Saturday, 21 March 2015

Cucumber Banana Tofu

Well, it's been a bit of a bumpy month in terms of posting, hasn't it dear readers? Let's not revisit the time where I said I was going to be committed to posting regularly and to a higher quality of writing, and instead, let us mark this as the beginning of a new leaf.
Today, I shall be discussing a series (or, well, three, I guess?) which I have recently finished watching: Cucumber, Banana, Tofu.

I could try and say that this poster isn't what it looks like, but then I'd be lying.
Right, I'm going to briefly explain what all of this is about and then go into more detail for each segment for the review-y part of this post, cause isn't that what I'm meant to do? Review?
Cucumber is a 45 minute long episode following the same characters (primarily Henry and Lance, but I'll get to that in a minute). Banana is a series of 20 minute self contained episodes which focus on different characters within the LGBT+ community which have usually appeared within the previous episode of Cucumber. There is overlap between the two shows, so watching them in succession is important, but not crucial I'd say. Finally, Tofu is a 10 minute documentary series featuring the cast and crew of Cucumber and Banana, as well as other guests, to talk about sex. 
Right, have we got that?

The aforementioned Henry (left) and Lance (right).
Like I say, Cucumber focuses on the life of long term partners Henry and Lance, featured in the picture above. It is very much about the middle aged, middle class gay. Having been together for nine years when the audience is introduced to them, you just know something is going to go wrong. And it does. Because what's interesting about a happy couple going about their happy couple ways? Exactly. So when things do go awry (and in quite a spectacular way), the couple see themselves no longer together and having to navigate the world by themselves for the first time in nine years. Henry finds himself somehow living (or squatting, we're never quite sure), in an abandoned loft of sorts with two young men from his work, Dean and Freddie, however their stories are more prominent in Banana, as that's where the two shows differentiate. Cucumber (like I say) is the middle age, middle class gay, and Banana is the young LGBT+ community, using Grindr and Tinder and Facebook, all on their iPads and smartphones, knowing at any given point where the closest shag is available. Lance remains the voice of reason (mostly-ish), who stays in their house and tries to get Henry to see how much of a bloody arse he is being.

We watch as Henry and Lance's relationship changes and evolves, stretches and strains. We see the power balance tip, and the two scramble for control in a relationship quickly spiralling out of hand. The characters are wonderfully human as well. Henry and Lance are by no means perfect people. They are both inherently flawed in their own individual way, and you will find yourself identifying with at least one of the characters (if not a little bit in all of them). This can sometimes be a touch worrying, when you can see yourself in the awful character before you, doing and saying horrible things and yet you know you to would do that. Or have already done something like that, I don't know your story.

The women in the yellow and brown jackets half dancing, half hugging are my faves. Their
episode was great.
I've already talked about how Banana manages to peel (ha! gettit?) away from Cucumber, but another obvious way that I've touched upon is how diverse the characters are. Cucumber is about older gay men. And that's fine, the show follows these specific character throughout its run, so it makes sense that as far as LGBT+ goes, it's only really the G (and a little bit of the B) is explored. Which is why I'm happy Banana uses it's time to really explore the community. We are also given episodes dedicated to Dean and Freddie, Henry's new found flatmates, which gives them a well needed back story and development. And although some episodes do revolve entirely around romantic relationships, it's not what the whole show is about.

One explores the way friendships evolve after highschool, one explores the way OCD can impact a persons life, one explores how people deal when faced with horrifying news and how they want to help. I know that last one was a bit weirdly worded but I don't want to ruin the episode, so in the name of not divulging spoilers, do forgive me. But yes, for the most part, being gay, lesbian, trans etc. just so happens to be part of the character and not their entire personality, which is refreshing. As is the complete lack of coming out stories. 

Your American accents are so jarring within this series.
There's not really much to say on Tofu. Soz. Each episode deals with a certain theme which was present in either Cucumber or Banana previously, such as dating apps and first time having sex and (despite what I just said about coming out stories) coming out. Everyone is very frank about what they are talking about, no-one really holds back, which is fun for someone as nosey as me. Another fun thing in Tofu is that usually in an episode, little dramatised stories are interspersed throughout.

All in all, I think the whole series works exceptionally well, stand alone and as a complete package. Now that all the episodes have been released, it's time to binge watch them all on 4oD. And although watching it in succession (Cucumber > Banana > Tofu) isn't perhaps absolutely life and death important, I'd highly recommend doing so.

Until next week, dear readers! 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

It Follows At The Glasgow International Film Festival

It Follows 2014 film horror david robert mitchell poster

This past week (well, now two weeks past thanks to my terrible work ethic recently) was certainly one of firsts! My first swing dance aerials workshop for one. It was...interesting, shall we say? The next day, I had muscles hurting that I didn't even know I had.

swing dance lift ben thompson bum drum
Here we see me elegantly tossing a poor young lady between my legs.
Secondly, I finally got myself organised and booked tickets to see a few movies at the Glasgow International Film Festival. Now, I've been to the Edinburgh one before so film festivals ain't new, but this time my good friend Kate and I decided to go along a midnight horror screening; a showing of the new supernatural teen creeper It Follows to be precise.

So what's it about? It Follows is the tale of Jay, a girl who, after getting up to some of the 'ole one-two with a young gentleman, finds herself being pursued relentlessly by...something. And if it ever catches up to her, things are not going to turn out pretty. We've got the set up for a perfect mix of unrelenting supernatural horror and the classic sex-means-death slasher cliché! If past experience is anything to go by, there's going to be some amount of blood spilled before this is over.

It Follows 2014 film horror david robert mitchell swimming pool blood
Pools of it, if you will.
If you thought that, you would actually be refreshingly wrong. Not in a long time have I seen a film take a concept which could have been laboured to create buckets of intensity and rein it in as far is it could feasibly go without just recording someone chilling out in a beanbag and saying "So like, what if there was this monster, right...?". The body count is ludicrously low for a movie that happily hangs around in the teen slasher part of town, but then again it's less getting in with the cool kids on street corners and more sitting in a nearby coffee shop, people watching and reading Dostoyevsky. This is all about de-constructing the genre and creating something new from concepts that had become old hat way back in the 80s; and for the most part it manages to do just that while simultaneously creating a tense, enjoyable flick full of style and atmosphere.
It Follows 2014 film horror david robert mitchell chair tied underwear
Do you think the scrapped new Blogger policy would have counted this as inappropriate nudity...?
Despite being extremely subdued I would almost say that the director, David Robert Mitchell, could have gone even further. The captivating opening sequence of a young girl dashing frantically about a quiet suburban street torn right out of John Carpenter's Halloween (this movie is evidently what you get when a generation of kids who grew up with those 70's and 80's horror greats start making their own films) ends rather messily with a mutilated corpse discarded on a quiet beach. Frankly, the gore was unnecessary and disillusioning; pulling you out of what was otherwise a beautifully tense and stylish take on the "first victim" pre-credits trope.

Actually, the whole movie is just oozing with style. You can thank the cinematographer Mike Gioulakis for some beautiful framing and adding some much needed depth to the shots in the film. So much is happening in the background of the shots that it really makes the environment feel real and three dimensional; it's helped along with some really nicely utilised 360-degree takes (see opening sequence) that help pull you in and build this quiet slice of suburban Detroit all around you.

It Follows 2014 film horror david robert mitchell detroit derelict house
You can really feel the used needles between your toes.
The costuming, something which I hardly talk about, is wonderfully subtle but effective. It wasn't until after the movie ended and I was walking home that I realised that every iteration of the shape-shifting monster was dressed rather unusually. Old-fashioned long-johns, onesies, hospital gowns. All the sort of stuff that a person, for whatever reason, might sleep in; something which ties perfectly into the very dream-like, nightmarish atmosphere of the whole movie. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but it certainly added an extra element of retrospective chill to the experience for me. See what you think when you watch it.

A major shout out also has to be given to the sound design and music, which is unsettlingly stellar throughout. Those eerie squeaks and screeches, and vast expanses of dreadful silence prove that less is definitely more when you're working with a horror. All too often is a scare signposted to the point of farce by a rising plinky violin, but here the most terrifying scenes have little to no music; and the scares are insidious, creeping up on you like the titular unrelenting antagonist with painfully determined patience.

It Follows 2014 film horror david robert mitchell monster boy dungarees
Something which helps make the jump scares spot on.
It's not all peachy though. Being a film intent on taking old genre tropes and dissecting them with style, It Follows was guaranteed to end up getting hoisted by its own petard. Although it does for the most part manage to skirt deftly around the pit of tired clichés that plague the teen slasher genre, there are a few moments that do let the team down a little. Most obviously is the supposedly strong female lead (who, for the vast majority of the film, manages to hold her own) ending up helpless against the monster and needing to be saved by the film's dorky love interest. If you really look into it, the finale of the film does have a worryingly "White Knight" feel about it that could rile the more feminist among us, which is really contrary to many of the themes of burgeoning emotional and sexual maturity and responsibility that underline much of the movie's message. It feels to me more like a lazy decision for the sake of suspense than a purposeful rug-pull courtesy of the patriarchy, but it curdles the milk nonetheless of an otherwise well chilled orange whip of horror. Sorry, I recently hosted a Blues Brothers party...

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Being Pursued By A Stalker Copycatting an Old Murderer - 
Unsettling  terrifying. The eerie familiarity of the whole thing almost makes it feel like it's not real, but it does mean that sometimes you can see what's coming next.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Film Favourites: Jumanji

"I want to get better at posting regularly," She says. Misses posting last week. Oops.

Anyway, will we get to that now? The posting? Inspired by one of Ben's posts a while ago (cough cough click click), I have decided to dedicate this weeks post to one of my personal favourite films.

Do you smell that? That's the scent of nostalgia.
When two kids find and play a magical board game, they release a man trapped for decades in it and a host of dangers that can only be stopped by finishing the game.

This movie came out the same year that I was born ('95, represent!), so I can't really remember how old I was when I first watched it. I'm going to find it difficult to talk about this film objectively because I just love it so damn much, but I'll try.

Still gives me chills.
I remember talking to someone not that long about this film, I was absolutely flabbergasted that she hadn't watched it when she was a kid. She then went on to tell me that she had tried to watch it when she was younger but it was way too intense for her young little mind to handle. But that's what I loved! Everything that can go wrong in this film, goes wrong. There's giant killer spiders and monkeys and stampedes and weird 'day of the triffids'-esque plants and argh I love it.

Not to mention this scary motherfucker.
Personally, I think this film is a perfect mix of everything. It sets up the characters back stories nicely so I actually become attached to them so when things start getting tense (which is pretty regular), I'm on the edge of my seat, beads of sweat dripping off my forehead. It mixes together a good formula of tense/funny and sweet. The children in this film are parentless, so throughout the course of the film, Robin Williams' character, Alan Parrish, and Bonnie Hunts character, Sarah Whittle, become parental figures to the children, which lends itself to quite a few sweet scenes. You know, when people aren't being turned into monkey-things and men aren't being hunted down ruthlessly at gun-point, it can actually be a kind of sweet film. Sort of.
Uhhh, yeah, okay. Point taken.
Cute moments aside, let's get down to the nitty gritty, the action, the real meat of the film to get your teeth into - when they start playing the game. Let me tell you, to this day, when young Alan starts to get sucked into the game and the bats are attacking Sarah, my heart is hammering against my chest. Sure, the special effects are questionable at times, but try and show me someone who didn't lose their mind during that stampede scene and I will show you a liar. When I hear the dramatic music start and Alan pull the game out of the brick wall at the beginning of the film, urgh. Perfect. The music is absolutely on point throughout the entire film anyway.

This looks like such a happy picture of a family getting together to play a board game.
How misleading.
I was thinking about the point that I initially became interested in film, because I have loved films for as long as I can remember and I remember with crystal clarity the feeling I got when I realised I would be able to study film. Like, for some reason I hadn't considered studying film for the longest time and then, with the chorus of a thousand angels and a blinding light, I had the epiphany - the epiphany that I could actually study film, as a real degree. I could study how to make films and write films and look at films critically and films. Anyway, I've gone off in a tangent, where was I? Ah, yes, the point where I became interested in film. I was able to trace back my interest in film to this movie. As soon as the gang are together (Alan, Sarah, Judy and Pete), that's when the film is at its high point. Everything is set up perfectly to get all those characters in the positions they need to be but as soon as they're all together, the film really hits its stride.

You sneaky, genius, conniving bastard.
A quick google of this title will show you an abundance of below par reviews (I'm looking at you, metacritc, 39%, seriously?), but don't let them fool you, my opinion is clearly better. I would definitely recommend this film for all to watch - as a shameless nostalgia trip for those who watched it in their childhood like I did, as a way to catch up on a missed film-watching opportunity if you didn't get the chance to watch it, and as a general fun watch if it's a friday night and those plans that you were totally buzzing for fell through, because that's what this film is. It is fun. It's a great edge of your seat, wild ride and leaves you wanting to fist pump the air when the characters overcome the many, many, many obstacles that the board game creates. 

Right, I shall wrap it up there. Less of a review, more of a shameless nostalgia-fest wherein I was allowed to be self-indulgent. Proper reviews return next week. 
Hopefully I shall see you all then!