Film #291: Girl Goned (2017)

directors: Yukiro Dravarious & Duncan Whom
language: English, some Japanese, couple of sentences of German and French
length: actually not sure but about 2 hours
watched on: 4 May 2017

This is that rare review which I know will be read by the creators, since they’re my friends making an amateur project last year. I’ll try to be nice…

I got a sneak preview from Duncan about a month before watching this, and then went to the second screening on the premiere night – in a BDSM dungeon, of all places, with cages and strange-looking seats. (By the way, I just grabbed this image from a google search, as I usually do, managing to somehow filter out images from Gone Girl – I think it’s from Remiko’s blog. If you’d like me not to use the image, or have a better thumbnail image, please let me know)

The movie is set in Tokyo’s underground drag scene, so it features a few people I know from going to their shows. The plot, insofar as there is one, follows an American private detective who travels to Japan in search of a missing girl, somehow involved in the drag scene. Meanwhile, the drag queens conspire to set about armageddon. Or something. The film deliberately eschews plot at many moments, but it was more coherent than I’d expected from the previews I’d had. It has a deliberate B-movie aesthetic, and a lot of ridiculous gore, with fake blood spattered everywhere.

The main problem with it is that it’s probably incomprehensible to people outside our social group – I think there are too many in-jokes. A lot of the drag queen characters especially weren’t fully introduced. Also, it does have a bit of an episodic feel, and might be too ambitious. But I enjoyed it, and I think it’d stand a second viewing, to help me better understand it.

The other thing, although I think this is part of the aesthetic of amateur B-movies, and not necessarily a big problem, is that the sound and image were sometimes unbalanced. But I think this could be fixed.

It was long-awaited by all, so it was great to finally see it, and I enjoyed the sensation of recognizing quite a lot of the cameos. Thumbs up!

Advertisements

Film #279: Tangerine (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film #277: Bad Education (2004)

aka: La mala educación
director: Pedro Almodóvar
language: Spanish and a bit of Latin
length: 101 minutes
watched on: 24 March 2017

This was my first Almodóvar film way back when, and still my favourite. It’s probably my fourth time watching it, but the last time was a whopping nine years ago. As such, I could only have given a very simple outline of the plot before watching it. I’d forgotten exactly how the main twist turns out.

There are so many layers to this movie. It starts with a film producer reading a script given to him: the first film within the film, which follows two transgender characters trying to blackmail the Catholic priest principal of their former school. But there’s also a story within the story, as it flashes back to the characters’ childhood – their abuse by the priests, and their own sexual awakening to each other (in a cinema, which is perhaps the only known example of a film within a film within a film within a film?).

It’s many stories rolled into one, but it stays coherent, and has a strong anti-establishment message. It has a compelling mystery at the centre of it that unfolds slowly. It’s super gay, too (although I remember some of my university friends complaining that my tastes were too predictable in this regard – to which I say they had too much internalized homophobia and I hope they’ve changed). And perhaps its greatest appeal is seeing Gael Garcia Bernal in drag – but he basically plays three different characters during the movie too, a very diverse role (and not even in his native accent, apparently).

I hadn’t noticed before that when the film switches to the story within the story, the frame also shortens from the wider cinescope ratio to a smaller frame, signifying when we’re switching from one story to another. It did this similarly to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but not quite to the same degree.

I also talked about stories within stories recently with Magpie Murders, and I think this film is a much higher calibre of such a story, not to diminish that book too much.

So I like this movie a lot. It still has power to shock and amuse almost ten years later, which can’t be said for many movies. How about you? What’s your favourite Almodóvar film?

Films #209-212: Queer Asia shorts

Watched on: 15 July 2016
(Rainbow Reel Tokyo – 3/6)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

The third film I watched at the film festival this year, back in July, was actually a series of short movies. The title on the program also had the name of the pan-Asian organisation that chooses movies from other LGBT film festivals across Asia, but it’s an alphabet soup acronym, and I can’t remember it offhand.

There were four shorts, and there wasn’t a common theme to them aside from being set in Asia or with Asian characters. I’ll write about each one individually, as I did with the other short compilations I watched.

As with the other short films I watched, these were all cinematically sound, and their use of cinematography, including imagery and soundscape, was more tightly controlled, so even for the movies I didn’t enjoy so much, the movies themselves were generally high quality to watch.

the-fox-exploits-the-tigers-mightFilm #209: The Fox Exploits the Tiger’s Might (2015)
director: Lucky Kuswandi
language: Indonesian
length: 24 minutes
This movie weirded me out a bit. It’s about a bromance between two characters that gets a bit out of hand, and acquires an animalistic or abusive sexual aspect, along with voyeurism and other parts also in play. It’s also plainly about class, though, and the sexual dominance part reflected that one character is socially dominant over the other.

The atmosphere was evocative of hot Indonesian summers, and the images it provides are nice. But I felt that the “gay” character here was painted as creepy and not in a good light. Sorry, not here for that.

sowolFilm #210: Sowol Road (2014)
aka: Sowol-gil (소월길)
director: Shin Jong-hun
language: Korean
length: 25 minutes
This is about a middle-aged woman selling her body on Sowol Road, a notorious street in Seoul for prostitution. She helps a young transgender girl who’s in the same predicament, who was about to be beaten up by a client. Later it turns out the girl is dating the woman’s son, by coincidence, and she gets a slap in the face. I didn’t get why that was – is it because she’s trans? In any case, she ends up saving the older woman from the same client, out for revenge, and all is forgiven.

The film was gritty and I felt sympathy for the characters – aside from that scene in the middle that confused me. It draws light on Seoul’s undertrodden trans community, and I think that’s good. However, perhaps because I’m not the target audience, I wasn’t as interested in this movie as the others.

When-Mom-VisitsFilm #211: When Mom Visits (2015)
director: Chang Chiung-wen
language: Mandarin and English (a rare bilingual film)
length: 19 minutes
This is about a girl whose mother flies to America from Taiwan for a surprise visit, which is a bit of a problem because her girlfriend is lying in bed with her. They have an argument, and her girlfriend storms off, saying she has “principles” and won’t date someone who’s in the closet.

What follows is a lot of angst from the main character, who eventually comes out to her mother, but not before being very self-involved – she’s called out for it by another character who makes her realize that her mother also has a secret relationship going on. I was a little disappointed by both the girls in the original couple – one being self-involved, and the other being unable to comprehend that coming out is difficult for people. I was disappointed that they didn’t get back together in the end, I guess, because they’d been really cute together at the beginning.

IGTSNBBFilm #212: I Go to School Not by Bus (2015)
aka: Fongsi (放肆)
director: Morris Ng
language: Cantonese
length: 35 minutes
This film was the longest of the bunch, and unfortunately the video quality was noticeably lower than the other movies. It’s available on Youtube, and perhaps better seen on there than the big screen. It’s a Hong Kong movie about two high school teenagers, one apparently out and proud, which is nice to see in Asia at all. The school they go to is pretty homophobic and Catholic, though, which creates an easy conflict, and the other boy (the main character) is softly-spoken and artistic, more repressed in character. The relationship grows naturalistically, and was nice to see unfolding as the boy teaches the main character to run for a PE exam. Later he breaks his leg and the main character has to run for both of them.

The film was very melodramatic, overall, but it left me with a warm feeling and an overall good impression of the four-part series. There are enough laughs, as well, especially from the two girl classmates cheering them on awkwardly from the sidelines. And the ending was bittersweet. So out of the four, it was my favourite, although objectively the third one might be a better film.

Film #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.

Book #90: The Privilege of the Sword (2006)

privilege-of-the-sword-fantasy-audiobookAuthor: Ellen Kushner
Language: English
Length: 940 minutes (15 hours 40 minutes)
Finished listening on: 24 Sep 2015

This book is the second in the series by Ellen Kushner that started with Swordspoint – which I listened to on an audiobook last year – set in her fictional city of Riverside. I’d enjoyed listening to that book because of its LGBT themes and the unique way in which it was made, with sound effects and background chatter added in later, and I thought it’d be a good idea to catch up with the series.

This audiobook presentation was again introduced by Neil Gaiman, who took more of a part in the production itself too this time. This time they used Kushner to narrate the subjective sections told from the main character’s perspective, and another performer, with one of the most amazingly androgynous voices I’ve heard, for the third-person omnipresent sections. Then they had a full cast, like in the previous book, for the more important setpieces.

I found this whole setup a lot more distracting than it had been in Swordspoint, and I found myself paying more attention to the sound effects and music at some points than at the performers. This was a shame, because the book was reasonably compelling, but I suspect that if it’d been more interesting, it wouldn’t have mattered so much.

I guess the reason I thought it could have been more interesting was that it has quite a slow pace, and the plot isn’t its strongest point. It is much more focused on the characters and the situations they find themselves in. I think this stands it apart from the previous book – I noticed an immediate difference when I listened to the sample chapter at the end of this one that came from Swordspoint.

Like its predecessor, it has a lot of LGBT-related content, including the “Mad Duke” Alec, a character from the previous book who likes orgies, and its main plot is that he hires his niece Katherine to be a swordsman – traditionally a male occupation. She has to wear men’s clothes for her uncle – and I guess it’s probably a spoiler, but develops feelings for women later in the novel, causing her to worry that she’s going to end up like her depraved uncle. (She is a good example of a non-straight female character who doesn’t die at the end, and I wish that was not such a radical statement – and after all, Kushner herself is lesbian, so there’s an obvious element of the author inserting her own experiences.)

The book and author are expert at creating the atmosphere of the time period and fantasy setting, and this aspect is certainly supplemented by the sound effects and music. Her characters are also interesting, and Katherine in particular has a well-defined arc over the course of the plot. For me, though, it started to drag a bit, and I wished that the sound effects weren’t distracting me so much. I’d say I liked it overall – but I’d recommend not this book but the previous one, just in terms of pacing and world-building.