his work ethic is positively toxic – it sounds like they’ve been forced into taking on the family business, after their father was absent most of their childhood working early morning until after midnight. A big part of what is wrong with Japan, the overworking culture here – although I’ve largely managed to avoid overworking per se, I do work unsociable hours, weekends and late evenings – is going to tip me over some kind of edge eventually (if it hasn’t already), and I’m going to want out.

I got bored of this, and started to switch off towards the last third of the film, when I felt the point had been laboured enough. They did go to Tsukiji fish market, too, which was interesting, as I’ve never been there. It’s a nice-looking movie, and the food porn sections are really well-made in particular… just take it with a pinch of salt. And if you’ve got this far, be sure to leave a comment! What’s the best sushi you’ve ever had? Mine is probably in Kichijoji with the really long eel (part of a cheap lunch set).

Films #219-226: Boys on Film X (Short film series)

bof10Watched on: 7 Aug, 10 Aug, 12 Aug 2016
Total length: 133 minutes

I ordered this DVD online after I had enjoyed another installment of this series. As I think I’ve ranted before, the selection of gay-themed stuff is a bit thin on the ground in Japan, and while this is a UK-produced series, I always get a bit disappointed when Amazon at home has a better selection of books and DVDs than the Japanese one. Anyway, this was available for import, and not too expensive, so I went for it.

Just like the other DVD, I watched it over a few days, but not consecutively. It’s easy to dip in and out like that, with these series. As with the other one, the production values of all the movies are generally high, and the cinematography is generally very ‘filmic’. But the quality of the movies varies a lot. One in particular stood out to me a lot for various reasons, and I could probably write an essay about my feelings on that one alone. I’m going to try and avoid writing too much, though.

As for overall impressions, I think the quality has gotten better compared to the last DVD I watched, and for my birthday I requested my mum to send over some more of these DVDs – which you can just buy in the store back home. Man, that kind of thing is making me homesick.

Here’s something about each film:

Watched on 7 August:
corpsperduFilm #219: Headlong (2012)
aka: Corps perdu
director: Lukas Dhont
language: French and a bit of English
length: 17 minutes

This film is about a young guy on a trip to a foreign city to compete in a dancing competition. It’s the same guy who was in North Sea, Texas, still pretty young when he made this – about 16. He’s obviously lonely, and it seems he can’t speak French to the locals (I took the city to be Brussels on account of it being a Belgian production, but it wasn’t clear – I didn’t know Brussels had a skyscraper district – and nor was it clear where the guy was supposed to be from). A guy breaks into his hotel room, running from the police. The young guy ends up following him, obviously infatuated. They go clubbing together and run around the city.

It shows the guy breaking out of his shell, which was nice, and it was a very atmospheric film. I liked the display of youth – sometimes I feel I missed out on some of the stuff like this at the age of 16. But it was pretty exploitative, about as much as you can get with an underage protagonist. He spent most of the movie with his top off, and there’s a scene when he’s alone with nothing else to do and decides to shave his dick. The ending is nicely ambiguous, though.

asfdhFilm #220: A Stable for Disabled Horses (2012)
director: Fabio Youniss
language: English and some Norwegian
length: 13 minutes

This film was about awkwardness, as far as I can tell, right from the beginning of the film. A Norwegian guy will soon leave the UK, and his British friend invites him round for a leaving party – it turns out it’s just the two of them, and the British guy wants to find a moment to confess his love. Eventually it gets too awkward for the Norwegian guy and he leaves – but at the end he comes back in a gesture of goodwill. It’s pretty low budget – obvious when your movie is shot in black-and-white.

There is comedy in this movie, but not the kind that I’m generally a fan of – it’s way too awkward. The guy in it is apparently a comedian, though, so he does pull it off well, and there is realism in there too. I felt sorry for the characters too – he sounds like he’s put up with a lot of homophobia, and so on. But in any case, this wasn’t the strongest film of the lot.

lgbcidFilm #221: Little Gay Boy, Christ Is Dead (2012)
directors: Antony Hickling & Amaury Grisel
languages: French and English
length: 30 minutes

I could tell by the thumbnail on the DVD that I probably wouldn’t like this movie, and ultimately I was right. It’s about BDSM sex and is very explicit. I could probably write a whole essay on just this one about why I don’t like it and don’t agree with its messages. I don’t think I want to write too much here, though. Suffice to say it’s inciteful and it dances along the boundary of acceptability.

It’s about a boy going around Paris doing odd jobs, but at each step along the way he’s abused by one person or another – including what seems to be his own mother. Certain words and phrases are often repeated – while abusing him, people keep calling him a faggot or some other homophobic insult. At first I thought it might be a dream, and these are his secret desires, or that he’s part of some kind of sex ring, but I think it’s just straight-up him being abused by strangers. It’s ambiguous.

It doesn’t make a lot of narrative sense – it jumps from one incident to the other, and they’re clumsily introduced. A scene where he’s abused by a black dominatrix comes out of nowhere – he literally bumps into her on the street and it cuts to him being spanked. But perhaps that means it really is a dream.

There is also a guy in body paint doing a kind of interpretive dance, and this frankly didn’t work, and was kind of annoying whenever the film cut to that. It didn’t add anything to the film. The soundtrack was a bit screechy at these points, too.

There’s also a lot of Christ imagery – the boy’s initials are J.C., and his submission to the “gods” of gay fetish sex at the end of the movie directly relates him to the famous messiah, through the imagery the film uses. I also found this kind of comparison annoying. Of course, the title includes the phrase “Christ is dead”, but it’s stylized with a cross in place of the T and lined up to read “LGBT is dead”, another point that offended me somewhat. Perhaps it’s saying that we should abandon such labels, but at the same time I felt attacked.

It’s just… the film made me feel angry. Like really angry (both directly at it, but also the homophobia depicted reminded me that my place in society can be volatile). And I think that’s exactly what it was meant to do. Does that mean it was successful?

Watched on 10 August
villageFilm #222: Boys Village (2011)
director: Till Kleinert
language: English
length: 23 minutes

This was a horror-esque film about an abandoned kids’ camp somewhere in Wales. My impression was it was due to be finally torn down, and the filmmakers got permission to film something there before it wasn’t there anymore.

The story is of a ghost boy (spoiler alert, sorry) who stalks around the camp making little dolls to amuse himself. He’s waiting for his parents to pick him up, apparently. Some teenagers come onto the camp, and the boy starts watching them, obviously infatuated. It comes to a head when he gets jealous of one of the teenagers’ girlfriend and manages to scare her off – then watches the guy masturbating. They end up in a spooky basement that even the ghost boy normally avoids. Invisible, he steals a kiss, but this causes the guy to fall back through a wall in shock and die.

It’s creepy and the atmosphere fits very well. I enjoyed it enough. A bit weird with the age of the protagonist, though – he’s only about 12.

blindersFilm #223: Blinders (2011)
director: Jacob Brown
language: English
length: 8 minutes

This extra-short film seemed more like the germ of an idea than a full movie. It depicts a boy and a girl in a club, and they both catch the eye of another boy, waifish and delicate. The blurb on the DVD cover and on IMDB awkwardly says “a creature of a boy”. Ew.

The movie flits from one scene to the next, with big time jumps, so suddenly it cuts to them naked together (there’s a lot of naked flesh and dangling genitals). I got confused by the movie as I felt like I’d missed something. As usual with these movies, the imagery was nice and it was well shot. I think I’d like this if it was longer.

teenslikephilFilm #224: Teens Like Phil (2012)
directors: Dominic Haxton & David Rosler
language: English
length: 19 minutes

This is a teen movie about guys in high school. They apparently had a fling, but one has turned homophobic against the other. It’s kind of a depressing movie and deals with things like suicide and homophobic violence, but it handles the subject matter fairly well.

I did find there were a lot of possibly magical realism elements and weirdness going on, though, with people dancing round open fires and running riot in the streets, and this didn’t sit well with me. I think it took away from the graver tone of the serious elements.

Overall basically this one didn’t stand out for me, and I found it unimpressive compared to the rest.

Watched on 12 August
inflatable-swampFilm #225: Inflatable Swamp (2010)
director: William Feroldi
language: English
length: 13 minutes

This is about a guy who has a lot of casual sex, and he apparently asks his hookups to bring a helium balloon with them – after they leave he writes a pithy summary of the hookup on the side, such as ‘6″, average sucker’. He has a bathroom full of these balloons (how he can stop the helium from leaking I’d like to know!). The balloons are pretty inconsequential, as I’ve seen this trope before with other objects, like in the movie Weekend, where the main character likes to interview his hookups on a recorder, but they seem to show that the guy shares no real attachment with his hookups.

Then there’s a new hookup, but the guy gets hypoglycaemic during sex, and the main character has to find him some chocolate cake to bring him back to life, as it were. It ends with the movie’s only line, asking what the guy’s name is (the rest is silent). Like a punchline. I got impatient with this movie – I don’t like this implicit suggestion that casual sex is emotionless or unworthy.

Also, the film’s blurb (again, it’s the same on IMDB or on the DVD cover) is completely different from the film I watched. It says “With the arrival of Luke, a new man in his life, he finds a way to reconcile pleasures of the flesh with the new aroused imperatives of the heart” – I didn’t see the slightest bit of imperatives of the heart in this movie.

Yeah-Kowalski-ss2-krkFilm #226: Yeah Kowalski! (2013)
director: Evan Roberts
language: English
length: 10 minutes

This was a nice one to end on. The movie is about middle school kids in small town America, and I’m really glad to see how far things have come, in the 12 or so years between when I was 13 and when this movie was made. I’m really glad that it’s possible to have openly gay young teenagers in the modern world, and it makes me wish I wish I hadn’t spent most of my teen years fretting over my sexuality.

The premise is that the main character is worried that he’s not hitting puberty fast enough and that he has no armpit hair. He wants to impress his crush, the obviously gay kid in the class. In a thoroughly embarrassing scene, he takes hair that his dad shaved off, and glues it to his armpits. I thought it was a dream at first, but apparently the character actually goes through with it. I just thought it was a bit ridiculous. But it captures the anxiety that a lot of us go through during our teen years quite well.

So the main conceit of the film is hard to buy, but I liked the characters’ interactions, the bright colour design of this movie, and the light-hearted tone, especially after some of the much heavier films on this DVD. I have a favourite line, said by the main characters best friend, “hoes before homos!” – I googled the phrase but it doesn’t seem to be a real thing. I vote we should make it one.

Films #209-212: Queer Asia shorts

Watched on: 15 July 2016
(Rainbow Reel Tokyo – 3/6)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

The third film I watched at the film festival this year, back in July, was actually a series of short movies. The title on the program also had the name of the pan-Asian organisation that chooses movies from other LGBT film festivals across Asia, but it’s an alphabet soup acronym, and I can’t remember it offhand.

There were four shorts, and there wasn’t a common theme to them aside from being set in Asia or with Asian characters. I’ll write about each one individually, as I did with the other short compilations I watched.

As with the other short films I watched, these were all cinematically sound, and their use of cinematography, including imagery and soundscape, was more tightly controlled, so even for the movies I didn’t enjoy so much, the movies themselves were generally high quality to watch.

the-fox-exploits-the-tigers-mightFilm #209: The Fox Exploits the Tiger’s Might (2015)
director: Lucky Kuswandi
language: Indonesian
length: 24 minutes
This movie weirded me out a bit. It’s about a bromance between two characters that gets a bit out of hand, and acquires an animalistic or abusive sexual aspect, along with voyeurism and other parts also in play. It’s also plainly about class, though, and the sexual dominance part reflected that one character is socially dominant over the other.

The atmosphere was evocative of hot Indonesian summers, and the images it provides are nice. But I felt that the “gay” character here was painted as creepy and not in a good light. Sorry, not here for that.

sowolFilm #210: Sowol Road (2014)
aka: Sowol-gil (소월길)
director: Shin Jong-hun
language: Korean
length: 25 minutes
This is about a middle-aged woman selling her body on Sowol Road, a notorious street in Seoul for prostitution. She helps a young transgender girl who’s in the same predicament, who was about to be beaten up by a client. Later it turns out the girl is dating the woman’s son, by coincidence, and she gets a slap in the face. I didn’t get why that was – is it because she’s trans? In any case, she ends up saving the older woman from the same client, out for revenge, and all is forgiven.

The film was gritty and I felt sympathy for the characters – aside from that scene in the middle that confused me. It draws light on Seoul’s undertrodden trans community, and I think that’s good. However, perhaps because I’m not the target audience, I wasn’t as interested in this movie as the others.

When-Mom-VisitsFilm #211: When Mom Visits (2015)
director: Chang Chiung-wen
language: Mandarin and English (a rare bilingual film)
length: 19 minutes
This is about a girl whose mother flies to America from Taiwan for a surprise visit, which is a bit of a problem because her girlfriend is lying in bed with her. They have an argument, and her girlfriend storms off, saying she has “principles” and won’t date someone who’s in the closet.

What follows is a lot of angst from the main character, who eventually comes out to her mother, but not before being very self-involved – she’s called out for it by another character who makes her realize that her mother also has a secret relationship going on. I was a little disappointed by both the girls in the original couple – one being self-involved, and the other being unable to comprehend that coming out is difficult for people. I was disappointed that they didn’t get back together in the end, I guess, because they’d been really cute together at the beginning.

IGTSNBBFilm #212: I Go to School Not by Bus (2015)
aka: Fongsi (放肆)
director: Morris Ng
language: Cantonese
length: 35 minutes
This film was the longest of the bunch, and unfortunately the video quality was noticeably lower than the other movies. It’s available on Youtube, and perhaps better seen on there than the big screen. It’s a Hong Kong movie about two high school teenagers, one apparently out and proud, which is nice to see in Asia at all. The school they go to is pretty homophobic and Catholic, though, which creates an easy conflict, and the other boy (the main character) is softly-spoken and artistic, more repressed in character. The relationship grows naturalistically, and was nice to see unfolding as the boy teaches the main character to run for a PE exam. Later he breaks his leg and the main character has to run for both of them.

The film was very melodramatic, overall, but it left me with a warm feeling and an overall good impression of the four-part series. There are enough laughs, as well, especially from the two girl classmates cheering them on awkwardly from the sidelines. And the ending was bittersweet. So out of the four, it was my favourite, although objectively the third one might be a better film.