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!

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.

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 #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 #282: Sebastiane (1976)

director: Paul Humfress & Derek Jarman
language: Latin
length: 82 minutes
watched on: 14 April 2017

This is a movie I can’t quite believe it took me this long to get around to. I certainly could have had the chance to watch it before, but I had a bunch of DVDs shoved into my hands at my friend’s house – this one following Drive.

I referenced this film last year when reviewing Bavo Defurne’s short film Saint, which also deals with the execution of Saint Sebastian, but putting a lot more erotic emphasis on the execution itself, and treats it more like a crescendo.

Apart from a frankly iconic opening scene with colourfully-decorated men dancing with giant dildoes, it’s set in the desert, where a group of Roman soldiers have been sent. But Sebastian, once the emperor’s favourite, now refuses to fight, as he’s a Christian, and they’re pacifists (what a change from then to now!). He’s strung up and whipped as a result. It’s also implied that his eventual execution, bare nude, is because he refuses to return the love of his centurion. The other characters make fun of him.

This movie is basically a parade of naked male flesh. There are so many penises on display throughout the movie that I’m frankly surprised it got past the 1970s censors. There’s a really erotic scene between two of the side characters that I’m definitely surprised wasn’t censored, although they don’t do any “actual sex”.

I was also very pleased and surprised to find that the film’s dialogue is entirely in Latin, although the way it’s pronounced varies in quality by actor, some of them using more accurate pronunciations than others. It lends some kind of strange, if absolutely unnecessary, authenticity to the film, as if we’re really looking back in time to the 3rd century.

Not a lot really happens as such in the movie – it’s mostly characters lazing around in the sun and tackling each other – but I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the fit young bodies on the screen. Definitely worth it.

Film #281: Moonlight (2016)

director: Barry Jenkins
language: English
length: 111 minutes
watched on: 11 April 2017

I spoke a bit of the perils of hype last year when I reviewed Deadpool. I first heard about Moonlight at least half a year ago, when people were talking about it online. As it’s a film about a gay black man in America, I never thought it’d even be released in Japan – it only became apparent that it would even get a release here when it became a front-runner for the Oscars, and it even had its release date moved forward a few weeks to the end of March when it was announced as the winner. Sure enough, it didn’t play well here, and it’s already finished its run at my local cinema. (Not to pit them against each other, but La La Land is playing much better here.)

So I had this movie hyped to me for such a long time, and I should have just streamed it ages ago. It turns out I’ve already seen a lot of the pivotal moments of the film in Tumblr gifsets without spoiler warnings.

It’s undoubtedly a beautiful film, especially in its use of colour, and it’s definitely groundbreaking for being the first LGBT film to win Best Picture at the Oscars – and one of very few with an almost 100% black cast.

But the subject matter is definitely depressing – it deals with all kinds of issues including drugs and other trappings of life for young black people growing up in such housing estates in Miami. Its main character is very repressed over the story, especially about his sexuality.

The film is split into three acts, the three stages of the main character Chiron’s life, as his identity shifts in various ways and he comes of age – starting with him in elementary school, then in high school, then as an adult revisiting his past.

The three acts actually feel more like shorts, since the actors playing the main characters change each time. I also expected Mahershala Ali, who plays the boy’s mentor in the first act, to continue into the next act, but he disappears from the story. In the end, the only actor who is in all three parts is the boy’s mother, Naomie Harris, who’s addicted to drugs, causing one of the film’s central conflicts.

So basically, I wanted more. I also found the main character, in all three incarnations, to be a man of few words, frustratingly so. Other characters do the talking for him, and he often just stands there looking torn and hurt – and his actors all do this effectively, but I wanted to hear more of his story rather than just have it all implied. But no wonder he’s repressed, given the circumstances. You can take this part either way – I can see that it might be poignant for someone else watching this, perhaps with that lived experience. For me the repressed sexuality and possible coming-out seemed trite compared to other gay-themed movies.

That said, I’m definitely glad I got to see the movie, especially to see it on the big screen. I think it was crafted very well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the director can do in the future. I have a feeling he’s going to have a fruitful career ahead of him.

How about you, what do you think?

Film #279: Tangerine (2015)

director: Sean Baker
language: English and some Armenian
length: 88 minutes
watched on: 30 March 2017

You may have already heard about this movie for being shot entirely on an iPhone 5. Actually, I hadn’t, I’d only heard its name whispered on the wind a few times before my friend sat us down to watch it on their big projector. Watching movies in style. I should get me one of those…

Anyway, the movie is groundbreaking for that in itself, and it also features a diverse cast of genuine transgender people – something Hollywood has yet to catch up and try themselves.

They are playing hookers, though, not exactly the most positive of portrayals, and they’re very bitchy characters, but the movie rests on their shoulders – it’s very much character-driven and not so much plot-driven. And they carry it well.

It’s set in LA on Christmas Eve, but you could have fooled me – it looks like it’s still summer in California. A lot of the movie features driving around suburban LA, particularly of one taxi driver, and of the guys that pick up the girls on the sidewalk.

The movie was interesting and funny in a black way, and although it’s not my favourite one that I’ve seen recently, I definitely recommend it. There are a few storylines, and it’s unclear at first how they will interact, but it all comes together for the climax. For me the only real problem was (spoilers?) the guy they’re fighting over. I don’t quite see the appeal in him!

But yes, good coherent style and tone. Well worth a watch. Still don’t understand why it’s called Tangerine, though.

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 #275: A Single Man (2009)

director: Tom Ford
language: English and a bit of Spanish
length: 100 minutes
watched on: 17 March 2017

I think I knew this film would be sad when I watched it, but it was a major LGBT-themed release from a few years ago that I completely missed… and it would certainly be amiss for me not to watch it.

The film’s central character is played by Colin Firth, a gay man who lost his partner, but was not allowed to attend the funeral. After about a year of mourning, he decides to take his own life, and the film follows his final day, preparing to commit suicide, interspersed with flashbacks to his long relationship.

The film’s use of colour is very advanced – I especially like how things and people that spark something in Firth’s character come into sharp focus and high contrast primary colour. The movie starts out with a lot of sepia colouring and wood panelling in the background, and it shifts to more supple tones, and it seems to be Firth moving from boredom and depression to a different mindset. But at the same time, it becomes laboured as soon as Firth’s characters explains to Nicholas Hoult’s character, the young student who basically seduces him over the course of the movie, in detail what each primary colour represents. I thought it would be better to keep this more subtle.

The period of the movie, in the 1960s or 70s, is demonstrated very stereotypically, just like I mentioned with other recent things I’ve watched like High-Rise – it’s cold war broadcasts about Cuba and students smoking in class. It’s like a weird shorthand filmmakers have got.

Basically the whole premise is sad and depressing – I can’t even imagine what it must be to go through such a loss. But – and there are major spoilers coming up – I felt really cheated by the ending. After the movie puts a lot of effort to show Firth’s redemption and how he regains vigour and a sense of purpose in life by the end of the movie, just as he puts away the gun and decides not to commit suicide, he dies of a heart attack. I was livid – I did not just put in two hours of my time to watch the story of a man rediscover the beauty of life just to have him killed off by some lazy, barely-foreshadowed plot device. I do not need to hear another story about a depressed professor who discovers the inevitability of death.

So there’s a lot of good about this movie – it shows the struggle of gay men growing older and how we deal with the loss of life. It is composed very beautifully. It is a good character study. But that ending ruined it for me.

Film #272: Pink Narcissus (1971)

director: James Bidgood
language: silent (with some radio clips)
length: 65 minutes
watched on: 8 March 2017

It’s not the first time I’ve watched this, but I saw images of it online recently, and the desire to see it again was brimming for a while. The last time I saw it was back in 2008, quite a long time. As of writing this, it’s available on Youtube, so I recommend people search it out (but be careful, it does get very explicit).

I honestly think there are few more iconic films than this one, especially gay ones. Its visual style is very distinct, and there are plenty of imitators – the artists Pierre & Gilles, for example, or Bavo Defurne’s films that I watched last year.

Nominally, there’s a plot (it’s supposed to be the fantasies of a young male prostitute, but this is rather awkwardly tacked on to the film), but it’s more of a series of erotic images played to viewers with music – with no dialogue, presumably too expensive to record at the time. Apparently it took several years to make in the director’s New York apartment, which was extravagantly dressed up for all the different scenes. And the film was originally credited to “anonymous” – and no wonder, given the time period, and how explicit it gets.

But it’s a long tease – penises don’t show up on screen until the third act or so, and the moment is built up a lot. There’s a lot of thrusting and sex acts already, including a belly dancer waving his dick around under a thin cloth covering. A thinly-veiled penis indeed. I was almost surprised when they eventually lifted the veil, as it were.

And not all the images are sexual, although that’s obviously the main focus. One of my favourites is where the film, or the screen, seems to crack, but it zooms out to show it’s actually a spider’s web.

Now obviously I like watching guys naked or in very tightly-fitting clothing that outlines their butts – and Bobby Kendall, the main actor, is super cute – but it’s the music, perfectly matching the images, and the vivid colours that make this film work. There’s just something special about it.