Christopher Nolan is often praised as a visionary director and master story teller. Today he is most commonly thought of as the mind behind the Dark Knight trilogy, but I seem to be part of a minority who think that those films were over-hyped and that they pale in comparison to his other work. I believe that if you want a true demonstration of Nolan’s visionary directing, you need look no further than his 2010 blockbuster Inception. Shot, edited, and released in the 4 year gap between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, I believe that Inception should have eclipsed both of those films in popularity, but it only seemed to be a hit during its initial release. Since then it has been relegated to the realm of “pop culture moments to reference for an probably-not-funny joke” and I think it deserves a bit better than that.

We follow a rag-tag team as they attempt to plant an idea in the mind of a CEO through dream sharing technology. In charge of the mission is Cobb, who as well as stealing corporate secrets with this technology for a living, is grappling with the death of his wife Mal. At its core Inception is a very human story, centering on Cobb and how he deals with (or fails to deal with) a tragic life. Whilst Mal is dead, he refuses to let her go, meaning that within Cobb’s mind there is a projection of who his wife used to be. This projection seems entirely focused on making Cobb suffer as much as possible, even willing to go as far as murder, which puts the entire team at risk. A death in the dreamstate would mean death in reality, which is a fantastic addition to the story because it provides a further sense of urgency and means that the team needs an element of luck. This team is already fighting against the clock, and the CEO’s subconscious defenses to this unstable variable adds a final layer of tension. It also adds a layer of intrigue to Cobb, whose character we gradually learn more about as the plot progresses. Who exactly is he? What is he running from? What did happen to his wife? All we really know is that he cant return home to his two children in the USA, and that his wife is dead. But all is revealed as the film nears its end.

Cobb remains the focus of the plot, but he is only one member of a larger team. It’s clear that Arthur, his associate and the closest thing to a friend Cobb seems to have, and who is responsible for all of the pre-mission research, knows enough about Cobb to know that Mal’s projection is a colossal risk, but he doesn’t feel comfortable enough calling him out on it, opting to prioritise the mission. The role of professional forger is filled by Eames, who specialises in identity theft making him ideal for impersonations within the dreamstate. The beautiful thing about dreams is that you can look however you want, and Eames has mastered this technique which allows him to look like however he needs to for the mission. To maintain the dreamstate for an extended period of time requires a special concoction, which is where Yusuf comes in; not only does he provide the necessary delicacies, but he accompanies the rest of the team into the first level of the dreamstate. This entire operation requires no small amount of funding, which is brought by Mr Saito, whom Cobb had previously tried to steal secrets from. His inclusion here is penance for that, and the CEO being incepted is his rival. The final addition to the team is Adriane, who is the only newcomer to this realm of dream espionage, and is brought in to design the dreams themselves. She is what we would describe as the “audience stand-in” who exists primarily to explain the nuances of the plot. There’s no reason that there couldn’t already be a professional dream-builder, but I will cut Nolan a little slack here. Inception is not difficult for me to understand, having grown up with films featuring time travel, but I can understand why some audience members may need a little bit of assistance. Some people may see the inclusion of a character to explain the plot as slightly pretentious, and occasionally it may feel that way, but I have seen audiences confused by simpler plots so I’ll give Nolan the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps the largest impact that Inception had on mainstream media came from its score. Composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer and featuring Edith Piaf’s song Non, je ne Regrette Rien, the score is now best remembered for its BWONG. If you’ve seen any action movie trailer or watched any action movie released after 2010, you’ve heard the infamous BWONG, although my personal favourite remains in a 2014 YouTube sketch by Thomas “Tomska” Ridgewell titled The Hole. The incorporation of elements from Non, je ne Regrette Rien into the score is a wonderful example of the score complimenting its film, as it plays a pivotal role in the plot. The timing of this song is what allows the team to know how long they have left in each level of the dreamstate, where each level dilates time further and further. An hour in reality is 12 hours at the first level, which is six days on the second level, which is two and a half months at the third level, which is two and a half years in Limbo (essentially dream purgatory). It’s quite an extreme length to go to in order to squeeze as much time out of two and a half hours of runtime, as possible and I kind of love it. Credit is also due for the effects team who, as in all of Nolan’s films, rely primarily on practical effects. The stand-out moment remains Arthur fighting in the spinning corridor which remains a magnificent feat of filmmaking.

I have done my best to keep the review free of spoilers, but for this last segment it is unavoidable. If you still haven’t seen it, then I highly recommend it, but this is your last SPOILER WARNING.

Christopher Nolan has said that of all his work, he gets asked about the ending to Inception the most, and has stated that the ending is deliberately ambiguous. The final shot is of Cobb finally reuniting with his children while his spinning top spins in the foreground, seemingly perpetually. The spinning top never topples in a dream, so the implication here is that Cobb is still dreaming, and I think it’s important to note two things. Firstly, whether or not it topples here is irrelevant because Cobb isn’t paying attention to it. He has finally moved on from Inception and his wife and hiding in his dreams. He doesn’t care if this is a dream, because he is with his children and they are his reality. Regardless of the circumstances, he is finally ready to move on and be happy with his family. Secondly, the spinning top wobbles in the final seconds of screentime which it could only do in reality and anybody who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.

Until Next Time…

The Good Dinosaur

You may recall in my review for Cars 2 that I mentioned how it was the first film in PIXAR’s repertoire that was considered a failure, in that it wasn’t a huge success at the Box Office. At the time, and for the several years that followed, it was seen as the worst film that the studio had ever produced – though I believe this reputation to be undeserved. The next few of PIXAR’s projects fared better, but in late 2015 they would release their first official Box Office failure- The Good Dinosaur. It’s important to note here just how much the studio usually earns in order to understand how abnormal The Good Dinosaur was. The two previous films, Inside Out and Monsters University, raked in $858 million and $743 million respectively, while their next film Finding Dory made just short of $1 billion. In contrast, The Good Dinosaur made around $332 million, which coupled with the roughly $350 million cost of production and marketing, put the studio at a loss- the first, and currently only, in their history. This is unfortunate and came as a shock to me while I was conducting my research, but in retrospect, I maybe shouldn’t have expected a huge profit to start with. This isn’t the film’s fault, and I’ll get to that, but first I feel we should go over the film itself.

We follow Arlo the dinosaur as he travels over harsh terrain in order to return home to his family. Along the way he encounters faces that are friendly, some that are not so friendly, and befriends a wild human that he names Spot. The main premise here is that the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs 75 million years ago missed, which has allowed dinosaurs to evolve alongside the human race. Arlo, his brother, sister and parents are farmers who have adapted to using their bodies as farm equipment. Their sturdy heads plough the field, their colossal tails make for effective axes and their mouths are capable of holding enough water to spray an entire field of crops, but this accounts for 20 minutes of the 94 minute film. I think that it would have been really interesting to see a whole community of different dinosaurs with different jobs and perhaps how those skills develop over the centuries, but instead we get to witness Arlo travelling. It’s not a bad premise, and I am definitely fond of the relationship that Arlo develops with Spot, but I get this feeling that I’ve seen it all before. In essence, I think The Good Dinosaur’s biggest issue is that it lacks in new ideas. Early PIXAR films were known for their groundbreaking CGI, and all 15 of their previous entries are either a new premise or a new exploration of an old premise. This film feels like a reel of all the best parts from those films. You’ll find the “unexpected friends” trope in Toy Story, the “beautiful landscape” aspect in Brave and the “dead parent” trope in Finding Nemo. These are not bad aspects in and of themselves but this is the 16th PIXAR film in 20 years, so it needs something special of its own.

The plot also does not feel particularly coherent. There is a general through plot, with Arlo attempting to return home, but the events in this film don’t take place in any particular order. These scenes individually are rather fun, with the T-Rex ranchers being a particular highlight, but they all feel removed from each other. The T-Rex ranchers have an issue and Arlo helps. The hippie dinosaur wants to keep Spot for himself but that resolves itself. Even the storm-chasers, who appear twice, don’t seem to have a lasting impact on Arlo, but this is not the film’s fault. As I researched, I discovered a troubled production that I hadn’t been hyper-aware of at the time. According to reports, The Good Dinosaur was to be a story akin to Billy Elliot where Arlo is an outcast within his own community. This version of the story is more like what I would have expected to see, but by 2014 the entire plot had been essentially re-written to make “nature” the main antagonist because it was felt the other dinosaurs were becoming too unlikable. As someone who is very open about their thoughts on how “studio meddling” should be kept to a minimum, I find this kind of infuriating. The Good Dinosaur is enjoyable, but it’s clear to me that it was treated extremely poorly behind the scenes. It could have been great.

At the end of the day, the film itself is enjoyable. The CGI is the most gorgeous that PIXAR has ever done and is close to photo-realistic. You don’t have to pay a huge amount of attention to notice the water droplets falling from the leaves or the dew sitting on the rocks. This puts it apart from the usually cartoon-ish style of the studio and so is relatively groundbreaking for the industry. I’m also a fan of the characters, including Arlo himself. The T-Rex ranchers are rather charming and the storm-chasers are genuinely close to terrifying, but perhaps my favourite aspect is the overall message, At its core, The Good Dinosaur is about addressing your fears and using them to motivate you. Fear is just another emotion, and one that we don’t need to ignore, which is par for the course when it comes to PIXAR. They have always prided themselves on challenging children with their work and with not speaking down to them, which is something a feel certain areas of Hollywood could do with learning. The Good Dinosaur may be an average film but it’s still worth checking out for yourself.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Cars 2

The year was 2011 and PIXAR Studios was on the verge of releasing it’s twelfth feature film. So far, it had been a series of box office hits and it seemed like nothing would ever slow them down however that all changed with Cars 2- a sequel to one of their biggest films and the second sequel the studio had ever made. While the first film was about slowing down and taking pleasure in the small things to get more out of life, this one was about how friends may argue but they are still friends. Of course, changing the moral of your story from one film to the next is to be expected if you want the stories to feel fresh and the moral here is a good one. There just happen to be spy involved.

This time around we follow the tow truck mater as he travels to the World Grand Prix with his best friend Lightning McQueen. After an argument breaks out between them, Mater head back to Radiator Springs, only to become embroiled in a spy mission which puts every race car at a deadly risk. This is a far cry from the simple premise of Cars but I’ll give it credit for being innovative. It’s like if a James Bond film was to focus on the sidekick rather than the man himself, which provides a fresh spin on the classic narrative and is an idea that I love. When it comes to Cars 2 though, I’m not such a fan of that role going to Mater. He’s a fleshed out character, just like the rest of the cast, but as I discussed in my review of the previous instalment [HERE] he isn’t my kind of character. Mater is a stereotypical depiction of a hillbilly, which is an issue in it’s own right, but I really believe that PIXAR is better than that. One of the reasons that I prefer PIXAR films to Disney is that they never speak down to children, opting instead to treat them as equals. Onward director Dan Scallon stated in a recent interview with UniLad [HERE] that “kids are smart, they go through some tough stuff so {talking down to them} doesn’t come up that often.” I feel like this isn’t the case with Mater, whose lack of intelligence is a recurring gag throughout the movie. It was tolerable in passing with Cars but making it the focal point here is quite damaging to the film. In a lot of ways it feels like they’re punching down and that is just not an acceptable form of comedy.

As for the spy plot, I have to admit, I’m kind of a fan. It’s a brand new direction for the studio and it’s certainly a bold one. Taking your story in a new direction is important in keeping your franchise feeling fresh and without that change, you have to lean on character development for growth. Sometimes change can lead to an iconic film like The Empire Strikes Back and sometimes it leads to the creation of something that many people would rather forget like Batman and Robin. Personally, I think that errs on the positive side despite some, like Time Out Magazine, claiming that it should be “towed off to the scrapyard.” There are countless spy films and with them comes countless gadgets but Cars 2 is required to take it one step further. What gadgets could a car use and where would they store them? What does a bathroom brawl look like and what about jetpacks? What would Sir Michael Cain sound like as some kind of Aston Martin with a moustache? Cars 2 manages to provide solid answers to all these questions and I was somewhat impressed by those answers. If you aren’t impressed by these answers, I hope that you can at least find them entertaining. Whether or not a spy plot belongs in a Cars movie is questionable but as a spy plot it wouldn’t go amiss in an instalment of the James Bond franchise and is ridiculously fun in parts. Perhaps the most questionable plot element is that the villains of the piece are “lemons” which are cars that don’t function as well as other high-brand models. Provided you don’t think of the real world ramifications of a rhetoric like this, you’ll be alright. If you are interested though, Jack Saint has a wonderful video on the very subject [HERE] but, be warned, there is profanity. It will also become impossible to view Cars 2 in the same way again, which is something I had to learn the hard way.

We now come to what is perhaps the most consistently wonderful part of any PIXAR movie- the score. In my review for the original film, I was mildly critical of the Pop!Country soundtrack which has mildly dated the film but that is not the case here. Cars 2 may have songs within the first half hour that I find forgettable but the score leans heavily on the spy aesthetic. I often listen to the score of a film as I’m writing about it and tracks like Mater’s Getaway are just as motivational as tracks from The Pirates of the Caribbean. It should come as no surprise then that the score was orchestrated by the always wonderful Michael Giacchino in his fourth collaboration with the studio. The art style of the film has also improved since its predecessor with some flat-out amazing wide shots of Japan, Italy and London. This is due, in part, to the evolution of CG technology in those 5 years but how that technology is used is just as important. If you aren’t super keen on this film, that is perfectly understandable but there is definitely enough in Cars 2 for every generation to enjoy.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbour hood 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

Ghostbusters II

When it comes to science fiction films, I feel like the majority of sequels are as good as, if not better than, the original. Aliens, Back to the Future Part II, and Empire Strikes Back are all spectacular continuations of their iconic predecessors, however the same cannot be said of Ghostbusters II. It appears to have gone down in the history books as not just a bad sequel, but a bad film entirely. It was, and to many it still is, seen as a bland recreation of the original, with much of the criticism being directed at how child-friendly it is in comparison. Looking back at it now, with much of the production information available to the public, these criticisms are not just unsurprising… they’re almost inevitable.

Set 5 years after the events of Ghostbusters, the sequel sees our titular team, now disbanded, as they face off against a resurrected sorcerer and, once again, save New York from certain oblivion. I feel like this aspect of the story really works, and that had it just been this, Ghostbusters II could have been almost perfect. These films are at their best when the characters are riffing off each other, regardless of whether or not they are catching spooks at the time. Some of the franchise’s most iconic lines, like Egon’s ‘epididymis’, and the demand for He-Men come from this very instalment. The set pieces are also a thing of beauty, with the river of slime and Statue of Liberty being particularly well done. It’s these two sets that end up being instrumental in the plot, and they are super fun scenes to watch, regardless of the surrounding context. Yes, they’re utterly ridiculous, but this is Ghostbusters so it kind of goes with the territory. We are also given a wonderful villain this time around with Vigo the Scourge of Carpathia. As a long deceased sorcerer living inside a painting, he shouldn’t be much of a threat, but once you give him a deadly plan and the booming voice of Max Von Sydow, you suddenly wish he would just stay in the painting. His henchman and art curator, Janoz, is also wonderful to watch, and is one of the most consistently praised aspects of the film. It’s clear that he isn’t a threat to anyone and that he was Vigo’s only option, but it’s also clear that Janoz isn’t really here for the world domination. Janoz has fallen in love with one of his art restoration team and will do literally anything to be with her- Dana Barrett.

Dana is now a single mother, having moved on from Venkman and subsequently being abandoned by the baby’s father. This franchise simply would not feel the same without her, but the film slows down drastically whenever we have to witness her, yet again, falling for Venkman who, it’s made clear, is kind of a jerk. Watching these scenes it is abundantly apparent why she left him to begin with. If this was the only romantic pairing I might be willing to give it a pass, however we also have to witness a romance between the Ghostbusters’ secretary Janine and their attorney Louis. It seems to come completely out of nowhere and would not have been missed if it was left on the cutting room floor. It’s especially odd if you’re a fan of the original Ghostbusters, where Janine and Egon show a clear interest in each other. More than that, is the strange need to insert any romantic subplots at all in a film that is targeted towards children at all. These sub-plots are my only issue with this film, as even just calling them sub-plots undermines how large the role they seem to play is.

As was the case for many films in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, an animated children’s show was thrust into development. The Real Ghostbusters, later re-named Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters from series 4 onward, ran for 140 episodes from 1986 to 1991 and followed the continuing adventures of Ray, Pete, Winston, and Egon. The show was a success which led to a spinoff in 1997 titled Extreme Ghostbusters and a toy line from famed manufacturer Mattel. During the show’s early development, a sequel to 1986’s Ghostbusters was already in the works, though it was proving to be a difficult task to make it. As co-creator, Bill Murray’s approval was required to do anything, but he had already moved on to other projects, like 1988’s Scrooged!, while the sequel itself was not seen as a high priority by the head of Columbia Pictures. Following a series of box office flops, the studio soon changed their mind, and because it was seen as a sure-fire way to make money, Ghostbusters II was put into production. During post-production, both the studio and director Ivan Reitman supposedly became concerned that this sequel would not live up to the status of the original. During this time, extensive re-shoots were carried out, replacing scenes that had already been completed and extra scenes were added where the Ghostbusters were in mortal peril- adding a sense of urgency to the unfolding events. Given how popular The Real Ghostbusters was and how worried both the studio and director were, it’s no shock that this film was aimed more towards children. It would mean extra ticket sales, which would mean extra money. Unfortunately, those ticket sales were already being made by the even more family-friendly Honey, I shrunk the Kids, while teenage ticket sales were going to Batman.

Personally, I don’t mind that it’s more child friendly. The special effects, though more like the cartoon, are still excellently done, and the chemistry of the cast is still there. Even the songs on the soundtrack, which are a little outside my zone, still provide a good atmosphere. Where the film lets itself down is its focus on romantic relationships which really affects the pacing. I truly believe that there is a marvellous sequel in here trying to get out but, for what it is, it’s fine. Regardless of the mostly negative opinions, Ghostbusters II will forever hold a small place in my heart.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


Everybody seems to be in agreement that PIXAR has a back catalogue that is pretty near perfect. It wouldn’t be until Cars 2 in 2011 that they would finally provide something that the general public would deem Not Up To Standard, but that’s 4 films from here. So where, I ask you, is the love for Ratatouille? Why was it held in such high esteem at the time but seems now to get much less recognition than the likes of Toy Story or Wall-E? I’m not sure I can’t answer that question, but I’m taking a look at it regardless.

We follow Remy the rat as he is separated from his family, and finds himself the assistant of a Parisian garbage boy as he becomes a successful chef. Once again, we find ourselves at the mercy of director Brad Bird and, once again, he delivers a solid film. Ratatouille doesn’t shy away from society’s views on rats, including it as a message throughout the film, including a rat killing store featuring dead rats. On top of this, the film opens with Remy being shot at, which immediately puts him on the back foot. Remy is constantly fighting to be appreciated, first by his father, then by his new human friend Alfredo Linguine, and eventually by the inhabitants of Paris. He is already considered strange in his family because he has a heightened sense of smell and taste, meaning he actually has an appreciation for the food he eats instead of the trash consumed by the rest of his family. It’s a unique premise, and one that isolates our tiny protagonist immediately, but this doesn’t mean that when he finally meets Linguine that he stops being alone. Linguine has his own issues to work through, and because he can’t speak rat, can’t fully appreciate what Remy is going through. For those moments when Remy is truly alone, he is joined by a figment of his imagination in the form of Paris’ (now deceased) top chef Auguste Gusteau. Not only does this stop Remy from having to talk to himself, but it also provides a fun dynamic and entertaining character.

Each character is unique, regardless of how large their role in the plot is. Linguine may be our main human character, but his eventual love interest Colette is just as, if not more, memorable. She is an extraordinarily passionate cook and one of the toughest women you’ll ever see on screen. Then there’s the kitchen staff including Horst, who supposedly once killed a man with his thumb, and Harousse, who is banned from several casinos in Las Vegas. Our main villain is Chef Skinner, who is now in charge of Gusteau’s restaurant and cares only about profit. He is the only person to figure out that Linguine is in cahoots with Remy but, since he can prove it, becomes increasingly frustrated. On top of this, he is vertically challenged and voiced by the wonderful Ian Holmes. Usually PIXAR villains are downright evil, but Skinner is just a man seeking money. As a result, I think most of the joy from watching him comes down to some schadenfreude. We take just a hint of joy from watching someone else suffer, especially if that person is seen as a villain, but on the other hand he is a capitalist so maybe he deserves it. My favourite character ends up being one of the “lesser” roles and Paris’ biggest food critic- Anton Ego. Gustaeu’s belief, and indeed the message of Ratatouille, is that anyone can cook. Ego wholeheartedly disagrees. He has this strong presence every time he enters the frame, and you couldn’t have found someone better to portray that than the legendary Peter O’Toole. Of course, in the end, he learns that anyone can cook, but only a few can be truly great. This leads to a beautifully delivered monologue about criticism, and the people who choose that as a career. It really drove home to me the very reason that Shakesqueer exists because while criticism is easy, it takes effort to focus on the positives.

Ratatouille may hold the designation of a children’s film but it really doesn’t treat itself like one. Not only does it have some rather dark moments, but it’s shot like a proper blockbuster movie. The cinematography is something truly special, and that is apparent from the very first frame. We open on a slow pan towards a cottage whilst the film’s title fades onto the screen. That is a shot that could have come straight from a period piece, but it’s here in Ratatouille. It doesn’t stop there, with the film making the most of its Parisian setting. The lighting and atmosphere throughout are perfect, demonstrating exactly why Brad Bird is one of the finest directors working today. That cinematography pairs wonderfully with the score, provided by Michael Giacchino who is also one of the best in his field. It has a very quaint and upbeat sound to it that I can only describe as “undoubtedly French”. My favourite aspect lies with how the score seems to scamper along as the rats do. It scurries, but it’s also mellow when it needs to be and is fanciful at times too. Perhaps all of this is why Ratatouille won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture in 2008, the 3rd PIXAR film to do so after Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. As the 8th film since the company’s inception, Ratatouille was proof that PIXAR was unstoppable. They were only getting bigger and better with every release. On its own, this is a unique experience with some highly entertaining characters. There may be moments when you forget this is “for children” because it is a wonderful reminder that we don’t need to speak down to them. To everyone involved…

Thank You.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer