Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Stuff of Nightmares: Cats

So, I finally got round to watching Cats last night. It had never made much impression on me, thought it was a big hit on Broadway in the 1980s when I lived in New York and I have liked some other Lloyd Webber shows. 

And then the film came out in 2019. Oh, my. Savage reviews, memes, parodies. But, you know, people like to exaggerate. How bad could it be? Cover me. I'm going in. 

So, it is possible to watch things simultaneously on streaming services with certain apps. My friend L. and I arranged to have a "Netflix Party" to watch Cats in our separate abodes. I pressed Play and off we went. First thing popping up on my screen: the subtitle "Thrilling music". Well, No. It was bang average scene-setting. 

And then the cats appeared, first a timid cat, then street cats. And they were standing on all fours, with hands sticking out and twitchy ears and bits of whiskers and I mean: WTF? Who designed this madness? Are they cat-like humanoids? Humans in cat costumes? What is the concept here? 

And then they started singing in posh English accents. So, they're English cats? In what time period? Hard to tell, as the set design was some kind of weird steampunk vaguely Victorian looking but not really. 

Idris Elba popped up with yellow eyes. Dame Judi Dench popped up with a long fur coat. Rebel Wilson had zippable skin. Poor Jennifer Hudson, the best thing by far in this monstrosity, had an entirely human face with some sad whiskers. She got the only decent song, Memory. Poor Taylor Swift--she had a great entrance, being lowered on a crescent and then had to effect an English accent for her one song. 

By this point my friend and I were openly speculating what drugs the creators of this spectacle were on. She thought LSD and I suggested absinthe. Actually, Lloyd Webber was on coke when he wrote the score. But Tom Hooper, the director, what the hell was his excuse? 

I amused myself during the duller parts by googling who was who and came upon the intriguing notion that cat buttholes were digitally removed in the lengthy post-production. This cheered me up enormously during the 110 minute running time. Finally, it was over. "We did it!" L. typed. Really, we should get medals. 

Someone ran with the butthole concept and here is the evidence. Enjoy. Don't have nightmares. 



Friday, December 31, 2021

Christmas with Netflix

 Much as I would love to offer an end-of-year Best Of full of visits to the cinema, it just hasn't been that kind of year. :)

However, I have managed to visit an extraordinary place full of folk wisdom, romantic encounters and fake snow: Christmas with Netflix. 

It was a few years ago I made my first visit and since then I return annually, the mist lifting on 1 December and closing on 31 December. So many fascinating characters have come my way: hard-bitten executives, heartbroken writers, quite a few social influencers. All of them seeking meaning in their broken lives. And lo! All it takes is a few life lessons offered by the spirit of Christmas. Wow. 

This year I sampled no fewer than 11 Christmas-themed films on Netflix and wowzers. There are some actual rank duds out there. I'm looking at you, A Wish for Christmas. Netflix makes originals but also draws from other networks and my tip is avoid the Hallmark ones. 

But some do actually punch above their weight. I have been pleasantly surprised by the Princess Switch trio, the most recent of which arrived this year. Filmed in Scotland, too, after previously using Romania as a location. 

Single All the Way offered an interracial gay couple as the protagonists, with amusing supporting work from Kathy Najimy and Barry Bostwick. 

Christmas with a View features a chef with stubble and resort manager who could double for Meghan Markle. Great scenery, shame about the script. But Patrick Duffy with a man-bun! Vivica Fox making gingerbread houses! Canadian mountains!

But my favourite Netflix viewing was actually a film I avoided at the cinema two years ago: Last Christmas. Definitely a Whamageddon, as it features the title track many, many times. But it wasn't the wan rom-com I thought it would be. Emma Thompson speaking Serbo-Croat! Henry Golding showing some emotion! Emilia Clarke singing! A lesbian couple! And a message about family conflict and trying again. Plus, a cameo by Broadway legend Patti LuPone. What's not to love?

See you next year. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Passing

I was quite keen to watch the drama Passing which has arrived on Netflix recently. Adapted from Nella Larsen's novel by Rebecca Hall, who also directs, it's an unexpected debut for the actor turned filmmaker: a 1929 novel set in NYC about the conflagration that erupts when two old school friends reconnect as adults. 

It turns out the storyline of a black woman passing as white had personal significance for the writer-director. I find the concept fascinating for many reasons, but never having read the novel I approached the film in a state of ignorance. 

Passing

Irene, a married woman who lives in Harlem, runs into her former schoolfriend Clare in a chi-chi restaurant, where (it is suggested) both are passing as white. Clare invites a rather reluctant Irene back into her life and the latter realises that Clare's racist husband has no idea his wife is passing. The stage is set for dramatics and the rest of the film unfolds under this tension.

For me, the film of Passing is only partly successful. Ruth Negga as Clare conveys exuberance and flirtation and it definitely feels like Clare is performing the role of a white wife and mother. She actually reminded me a lot of Carol Aird, as played by Cate Blanchett in Carol from her blonde wig to her big gestures and meaningful looks. 

As Irene, Tessa Thompson has the less showy part, but as the film takes place from her POV, the audience has some investment in her character. Nevertheless, I felt the dynamic between the two characters was unclear and I wanted to see more of them and their backstory, rather than the two husbands, the maid, or the white literary lion who hangs around Harlem, commenting on racial difference and whether Irene can tell who is passing. “We’re, all of us, passing for something or the other,” she tells him. 

Indeed, it has been suggested that Larsen's novel was not just about racial passing but sexual, as the relationship between Clare and Irene seems fraught with unspoken desires and complications. I definitely detected some frisson between them but that aspect was definitely downplayed in Hall's telling. 

As I anticipated, things go horribly wrong and the ending is ambiguous and a bit frustrating. No spoilers here. But we really, really do need to know what kind of feeling was shared by Irene and Clare before we can make up our minds. I found the film quite slow, a bit ponderous and not that emotionally involving. However, I will definitely be seeking out Larsen's novel to find out more. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Monika Werkstatt: MANIA D. / MALARIA! / MATADOR M_Sessions

Quite the undertaking this, as Monika has delved into its back catalogue to focus on three M bands involving founder Gudrun Gut: Mania D., Malaria! and Matador. The musical release offers contemporary artists remixing old tracks, while a second LP offers some rarities, some demos and live tracks. There was also an exhibit that ran in Berlin last week, as well as a forthcoming book I have not seen. 

I was struck by how cohesive the sound was on the remixes, although they were done by artists ranging from AGF to Natalie Beridze and covered all three bands: lots of muttered vocals, bleeps and the odd shrieking sax. It does suggest these bands were ahead of their time, lo- fi in sound but bringing in lots of futuristic touches, such as cut-up vocals, bleeps and odd percussion. The Matador tracks were the least familiar to me, probably the most melodic and conventional but still off-kilter. 

The live tracks which cover 1980-1983 do make me wonder what audiences thought of Malaria! back in the day, what with Bettina's wailing sax and imperious vocals. Wish I'd been there. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

London Film Festival shorts

I didn't actually get to the BFI London Film Festival this year (again), but did watch some of the shorts available on the BFI Player. I watched two programmes, Weird and Wonderful World and My Identity, No Crisis

All of the films I really enjoyed came from the latter programme, as the former was long on atmosphere and quite short on satisfying story-telling. Plots and character development I kind of like. 

So, the best of the films I saw included 5 Stars (dir Remi Itani, UK), a drama staged as a documentary in which a women interacts with three Uber drivers over three rides, repeatedly fielding their questions about where she's from. From such a loaded question comes a lot of observations about racial identity and who really belongs, especially as all three drivers have origins outside the UK. Such a clever and knowing film. 

Play It Safe (dir Mitch Kalisa, UK) is a drama set in drama school, as Jonathan tries to negotiate the difficulties in being the only black student in his class. The final scene, which seems to go on for ages, is notable for focusing on the horrified reactions of his classmates, rather than him, as he acts out his assignment. Very well made and tense. 

My favourite, however, was Egungun  [Masquerade] (dir Olive Nwosu, Nigeria) in which Salewa returns to her home country from London to bury her mother. At the funeral she reconnects with someone from her childhood and the stage is set for drama and possible romance. I was cheering the couple on. Really, this could be turned into a feature. Someone, get it made!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Mistress of the Dark Shines Her Light

 Great to hear that the Mistress of the Dark, Elvira, has been sharing her life with a ladyfriend for 19 years. But are we really surprised? The camp innuendo, the raised eyebrow and the enormous beehive have always marked her as in on some old, queer joke. And it reinforces the connection between horror and queerness. Fab. 


Elvira, born Cassandra Peterson, has just released her memoirs, marking 40 years inhabiting the persona of the Mistress of the Dark, and I am trying to remember when I first saw her. Possibly mid-80s on some late-night TV show, which would make me a wide-eyed teen, ready to be inculcated into a cult. 

1981 was also the year that the Oak Ridge Boys released their quite popular cover, "Elvira", celebrating: 

Eyes that look like heaven, lips like sherry wine

That girl can sure enough make my little light shine

Coincidence? I think not. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Boisterous Longing

 I blame SOTUS. There I was shielding at home in spring 2020 and innocently clicked on a suggestion from Netflix. A series about Thai engineering students? Sure, why not? And that, my friends, was my introduction to boys love dramas. BL, for those in the know. Yaoi for those up on their Japanese anime. The adventures of young Kongpob and his push me-pull you with his senior Arthit had me gripped. 

Here I am 18 months later on my sixth or perhaps seventh BL drama, all variations on a theme: young, good-looking scholarly guys wearing crisp white or pink shirts looking up from their books or screens to exchange meaningful glances with others of similar demeanour. Will they or won't they?

Arthit and Kongpob

Some of them are quite badly acted or clumsily shot. The sound in 'Cause You're My Boy was an abomination.  But then there is always some kind of drama to hold the interest. I even know several actors' handles: Singto, Krist, Off, Gun... They have quite the giddy following, especially among straight women which is the target market. So, it's sort of gay but not gay. 

Ironically, women don't get much of a look-in and the female roles are pretty identikit: a bratty sister, a well-meaning mother, a vengeful ex. Occasionally, there is a BFF as in Puppy Honey, but, really, it is all about the dudes. Once I understood the set-up, I accepted this fact and got quite immersed. Currently, I am watching a mastercut of all Pete and Kao's scenes from Kiss Me Again, meaning I can skip all the straight storylines. This will set me up to watch the rest of Our Skyy so I can see how all of these dramas play out. Then I shall have to find other diversions. 

But the best bit of watching BL? The YouTube comments, especially on the GMMTV episodes. Oh, my, they are a riot! Viewers from the Philippines to Europe weigh in on their favourite characters and actors and the writing is better than the shows. Pass the pink milk!