Discussions of an Ant-Man film date back to the late 1980s, when Stan Lee first attempted to get the project off of the ground. None of the major studios showed any interest in it, and all plans were shelved until the early 2000s. Writer/director Edgar Wright wrote a treatment with his conspirator Joe Cornish, which they pitched to Marvel Studios in 2003 – despite claims that he never intended to pitch the film to anyone. Over the next several years, the script was adapted so that it included original Ant-Man Hank Pym as well as the current iteration Scott Lang. Over the next decade, the script was revised between Wright’s work on The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and in late 2014 it finally entered production. However, in the months leading up to this—despite all the crew members being hired and ready to go—Wright left the project, citing creative differences. It was at this point that director Peyton Reed and writer Adam Mackay were brought in to finish the project. We may never know how Wright’s Ant-Man would have looked, but the film we got is, in my opinion, still one of the most entertaining movies in the MCU.

The plot follows cat-burglar Scott Lang as he pulls one last heist in the hopes of finding enough money to pay child support for his daughter Cassie, who he is not allowed to see otherwise. Instead, he finds himself in possession of the Ant-Man suit, and at the beck and call of its creator Hank Pym, as well as his daughter Hope. Hank’s former protégé, and Hope’s, current boss is Darren Cross, who has created his own weaponised shrinking suit, which he intends to sell to the highest bidder. Which happens to be Hydra. It’s up to our new trio, as well as a few crooks that Scott knows, to pull off a heist in order to stop him. As somebody with a soft spot for heist movies like the Ocean’s trilogy, I really appreciate that the heist isn’t the sole focus. The majority of the plot is spent preparing for it, but it’s here to serve to different purposes. The first of these is training Scott to use the suit, since he’s going to continue using it, and the second is kickstarting the plot and allowing our characters the opportunity to bond. The heist is more of a catalyst than the focus of the narrative, what really drives the plot forward is the relationship between the characters, although there are still several Marvel Moments to remind you that this is a blockbuster.

Scott Lang is an extremely likable and sympathetic character. He’s a father, down on his luck, who can’t get a regular job due to his status as an ex-convict. His crime? Taking money from a company who was underpaying their employees, so that the CEOs could get bigger payslips, and returning that money to the employees. He’s a modern day Robin Hood… but the legal system doesn’t see him that way. After serving his time he lies about being an ex-con to procure a job at Baskin Robbins, but is fired once they find out. This isn’t an MCU or film issue, this is a real thing that happens to real people. The American Justice System functions on behalf of prison companies who make the most money when their cells are full. Coupled with companies refusing to hire ex-cons, it’s no wonder that so many return to a life of crime. The primary goal of the justice system should be reformation, not punishment, and Scott Lang is an embodiment of that. He also happens to be a caring father, and is portrayed with all of the charismatic charm of Paul Rudd.

The other father in this story is Hank Pym, who retired from SHIELD after they attempted to replicate his shrinking formula, The Pym Particle. His wife Janet sacrifices herself on a top secret mission but hides this information from Hope, who grows to resent him for keeping this from her and telling her that Janet died in a plane crash. In attempting to shield her from the pain, he has denied her the chance to grieve properly. Their journey is one of reconciliation, as Hank realises that he was over-protective, and Hope understands why. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful relationships in the entire MCU.

I believe that these relationships, as well as a healthy amount of comedic action, were what Wright’s Ant-Man would have focussed on. Of course, we may never know for sure, but I have my suspicions about where Marvel may have stepped in. The first is anything connected to The Avengers, and the second is the villain. During Scott’s first mission, he must retrieve a gadget from one of Hank’s old warehouses, however things quickly go awry when he discovers that this warehouse is now home to The Avengers. This leads to a fight between Scott and Sam Wilson, who I suspect may have been the only hero available at the time. Meanwhile, Darren Cross is a decent villain with solid motivation, but at the beginning of the third act he becomes straight up evil. He’s selling his tech to Hydra, shooting Hank and holding Cassie hostage. This is supposedly due to his variation of the Pym Particle being unstable and altering his brain waves, but I wonder if the more likely reason might be a corporate one. I feel like these two scenarios lessen the impact of the film slightly by pulling you out of a character driven story and into an action blockbuster, which would be decent enough reason to leave a project.

For me, there are two factors that help Ant-Man stand out from most other MCU instalments. Firstly, this film is funny. Other films in the MCU have humour, but they would still be classed as action-adventure, whilst this is definitely a comedy. There are some particularly effective visual gags which make brilliant used of Pym’s shrinking and enlarging tech, specifically one featuring beloved children’s character Thomas the Tank Engine. The second is the wonderful score composed by Christophe Beck. The comparisons to James Bond are plentiful, so I will instead compare it to the work of Murray Gold whose music was instrumental in shaping the revived run of Doctor Who. He filled his music with the amount of energy and heart that was a core component of the show, and Beck’s score fills me with a similar sense of excitement, especially the Ant-Man theme itself which has all the whimsy of Rob Grainer’s original Doctor Who theme.

Ant-Man was released mere months after the tonally dark Avengers: Age of Ultron, and was exactly the kind of palette cleanser the fandom required. There were no long-lasting or even short-lasting ramifications aside from an Avengers connection and the introduction of the Quantum Realm, so it very nearly stands on its own. This isn’t the last origin story we’ll be seeing in the MCU, but I think it is the last one that feels like it doesn’t have any commitments, set-up or connections to the bigger picture. My opinion of it only continues to grow.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Home Alone: Lost in New York

The original Home Alone, released in 1990, is a Christmas classic beloved by millions of people across the globe. It has been this popular ever since it was first released to theatres, maintaining the number 1 spot at the Box Office for 4 months. In fact, it would remain the best selling Christmas film of all time until the release of Illumination Studios’ The Grinch in 2018. As you would expect with a movie which made this much profit, a sequel was put into into production by the end of 1991 and planned to be much bigger. This was matched by the $28 million budget, which was $10 million more than the original, and with scenes shot on location in New York City.

We follow 10 year old Kevin MacCallister as he accidentally boards a flight to New York instead of one to Miami with the rest of his family, leaving him stranded in one of the largest cities in the world. Initially, all is well, as he stays at the illustrious Plaza Hotel. But with the return of Harry and Marv (under new mantle The Sticky Bandits) and their plan to steal from a toy store on Christmas eve, it is once again up to Kevin to stop them. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Home Alone: Lost in New York, with the main critique being that it simply re-hashes the plot of the original in a new setting. It’s hard to dispute that, but I do think that the change in location gives Kevin more issues to deal with this time around. As well as the Sticky Bandits, Kevin must keep his solitude a secret from the management at the Plaza Hotel. Although everything eventually works out well, Kevin is found to be using his father’s stolen credit card and he runs straight into the arms of the Sticky Bandits. He also encounters a homeless woman in the park who he befriends, mirroring his relationship with Old Man Marley in the original. However, this woman is totally alone as opposed to just not talking with her family, which is possibly the biggest difference between these two films. There’s less home and more alone.

I’ve also seen criticisms of Macaulay Culkin’s performance in comparison to the original, and whilst I think it feels less genuine, I think it’s unfair to criticise the man himself. It is now well established just how little control he had over his own career and finances, coupled with his stardom coming literally overnight. What Macaulay Culkin went through, as well as being the result of a system that was drastically unfit for child stars, was incredibly rough, and I think we should cut him a little slack. As for the character of Kevin, I do think there is an inherent flaw with him being two years older. An 8 year old attacking grown men as an act of self-defense is funny, but a 10 year old luring two grown men into a trap just comes off as cruel. He comes across as bratty, and with the change of context (luring instead of defending) he also comes across as vindictive. The comedy itself still works, with the slapstick being implemented well and the traps being just as inventive as in the original film. The standout moments come from the acting of Tim Curry, who portrays a concierge at the hotel and is clearly having a blast with the role. Tim Curry always gives 120% to every single performance, and it is practically impossible to be sad whenever he is on screen. His line delivery on “a cheese pizza” is particularly outstanding, I think the main difference in the comedy- the slapstick in particular- is that it is more child friendly; making the slapstick feel less of a genuine threat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although I suppose it depends on your personal opinion. For me, it isn’t enough to spoil the film.

Home Alone 2 ends up being longer than its predecessor by around 20 minutes, taking its runtime to just under 2 hours. This allows for the film take its time to tell a story, and that might be my only issue with it. This instalment takes a little longer to get to the main plot, and it can sometimes linger on a joke for too long. Home Alone 2 is, I feel, not as concise as it needs to be, and it certainly isn’t as concise as the original. I usually don’t compare films, but when it’s a self contained franchise where the plots are so similar, it’s difficult not to. I wonder if the film would have been received better if it had come first, but alas there is no way of knowing.

What makes this film re-watchable is the emotional core. Catherine O’Hara gives another truly heartfelt performance as Kevin’s mother, and much like Tim Curry, it is difficult not to like her. This is amplified by the beautiful score, brought to us once again by the masterful John Williams. There have been essays written about the legacy of his work, and it is well deserved. Once again, the set is adorned with Christmas decorations so it is impossible to escape the festive feel. At the end of the day Home Alone 2 is a suitable sequel and wonderful festive fare. There are several small issues but they are not enough to dampen the movie for me, or many of its other fans. I once wrote this of another sequel, and I feel it is equally applicable here:

There is a marvellous sequel in here trying to get out but, for what it is, it’s fine. It will forever hold a place in my heart.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

In 1957, Theodor Geisel, under his pen-name Dr. Seuss, released a storybook for children title How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As with many of his works, the tale included a lesson which, in this case, was that Christmas was about peace, love, and joy, instead of decorations and presents. The book was received well, and was adapted into an animated special in 1966 which padded the runtime with new songs written for the occasion by Geisel himself. This was also received well, and has been a staple of American television at Christmas ever since, along with entering the pop culture mythos. For many, this is what they imagine when you ask them about The Grinch. But there is another… in 2000, the story was adapted for the big screen in live-action by director Ron Howard- of Apollo 13 fame- which clocked in at a staggering 1 hour and 50 minutes. I have seen both ends of the reaction spectrum with this one, from hate and ridicule right through to love and enjoyment, but whatever your opinion, it exists in infamy.

The plot follows The Grinch as he plots to steal Christmas from the present-and-decoration-obsessed Whos of Whoville. We also glimpse the life of Cindy Lou Who, who is no more than six, and seems to be the only Who aware that Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. If you are familiar with the Whos of old, this may seem a little odd to you, because they knew what Christmas was about and this seemed to be what finally changed The Grinch’s sour heart. It’s one of the several issues that I have seen levied at the film, but I am of the opinion that it’s a good way of updating the story for the 21st Century. There is a discussion to be had about whether or not the story needed updating, after all the 1966 Special seems to be doing just fine, but there is no denying that society has changed since then. Over the decades, Christmas has only become more commercialised and even in the 20 years since this movie was released it has only continued to increase. It really does feel like the decorating, the shopping, the music, and the advertising start earlier every single year, especially to those of us who work in retail. (Side note: Please be nice to retail employees. They are only doing their jobs and it is especially stressful at this time of year.) Updating the Whos to be consumers makes them more relatable to us, the audience, which makes the final message of the story hit a little bit closer to home.

This update does come with an odd repercussion which becomes difficult for me to ignore. In the original tale and the 1966 Special, we know next to nothing about The Grinch. We know that he hates the joyful noise, lives atop Mount Crumpet, is disgusting, wears shoes that are too tight, and has a dog named Max. However, the film gives us an extensive backstory where he is taken in by two old women, is made fun of as a child, and when he finally gets into the Christmas Spirit is mocked by his peers and his teacher. (2 side notes: Firstly, those women are lesbians and I love them. Secondly, that teacher sucks. I mean if you are that mean to a child you need to find a different job). We know exactly why he hates this time of year, and if it wasn’t clear enough, when The Grinch finally returns to town he gives a lecture about how the Whos are focused on the presents and the decorations to a ridiculous degree, which is what inevitably leads to his decision to steal Christmas. Where as the original had him hating the Whos and wanting to do something exceedingly cruel, here he is trying to teach them a lesson. The Grinch is not the villain of this movie, he is more like the anti-hero. There is one constant between these iterations, and that is that his dog Max is adorable. You can add and change what you want about this story, but it is difficult to not make Max a cute and lovable character.

The tone of the film is also criticised as it comes across like an action movie instead of an uplifting Christmas tale. However I do wonder if this is because many are viewing it through the same lens that they view the 1966 Special. Personally, I have never viewed it through this lens because until recently I had not seen that special, and this film was actually my introduction to the town of Whoville. Now that I have seen it, and have compared it to the film, I have come to the conclusion that the 2000 version is itself a response to the commercialism of that year. Through this lens, the film becomes a parody of the media that surrounded it. It has all the traits of a blockbuster, from the relatable villain and montages to the chaos and explosions, but if you really look at what message the film is delivering, it doesn’t fit in with that genre. The message is that same as it has always been, but it is being reached in a way that seems to be the complete opposite of how it was done in the original. I think the best example of what I mean may be the mayor of Whoville, who is more like a game show host than a mayor, right down to the promise of a new car. Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a beautiful book and a marvellous television special, with a beautiful message, but if you are expecting a direct adaptation, I think the satire in this film may go over your head.

In terms of adapting the design of the book to the realm of live action, I remain stunned as to how close it is. The Whos themselves are mildly odd to look at because they allowed them to look a little more human, but once you get over that, it fits with the rest of the aesthetic. Every physical aspect seems to have been lifted directly from the book, and all this led to Academy Award nominations for Best Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup – the last of which it won. There are also elements that originated with the 1966 Special that have carried over, including You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch, and The Grinch’s green skin tone, which have themselves become synonymous with the story and the festive season. Special acknowledgements must go to James Horner for his brilliant score and to Jim Carrey- The Grinch himself.

It’s possible that the two and a half hour long application of the Grinch makeup has become as well known as the film itself, but I think it’s important to remember that it isn’t the makeup doing the acting, it’s Carrey. If you don’t like Jim Carrey, and his cartoonish performance style, then this really isn’t the film for you because he’s in full swing here. It takes a great amount of skill to act through a costume that only allows us to see your eyes and mouth, but Carrey had proved he could do this with his 1994 film The Mask. He has often been likened to a living cartoon character, and that is not the mockery that some may think it is. Wife of the author Audrey Geisel herself said that she thought only several men could pull of the role: Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, and Jim Carrey. For the record, she was absolutely right.

So here we are, 20 years later and, love it or hate it, we are still talking about Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. There is now a generation of children that experienced this before any other Grinch media. I have watched it every year since I was young, as have many of my friends, and as someone who enjoys this film I can see why there are those who don’t like it. Although I don’t think it’s as far removed from the source material as it could have been, I dare say that you could recreate the 1966 special using the footage from this film, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what version you prefer. What matters is who you share it with.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

*Dedicated to my best friend to whom I owe everything. I love you.*

The year is 1973. It has been 4 years since the Stonewall Riots and 3 years since the first official Gay Pride Parade in New York. 31 year old Richard O’Brien, who has spent the past several years participating in theatre productions, has just finished working on a script of his own. The Rocky Horror Show, a musical tribute to the science fiction and horror B-movies of the previous decades, as well as the growing glam rock trend, opening in June of that year. Despite premiering upstairs at the relatively small Royal Court, which held 63 people, it soon grew in popularity and moved to the King Roads Theatre which holds 500 seats. By the end of the year, it had gone on to win the Evening Standard award for Best Musical. It wouldn’t be until March 1974 that the show was attended by Gordon Stulberg who was the executive at 20th Century Fox and made a deal to produce a motion picture of the production. It would be given the pretty minuscule budget of $1million which, if adjusted for inflation, is roughly $7million today.

Released in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show follows newly engaged couple Brad and Janet as they find themselves stranded at the home of Dr Frank N Furter after their car suffers from a flat tyre. As the night progresses, Frank’s creation- a blonde hunk named Rocky- is brought to life, and bizarre events only become more bizarre. Perhaps the best way to describe The Rocky Horror Picture Show is by saying that it unapologetically queer. Dr Frank N Furter is portrayed by the always-enthusiastic Tim Curry, wearing nothing but a corset, fishnet stockings and high heels, while Rocky is confined to Golden Y-fronts. On top of this are the very stylish and make-up laden party guests, who are extremely eager for some debauchery. With all this in mind, allow me to tell you the tale of my first viewing.

I was a 15 year old christian who had been, arguably, over-protected by his family from anything considered abnormal. I was also coming to terms with my sexuality, having recently realised that I was bisexual, which was a less than enjoyable time. I tried to be myself as much as I could, but I really didn’t know what that meant anymore because I didn’t feel like it was safe to experiment. Luckily, my best friend and his family are astoundingly accepting and were eager to do what they could to help. These were the circumstances that led to my best friend, his sister, and me sat on their couch watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I was transfixed. I was, of course, familiar with theatre productions and musicals, having studied Shakespeare, Wilde and Webber, but I found myself realising that this was what it meant to be theatrical. Once the initial shock wore off, I was in love.

There have been many adaptations of theatre productions and musicals brought to the big screen over the years, and they have adapted in different ways. For instance, The Sound of Music (another one from 20th Century Fox) made good use of being able to shoot on location in the dazzling hills of Switzerland, which gave us one of the most iconic moments in cinema. The Rocky Horror Picture Show takes a different approach, by effectively doubling down on its stage roots. The entire piece takes place within one household, and so we are kept to only several rooms, all decorated lavishly with the budget they were provided. However, there is a distinct difference in the way these two individual films were treated by their studio. A distinct monetary difference. The Sound of Music was provided $8.2 million when it began production in 1964, which is around $68 million when adjusted for inflation. However The Rocky Horror Show had to make do with a relatively measly $1 million in 1974 which only inflates to $6 million today. Now, I’m not one for speculation, however one does have to wonder why this might be the case. It may be possible that it’s because the former was targeted to a family demographic and was therefore more highly marketable (ie profitable) while the latter was not. It may even be that the studio feared The Rocky Horror Picture Show would not garner a large enough audience and, unfortunately, it would appear that they were correct. The film was not a critical darling, only drawing a big audience for the Los Angels premiere, and so a new strategy was devised. Having had success by pairing 1936’s Reefer Madness with 1972’s Pink Flamingos as a Double Feature several years prior, it was decided that the plan would be replicated with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Brian De Palmer’s Phantom Of Paradise. These midnight showings proved to be a success, with audiences dressing as the characters and interacting with the film. From newspapers and screaming insults to fishnet stockings and glitzy suits, there is no experience quite like a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It is perhaps this element of interaction that has allowed it to be so popular for 45 years, as evidenced by the fact that it was never officially pulled from cinemas. There is a certain etiquette to film watching and it is all but abolished during these film screenings, which is remarkably freeing. That is on top of how freeing it is for members of the LGBT+ community who, for a few hours, can be exactly who they are without judgement, especially if they aren’t open in their own lives.

I was one of those people. It would be some time before I purchased a copy of the DVD for myself, but being able to blast Sweet Transvestite through my earphones was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed. It would take 4 years for me to be completely open, and a further year before I found a boyfriend, but I felt a little more true to myself every single time I listened to the soundtrack or watched the film. I most likely would have encountered The Rocky Horror Picture Show on my own eventually (indeed many of my friends were already fans) but it is thanks to my best friend that I saw it so soon. I’ve read headlines claiming that the film is mainstream now and I think, to a certain extent, that is true, however not to the same degree as something like Star Wars. It is a classic to those who love it, but there are those to whom it remains a mystery, and I wonder if that might be a good thing. We live in an age where more adult oriented media have become major brands with mass merchandising, and are also prone to mass scrutiny. Shows like Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty have been known to not live up to the standards of fans, but this has never happened to The Rocky Horror Picture Show as it is only viewed by people who genuinely love it. There are no sequels or spin-offs to judge, though not for lack of trying. Richard O’Brien has attempted writing a direct sequel several times, but for one reason or another, those films never happened. The closest he would come was with 1981’s Shock Treatment, which centred on Brad and Janet (now portrayed by different actors) but functioned as more of a spiritual successor. The film is worth a watch for fans, but only The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become a cult classic because of the fans. The love and adoration is abundant anytd well deserved. I look forward to when we are all allowed to gather and do the Time Warp again.

It’s just a jump to the left…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey

When it comes to sequels, Science Fiction films seem to know what they’re doing better than most genres. Not only are films like Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens regarded as some of the best sequels ever made but, in my opinion, they are some of the best films ever made. So it might seem a little odd that Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey hardly ever seems to get a single mention, to the extent that I wasn’t aware it existed until several years after falling in love with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. If I remember correctly, I came upon it purely by chance whilst sifting through the television channels at the house of an older relative. I only ever came across it twice and, for a while, I wasn’t sure if I had discovered a continuation of one of my favourite stories, or if it was all some kind of fever dream. Here we are many years later, and I am delighted to tell you that Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey does indeed exist, having been released in 1991- 2 years after the original.

We follow Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan, III as they are murdered by evil robotic versions of themselves from the future, and must traverse the afterlife in an attempt to return home, while once again saving the world. A small caveat about these names- it’s never explained why Bill’s family uses the title of “esquire” and, although “Ted” is a nickname, the film’s subtitles put quotations around “Theodore” which I think is brilliant. Our plot actually begins in the distant future of 2691, where the Earth is clean and the clothes are neon. It’s definitely an interesting take on a possible future, and makes the wise decision of being so far into the future that it is still a possibility. I’m not saying that setting a film closer to the present is a bad decision, it’s often necessary for the plot, but here it allows for a suspension of disbelief. An example would be Back to the Future Part II, which was set in 2015, and as reality caught up (and surpassed) that year, it was almost impossible to escape comparing how differently things had turned out. Presumably, nobody reading this will be alive in 2961, so we can just sit back and accept it as a future, despite how fantastical it may seem.

This time around, instead of battling against the passage of time itself, we are given a genuine villain in the form of De Nomolos, whose creations Evil Robot Bill & Ted, are set to take over the lives of the actual Bill & Ted so that De Nomolos can shape reality to his will. It’s certainly a little odd to jump from not having a villain to having one, but it’s clear that he exists to set the plot into motion, plus it gives Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves a chance to portray different versions of their iconic characters. They’re clearly having a lot of fun flexing their acting muscles because that joy comes across on screen, and as evil as they are, I can’t help liking Evil Robot Bill & Ted. However the greatest addition to the cast, in my opinion is the Duke of Spook, the Doc of Shock, The Man with No Tan, Death himself – the Grim Reaper. Actor William Sattler has been dressed has an homage to Death’s appearance in the 1957 film The Seventh Seal, as well as having his introduction parody the plot of that film. In it, a knight plays a game of chess with Death in the hopes of prolonging his demise by prolonging the game which translates in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey to a game of Battleship. Not only is it a brilliant way of modernising the idea but it is also a fantastic way of humanising Death, by demonstrating what a sore loser he is which, in turn, allows for a repeat of the joke with several different games. I won’t dare spoil the joke here, so you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Another unique concept brought to this sequel is the portrayal of Hell which, as Bill remarks, is different from the artwork of many album covers. We’ve seen the portrayal of A Fiery Pit over and over again, but here it is portrayed as a never-ending corridor of rooms. Inside each of these rooms lie some form of personal punishment, and it is up to the deceased which torment they are are going to suffer for all eternity. It allows for some wacky set design and some truly terrifying costume design. Good luck not seeing Granny S. Preston Esquire or The Easter Bunny in your nightmares tonight. On the other side of the spectrum is Heaven, which is seen here as a vast, open space with Greek architecture. It also has a slightly purple hue to it which gives it a little more character than just being plain white. It also allows us to see some of those historical figures that you probably thought were going to be absent in this film (and were wisely absent from Hell) namely Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Ghandi. They don’t attempt to portray God here either, which is a nice touch, instead giving us an infinite stairway which ascends into a glowing abyss. Yes, it’s a Stairway to Heaven, and yes, I thought this was funnier than I maybe should have. It is that attention to details in the gags and dialogue of this film that provides me with such admiration though, because it shows how much the development team cared about this project.

There is less CGI in this instalment, and the music isn’t as timeless as it was in the original, but I don’t really think that it matters. It certainly doesn’t matter enough to make me notice these things during my viewing of the film itself, as these only dawned on me while I was looking back at it. The characters, story, and finale are so engaging that I genuinely failed to pay attention to the finer details of the differences in the films’ inner workings until after the fact. I honestly think that there should be differences when a making a sequel, because it helps to keep things fresh and interesting. This, in turn, allows for an element of surprise that wouldn’t be present if your film was considered a “re-hash” of the original. Here’s hoping that Bill and Ted Face the Music continues the trend of being genuinely new.

Party On Dudes!

Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure

I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Avengers: Endgame ever since its release 15 months ago, and bizarrely, that isn’t a good thing. It has good elements, and the final act is more or less flawless, but the issues that I have with Endgame really do over-shadow the whole film. One of the most glaring issues, to me, was its failure to understand the concept and execution of time travel, which is difficult to explain and only infuriates me the more I think about it. As much as I’d like to tell you that it works in the context of the film, they make the fatal mistake of having characters compare it to actual time travel movies which include both Terminator and Back to the Future. However the film I chose to re-watch upon its mention was Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure, and I am pleased to report that my worries about Avengers: Endgame melted away as I, once again, got suck into the world of San Dimas, CA, 1988.

We follow Bill S. Preston Esquire and “Ted” Theodore Logan as they travel through time collecting people of historical significance for their oral history report, which they must pass if they wish to remain at school. It seems to be a fairly simple premise, but this is an intricate tale with many elements that must be just right if the overall story is to succeed. The first of these is the relationship between Bill and Ted themselves. Portrayed with enthusiastic buffoonery by Alex Winters and Keanu Reeves respectively, they bounce off of each other wonderfully. They are consistently finishing each others sentences, and verbally sparring with each other in such a genuine way that it’s difficult to not get sucked into caring about them. On top of this, they each have their own personal issues; whether its Bill’s father’s marriage to a much younger woman on Ted’s over-bearing father threatening to send him to a Military Academy in Alaska. These are issues that they can confide in each other with because they have such a close friendship, and that camaraderie never changes. The old “friends split up” cliche doesn’t occur here, and I’d go so far as to say that it simply would not work with these two.

The time travel element is also important, and perhaps the most important sub-element of that is where the boys travel to and who they collect. Our first jaunt is to 1805 where they accidentally procure Napoleon Bonaparte during his invasion of Austria. Unlike in Time Bandits, Napoleon only ever speaks his native French, although much like in Time Bandits he is portrayed with a bit of a temper. Next is 1879, where they end up befriending Billy the Kid who is portrayed as a bit of a whimp. There seems to be this image of him in real life as a notorious bandit so this is a nice subversion of expectation. Third is the philosopher Socrates in 410BC who, once again, speaks his native language of Greek. After a pit-stop in the early 1400s, where Bill and Ted become enamoured by a couple of princesses, we get a really fun montage of them kidnapping more historical figures. Sigmund Freud (1901), Ludwig Van Beethoven (1810), Genghis Khan (1209), Joan of Arc (1429) and Abraham Lincoln (1863) are all taken to San Dimas (1988). It’s a fascinating mix of people from a variety of time periods and cultures which leads to another entertaining scene of them acclimatising to the current time whilst still being themselves. Inevitably, this leads to utter chaos and their mass arrest, which seems a tad unfair given that Beethoven was just having a good time on some keyboards. The great thing about these portrayals is that none of them really feel like portrayals. As far as I can tell, each of them has been represented with a high degree of historical accuracy.

Perhaps one of the most important elements is the history report. It is this report which sets the plot into motion, because the future depends upon Bill and Ted succeeding. It also provides a finishing point for the film as well as a deadline for the boys to work against. They may be travelling in time, but the clock in San Dimas is always running. Time travel with the possibility of not returning home in time is a fascinating concept and one that works well (Endgame does something similar but botches it). It’s also a really fun framing device, because it is a fantastical solution to a fairly mundane problem. They could just study, but they choose to kidnap key figures from history. Using such a boring frame like a history report to kickstart such an exciting adventure is a stroke of genius.

As always, the secret weapon in any movie’s arsenal is the music, and Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure has plenty. There is no original score here, instead we are treated to the musical stylings of every 1980s band that the studio could get their hands on. The official soundtrack has 10 songs, but there are 5 other songs included in the film, which takes our total to 15. Every single one of them is unapologetically of their time, and every single one is an absolute bop. It leads to a fairly short album at just 40 minutes, but it’s one that I don’t mind putting on repeat. These songs are now synonymous with their use in the film, and I can visualise the scenes they accompany whenever I hear them. Finally, we come to the CGI, which was still a fairly young technology at the time, with its first use being in 1973s Waterworld. Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure is a proper test of what this technology is capable of, though, of course, it isn’t the first or last to push those boundaries. The circuits of time are perhaps this film’s biggest CG achievement and they hold up remarkably well. I’m writing this piece based on the standard DVD release so the CGI has the added advantage of fitting the 80s quality of the rest of the footage. The film was remastered for its release on Blu-Ray and will be upgraded even further with its 4K UltraHD release, but I couldn’t imagine getting rid of this version. There’s every chance that I buy a remastered disc, but the grainy film quality of the standard version has this charisma and charm to it that continues to make me adore the film-making process. I’m all for updating graphics as technology ages, but this standard version is a moment in cinematic history and is the version that I grew up loving. Even after 31 years, Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure continues to be most bodacious.

Be Excellent To Each Other…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

I was a very sensitive child. When it came to animation, I could handle anything that wasn’t blood and gore but when it came to live-action entertainment, I was way in over my head. My mother tells me that she used to vet episodes of Doctor Who for me and I know for a fact that I couldn’t handle people getting stabbed, even Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I tell you this so that you know what kind of head-space I was in when Scooby Doo 2 was released in the summer of 2004. Despite all this, it still managed to become one of my favourite childhood movies.

We follow Mystery Incorporated as they attempt to uncover the identity of a mysterious masked figure who is bringing ghoulish costumes to life in an attempt to unmask the meddling kids for the buffoons they really are. Not only is this film a direct sequel to 2002’s Scooby Doo but it also acts as a pseudo-sequel to the television series. Whilst this films predecessor seemed to be about moving in a new direction, this film revels in the glory days of yore by making it central to the plot. Having only ever seen animated costumes for every foiled villain, it’s rewarding to see them brought to life by the costume department. They also seem to have paid particular attention to detail when it comes to the Mystery Machine which is brought to life here by a 1984 Ford Transit Mk2. When it comes to adapting books or television shows into films, fans prefer for it to be done as faithfully as possible. I feel like Scooby Doo 2 has done this beautifully in terms of the creature costumes, set dressing and overall tone. The haunted mansion, Velma losing her glasses and over-abundance of ascots are all represented here as cheesy as ever.

The heart of the story, as before, is Shaggy and Scooby who are tired of always screwing things up for the team instead of being genuinely helpful. Whilst this theme was mildly present in the first film, it is thrust into the spotlight for this one. It could have easily come across as gimmicky but Matthew Lillards performance of Shaggy is tremendously heart-warming. His line delivery is so honest and pure that it’s no surprise he voiced the character until 2020’s Scoob!. Meanwhile Fred is teaching us that it’s ok for males to be emotional, Daphne is teaching us that you can be pretty and clever and Velma is teaching us that you are fine just as you are. Scooby Doo 2 is not just highly entertaining but it is also full of really positive messages for the younger audience. This is carried across brilliantly by the cast who have done a terrific job of portraying their characters throughout both films. I didn’t praise them in my previous piece but I want to rectify that here. They are all amazing and deserved a third movie.

The CGI has definitely improved in the two years between instalments, however there is still a huge emphasis on practical effects. The Black Knight Ghost, Captain Cuttler, Miner Forty-Niner and the Zombie are all costumes and prosthetics touched up with a hint of CGI. They look fantastic. Meanwhile the 10,000 Volt Ghost, Pterodactyl Ghost, Skeleton Men and Tar Monster are fully CGI. They also look fantastic…to an extent. Of course it hasn’t held up to the standards of today but as I discussed in my Scooby Doo review, they don’t need to. They can look slightly cartoonish and it still fits the overall tone/ characteristics of the movie. The designs are more detailed than the monsters in the previous entry but they also have individual character. The Black Knight Ghost is a macho brawler and the 10,000 Volt Ghost is kind of sassy but my favourite remains the Skeleton Men. Their sole purpose seems to be slap-stick and I am all here for that. It really hearkens back to the comedy of old cartoons and I love it.

Sadly, Scooby Doo 2 would be the last outing for this live-action squad. The film was panned upon release and, as far as I can find, this appears to be because it was considered too childish. one New York Times reviewer went so far as to claim that it was too similar to Saturday morning cartoons. Forgive me if I sound slightly pretentious but that seems like a really odd criticism for a children’s film. In the years that followed, the film would eventually pick up a following and would even be released on Blu-Ray alongside its predecessor in 2010. Sadly it means that we will never see a three-quel featuring this cast though, thanks to writer James Gunn, we do know what the plot would have entailed. It would have seen Mystery Inc summoned to a town in Scotland where monsters have been terrorising the locals. However we soon learn that it is the monsters who are the real victims and so the gang must come to grips with their own prejudices. Instead the series would get a reboot with a younger cast in 2009 with subsequent films being released directly to DVD. Now with 2020’s Scoob! returning to the teams animated routes, it seems like the era of live-action may be over but it should never be forgotten.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Scooby Doo (2002)

On the 13th of September 1969, a new children’s show about mystery-solving youths and their dog premiered on CBS. Created by Joseph Barbera and William Hana, Scooby Doo, Where Are You! ran for a mere 41 episodes, but would be the launching pad for an entire phantasmic franchise spanning 14 TV shows and 39 films. The majority of this media would be, and continues to be, animated, but one motion picture in 2002 dared to challenge that, leading to what has now been dubbed the live-action Scooby Doo movie.

We follow Mystery Incorporated as they reunite after 2 years apart to solve a case of unusual behaviour on the aptly named Spooky Island. However they get more than they bargained for when the monsters, for once, end up being the genuine article, and they must now prevent the ‘darkpocolypse’. Scooby Doo opens with the team in the middle of a caper, yet to disband, foiling the destruction of the Wow-O Toy factory by The Luna Ghost. It plays out like you would expect it to, with Velma concocting a plan, Daphne getting kidnapped, Fred taking charge and Scooby and Shaggy accidentally capturing the villain. It demonstrates a real understanding of the source material and gets us up to speed on the cartoonish reality of this universe, but the real story comes after the villain’s downfall, where the credits would usually roll. Velma, Daphne and Fred, in that order, decide that they’ve had enough of playing the same roles time and time again, leading them to go their separate ways and leaving the Mystery Machine with Shaggy and Scooby. It provides a solid emotional through-line to the story and results in a satisfying payoff though of course, it works better if you, like me, are already a fan of the franchise. When we catch up with everyone, two years have passed and they have all been individually invited to the Amusement Park getaway on Spooky Island. Fred has succumbed to his self-absorption, Velma has been on a journey of self discovery and Daphne has earned her black belt in karate, while Shaggy and Scooby have simply continued to live their best lives. With a story so centred on change, the friendship between Norville Rogers and Soobert Doobert Doo remains our one constant.

The plot is a lot of fun and that is certainly helped by the casting of Rowan Atkinson, of Mr Bean fame, as the island’s owner which sees him bring his unique sense of aloof-ness to a not-so-aloof film. Scooby Doo feels almost sinister in many places, but the talent of the cast and the slightly exaggerated decor of the island help it to maintain a camp edge. This universe has a certain amount of cartoon physics, with fall damage not being a real issue, but the gravity and weight of items, especially in collision with people, feels very real. The film may be rated PG but it very much feels like there is a 12 rating hiding just beneath the surface- and this is for good reason. Script writer James Gunn, now known for The Guardians of the Galaxy, has clarified that this was to be a more cynical take on the classic tales before Warner Brothers decided on a more family friendly approach. Language, jokes, sexual tension, and a kiss between Velma and Daphne were all cut, but hints at all of these things remain. There is a major focus on providing almost every member of the team with a love interest and I can’t help but wonder if Velma’s was added to distract from her obvious admiration for Daphne. Had the studio carried through on Gunn’s original plan, this would most likely have been one of the most important films of its age. Queer characters in a prominently children’s franchise would have meant so much the the community, especially its younger members, and I really admire Gunn for trying. While this element may be mostly missing, there is only a certain amount of skimpy clothing that can be ignored and Scooby Doo has plenty. There is only so much cleavage that you can cover with 2000’s CGI and I’d imagine that it helped the film keep that PG rating as well as keeping teenage eyes occupied.. Sadly, only one version of the film was made, so we will never see Gunn’s original script brought to life through a #ReleasetheGunnCut movement.

While the emotional and plot elements have sustained the test of time, the same cannot be said of the film’s CGI. Scooby himself is actually fairly decent, especially as far as his fur is concerned, and all these years later I find myself so thankful that they didn’t go down the photo-realistic route. Don’t get me wrong, I’m for photo-realism to an extent, but only in minimal amounts and only when required, because I think that it really won’t hold up to scrutiny. At best, it is slightly off-putting, but at worst you find yourself entering the uncanny valley and that is why I think Scooby’s design holds up. It’s CGI, but it isn’t ashamed to be, and allows him to remain closer to his 2D animated counterpart whilst sustaining all the cartoonish possibilities that entails. On the other hand, we have the island’s monsters which come out sort of rubbery. They don’t posses much detail and are probably supposed to be kind of scaly, but that does not translate well. With that said, none of the CGI, be it Scooby, the monsters or the floating spirit heads, are especially off-putting. In fact, it almost fits the cartoonish nature of the film and the very 2002 aesthetic that it has.

There are movies that feel dated, movies that feel timeless, and movies that feel exactly like the year in which they were made. Scooby Doo feels like 2002. The soundtrack is comprised of music from that year, which was designed to emulate the pop rock of the 1990s but doesn’t. There’s even a cameo from long-forgotten boyband Sugar Ray. Perhaps the most glaring demonstration of 2002 is the fashion. Liberty hair spikes, bedazzled jean pockets and denim-centric attire- you’re faves are all here! I feel like somebody should apologise for early 2000s fashion, not because it was offensive, but because it’s just really weird. Scooby Doo is a perfect encapsulation of how the world was upon its release and as such should be preserved as a historic artefact.

It’s become one of those “meme-able movies” but, if I’m honest, I think Scooby Doo is worth more than that. The characterisations are spot-on and the camp tone is perfectly Hana-Barbera. I appreciate it for being this fun little moment in the ever expanding history of the franchise, and I adore it for the sequel it gave us. Somehow this film remains the best attempt at a Mystery Inc motion picture, and includes so much of the joy and heart that the franchise is built on. I’m sad that we only ever got the two and now, thanks to Scoob!, I’m a little sad that they never spun this off into a whole Hana-Barbera Cinematic Universe. After all, that was kind of their thing.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


*Dedicated to the 1980’s. I may not have lived through you but that hasn’t stopped you from giving me some of the best moments of my life*

The most spectacular thing about Ghostbusters is not it’s longevity, it’s that it even worked to begin with. The idea of a film about capturing ghosts starring 3 of the biggest names in comedy was laughable. They didn’t do themselves any favours by releasing the film on time, despite the effects being incomplete, yet audiences loved it anyway. It was Number 1 at the box Office for 7 consecutive weeks, beating out titles like Indiana Jones, and the Temple of Doom, and Gremlins. It didn’t just do well, it was a certified phenomenon. It still is.

The plot follows scientists Pete Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler as they enter the business of capturing ghosts during an unprecedented spectral anomaly in New York City. Along the way they face off against Environmental Protection Agency member Walter Peck, and a 100 foot tall marshmallow man. Each of the 3 Ghostbusters bring something unique to the group dynamic and they bounce off each other perfectly. Venkman, portrayed by Bill Murray, acts more like a rockstar than a scientist, taking nothing seriously. It’s clear that he’s more interested in any women the publicity may bring him, but he remains likeable. His sarcasm and one-liners were one of the aspects that the critics praised most and it’s well deserved. Then we have Stantz, portrayed by Dan Ackroyd, who is really the heart of the Ghostbusters. He is infectiously optimistic and it’s his love for the paranormal, as well as the money from his mortgage, that drive the team forward. He has a childlike glee that balances out Venkman’s sarcastic nature, and it’s clear that the 2 characters have a life-long friendship. Thirdly is my personal favourite, Egon Spengler, portrayed by the dearly missed Harold Ramis. You could say that he’s “the adult” of the group, indeed he seems to take the possible explosion of his Ghostbusting equipment very seriously, but that doesn’t mean he’s boring. His dry wit and deadpan delivery heralds some of the films funniest moments. Finally, there’s Winston Zeddemore, portrayed by Ernie Hudson, who is a newcomer to the team. He acts as a semi stand-in for the audience, asking the questions we may wish to ask, but isn’t afraid to intervene when required. They say that two’s company an three’s a crowd, but four proves to be the perfect number for Ghostbusting.

Ghostbusters‘ comedy manages to work on every level. There are, of course, the one-liners which would go down as some of the best in movie history, but it also manages to work in some slapstick, Whether it’s Venkman dropping a book next to Egon’s head or objects falling over, the film isn’t afraid to use one of the oldest forms of comedy to its advantage. Then there’s the comedy stemming from each of the Ghostbusters’ reactions, be it in the foreground of the shot or not. Disbelief, exasperation, shock, and smugness all have their parts to play. It brings a sense of reality, preventing these performances from feeling like just performances. Finally there’s the absurdist humour of it all, because Ghostbusters is a totally absurd movie. 3 scientists, and Winston, fighting ghosts and a 100 foot marshmallow man in the centre of NYC is a straight up bonkers plot and Ghostbusters knows it. For me, that absurdity is never clearer than during the film’s climax where having obliterated the 100 foot marshmallow man, everything is covered in fluff…except for Venkman. Why? Because the cast thought it would be funny, and they were right. I never fail to pick up on another small nuance of humour when re-watching this film, and the humour that I already know is there doesn’t stop being funny.

I’d be remiss to discuss Ghostbusters without mentioning one of the most important elements- the special effects. Admittedly the CG of the Terror Dogs hasn’t held up to the scrutiny of time but, honestly, who cares? It makes up 3, very quick, shots and the Terror Dogs that they created to physically be on set more than make up for it. The only other CGI you’ll see comes in the form of proton blasts, ghost-trap lights and sky beams and they all hold up remarkably well. Every other effect, be it a ghost, explosion or 100 foot marshmallow man, are all practical. Sure they look like effects from the 1980’s, but that’s because they are. We simply should not scrutinise what was cutting edge at the time based on what is cutting edge now.

I think what surprises people the most is that up until 2011, Ghostbusters was rated PG. This film, with consistent smoking, drinking, swearing, extreme innuendo, and casual sexism was for children. The BBFC (British Board for Film Classification) has since tightened their guidelines and these things have all become less socially acceptable, yet Ghostbusters remains as popular with all ages as it always has. There have been sequels, spin-offs and television shows, all received with varying reviews, but the original Ghostbusters remains as beloved as ever. Perhaps it’s the pure love and joy that went into its creation. Perhaps its the palpable camaraderie of everyone involved. Perhaps it’s the 100 foot marshmallow man. We may never know

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

I Love You, Phillip Morris

*Dedicated to the people who live in the closet. You are loved*

It can be difficult to find queer representation in films, especially if you’re looking for it to be done well. It feels like our sexuality itself has been branded with a 12 rating or, in cases of extra flamboyancy, a 15 rating. Representation is on the increase, but if you want to watch something that is 100% unapologetically gay then I Love You, Phillip Morris has you covered.

We follow America’s gayest con-man Steven Russell as he finds any way possible to be with the love of his life Phillip Morris, who is in prison. Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are wonderful as Russell and Morris respectively, giving us a passionate romance. There has been an ongoing debate as to whether straight actors should be allowed to portray gay characters. Some people feel it’s disrespectful to deprive gay actors of gay roles, and it would certainly be wonderful to have the LGBT community portraying itself. The subject of trans people portraying trans characters has sparked its own separate discussion, as it should, so lets just focus on the LGB. At the end of the day, it is an actors job to portray the character they have been given regardless of sexuality. If a gay actor is perfect for the role but the role goes to a straight actor who isn’t as good, then of course I expect an outcry. If an actor is known to be anti-LGBT and gets cast in a gay role then there should be an outcry. There is more of this in Hollywood than there should be, but watching Carrey and McGregor, it’s hard to argue that straight actors should never be given gay roles; they do a beautiful job of portraying a personal and intense relationship.

The most impressive thing about I Love You, Phillip Morris is that it’s based on a true story. Usually I would discuss how accurate or not the film is to the original incident, but I can’t wrap my head around how much of this film is true. It’s absolutely nuts. Steven is so desperate to be with Phillip that he is willing to get beaten up, leave a prison in hotpants and fake his own death from AIDS. Even more remarkable is that both of these men are still alive today. With docudramas there is usually a breathing period between the event and the film adaptation. Apollo 13 waited 25 year, Frost/Nixon waited 31 years and Schindler’s List waited 48 years. This film waited just 10. At the time of this films release, Steven Russell had just been moved to a maximum security prison where he is currently serving the 22nd year of his 144 year sentence. Meanwhile the real Phillip Morris makes an uncredited cameo as Steven’s lawyer in the final courtroom scene of the film.

If you want to find out how a man ends up being sentenced to 144 years in prison. If you want some decent gay representation. If you want to laugh, or if you just want to see Ewan McGregor as an adorable twink, this one’s for you.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer