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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film #266: All Over Brazil (2003)

alloverbrazildirector: David Andrew Ward
language: English
length: 9 minutes
watched on: 9 Feb 2017
link to the video: https://vimeo.com/1802140

I’ve still got a fairly long list of short films to get through at some point – when trawling for them on the internet, this is one that stood out to me because it’s set in Scotland in the 1970s.

It’s about a kid who likes glam rock and wants to dance around with make-up on (the above image is his fantasy). Of course, his dad, more into football, isn’t OK with this and gets angry. But in the end he lets the kid out with his sister to go see the band he likes, and there’s some kind of reconciliation between them.

Obviously I saw this because it’s gay-interest, and I thought it was a sweet film. It doesn’t really match my experience, though – my parents weren’t like that with me. I daresay my dad would recognize the situation more than me.

I was surprised that the movie was from 2003 – I didn’t realize how much video quality has improved since then. I think this was made for TV (for the BBC), and the quality is accordingly pretty low.

An interesting little snippet or slice of life. What do you think? You can watch it online easily – and tell me what you think.

Film #208: Girls Lost (2015)

Girls-Lostaka: Pojkarna
director: Alexandra-Therese Keining
language: Swedish
length: 106 minutes
watched on: 12 July 2016
(Rainbow Reel Tokyo – 2/6)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

Just based on the description, this looked like the most interesting movie to me – a kind of body-swapping fantasy with obvious trans undertones. Actually, I think they cover all the letters in LGBT and then some.

Body swapping where a character finds they want to stay as the other gender is not new, to be sure – we’ve certainly seen it in Being John Malkovitch, for example – but I thought this film was quite unique. Here, three girls, who are obviously closer already than just friends, find a magic flower that will turn them into boys. As boys, they find they are accepted by the “in” crowd more readily than they were as nerdy, queer-looking girls, and one in particular enjoys it far more than the others, describing it as a kind of awakening. “He” hangs out with one bad-boy kind of character, and they take it further than just friends – they have an erotically charged swimming scene and exchange many furtive glances, although the other boy gets violent when he realizes he’s taken it too far. But her friend isn’t having it, and tries to turn into a boy in a bid to win her back.

It sounds like it’s complicated to remember who’s who, and who’s what gender at any particular time, although it wasn’t in the end – the story was fairly simple and at its heart is a love triangle. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it was sad, though ambiguous enough that I can be hopeful about it.

The atmosphere is nice, too – they seem to only become boys at night, and turn back after they wake up the next morning, so a lot of the film is shot at night, and has a fantasy-like vibe with lots of autumnal Swedish forest. There were a few things that didn’t quite fit – they had some kind of pagan dancing ceremony with masks, and it seemed to just add atmosphere rather than having any consequence, but I was confused about that. Also, I didn’t catch where their flower came from.

Anyway, this film wasn’t as popular as the last one I watched, but it worked well in my opinion, and I hope it’ll come out on DVD soon so I can recommend it more generally.

Film #86: Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

big10_musical4director: Joe Gallen
language: English
length: 89 minutes
watched on: 6 May 2013

As the final part of my spree I watched this. I remember this being hilariously funny, but I think that’s because when I watched it the first time I was around 16 – ie, the target audience. Now I find a lot of it overplayed and I don’t find most of the jokes funny (although I caught more of the references than I did the first time, because I’ve seen the movies they refer to since then, such as The Breakfast Club or American Beauty). But I still laughed, and it’s in a whole other league than things like Epic Movie.

Of course, don’t go in looking for something intelligent. The plot is lifted straight from “She’s All That” (although I haven’t seen that one so I don’t know how exactly), and successfully parodies the fact that all the heroine has to do to become “beautiful” is to take off her glasses and let her hair down. All the characters are stock characters (“the Jock”, “the Geek”, “the Cheerleader”, etc), and they get around this by having them explicitly point out their flaws. But beyond that there’s little substance.

Similarly, while most of it is straight parody making references and jokes, there was one gratuitous gross-out toilet humour scene that I could have done without. Overall, kind of funny but probably much better if you’re 17.

The Inbetweeners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film #55: Jitters (2010)

AKA: Órói
Directed by: Baldvin Zophoniasson
Language: Icelandic (and a bit of English)
Length: 97 minutes
Watched on: 10 Apr 2012

A trite waste of time.

Oh, you want more than that? Well, I guess I can put it all into context first. I’ve always had somewhat of a soft spot for films involving gay teens, and those involving Iceland, and the opportunity to watch this film came up recently. It came after a long day off in which I watched the entire first season of “United States of Tara” (a review will be forthcoming) and went on an unsuccessful date with a boring twat.

So I’d gotten somewhat drunk while out on said date (I managed to find cheap beer in Tokyo!), and when I watched this film, I just found it terrible, and this feeling was exaggerated by the tipsiness.

When a film bills itself by comparing itself to another film or TV series, that’s always a bit worrying. In this case, the advertising declared the film to be “the Icelandic Skins”. Oh dear… no. Skins actually had definable and interesting characters and didn’t focus so heavily on drunken parties (despite using them extensively in the advertising, in a weird logical loop).

Perhaps it’s just that I’m too old now to be interested by coming-out stories… after all, for about half the film I was just getting angry at the guy for not being honest to his friends, and for apparently being paranoid about coming out in one of the most accepting countries in the world. As for his lying, it was just totally unbelievable.

Then at the end, the film makes cheap drama by killing off an unimportant character to make the others learn an important lesson about mortality… I guess? I don’t even know who it was who died, since I wasn’t emotionally involved with the characters, and it happened offscreen anyway.

So, unrealistic and boring. Plus points, well, it’s always nice to listen to Icelandic.

Film #50: Super 8 (2011)

Director: J.J. Abrams
Language: English
Length: 112 minutes
Watched on: 21 Jan 2012

This was the second film that I watched on the plane over to Japan, whiling away the long hours. It concerns a group of teenagers trying to while away the boredom of living in the midwest by making films on an old Super-8 camera. I think it was set in the 70s or 80s, where such things would have been more common. Then a big train accident happens right in front of them, and as the saying goes, their lives are turned upside down. Naturally, it’s all captured on camera.

Trying not to give too much away, during the rest of the movie, strange things start happening around the kids, and the military set up shop in the town. There’s some kind of cover-up operation going on. It gets weird and only makes sense within its genre by the end of the film.

Overall, it was quite a good film, but I just wasn’t gripped by it. It certainly had its moments, to be fair, but as to the entire plot, I can only give a basic outline (and I don’t want to do that because it’s better to watch it without major spoilers). It scores points by actually having kid actors instead of older kids and young adults playing the children, which lent it more credibility, although I found it a bit unrealistic when the two kids whose voices hadn’t even broken yet started fighting over a girl. I think that’s just a strange and foreign world to me.

Is it worth watching? Yeah, probably. I think Stephen Spielberg was involved, so it was definitely a quality production. So perhaps it’s worth a shot.

Book #20: I Shall Wear Midnight (2010)

Finished reading on: 15 Dec 2011
By: Terry Pratchett
Length: 414 pages
Language: English

I waited a long time to read this book. At some point over the past few years I got frustrated at buying expensive hardback copies of Pratchett’s books and opted to wait for his next one (ie, this one) to come out in paperback before I actually bought it. So far, so good, although the time between the hardback release and the paperback release is phenomenal (and his newest book, Snuff, is now out in hardback, although now I own a Kindle, so I will probably read it on that, whenever I get around to it), so I essentially waited a very long time to actually read this book.

Anyway, I’m sorry to say it wasn’t really worth the wait; it’s, bluntly, not as good as some other Pratchett books that I’ve read, and in the end, it took me a couple of months to actually get through it.

I think this mainly boils down to Tiffany Aching, and the fact that I find her to be a bit Mary-Sue-ish, even when, as in this story, she’s battling all the elements and things are really going badly for her. She just seems to know all the answers, and yet she’s 15, and a big theme of all her stories is one of growing up.

Why Pratchett had to make a series of Discworld stories specifically aimed at young adults is confusing to me, to be honest. Perhaps that’s because I’ve been reading them since I was 13 anyway, and thus having a teenage protagonist has never seemed to me like the way to aim your book at teenagers.

Anyway, the other thing is that I can’t really remember (it’s been a few years) what happened in the most recent Tiffany Aching stories before this one. So the story starts with her as a full witch (she used to be a witch-in-training), and I’m left wondering when this actually happened. So I guess it’s through a combination of not really enjoying the character herself, not understanding why she exists in the first place in a meta sense, and just not really being interested in her backstory that I ended up not really enjoying this book.

On top of that, I’ve read a lot of Pratchett books, and while I still consider him a funny author, he’s been getting really repetitive. Several tropes recur all the time in his novels, especially the idea that humans have a weirdness censor, or certain jokes that should have been one-off but get repeated in many of his books. So when I was reading this I was finding his sense of humour a bit old and “done” at this point, simply because I feel like I’ve read the same book before.

That said, even a bad Pratchett book was ultimately an enjoyable read, even if I had to eventually force myself to finish it (the train journey back from York in December was useful for that!). And it’s not like the book didn’t have redeeming qualities – as a friend pointed out to me, it really puts Tiffany Aching into a “darkest hour” type of situation, where everything starts to go wrong for her bit by bit and she has to pick up all the pieces, and those kinds of situations are very interesting in a narrative sense. But overall, I’d recommend reading other Pratchett books before this one.

Film #29: Oranges (2004)

by: Kristian Pithie
in: English
for: 12 minutes on Youtube
on: 13 Sep

This was another short film that I watched recently. It was OK; it had two teenage actors who weren’t that great – it’s gay-themed in that they share an awkward kiss. It’s quite evocative of being that age and being awkward about relationships, but that does to some extent just translate into it being an awkward film. And I’m mainly including it because the final few seconds really made me go “d’awww”. It wouldn’t take that long to go and watch it on Youtube to see what I mean, if you can find it. I can’t remember where I was linked to it from.

Film #15: Just Friends? (2009)

aka: Chingusai? / 친구사이?
directed by: Kim Jho Kwang-Soo
length: 29 minutes
language: Korean
watched on: 24/Jun

An interesting short gay film… unlike many other films out there, it doesn’t waste any time on much build-up or anything like that and gets fairly straight to the point, since it’s only half an hour long, but it gets its fair share of angst in there alright.

Basically, the main character visits his boyfriend in the army; they go home but run into his mother, who insists that the “friend” stay for tea; there’s a storm or something, so he can’t go home and must stay the night in the same bed as the mother and son; they start to have sex the next morning while the mother is out but then she walks in on them; then angst angst goddamn bloody angst and stereotypical vapid nonsense. Maybe I’m just privileged having never really had trouble with being gay, but I understand that this film was quite controversial in Korea, and it certainly highlights some challenges that gay guys face there… and yet I don’t really get it. It doesn’t speak to me in the same way that it probably would to a young gay guy in Korea watching it. And thus I kind of can see it’s important, but for me it was just a bit rubbish.

Acting was as wooden as a stick, too. Cute guys, though, shame it wasn’t a porno and they didn’t actually go through with the sexy bit.

Anyway, at half an hour it’s not like I wasted my life on it. Interesting look at Korean attitudes towards gays, anyway – ie they don’t seem to be much fond of them.