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!

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Film #264: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

secretlifedirector: Chris Renaud
language: English
length: 87 minutes
watched on: 2 Feb 2017

After Sing Street, this was the second of three DVDs I borrowed from Tsutaya. (The third was another Xavier Dolan film, but it turned out to be in a very thick Quebec dialect and had no English subtitles, so I gave up on it … for now anyway.)

I wasn’t so hotly anticipating this film, but it was out last year too, and I hadn’t seen it in the cinema. It’s a kids’ film, or something that’s marketed as “family”. It’s by the same people as Despicable Me and the Minions films, which I’ve tried to avoid. Despicable Me was intelligent and funny, but the minions have blown up to something much larger than they have the right to be… and I’m tired of seeing them. I was a little worried when I saw a minion on screen in the first few seconds of the movie, but it was just the company’s logo.

The story of the movie is the same as Toy Story, but with animals instead of toys – the idea being that animals have their own conversations and go on adventures when their humans are out at work or whatever. Louis C.K. plays the main character Max, who loves his owner – but one day she comes home with a new, much bigger dog, who tries to impose himself. But through a series of unlikely events they get separated from their dogwalker in the park, and get lost. They’re found by a group of homeless pets that hate humans. Shenanigans ensue.

To sum up the movie, unlike Pixar, it doesn’t have as much aimed at adults. It has a definite kiddy atmosphere about it. I’m certainly not the target audience. But it has enough for adults to laugh at if they take their kids to it – there’s a joke from Some Like It Hot, for example, that had me in stitches. There is enough physical and slapstick humour in it that I found funny, but there’s also a definite divide between the kids’ jokes and the adults’ jokes, and I think the best of this kind of movie just has one kind of joke that everyone can laugh at.

The animal characters are really well-observed, too – except for parts where they’re talking and so on, they generally act like real animals. The way of moving and reacting is spot-on. I noticed when watching a couple of the DVD extras that many of the actors and producers said their main motivation for wanting to make the movie was because they were pet owners themselves, which I can’t quite relate to, but I have interacted with enough animals in my life to know it’s accurate. But if I compare this to something like Finding Nemo or its sequel, the latter is much more effortlessly comedic. Just to spoil something a bit, though – Finding Dory and this movie both have scenes where animals drive trucks, and I kind of want to know where that trope came from. That’s a part where I generally stop suspending my disbelief.

I must admit, too, that I didn’t feel much emotion from the movie. It’s a shame, but again I think that Pixar can do that better. And there’s one other thing that bothered me – of the two “villain” characters I can think of, one had a British accent, and the other was an African-American actor (the bunny in the picture above). Seems fishy to me…

Given all the above, though, I was suitably impressed by the movie. I wasn’t expecting much, I must admit, and I don’t think it’s going to be known as a classic, but the movie managed to deliver on my expectations and much more. It’s pretty funny in spite of its flaws.

Anyone else seen it?

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?

TV: How I Met Your Mother – Season 7 (2011-12)

Created by: Carter Bays & Craig Thomas
Language: English with some Japanese, Russian, French
Length: 24 episodes of 22-23 minutes each.
Finished watching on: 10 June 2012

I just realised at the beginning of last month that the newest season had just finished airing, so I got about to watching it quite promptly. The first six seasons of How I Met Your Mother waste a lot of time with false leads to the “main” mother plot, and extra excuses for a sitcom plot to develop. This season starts and ends with a flashforward to Barney’s wedding (so we already know that his character’s going to change a bit during the season), which will maybe come at the end of the next season, I don’t know. This at least means that it’s getting closer to some kind of hint about the true identity of the mother in the show.

The rest of the season is fairly predictable fare for this show, though. The tricks that they used to insert a sitcomesque B-plot into a story ostensibly told by another person get more and more ridiculous, with many episodes involving someone telling a story, getting sidetracked, and having to be sternly told to get to the point, which they never do. This happens enough times that it gets boring and trite, but serves as a nice nod towards the increasing ridiculousness of the show’s conceit.

It has its fair share of dramatic moments, though, where you’re made to care about the characters’ plight, and I think it’s good that a comedy show inserts moments like these.

Anyway, it’s still a very addictive show, and I think I watched at least two episodes every day. I like the fact that I get all the little jokes that the series has built up over the many seasons.

I don’t like the fact that I’ll have to wait a year for the next season, though (at the moment, it’s only been about 7 months since I watched the first six seasons). I guess I’ll just have to live with that. At least I didn’t have to wait weeks between episodes…

TV: How I Met Your Mother Seasons 1-6

Created by: Carter Bays & Craig Thomas
Released: 2005—2011
Finished watching seasons on: 18 Oct 2011 (1), 28 Oct (2), 4 Nov (3), 17 Nov (4), 24 Nov (5), 5 Dec (6)
Episodes: 136…
Language: mainly English

OK. It’s 2 months since I last updated the blog, and almost 3 months since I saw the series in question, so I’ll have to make this particularly brief. I have an excuse though, having moved to the other side of the world and become very busy in the meantime…

If you want to stop reading now, I liked How I Met Your Mother. I get its comedy and its style. There’s perhaps not much special about it; it’s a bit formulaic, and runs in a long line of relatively family-friendly American sitcoms, and reminds me in many ways of Friends; but I enjoyed watching it and I found it addictive, hence completing the six extant complete seasons in just under two months (often watching three a day).

The central conceit of the program – the main character Ted is telling his children the story of how he met their mother in a particularly long-winded way – helps to keep it fresh (we know, for example, that Ted’s early love interest isn’t the mother), but also gets old very quickly. OK, so how can you tell a story for six years and not get to the crux of it? That kind of thing started to bug me after a while. It also sort of falls into a rut eventually, where Ted falls in love with a woman who is revealed not to be the mother, and then he goofs out and pushes her away – over and over and over again.

But the characters are great (especially Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris), and the show rewards you with injokes if you watch enough of it – references to older episodes, mainly. The continuity is generally good, and although I get the feeling that to some extent they’re making it up as they go along, they’re a lot more consistent than a bunch of other shows that I’ve seen. And I liked it overall.

Film #9: Léon (1994)

aka: The Professional
dir: Luc Besson
lang: English
length: 133 mins
watched on: 12th of April

Creepiest fucking film ever, and in more ways than one. It’s basically a far too young Natalie Portman trying to seduce Leon, the hitman of uncertain nationality (referred to as Italian a few times, but I believe the actor’s French, and certainly has a certain, um, Gallic charm about him) for most of the film.

Of course, it wasn’t just that (and at least Leon wasn’t returning Portman’s advances, otherwise it would have made even more uncomfortable viewing), but there was an excellent musical score from Éric Serra, Besson’s frequent collaborator, which lent the movie a different kind of creepiness, but this time the sort related to the thriller genre and things like not knowing what’s around the next corner. And thus a good kind.

Besson, of course, is immaculate as a director, and Gary Oldman plays the villain, on top form as usual. But this is the bit that I must admit caused me the most trouble understanding story-wise, because Oldman’s character was a cop, and yet he comes in blazing weapons in the opening act of the film, killing all of Portman’s family. I thought they were organised criminals or something – the explanation seems to be that Portman’s father was involved in a drug deal of some description, but that still doesn’t explain why an undercover cop had to come in and kill everyone… or maybe it’s all a cover. I dunno.

The rest of the film seems to be people doing effortlessly cool things that one couldn’t possibly get away with in the real world (as most films are, of course). Or in the case of Leon, being effortlessly cool when on business, but turning into a bumbling idiot whenever he’s at home. And then getting into sticky situations that you wonder how they’ll get out of. Minus the creepy bits, very fun to watch.