Book #136: The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999)

author: Stephen Chbosky
language: English
length: 213 pages
finished reading on: 12 May 2017

I like it when I find a book that’s just nicely-presented, which is the main reason I bought this novel, if I’m honest. Usually I avoid the ones with movie tie-in covers, but the paper and layout of this novel is very good quality. So I actually feel like I’m getting better quality than I would if I bought the Kindle version.

I watched the movie version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower a few years ago – there are a lot of things I’d forgotten about the movie, but I kept remembering moments as I read through this. The movie is pretty faithful to the book, and it’s directed by the book’s author, which is pretty rare. One thing I’d forgotten is that the movie awkwardly tries to keep the conceit that the main character is writing letters to an unnamed stranger – the so-called epistolary style – by having him type the letters out on screen. It doesn’t work on screen, and I was a bit skeptical about the book when I first picked it up, but I found it works quite well.

It’s very easy to read, especially after the last book I read, which had quite thick and heavy prose. This is written in a more colloquial style and is often speaking directly at the reader. That and the shorter length of the book meant that I finished it much quicker.

I think it’s refreshing to have a young male character who’s unashamed of being emotional and upset – so much media, even modern media, still stereotypes men as being unable to express their emotions. And this tackles quite a lot of mental health issues directly, which is also good. I don’t have a lot to criticize about the book – perhaps that the main character is self-centred despite trying hard to be a “wallflower”, and annoyingly clueless at times. But I also recognized that awkwardness I and a lot of others I know have experienced in our high school days.

And there’s the ending twist, too, which I’d completely forgotten – it comes on the second-to-last page in the book. I don’t want to reveal it – I think the book is easy enough for people to read and I really liked it, so I think people should seek this book out. Perhaps it’s a bit young for me, really – the issues are distinctly teenage, after all, and I’m well past that stage of my life – but I still enjoyed reading it a lot. (And one of the side characters is gay. Also good.)

Book #117: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (2015)

svhsaauthor: Becky Albertalli
language: English
length: 303 pages
finished on: 27 October 2016

Just like the last book I read, I wanted to finish this one quickly so I could get started on my new Kindle (which I got for my birthday). So I ended up reading the last portion of the book in one sitting.

The book is a “young adult” story about gay teenagers. I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t think I had access to any such things when I was a teenager… but whether I’d have taken the opportunity at that time is a different story. Being in the closet does that to you. I’m making up for lost time now.

The central character is Simon, who is in the closet, but seems to be comfortable with himself – just not ready to tell the world yet. He’s writing to someone that he met through Tumblr (another modern institution that didn’t exist in the previous decade), who goes to the same school, and trying to work out the other person’s mystery identity. At the same time, a rather despicable boy discovers the emails and blackmails him into trying to hook him up with a girl.

The depiction of the main character is spot on, I think, and his/the author’s sense of humour is well-observed. It captured the awkwardness of teenage years well. I really felt for the characters, despite now being in a stage of life where I’ve largely stopped caring about people’s reactions (ie. I’m not generally scared of coming out anymore).

I did often feel like the main character was being a bit stupid, or thinking the wrong thing. For most of the book, he thinks the mystery emailer is one particular character, and it’s fairly obvious that that’s not the case, and it’s wishful thinking. It’s like a narrative trope, or something. At the same time, the eventual answer to the mystery seems to come out of nowhere – the hints and foreshadowing are there if you know what to look for (the main character smiles at him in a certain way about two thirds of the way through the book, for example), but the character was so minor up to that point it’s a genuine surprise.

I liked it, anyway. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in young adult gay fiction, which is probably not most of my friends, but hey. How about you, the reader? What did you think?

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.

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 #118: G.B.F. (2013)

g-b-f03director: Darren Stein
language: English and a bit of German
length: 92 minutes
watched on: 14 May 2014

I heard about this on the grapevine last year sometime, and finally got the notification online somewhere that it’d been released. There was a bit of hype, or at least, I say hype, but actually it was rather low-key and was people musing on their blogs more than anything. I daresay most people won’t hear about this, because it’s been relegated to the festival circuit. This is perhaps a shame, because I think it has mainstream potential in its delivery and style of humour.

The premise is that a gay guy is accidentally outed at school, and subsequently earns the protection of the school’s cliques’ queen bees, who want their very own gay best friend (the GBF of the title) – only problem is, he’s actually introverted and into comic books, and feels like he’s being treated as an accessory. A rather basic message that I don’t need to be taught, personally, but it was delivered quite effectively. There’s also drama because his closeted friend had been planning to do the same thing intentionally in order to become the gay best friend, ironically since he would have actually fit the bill for femininity and fashion-consciousness much better.

There was a bit of drama online, before it was released, as people were so offended by the very concept of the gay best friend that they felt they had to complain about it even being suggested – but this misses the entire point of the movie. Having seen the cast list, on the other hand, I think I was led to expect that it would subvert the idea harder than it actually did.

In some ways, it resembles Mean Girls very closely, although not quite as far as plotting to ruin the others’ lives. It’s very conscious of the fact, with one of the characters referencing that film a lot and comparing the main character directly to Lindsay Lohan on more than one occasion. I feel like referencing things directly that you obviously like and look up to is dangerous, because it can come across as pretentious or presumptuous, but I think this film manages to pull it off reasonably well. Although I wouldn’t say it was as good as Mean Girls, it’s certainly got a caustic air to its humour and many quotable one-liners.

It’s very much an indie production, in any case – not all the acting is very good, and there are only a few well-known names: Evanna Lynch of Harry Potter fame, playing an virulently homophobic Mormon, and Megan Mullally, of Will and Grace fame, playing the camp gay guy’s mother… and that’s about it. While not well-known, the lead is played by Michael Willett, who was in United States of Tara playing another gay guy, and I’ve just started watching the newer TV show Faking It, pretty much because he’s in it and he’s cute.

A lot of the movie’s plot comes about because people make stupid decisions and don’t talk it out with their friends, and that was annoying to me. The ethical issues surrounding the outing of other people are only really touched upon during the movie – the girls who run the GSA of the school are the ones who out the main character in the first act, and while they don’t come off well out of this, they didn’t seem to suffer any narrative retribution for this. The main character also commits the mortal sin of outing his friend to his mother, but is forgiven (at least, before they fall out again for some other reason) all too quickly.

I think it’s really good, anyway. It’s available to watch on Youtube (last time I checked anyway), and I heard it’s coming to the Tokyo Lesbian & Gay Film Festival this month, July – I can’t go, though. I hope someone else does.

Film #116: Geography Club (2013)

GEO-01 GC_04982Director: Gary Entin
Language: English
Length: 84 minutes
Watched on: 22 April 2014

I think I was tempted to watch this after seeing an image of two football players stealing a kiss in the locker room or something. It’s a high school comedy about some gay kids setting up a secret club (labelled Geography Club in order to dissuade others from joining) where they can be themselves – then they’re gradually joined by more and more people until they go public and make it into a proper GSA.

The main character is a closeted gay guy who starts a candid relationship with a football player – he then gets onto the same team, although the rest of the team are horrifically homophobic bullies, almost to the point of parody. I guess I haven’t seen many films with gay American football players, so that was new, but knowing almost nothing about the strange foreign sport, the scenes are automatically boring for me, although actually there was only one, so it’s not that bad.

The high school setting is also unfamiliar to me, somewhat reducing my enjoyment, and there were too many characters with too little development – later, I found out that the film was based on a book, so I surmise that in the adaptation process a lot of plot detail and character detail was lost.

The story was very standard in general, though. I doubt that the book would actually be a lot better, unfortunately. I’d watch something else, to be honest.

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 #68: From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

aka: コクリコ坂から (Kokuriko-zaka kara)
directed by: Goro Miyazaki
language: Japanese
length: 91 minutes
watched on: 13 October 2012

This is the latest offering from Studio Ghibli. It was released well over a year ago in Japan, but hasn’t yet been released in English speaking areas outside of the film festival circuit, as far as I can tell (although apparently it’s on release in French speaking areas). This is fairly reflective of what’s happened with other recent Ghibli releases: they tend to come out a couple of years later in Europe and America than they do in Japan, in an interesting reversal of the normal situation. So I felt I had to watch it while I’m here. It’s a Miyazaki film – but not Hayao, his son Goro. I wasn’t too enamoured by Goro’s last film, Tales from Earthsea, so I was a little bit hesitant about watching this one at first. I wasn’t disappointed, certainly; it seems like Goro is managing to find his feet in the filmmaking business.

The first word in the title (kokuriko) is a katakana transcription of the word ‘coquelicot’, the French word for poppy. The whole title has been translated fairly literally into English. Poppy Hill is in Yokohama somewhere – although I didn’t realise this directly – and is essentially a nostalgia piece, since it’s also set in the 60s around the time that Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games (this influences the plot a bit). When I reviewed “Whispers of the Heart”, and more recently “Ocean Waves”, I said exactly the same thing: it’s rather unlike Ghibli to set things in the real world with no fantastical elements, focusing on high schoolers, although they do manage to pull it off fairly well this time.

A lot of the nostalgia comes from looking at social roles in Japan, as the film focuses on a family composed mostly of girls living on a hill overlooking the sea (which is drawn very beautifully). The main character is a teenager who’s in charge of her family. Evidently this is because her mother is away in America, and she’s the eldest daughter – but like many of the social tidbits, this one managed to escape from me entirely, as I’m not familiar with it, and it may not be even practised anymore. The opening scene’s dialogue is almost all composed of the set phrases that Japanese people say when they greet each other in the morning or sit down for dinner. Some of these were familiar to me, but it still depicts a world I didn’t grow up in and haven’t really, despite being here, experienced directly.

The plot is a bit strange, I thought. The overarching story involves a clubhouse at the local high school which the authorities are threatening to knock down; the main characters engage in a clean-up operation and head over to Tokyo to convince the man in charge to come down and take a look so that they don’t have to tear the clubhouse down. The main girl gets sort-of involved with a boy, although this gets major complications later on in the story. Family is a big theme. And the girl is communicating with a mysterious someone via shipping flags, which she puts up every morning to see the response (spoiler, if you can’t work it out: it’s the boy).

The clubhouse is probably the part that is depicted most lovingly, although it turns into a kind of information blast, with too much stuff going on on the screen to take it all in. It’s a hectic place, and the closest that the film gets to ‘traditional’ Ghibli magic.

As for the nostalgia, I obviously wasn’t there, but I can’t help but feel that it was probably viewed through rose-tinted spectacles, since in many ways it seemed too perfect. I also had a bit of a negative reaction when a rather parochial type from Yokohama kept insisting that it’s the perfect film to show how perfect Yokohama is. But I’ll try not to pass judgement on the things I don’t know enough about it.

Overall, the film was nice – as well as the visuals, the music was also really beautiful – but by the end of it I couldn’t really work out exactly what I was supposed to take from it. The plot was fairly inconsequential, and had a few loose ends that were left dangling. Summarising it fully proves to be difficult. So as I said before, Goro is definitely finding his feet, but he still has a bit of a way to go until they’re firmly on the ground. We will probably need to wait until the next one to find out exactly how far he can go.

Film #66: Ocean Waves (1993)

aka: 海がきこえる (Umi ga kikoeru), I Can Hear the Sea
directed by: Tomomi Mochizuki
length: 72 minutes
language: Japanese
watched on: 18 September 2012

When I reviewed “Whispers of the Heart”, another Studio Ghibli title, back in January 2011, I remarked at the time that the film, however wonderful it was and however beautifully it portrayed its setting, lost a lot of magic simply by being set in the real world rather than in a fantasy world. The same is very much true of this film, although to be honest, it wasn’t that inspiring a story at all. It was in fact a TV movie, never released in cinemas, and completed on a smaller budget (that overran) compared to other Ghibli titles. In English, confusingly, it has two titles, although I will be using “Ocean Waves” here just because I think that’s the one they use in the UK.

The film does happen to have the rare distinction among Ghibli films of having a male protagonist, which doesn’t happen very often. It’s set somewhere rural, perhaps Shikoku island, and it follows the story of a boy who falls in love with a girl while they’re on holiday in Hawaii; later they travel to Tokyo together because she wants to go back and see her father, but it doesn’t work out for some reason. To be honest, I’ve forgotten, since the film and plot really weren’t that interesting.

I guess the main thing that interested me about this film was the opening shot. It’s in a train station, and it took me only a few seconds to realise that it was a realistic and eerily familiar depiction of the JR Kichijoji station, which is very near my apartment, and which I’ve used quite a lot. My apartment’s actually closer to the next line to the north, but I can cycle a lot. I was even in Kichijoji today, and yesterday, and tomorrow I’ll be cycling past it to get to work in Mitaka (a city which hosts the Ghibli museum, right enough). So it’s very strange for me to notice things like that, which are now very recognisable for me. Similarly, there were a few depictions of the rest of Tokyo later on which looked reminiscent, although generally it’s more of a look into a past version of Tokyo, because almost 20 years have passed since the film was made.

So anyway, the film wasn’t that great. It’s not without merit (as with all Ghibli films, it has beautiful set pieces and nice music), but it’s not typical Ghibli output, perhaps because it wasn’t by Miyazaki.

The Inbetweeners

TV: The Inbetweeners (2008-2010)
Created by: Damon Beesley & Ian Morris
Language: English and a bit of French
Length: 3 seasons of 6 episodes (18 total) of 23 minutes each
Finished watching on: 30 May, 13 Jun, 21 Jun 2012
Film #60: The Inbetweeners Movie
Directed by: Ben Palmer
Language: English
Length: 97 minutes
Watched on: 23 Jun 2012

I’ve kind of had this show on my radar for a few years now, and I’d seen a few episodes in the past before I started watching it in May. It was always billed in contrast to Skins, which I did quite like for its first two years or so before I became to old for it and all the characters changed (not a good way to keep viewers), but which was always criticised for being unrealistic; there do exist people who have debaucherous parties and do lots of drugs like in Skins, but a much greater proportion of people actually didn’t, which is where this show comes in.

I’d be hesitant to call The Inbetweeners “realistic”, because at the end of the day it’s a comedy, but most of the situations in the show are ones that most teenage boys come across while they’re at school, even though basically everything that happens is above and beyond anything that would happen in real life. It’s cringe comedy, for sure, but unlike most cringe comedy that just keeps getting cringier as the episode goes on (I’m not such a fan of this), this one goes past the level of cringe and becomes funny again just through surpassing the reality of a situation and becoming ridiculous.

It follows the adventures of a group of four high school boys, who spend most of the show trying unsuccessfully to get girls. Or rather, occasionally they’re successful but only one of them’s lost his virginity by the end of the show.

The characters are all funny and consistent, and seem to be true to life in some form or another. They manage to exaggerate their characteristics quite well in general. Their parents are just as exaggerated.

So in general, I liked it and found it quite easy to watch. I guess one of my main criticisms is that they can come across as very homophobic at times; I kind of understand that this is to do with the realism factor; that teenage boys really are often like that… it’s still a little bit disconcerting for me because even when I was in the closet and at high school it wasn’t quite as bad.

Another disappointing factor of the show is that there’s only 18 episodes – and most American series produce more than that for a single season. We could have endless discussions of the merits of both of these; in the end I’d like to have seen more of this show as it is, but one of the main advantages of short seasons is better writing; the episodes of this are very tightly plotted, because they’re essentially fitting more material into a shorter space, a lot of the time, whereas American shows often have pointless filler. On a more depressing note, I hear that there will be an American version of this show coming out next year or something. Just because it worked for one or two shows (The Office and Queer As Folk are the two examples I can think of off the top of my head that are more popular in the American version) doesn’t mean they have to try it for everything! But it’s kind of ironic in a way, because it’ll come out with 12 episodes at once, already more than half the episodes of the original.

Anyway, it’s sent off quite nicely at the end of the third season, with one of the characters being packed off to Wales, but a year or so later the imaginatively-titled The Inbetweeners Movie came out, and does pretty much what it promises (the guy mentions idly at the beginning that Wales never happened, but doesn’t bother to explain it to us… it doesn’t really matter, though). This one sees the boys off to Crete for a holiday, so it’s got a few fish-out-of-water moments, but is basically more of the same. My main criticism with this one is that it stands in contrast to the pessimism of the TV show. Perhaps this is a movie thing where audiences have to be satisfied with a happy ending at the end of a film, or perhaps it’s because they want to send the characters off in a nicer way than the rather depressing ending of the series (although rumours are that they want to create a fourth series, which I don’t see working), but essentially (plot spoiler warning) the boys meet a lovely group of four girls, almost like the opposite-gender versions of themselves, pair off almost instantly, and after mostly false starts for most of the movie end up together at the end. Somehow. Each storyline is different, of course, and the problems that the boys encounter with the girls vary for each one of them, but I’d have much preferred it if they’d just had a good time, come back and got on with their lives. Or if they hadn’t just paired off with the first girls they meet on the island.

So that’s my main beef with that film, anyway. I couldn’t tell you if it rings true in any other area because that sort of holiday resort doesn’t appeal to me. It’s pretty much what I’d imagine a place like that to be, though. Debauchery… so becoming more like Skins. Full circle…