Film #292: Mommy (2014)

director: Xavier Dolan
language: French
length: 138 minutes
watched on: 15 May 2017

I last watched a Xavier Dolan movie about two years ago, I Killed My Mother. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Dolan has a lot of mommy issues, and is putting those into his work. (Also, the mother in both movies is the same actress, which I didn’t realize.) And those who know me well might know why I perhaps am intrigued by those themes…

As for this movie, I tried to watch it on DVD – I rented it along with Sing Street and a few other movies, but I forgot that there wouldn’t be English subtitles (not for the first time, I might add – I tried to rent an Almodóvar film a while back). Normally, I’d just attempt to muddle my way through the movie, but the second or third line of dialogue is one character asking the main character if she even speaks French, to which she replies that it may not be proper hoity-toity French but it’s still French. And if the other characters in the story can’t understand her, then I’d have no hope. At that point I gave up and just resolved to stream it later with English subtitles, and finally got around to that in May.

The movie is about Die, a single mother, and her son Steve, who has a violent form of ADHD. Parts of the story is contingent on a fictional future government of Canada, that puts into place a law allowing families of young offenders to bypass the due course of justice and put them straight into institutions. At the beginning, she chooses to take her son out of hospital to avoid him having to go to jail instead. Then the movie follows their struggle to get along with each other, and introduces a shy woman with a stammer from across the street who bonds with them and starts tutoring Steve.

Visually, the film is unique in that it uses a 1:1 aspect ratio, reminiscent of Instagram pictures, and creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. The cinematography is also really nice, and the camera likes to linger on contemplative images – characters bored or listening to music, or of nature.

Perhaps it’s a spoiler, but when the mood lifts around the halfway point and everyone is feeling elated, the boy pushes the frame out with his hands and it fills the screen in the anamorphic widescreen ratio. It does this again later – but both times it subtly pushes back in when the mood dampens again.

The soundtrack is nothing but throwbacks – like they’ve looked into my pre-teen listening history and chosen some select tracks. They use Wonderwall, and then it’s the first time I’ve heard Dido, or that song Blue Da Ba Dee in many years. These parts of the movie are also very colourful, and I enjoyed them a lot.

Anyway, where I Killed My Mother was all about a boy trying to escape from the grasp of his evil mother, this one is much more Oedipal. Steve doesn’t know where to draw the line, getting jealous and lashing out when his mother flirts with another man, and tries to kiss her and tell her he’ll take care of her instead, precipitating the more catastrophic events towards the end of the movie. In contrast to Dolan’s earlier movie, it’s told from the mother’s perspective.

And while Steve is nominally the one with violent outbursts and mental health problems, Die is not much better – she is alcoholic, and a lot of the movie is the two of them shouting and swearing at each other. Like mother like son.

It’s quite a slow movie overall, and the ending is a bit of a downer, but I definitely enjoyed it, and liked a lot of the imagery. I can definitely see a lot of myself and my family relationships in both characters, too. Fortunately minus the violence and constant swearing.

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Film #262: Departure (2015)

departure-2015director: Andrew Steggall
language: English and French
length: 104 minutes
watched on: 20 Jan 2017

I heard about this movie last year, and like a lot of the other movies I’ve reviewed recently, it was one of my eagerly anticipated movies of the last year or two. I’d been waiting for the DVD price to go down a bit – eventually, I bought it when I went back home for New Year this time. As usual, good luck getting it released over here (it can be delivered internationally, though!).

Heaven knows I’ve watched enough gay coming-of-age stories in my life already, but I still fall for it very easily. But watching the trailer I could see a hint of something special there, and I liked the folk music accompaniment. Inadvertently, I’ve also completed a kind of trilogy of gay coming-of-age movies set in the rural south of France, this one following Being 17 and Summertime. In fact, the opening shots of this movie reminded me a lot of the latter film, and the imagery and composition was reminiscent of the former. Seasons are again very important to this film, and it provides the autumn counterpart to winter, spring and summer of the other two movies.

The story is about a mother and son, who go to their creaky old holiday home in the south of France to get ready to sell it. They have to pack up their old life, but neither really wants to. Then the son (Elliot) comes across a French guy (Clément), in that time-honored gay coming-of-age story way by seeing him naked from afar, followed by quickly approaching him and inducting him into the family’s life. Clément also awakens something in the mother, triggering a tense competition between mother and son. Such animosity was already developing between them, but it gets worse over the course of the movie.

Elliot is played by the very cute but very young-looking Alex Lawther, who’s already picked up a couple of accolades for his other work. His character is fundamentally bored, and he’s on the cusp of adulthood – a big theme of the movie is endings, with the autumn setting and the sale of the house, which ties into him leaving behind childhood. He’s got a poetic mind, and already seems to know his sexuality – he proudly announces at one point that all the French writers he knows are gay. He occasionally has fantasies that are reflected in strange magical realism or imaginary moments in the film – one of him as St Sebastian, and another later on with falling leaves indoors.

The mother, Beatrice, is superbly performed by Juliet Stevenson, and perfectly captures the feeling of a woman who feels abandoned by her husband and son, but is trying to put a very middle class brave face on it. She gets upset very easily and is obviously in emotional turmoil. I think she hit me closer to the bone than the other characters, as she reminded me a lot of my own mother in many ways, desperate to rekindle the childhood relationship she had with her son, yet very isolated and going through a lot of emotions all at once.

Ultimately the boy that they end up fighting over is window-dressing – the central conflict is between Elliot and her, him trying to be aloof and not so keen to be treated like a child, and her trying desperately to reconnect with him. Or he’s embarrassed by her in a typical teenager way and shocked that she’s trying to flirt with the French guy too. But we’re reminded at key moments that the French guy has real feelings too – too often they’re ignored by the main characters, causing upset and argument.

The sexual content in the movie weirded me out a bit – while it’s nothing explicit, of course, it’s showing Elliot masturbating off camera, and later finding a carrot as a conveniently-sized vegetable to … use on himself in bed (followed by one of the movie’s more comedic moments when his mother almost catches him and makes an inadvertent innuendo). I couldn’t quite take the movie seriously at these points. They’re important to the movie and its repressed atmosphere, but I just started laughing. I think it’s just because Elliot is still obviously a child, by the way he acts otherwise.

The movie is a lot of melodrama, overall, and there are a lot of overwrought images in it. Sometimes the themes can be shoved in viewers’ faces a little too forcefully – especially the whole theme of endings, constantly reinforced by the autumn imagery. The movie was treading the line between pretension and fine art for quite a lot of the runtime.

So I don’t think it’s a perfect movie by any means, but I was deeply moved by parts of it, I loved the imagery and cinematography, and I’m definitely going to be watching out for those actors again. And I couldn’t get the movie out of my head for a few days. Highly recommended.

Anyone else seen it?

Film #245: The Lady of Musashino (1951)

musashinodirector: Kenji Mizoguchi
language: Japanese
length: 84 minutes
watched on: 25 November 2016

My friend and I were going through some DVDs that I had in my little collection – I think this one originated with my sister. It’s been a while since I’ve watched any classic/old Japanese cinema – I’ve found that I’ve tended to avoid going to the cinema to watch Japanese movies in Japan (the lack of subtitles doesn’t encourage me, basically). So it’s probably been since Seven Samurai, one of the first movies I reviewed on here – and ironically, it was on in my local cinema recently. But that’s by the by.

This movie is about postwar Japan, and it depicts a rich family living in a traditional style house, just outside Tokyo in Musashino… which is now just part of Tokyo and pretty much where I used to live. It’s now completely built up, never mind the Japanese people who still lazily characterize it as “countryside”.

By today’s standards it’s totally PG and doesn’t depict any kissing, but by the standards of the day I’m guessing it was a bit risqué – the main plot is basically a sex comedy, as the main characters’ allegiances shift from one person to the next, and the titular “Lady of Musashino” has an affair with her cousin. At the same time, her husband is preaching in his university classes that adultery should be morally allowed within society, and acts accordingly, sleeping with the other main female character, but has rather the opposite reaction when he finds out his wife has also reacted in kind.

I found it difficult to follow at times – the setup is almost lightning fast, as a dying mother and father in one scene are completely gone after a quick fade-out. At other times too, scenes and plot points were set up with one sentence, meaning that I had to keep paying attention. There are also too many characters at the beginning, pared down to five main players by the end, once I’d got the hang of who was who.

Anyway, after a while the distracted looks of despair started to grate on me. I’d like to say this is a trope of older Japanese drama, but it’s still alive and kicking in modern drama, which in this aspect at least take its cue from theatre – characters look away from each other a lot when they want to be melodramatic. The other thing was the overly formal language, even to lovers, which I found (in the modern context at least) was unrealistic.

Anyway, the film seems to dislike all its protagonists, and it seems to be an attack and lament on the state of post-war morals in Japan. Basically the main character has to kill herself honorably so that she can one-up her husband in the war of attrition (he’s trying to swindle her out of property). At some point I became annoyed by this too, and I didn’t agree with the message that the director was apparently trying to put across about the morals. I wasn’t around then, yes, but this situation also doesn’t ring true to life. There’s also the very final shot of the movie, in which we see that development of the city is encroaching on Musashino, obviously also lamenting that the poor morals of the inner city are corrupting the minds of the country folk.

I’d like to find out where that shot, and the shots of the lake featured in the movie a few times, were filmed. Were they Inokashira park, Jindaiji, or somewhere like that? In which case they’d be familiar to me, yet completely changed. It’s very interesting to me how that kind of stuff has changed into the modern day.

Anyway, the film wasn’t what we’d expected at all from an older Japanese movie, what with all the sex comedy and the melodramatic intrigue, but we got emotionally invested in it, and started cursing out certain characters near the end. So in that sense it was a fun romp and set out to do what it wanted. But I don’t agree with the underlying message.

Film #244: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

fbawtftdirector: David Yates
language: English
length: 133 minutes
watched on: 23 November 2016

I was a bit apprehensive before going into this movie, but I’m not sure why. I think I just was worried that it wouldn’t live up to Harry Potter, or that I was worried about how Eddie Redmayne would act in the movie. But I hadn’t really seen anything about the story except a brief trailer once. As many have noted, this is in stark contrast to the Harry Potter movies – almost everyone had read the book and could tell exactly what was going to happen next.

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, fictitious author of the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, released as a Comic Relief fundraiser by J.K. Rowling at the height of Harry Potter mania, in the hiatus between Books 4 and 5. I actually had a flick through it again after I got home, to see if I could recognize any of the fantastic beasts featured in the movie – but in the book, they’re pithy little paragraphs, greatly expanded for the sake of the movie.

In the story, Redmayne’s character heads to 1920s New York, ravaged by an unseen eldritch nightmare, ostensibly to find a dragon breeder, but he finds that the magical agency in charge is much stricter about segregation from muggles, or no-majes, than the UK would be. At the same time, Colin Farrell’s magical invigilator is investigating the eldritch nightmare thing, and targeting the New Salemers, an anti-magic league, viz. a scary Christian woman who beats her children. But Scamander’s magic beasts escape his special bottomless suitcase and start rampaging around New York.

Compared to real segregation, I was interested to see that they already had a black woman president a century before the real America is even looking at the possibility of a white woman. Perhaps there’s no room for racial discrimination when you’re busy discriminating against muggles. I liked the depiction of the American magical world, but I felt like a lot of it was a repackaged version of the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter. Renaming muggles No-majes doesn’t really do much when you also don’t rename Aurors and Squibs – the latter in particular is also very British-sounding.

The mise-en-scène was generally good, too – including both the vistas of New York that we see in various scenes, but also magic idly working in the background. It’s also the stuff that made the later Harry Potter movies great to watch and the biggest welcome addition to the books. The CGI animals also work very well, and they’re totally cute.

I also really like the juxtaposition between the magic and non-magic worlds, which in Harry Potter, ne’er the twain should mix, but here, the characters head into a muggle bank, take ships across the Atlantic with muggles, and go on a rampage through muggle New York. My favourite character was Jacob Kowalski, whose reaction to pretty much anything is the antithesis of a magic person’s reaction – to punch it in the face, leaving several of the magic characters temporarily stunned, because they’re not used to physical confrontation. Tellingly, there’s a bit later on when a witch character tries to open a door with a spell, fails because the security on the door is too strong, but he can easily just kick it down, leaving me to wonder what kind of security they even had on it. It’s like how people make jokes that Harry Potter would have been over a lot quicker if someone had just shot Voldemort in the head when they had a chance. He wouldn’t have known what was coming.

I couldn’t really tell where the movie was going for a lot of its run, though. It’s not clear yet, until the final act, what the central conflict of the movie is. Redmayne’s strand of the story is more of a romp, and Ezra Miller’s side of the story is not clearly connected to the other strands. This annoyed me – I thought it could have had a clearer sense of direction.

Speaking of Ezra Miller, he doesn’t get a lot to do in this movie except snivel in a corner and cower away from Colin Farrell. And Redmayne overacts throughout, self-consciously Awkward with people. I understand this is through Rowling’s explicit direction, but at the same time, it’d be nice to see him not looking like he’s about to cry.

Now I kind of have to talk about the ending, so … spoilers!

The obvious theme of the ending is that oppression is bad – Miller’s character is oppressed and beaten by his mother, and this causes him to mutate into the eldritch horror and play havoc on New York. I think we can all agree with that.

And yet, when we find out that Farrell was Grindelwald all along, he is saying things like, they shouldn’t hide away their true selves from the world. He’s just like Magneto in that sense – why are these people the bad guys again? This theme resonates with me a lot as an LGBT person: we’ve fought hard-won battles for our rights, and we’re not about to give up those rights and go into hiding. OK, so Grindelwald and Magneto are also advocating to take over the world and establish a new social order where they are at the top of the pecking order, but the denouncement of Grindelwald’s views directly contravenes the lesson we just learned from Ezra Miller.

And as for Grindelwald, why the fuck is he played by Johnny Depp doing a stupid voice? I thought that ship had sailed long ago – not to mention the recent furore with his ex-wife’s rape and abuse allegations. I think Ken Branagh would have done a better job of it – too bad he’s already been used in the second Harry Potter movie.

Finally, the last scene was totally deus ex machina. Everything is sorted out in one fell swoop. Boring!

I liked the movie as a whole, though. It’s not as strong as Harry Potter, but it lives comfortably within the same universe, and it has a lot of pleasing elements. I’m looking forward to the next one, whenever it comes out, but I’m praying slightly that Johnny Depp loses the stupid voice if he’s going to be a prominent part of the new franchise, and that the story progression can be a bit clearer.

So how about you? What did you think of it?

Film #243: Toast (2010)

toastdirector: S.J. Clarkson
language: English
length: 96 minutes
watched on: 9 November 2016

I didn’t know anything about this movie before watching it, except that my boyfriend had recorded it using a DVR device thing and it had a few famous actors in it – Freddie Highmore and Helena Bonham Carter among them. It turns out it’s a TV movie from the BBC and it’s about a famous chef Nigel Slater, who I’ve never heard of. OK, I exaggerate, I think I’ve heard his name a few times, but I certainly know nothing about him.

So I went into the movie knowing nothing about the life and times of the real-life man, nor the book it’s apparently based on, and the whole thing was a pleasant surprise for me.

It starts with the young Nigel, played by Oscar Kennedy, in the picture above, in the 1960s. He’s already obsessed with food and wants to be adventurous in the kitchen and learn how to make nice things, but his mum is unable to cook, and resorts to toast when she can’t cook something properly, hence the title. But she soon passes away from at-the-time-incurable asthma, and after a brief mourning period, his emotionally-distant dad shacks up with the maid, played by Helena Bonham Carter. He doesn’t really connect with his son, and the boy is constantly left in the dark. They move out to the country, which the boy obviously hates, but the dad doesn’t care, and the stepmother sees it as an opportunity to swipe any semblance of control from the boy. Then the boy grows up into Freddie Highmore in his late teens, and it becomes a full-on war between him and the evil stepmother, who’s actually good at cooking, and he feels that she’s stealing his dad from him.

It’s a foodie movie through and through – of course – and food is depicted very lovingly throughout. It’s also highly stylized, and reminded me of the stylized supermarket in High-Rise, still fresh in my mind. The tins of food in the shop at the beginning of the movie especially reminded me of this, stacked in impossibly neat columns. The 60s kids are dressed stereotypically, very prim, and the colour palette of the entire movie uses a lot of green and brown.

It’s also got a gay bent to it, right from the beginning when the ten-year-old Nigel eyes up his hot gardener changing clothes in the shed (it comes across more innocently than I’m describing it, honest!). He also gets bullied in school when he’s older. I didn’t think they’d follow through with it, so I was pleasantly surprised when the older Nigel finally meets a nice young man with whom he shares a kiss in the woods (it’s very PG, though), towards the end of the movie.

Obviously there are questions about the authenticity, as always happens with these types of movies, from the character cast in a conflicting role, in this case Helena Bonham Carter hamming it up as Nigel’s stepmother. Apparently in real life she also had two daughters, who complained about unfair representation. But in the movie there’s a war between her and Nigel for the dad’s heart through food, a stand-in for class conflict as I see it.

For all that, it’s a nice movie to watch, and I enjoyed it a lot. But it has one gaping structural flaw, one weak link, and that is Freddie Highmore. You see, the kid in the picture above, Oscar Kennedy, really carried the whole movie in the first two acts, and his acting skill is really high for someone that young. He is literally the hook that got me interested, as his depiction of the character was really poignant and well-measured. Usually in biopics when you have a kid actor growing up into a more well-known adult actor, the movie doesn’t wait until the third act to make the switch like in this one. Usually the kid does a few establishing scenes and the adult actor puts in the legwork. But here, once we’d spent two thirds of the movie with Kennedy, he suddenly grows up into Highmore. Highmore, by contrast, is completely wooden, and really lends no emotion to key scenes late in the movie. Helena Bonham Carter is left to chew the scenery by herself, trying to make up for Highmore’s emotional void.

So just for that ending, I was a bit disappointed. But I liked many aspects of this production – the visual design, the storyline, the foodie bits, the gay bits. It’s an interesting little movie, and I enjoyed it for what it was.

Film #229: On the Same Team (2014)

mismo-equipoaka: En el mismo equipo
directors: Carlos Vilaró Nadal & Bonzo Villegas
language: Spanish
length: 21 minutes
watched on: 23 September 2016
Link to the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_S2823ujil4

I watched this before going to bed having made a masterlist of gay short films that I can watch on Youtube. It’s really long and I’ve still only watched two or three of them. But I’ve got other stuff to do, like this blog!

This gay short film is about a closeted rugby player in Argentina. The political climate is that gay marriage has just been legalized in their country, so the topic of gay people is on everyone’s lips – but it’s seen as a joke by the main character’s homophobic peer group and family.

Anyway, he’s dating another guy from his team, but in secret. Then at a party, he sees the other guy kissing a girl. So he considers going back to his ex-girlfriend, and at least they could date in public, or something.

The main character is the very definition of a man of few words, really, and that is annoying. The actor’s a bit wooden and doesn’t play up the angst of the story well enough in my opinion.

But the movie looks nice, if exploitative of young male bodies, and I liked the cinematography. I think it’s an interesting look at what’s now the opposite side of the world from me. Just a brief glimpse into another life style, which is both similar and very different from my own.

As with the last one, I’ve put the link at the top of the review, so if you want to watch it, go ahead and tell me what you think!

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.

Film #218: The Descent (2005)

the-descentdirector: Neil Marshall
language: English
length: 99 minutes
watched on: 4 August 2016

We actually watched three films in one day – the first was The Purge and the second was actually Leon – but I’m not going to re-review that. I mentioned it when I reviewed Nikita, though. My thoughts haven’t changed a lot (Natalie Portman and Jean Reno’s relationship is still creepy), although the visual style is dated.

As for this movie, it’s very famous, and I was much more apprehensive about this movie than The Purge, because it’s actually straight-up horror in a way that the other isn’t. And apparently I talk a lot during the movie when I’m nervous – maybe, yeah, although I think I just talk during movies anyway. But like the last movie, it wasn’t nearly as bad to watch as I expected. I think I just had some bad experiences with horror when I was a child, such as The Witches (I had nightmares about that!), and it’s put me off. I still wouldn’t choose to watch it by myself – I’m still a wuss – but this is teaching me perhaps they’ll be OK.

It’s about some cavers who go astray and get lost in a cave, which turns out to (spoilers) have some monstrous post-humans in it, evolved away when a group of Swiss cavers got trapped (or something), cannibalistic and blind, so the characters have to walk around silently.

The first half of the movie is suspense, and in many ways was more scary and creepy than the second half, which becomes more jump-scares. Of course I get scared by them too, but there’s a certain predictability about jump-scares that there isn’t when it’s people getting trapped in a creepy cave.

One nice thing about this movie that you still don’t see enough is that the human characters are all women. (It was also nice to hear Scottish voices and a variety of accents in there, too.) Since all the monsters are played by men, I think, it lends a certain insidious aspect to it, like there’s a subtle implication of sexual violence, and I think this was deliberate on the part of the filmmakers, but it’s impossible to be sure.

Relatedly, we spent half the movie discussing who would be picked off first. Obviously the feisty one goes first, and the one who forgot to bring her pills for her mental illness is going to stick around. The others were interchangeable. There was a subplot that one of them had slept with the other’s husband, but I didn’t see the point in this argument – it just created drama where it didn’t need to be.

Anyway my main problem with the movie is the director’s cut ending. (So obviously spoilers coming up!) The original ending is that one of the characters escapes – the director’s cut ends with her realizing it’s been a schizophrenic dream and that she’s still in the cave. It’s signposted throughout the movie as her mental illness gets worse and worse – still, I get annoyed when I sit through ten to fifteen minutes of something that turns out to be unreal. On the other hand, since it’s in the realm of unreliable narrator, it does raise the question whether the whole experience was real or not. Or did she just kill all her friends – is she the monster? It’s not all bad, but it left a sour taste in my mouth right at the end.

And anyway, I’m eleven years too late to see this movie, but I liked it overall – I just think the original cut might be better.

Films #193-201: Boys on Film 2: In Too Deep (Short film series)

Boys-on-Film-2Released: 2009
Length: 147 minutes in total
Watched: 22 and 24 June 2016

As I mentioned with the last DVD I watched, I’ve had stuff sitting in my folder since before I came to Japan, and if I didn’t buy this gay short film series before I came to Japan, it could have been the first time I went back to the UK – either way, it’s a pretty long time. Similarly, I left the box in the UK, so I no longer have all the information with me – and thus I didn’t really know what to expect.

I do know it wasn’t bought in Japan, though. Good luck finding LGBT media here… the gay shops in Nichome only have porn, which saddens me. Compare and contrast the UK, where almost every DVD shop I went to (Fopp in Edinburgh, the shop in the BFI cinema in London, etc) had a gay section. This will eventually be the thing that pushes me out of this country, let’s be real. Anyway, Amazon is a bit better, and I’m able to find relevant stuff… sometimes. I often end up having to just use the UK Amazon site. In fact, that’s what I had to do when I bought another DVD in this series. Excuse me if I end up having the same rant when I write that post.

I was actually spurred into watching these on the same day as watching Get a Room, as all the other shorts on my Tumblr to-watch list were trailers, or not actually appealing. And four years is long enough to wait before watching something!

Speaking of this series, it’s still going even now, which pleases me. The newer boxes boast that it’s the world’s most successful short film series, but that just makes me wonder how they work that out. As for the DVD itself though, as with gay movies in general, it has its ups and downs. There were nine movies in this collection – I’ll try to give a short review of each one individually – but probably only a couple of actually good ones. The series is prolific, and doesn’t always filter the bad ones out well. But (proving that I haven’t matured that much since I was 19) I get a warm fuzzy feeling when media is actually aimed at me, and recently I’ve been really needing the connection and comfort that these kinds of movies afford me – I watched these still only a couple of weeks after the news came through about the shooting in a gay club in Orlando and our entire community was smarting. The Brexit vote was also just happening so it was nice to take my mind off that, too.

In general, one thing I’ve enjoyed about watching these short movies, and the other series that I’ve watched since this one, in July and August, is that short movies tend to be by first-time filmmakers, or those near the beginning of their career – this does mean that they’re often not so good, or the acting is wooden, but it also means that the makers are more aware of filmic minutiae, such as framing and foreshadowing. Perhaps they’re more recently out of film school, for example. There’s also not pressure to adhere to a three-act structure with short movies – again, this can work against a movie that obviously has more potential or is the germ of a larger idea, but it often means a short movie can stand on its own and do just what it needs to.

Anyway, here’s the full set. Just to be clear, spoilers may come up.

Watched on 22 June:
the_island_51Film #193: The Island (2009)
Director: Trevor Anderson
Language: English
Length: 5 minutes

A nice relaxing start to the series, this features some CGI animation and a man walking through a snow-covered lake in Canada, and narrating about a homophobic letter he received saying gays should all live on an island – he considers what this would be like, a kind of gay utopia.

It’s very short and kind of amusing. I think it’s on Youtube.

bof2cowboyFilm #194: Cowboy (2008)
Director: Till Kleinert
Language: German
Length: 35 minutes

This is a German film where a real estate agent goes into the country looking to buy up a disused farm. He meets a topless young man, who steals his car, and then seduces him. After some veiled references from the young man about the situation, the film jumps into something unexplained and creepy at the end. I don’t really want to spoil this bit actually, it’s worth watching – although my reaction was mostly “what the hell?”.

A lot of the movie is voyeuristic – the characters don’t talk all that much, and it’s all about one guy watching the other. There is also the creepy streak throughout, and adding that to the desolate setting, I’d say I enjoyed this probably the most out of all the films.

One thing I found weird about this, though, and that I find weird about a lot of gay films, is that the main character has a wife or a female partner – and like, yes, bisexuality exists (that’s not the issue), but films like this are always about the characters catching the first inkling that they like the same sex, and then jumping straight into full anal (*cough*brokebackmountain). In these films the female partner is always shorthand for “he doesn’t know he’s gay yet”, and that doesn’t ring true to me – not least because it seems to deny bisexuality. Or at least that’s how I read it. In any case, a man the age of the main character here – I’d guess at least my age and perhaps in his 30s – is someone I’d expect to have considered his sexuality already. I so much prefer the ones where the main character starts already knowing they’re gay (or bi, or whatever). I think I’m just done with coming out.

Watched on 24 June:
bof2kalimaFilm #195: Kali Ma (2007)
Director: Soman Chainani
Language: English and Hindi
Length: 14 minutes

A guy is bullied for being gay at school, and then his very Indian mother confronts the bully, who is naturally also the guy’s crush (a popular gay movie trope). She and her son come very close to killing the bully. A bit weird, to be honest.

When I searched for the title online, I got an image of a Hindu goddess, so I’m guessing Kali Ma has a meaning I’m unaware of. I can only assume that the goddess is represented by the mother. I’m not interested enough in this movie to find out, though. The tone was too strange for me, especially the belligerence from the mother.

LUCKY_BLUE_2Film #196: Lucky Blue (2007)
Director: Håkon Liu
Language: Swedish
Length: 28 minutes

This is probably the other one I really enjoyed. I actually had this on my aforementioned list of gay movies on Tumblr, but the version linked on Youtube had Vietnamese subtitles. In the film two boys, both pretty introverted, meet at a campsite when they go with family. They share a kiss after swimming naked together (if I remember correctly), but then the main character gets scared and runs away (also a standard trope). He has to win the other boy back by the end. Lucky Blue is the name of the other boy’s pet parrot.

Fairly standard stuff, and it establishes most of the relationship on furtive glance, which I find overdone at this point. I related a lot to the characters, though.

This one is one where the short length of the film worked against the movie, though – I think it might have worked better at double the length, where it could flesh out the characters. The movie struggles to convey life outside the microcosm of the introverted main character – a brief scene where he sees the other boy laughing with many friends seems tacked on, because instantly I want to know where these friends came from.

love bite_confessionFilm #197: Love Bite (2008)
Director: Craig Boreham
Language: English
Length: 3 minutes

A studenty short film with a quick punchline. There are two boys, bored Australian high school students taking drugs, and… there’s no way not to spoil this. One comes out to the other, and the other starts to spew homophobic abuse, but it turns out he’s not coming out as gay, he’s a vampire, so he bites the other boy. It’s super low budget, and the acting is wooden. It’s fine for what it is, and three minutes isn’t much of your time, but I wasn’t particularly amused. I bet you can find it on Youtube.

Bramadero-2Film #198: Bramadero (2007)
Director: Julián Hernández
Language: N/A (Spanish titles but no talking)
Length: 22 minutes

OK, this is porn. I know, I know, there’s a debate going around about whether things are porn or not if they’re arty, and my opinion usually boils down to, no, being arty doesn’t mean it’s not porn. But in any case, this is porn (using standard porn sequences: starting with foreplay, progressing through oral and anal sex strictly in that order, and ending with climax) interspersed with the two men acting like animals or being violent toward one another. It takes place in a half-constructed building somewhere in Mexico – there’s also a lot of longing looks out at the city. Honestly I spent most of the time confused as to why they’re crawling everywhere, or why they’re acting out weird mating rituals.

It reminded me a lot of the film “Broken Sky”, another Mexican film about boys suffering break-ups, with little to no dialogue. Although that other film also had a few beautiful moments, the overall effect was something boring, and that applies here too. Having just checked right now, the other movie is by the same director, so it… kinda makes sense that they’d be similar. Maybe this is the porn version of that.

The title Bramadero refers to something animalistic, such as violence, if I remember correctly – the movie provides a dictionary definition at the end along with some other nonsense about animals in heat, how profound it is to be violent and how sex is inherently animalistic. It’s not my thing, it’s safe to say.

weekendalacampagneFilm #199: Weekend in the Countryside (2007)
aka: Week-end à la campagne
Director: Matthieu Salmon
Language: French
Length: 17 minutes

This movie shows two boys – I read them as boyfriends from the start, although I’m not sure if that was intentional – going on a trip to the countryside somewhere in France, to an uncle’s house. When they get there, it turns out that the uncle has three massive dogs, and the other boy is scared to death of dogs, which makes up the rest of the story. He eventually has to leave, and his boyfriend doesn’t even help him with his fear – in fact, he sends him off with a homophobic slur.

I’m still not sure if they’re meant to be a couple, for that reason. At one point the first boy tries to initiate sex with the boy who’s scared of dogs, in the shower, and it’s not clear whether he is rebuffed because the other boy is shaken up, or because he doesn’t want to anyway. There are also a few other unanswered questions here – when he sees the dogs, the other boy also hallucinates a dead girl, and I’m wondering now who that is and whether she was killed or something.

Nice cinematography, though (tying in to what I was saying about short movie earlier). It’s a shame the movie itself isn’t all that good. I think I was losing my patience with the movies at this point, I’ll be honest.

workingitoutFilm #200: Working It Out (2007)
Director: Tim Hunter
Language: English
Length: 6 minutes

Yeah, I was definitely losing my patience quickly with this movie after the last ones (my notes are very sarcastic). It’s also a very quick one, so it’s not like I wasted a lot of time watching it. It’s about a couple who like to go to the gym together, but one is very jealous of the other looking at another man, and they have an argument about it. A simple love triangle. The title is a simple pun.

Like the other Australian movie, it’s low budget, the image obviously worse quality than the other movies, and the acting is wooden. There’s a kind of twist near the end, and if it’s not obvious what it is, I recommend checking your vision. I kind of enjoyed the movie, though, because it was light, and I liked hearing Aussie slang like “root” instead of “fuck”.

futures_and_derivativesFilm #201: Futures (and Derivatives) (2007)
Director: Arthur Halpern
Language: English
Length: 19 minutes

This was a bit of an odd inclusion in the series, because the gay content boils down to a three second shot of one of the characters with his boyfriend near the end. It’s set in an office, and they need a temp to come in overnight to finish off a presentation. It turns out he made something flashy and colourful instead of following the orders to the letter, which sends the rest of the workers into a kind of trance, enabling them to suddenly find beauty in everyday sights. Or something. It was a bit weird, but I liked the contrast between the drab first half and the colourful second half.

More than any other movie in this series, however, this movie has aged badly. It was produced in 2007, and it really shows. The other movies in this series were also produced in the same period, between 2007 and 2009, but while the atmosphere or zeitgeist is perhaps different to equivalent movies produced now, in this decade (for example, movies produced between 2009 and 2012 tend to have an apocalyptic aspect or an atmosphere of despair), the other movies here have managed to stay somewhat timeless. Not so with this one. Flip phones are all the rage, and the computer software depicted seems positively decrepit now. What’s more, a shot of Times Square at the end has an advertisement for the Lehmann Brothers – that symbol of corporate America in 2007 that was brought to its knees only a year later. I can’t fault this movie for that, though. It’s just ironic that it’s something that may have been accidental, but may have been in the movie as a representative of corporate America.

I do like the period of 2007-2009. I was at university and I did a lot of maturing during that period, and stuff from that time still gives me nostalgic feelings. But the world has definitely moved on from then. It’s weird to think it’s almost ten years ago now.

Apart from that, the movie is kind of funny, even if the main twist is nonsensical, and the dialogue is also absolutely nonsensical, seemingly parodying corporate speech that tends to be full of meaningless buzzwords. The title, too, was difficult to search for on the internet – a Google Image Search literally turns out similarly titled, completely unironic business strategy books and stock images of graphs.


Now you may be thinking I didn’t like this series, given that I’ve resoundly trashed most of the movies in here, so I just want to clarify that I liked the DVD in general. I like seeing things that I didn’t choose myself, sometimes, and this is a good way to get some movies in. I’ve already bought and watched another DVD in the “Boys on Film” series. I’m not so keen on paying an arm and a leg to keep watching more of these DVDs, though, and I will have to import them from the UK as only some are on the Japanese Amazon (being sold to be imported from the UK) – but I like having curated series of movies like this, instead of having to find the movies myself online, which can be difficult. I’ve actually watched several more short movie series since this one – one was in the Tokyo LGBT film festival (now called Rainbow Reel). So I’ll be back with another super long post soon!

Film #190: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974)

holygrail4directors: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
language: English
length: 86 minutes
watched on: 11 June 2016

It’s easily the world’s most overquoted movie, except perhaps its sequel, but I realized recently that I hadn’t watched this in about six or seven years, and I felt like giving it another go – the only reason I’m including it on here today is that the last time is before I started this blog, so I’m trying to follow like, a pattern or something.

I’ve watched it enough times, including the special features, to notice all the areas where they cut corners that weren’t meant to be noticed, as well as the ones that were signposted and danced around – such as the fact that almost all the castles in the movie are the same (I’ve always gotten deja vu with at least one of the scenes, which looks the same as before).

But I’ve also seen it enough times that this viewing didn’t really add anything to it. The only thing is in the scene with the black knight, there are some sound effects that were later used in the game Civilization II, and I only just had the rather obvious revelation that their use in Civ II was probably a reference to Monty Python – not just that they were part of some sound effect bank, like that screaming sound that’s been used in Hollywood pretty much since the introduction of sound in movies.

I also came to the conclusion that Holy Grail is the quintessential road trip movie, just set in medieval times – it’s basically composed of single scenes in which the main characters meet another in a string of characters, monsters, baddies and obstacles. Most are somewhat non-sequitur. But that’s not such a logical leap, nor a bad idea. It allows the group to keep a sort of sketch structure like they’d done on TV, but the story connection throughout keeps it fresher. Life of Brian more effectively tied a single story together without the need for a road trip structure, though. The Meaning of Life, decidedly not my favourite, does away with this totally and is back to straight-up sketches.

Anyway, I’m preaching to the choir here. I’d like to hear from someone who doesn’t like it, actually. I have my reservations – I intensely dislike that it’s so quoted all the time, as I lament the perceived loss of originality in comedy, for example. But I also think it’s still funny, has stood the test of time, and that the situations are still applicable to the modern day – and that’s worrying because it means nothing’s changed since the 60s and 70s.