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ParaNorman

Animation is for children. At least, this is what some adults will try to have you believe. Current Disney CEO Bob Chapek is one such adult, which may partially explain why the world is in the midst of a live-action-remake-renaissance. The fine folks over at PIXAR Animation Studios have never held such a belief, knowing that children can handle most of what life can throw at them and that’s there no use hiding them from reality. The same is true of Laika Studios, whose 2009 classic Coraline delighted and terrified audiences of all ages. It was the very first film they’d produced for themselves, having assisted on other projects like The Corpse Bride, but it wouldn’t be their final forray into the world of horror. 3 years later came ParaNorman, which is often overshadowed by it’s predecessor but is no less creative.

The story follows 11 year old Norman, who has the unique ability to see and speak to ghosts, as he attempts to stop a 300 year old witches curse from destroying his town. The curse, which until recently had been held at bay by a crazed hermit, brings back to life the seven jurors who sentenced the witch to death as well as the spirit of the witch herself. Along the way, he is assisted by his older sister Courtney, school bully Alvin, best friend Neil and Neils older brother Mitch. It’s a simpler plot than Coraline but the characters and their dynamics are just as interesting. There’s the classic sibling rivalry betwween Norman and Courtney which also exists between Neil and Mitch, whilst Alvin finds himself clinging to the group out of fear. Courtney’s infatuation with Mitch is especially fun to witness, particularly on a rewatch with the knowledge that Mitch is gay.

The plot never makes a big deal out of that fact. It isn’t a running thread throughout themovie and, when revealed, isn’t given an aura that demands praise. It’s just part of who he is and comes up naturally, which is how it should be. Gay people are more than just their sexuality, which is something that Laika continues to understand. Their following three films would include gay characters, both in the background and the foreground, but there was never a massive deal made about them. Disney has been expecially bad for using gay characters as a marketing gimmick but the fail to grasp that this community isn’t demanding attention. The goal is simply to be included because that’s how it is in reality. The LGBT community only seems loud because it fights so hard to exist without prosecution, which is only getting more difficult by the year. Characters like Mitch normalise a community that has been seen as “other” for decades and help children to realise that, not only are there gay people, but that it’s ok to be gay yourself. It breeds a more open and loving ideollogy in children who see it and provides hope for a netter tomorrow for the community. Mitch was the first gay character in a “children’s” movie and he remains one of the best examples of how such a character can be handeled.

The most interesting development in ParaNorman occurs as act three begins. The seven undead jurors are not the steotypical undead, but are instead victims of the witches curse who wish to be set free. The overall message here is to not jusge a book by its cover but this only works because the idea of a “zombie” is so ingrained in popular culture…which is fascinating. It’s an idea embeded so deep withing society that this tweist works regardless of the age of the viewer and it only works better as time goes on. The zombie genre has seen a surge in popularity over the last decade propelled, in part, by the success of shows like The Walking Dead (a show which ironically will not die). However it also means that subverting the expectation of brain-hungry zomnies is not as unique as it once was, having been used in films like Warm Bodies and Life After Beth. ParaNorman was one of the originators and, considering how well they pulled it off, it’s no wonder it stuck around.

It’s also a remarkable homage to the B Movies of old. The opening scene is an in-universe B Movie which perfectly sends up the hoaky acting, simple sets and bright colours. This homage continues throughout the film itself. Laika’s signature stop-motion animation comes across on screen as more jagged and slow in movement, providing a slightly uneasy feel akin to the low frame rates of early cinema. There’s also a lighter tone than something like Coraline, although it still has its dark moments. The eventual reveal of the witches identity is as heartbreaking in terms of narrative as it is in terms of historical accuracy. There is also a direct link between the witch, the hermit and Norman which is never stated outright but is evident enough from context clues. It feels that a link like that would be directly adressed in a film today, but again ParaNorman refuses to talk down to its audience.

Despite the admiration the creative team clearly have for the horror genre and the admiration audiences should hold for their creative process, ParaNorman remains second fiddle to Coraline.This is likely down to its simplicity and lack of emotional weight in comparrison, but that doesn’t make it a lesser film. ParaNorman has enough charm, humour and stly to stick around in the public conciousness…even garnering a 4K remaster for its tenth anniversary. There is plenty of room for both and they make a spectacular double bill, with Coraline serving as the major scare and ParaNorman acting as a semi-palette cleanser. Both feature a suitably spooky aesthetic and are sure to entertain.

ParaNorman is fun for the whole family.

And, incidentally, a Happy Halloween to you at home!

BFI Flare: Shorts

The Tumbler

“Charming” isn’t a word that gets a lot of use in the film journalism space. This may be because the medium is filled to the brim with talk of blockbusters and darker, artsier pieces, but when it does finally make an appearance, it’s well deserved. Such is the case with director Savannah Knoop’s newest short film The Tumbler.

It’s a simple premise with a couple of Gen Z hackers preying on their next millenial victims in an unassuming parking lot. There’s tension and assumption on both sides, with the millennials expecting slightly older hackers and the Gen Zers expecting easy targets but this proves not to be the case for either group.

The four main leads do an excellent job of capturing the attitudes of their characters whether it be apathy, excitement, or nervousness which allows for a connection with the audience in a short amount of time. The camera is handheld which allows for further ease of access to the story as if the audience is the third wheel along for the ride whilst the lack of score allows the natural ambiance to shine through.

Borekas

Familial relationships can be difficult for queer people. Relatives may find it difficult to understand why someone has “chosen” to live a gay lifestyle and may even cut people off. It can be extraordinarily difficult but Palestinian director Saleh Saadi’s directorial debut Borekas explores the father-son dynamic in particular.

The short film features a son and his father reconnecting after their car breaks down on the way to the airport. The majority of the plot sees the son determined to call a taxi whilst his father is determined that he can fix the car in time but, as with many family disputes, it’s not actually the car that’s the issue. The real issue lies deeper, in the father feeling like his son doesn’t want to speak to him, despite still talking to his mother.

There’s such a culture of men not discussing their feelings and this film makes it clear that it’s a global issue. Yes, the film is short and seemingly simple, but it’s the kind of story that needs telling.

Birthday Boy

Some parents live in deep denial when it comes to their children. For queer people especially, their lifestyles can go totally ignored. This is particularly difficult for trans people who may have to go through celebrations having their identity completely glossed over. Birthdays can be difficult enough on their own but when it includes being constantly deadnamed and misgendered, it’s an exhausting and upsetting experience.

This short Panamanian film from director Judith Corro perfectly encapsulates that experience by showing a Trans man dealing with his 18th birthday. The only member of his family to support him is his brother, with his mother buying him a dress to wear to mark the occasion. The film opens with almost a full minute of a tone ringing out, which really captures the numbing feeling of trying to make it through this kind of life.

The Matrix Resurrections

You can’t be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself. These are some of the first words said to a fresh-faced Neo, by Morpheus, in 1999’s sci-fi phenomenon The Matrix. This is true both of the titular simulated world and the film centered around it. You can read the plot synopsis online, even read the script if you so wish, but you won’t truly know The Matrix unless you witness it firsthand. The themes, performances, sets, and soundtrack can be read about, looked at, and listened to but it is the culmination of all these aspects that makes The Matrix what it is. After a hiatus of almost 2 decades, it makes sense that The Matrix Resurrerections should be the same.

Set 60 years after Neo’s sacrifice in Matrix Revolutions, game developer Thomas Anderson (Neo’s simulation self) is having psychotic episodes brought about by memories suppressed by an AI known as The Analyst. Whilst working on a sequel to his Matrix videogame trilogy, he is freed from the simulation by a new cast of likable characters, before they attempt to rescue Trinity, whose memories are also being repressed. It’s a simple premise but the specifics of the plot are a tad more complex. As a whole, the film tackles the concept of legacy, in relation to both franchise creator Lana Wachowski and franchise owner Warner Brothers Studio. Watching Resurrections felt like watching an argument between the two, with Warner Brothers wanting a standard sequel and Lana wanting something that channels her emotions and experiences. Indeed, the film feels like a compromise between these two visions, like the film was going to go ahead without Lana and she channeled that frustration into the script.

So far, the film appears to be splitting audiences. Either the script is poor and the action is good or the script is good and the action is poor. Given how divisive both previous installments were, it’s almost comforting to see that Resurrections is too. “Comforting” is almost the perfect way to describe it. From the opening scene, which directly parallels the opening of the original Matrix, to the presence of Agent Smith, albeit in a different body. There’s a running theme of experiencing the same scenarios in a different body which feels like a much more obvious Trans allegory than the original trilogy. It’s clear how much of Lana’s own transition, especially in relation to her creation, is being explored here. As one of the most prolific directors of the early 2000s, her transition was never going to be a quiet affair and nobody will ever really understand how it affected her except for her. This author won’t speculate, but it can’t have been easy and I truly hope that she is happy not only with herself but with how Resurrections ended up.

The action is classic Matrix with a large amount of kung-fu and an equally large amount of gunfire. The violence is more weighted than in the previous two installments, due to Neo’s lack of practice and 60 years of taking the blue pill. It’s a miracle that his first fight with Smith doesn’t kill him, although he really cuts it close, only being saved by his new force powers. It’s a very cool power, and it’s great to see it finally making a debut after being considered for Reloaded, but it does feel like he’s found the one combo move that works and is continuously spamming it. Although, it does mean that Trinity gets to kick more ass than him this time around, which not only mirrors the original film but Lana as a person.

Where the film falters is in its pacing. The issue with seemingly having two films at play is that neither fully get the time they deserve. Many of the themes take a backseat for the majority of the action-packed third act and The Analyst, though an entertaining villain, lacks the looming presence of the original Smith. Even Smith, this time portrayed by Jonathan Groff, never takes up the amount of screentime that the character deserves. Although considering how little he feels like Weaving, many audience members may find this to be a relief.

It seems like the weakest elements in The Matrix Resurrections are ones controlled by the studio, although there’s every chance that that’s my bias showing. It’s also entirely plausible that this is how the film wants me to feel.

Is this film saying too much, or not enough?

Has Resurrections already decided your answer?

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly 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

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

Carol

Simply put, Carol is a work of art. Of course all films are a form of art, but Carol is like a moving painting. You could take any frame from this film and hang it in an art gallery. Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, and follows young aspiring photographer Therese in her love affair with an older woman going through a messy divorce. Set in the early 1950’s, this is a slow-burn tale of forbidden romance.

One of Carols greatest strengths is that its story is driven by the characters. It never feels like it’s focused on simply telling a story, it could be a situation happening to real people. The main focus is on Therese, whose relationship with and feelings for Carol come as a complete shock to her. To begin with, she is due to head to Europe with her sort-of boyfriend, but when she falls in love with Carol, she has to confront her own sexuality. Many people often forget that the first person any queer people come out to is themselves, and it isn’t always easy… Carol displays this dilemma brilliantly, and sets up an ending that will make you genuinely happy for her. Meanwhile Carol herself may be the best performance of Cate Blanchett’s entire career. Her portrayal of an older lesbian who has grown unwillingly accustomed to society’s heteronormativity is sublime. Something I only picked up on in subsequent viewings was the use of smoking to further display her emotions. Whenever she is upset or anxious, she immediately lights up, but whenever she’s with Therese she doesn’t. On their roadtrip there isn’t a single cigarette in sight, showing just how comfortable they are in each others company. In a society where their love is frowned upon it’s, truly heartwarming to see.

Unfortunately, in many parts of the world this is still the case. Many countries will still execute you for being gay and in many places being gay is still considered a crime. In the United Kingdom homosexuality was still illegal until the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. That’s just over 50 years ago, not even two generations. As a country we are getting better, but there is still a long way to go before being gay is seen as normal. Films like Carol are playing a massive role in normalising something that has for years been seen as abnormal, and having an A-List star like Cate Blanchett, I think, helps people treat this as a proper film instead of just an independent one. It has been nearly five years since Carol was released and as massive as it was at the time, it seems to have faded into obscurity. Perhaps it hasn’t within the LGBT community, but to the general public it isn’t being remembered as it should be. Carol is a classic and I think its about time we treated it that way.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Love, Simon

*Dedicated to my best friends, without whom I wouldn’t be here writing. Thank You*

Love, Simon is based on the novel Simon Vs The Homosapien Agenda, which I am yet to read. This review will therefore be based purely on the film and will have zero comparisons to the book. Our plot follows Simon, a closeted gay teen, who forms an e-mail romance with the mysterious Blue, while trying to keep his sexuality a secret from everyone around him. The antagonist of this tale is a fellow theatre nerd called Martin who discovers the e-mails and blackmails Simon into helping him get a date with Simon’s friend, Abby. It should go without saying that you never, ever out somebody who is closeted. You do not know the consequences, and possibly even the danger, they may face. As far as the world has come, it can still be filled with terrible, bigoted people. Simon acknowledges that he is in no real danger if he gets outed and that everyone around him would be accepting. Even Ethan, the only openly gay teen at school, just faces a couple of stereotypical bullies.

The setting for Love, Simon is your classic interpretation of an American suburban town. It’s a predominantly white area where everyone gets along and the teachers all have a sense of humour. You’ve seen this set-up a thousand different times, but it’s not the setting that matters; it’s Simon. He feels afraid to come out, and if someone feels that way, regardless of the reason, then you should respect that. When Martin does finally out Simon, his friends are so pre-occupied with the petty relationship drama that he has inadvertently caused, they don’t care that he was blackmailed. This is an awful response from characters who, until this point have been rather likeable. For as unlikeable as they end up being, Simon’s family is the complete opposite. It’s the family of the American dream- the hardworking mother, father, and the little sister who bakes – and is delightful. They’re all acted brilliantly to the point where I found myself liking them more than I thought I would, especially Jennifer Garner as Simon’s mum. Se gives a speech that is profound and heartfelt, and deserves to be heard by every member of the LGBT community from their own parents.

At heart Love, Simon feels like the work of the late John Hughes in that, while it’s full of clichés, it has a lot of passion. In that same vein, this feels like it belongs with those movies released in the 80s and 90s instead of the year 2018. I understand that we are in need of more LGBT representation on screen, and that this movie gives us that, but we shouldn’t have to be playing catch-up with the history of cinema. We deserve better. But for now Love, Simon is a suitable segue for the films to come.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Pride

*Dedicated to Mark Ashton who fought for everybody’s rights, not just ours*

This film was among the first gay films that I ever saw, and as such has had a prolific impact on me. I’d like to write a non-biased review but LGBT media is very important. They bring stories from this community and its history and they preserve them for the coming generations. It also brings these tales into the limelight for the public who, quite frankly, are under-educated in such things.

“Pride” takes place from 1984 to 1985, a time when being homosexual was still a crime. Nobody gave a damn, not the press, not the police and not the government. This story shows how, through solidarity with striking miners, Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners changed that. The story centres around Joe who, at 20 years old, is still classed as a minor in the eyes of the law. He joins LGSM in their crusade, unknown to his parents who believe hes attending a pastry course at college. We journey from their headquarters, a gay bookstore in London, to Onllwyn in Wales, where the bigotry seems to be dissipating. Our finale sees the miners from all over Wales joining LGSM at the front of the Gay Pride March in 1985, a truly beautiful moment.

As someone who was still closeted upon this films release, I really appreciated how unapologetically gay this film was, and I still do. The soundtrack is comprised solely of songs that would have played in a gay nightclub in the 80s. It isn’t at all shy in showing the troubles of LGBT people at the time, especially when talking about the AIDS crisis.

The highlights of this film are Dominic West, who gets a beautifully choreographed dance scene, and Andrew Scott as his boyfriend. All the performances in this film are superb, especially from Imalda Staunton who played Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter. There she was perfectly despicable but here she is just lovable. There are also some wonderful shots of the Welsh countryside which compliment the smaller shots of the village.

This film is an emotionally charged story with very emotional performance and I cannot give it an unbiased review. I adore this film, please go watch it.

Until Next Time…