A Quirky Call to Arms: Bong Joon-ho’s OKJA

The eagerly anticipated Okja hit Netflix last week, hot off the back of the drama it caused at Cannes a few months ago. The controversy? Okja, as a Netflix production, hasn’t had an “official” cinema release, which angered some of the umm, how do we put this nicely, more mature film critics and aficionados out there.

Let’s be clear. Though there is very little that can compare to seeing a film at the cinema, there is very little worse than not having access to cinema in it’s entirety. Nowadays, cinema tickets are financially crippling, and if you tried to buy every film you wanted on DVD post release, you’d probably have to take out a bank loan. There is a distinct change in the film industry, especially with Netflix taking on more and more productions and distributing them solely over their service. Yes, it signals a step away from the traditional screenings but if it makes cinema accessible for more people, then this can only be a good thing.

With this out of the way, let’s talk about Okja and how Bong Joon-ho can’t seem to put a foot wrong.

Okja, the titular character, is a super pig. ‘Discovered’ by the Mirando Corporation, headed up by Tilda Swinton’s Lucy Mirando, the super pigs are sent across the world to be raised by farmers in natural habitats. The super pig, so says Lucy, are natural, sustainable, good for the environment and (most importantly) will be incredibly efficient at feeding people. Okja is taken to South Korea and is bought up by Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her Grandfather, on their tiny farm miles away from civilisation. Nestled in the mountains with little else to do, Mija and Okja become best friends – playing, working and eating together.

Okja’s story really begins when a Mirando representative comes to retrieve Okja from Mija’s farm, and take her back to the US where there will be a ‘Best Super Pig Competition’. Mija, naturally, is horrified at the thought of losing her best friend, and so endeavours to bring Okja back home. Aided in part by the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) on the way, Mija stops at nothing to save Okja from the fate the Mirando Company has in store for her.

One could read Okja as a film which is pointedly criticizing the global meat industry, and one that fits very nicely onto Netflix’s existing shelf of documentaries on the subject (Food Inc, Forks Over Knives, Fed Up, Cowspiracy and more). Realistically though, Okja seems more like a socio-political satire exploring the oxymoron of ‘ethical’ consumerism and the hilarious hypocrisies of PR and marketing for greed driven corporations. The Mirando Company, which suffered devastating PR nightmares when run by Lucy’s twin sister, is changing to become the new, friendlier face of the meat industry.

I don’t believe that Okja is a film solely about the meat industry or, as it has been hailed, the ‘vegetarian’ film of the year. If Boon wanted to simply criticize the meat industry, then it would have been far more effective to star a real animal as the film’s protagonist. Okja, despite resembling a pig, is unlike any animal we have known – especially because she seems to speak to Mija at some points. The two of them understand each other like humans do, not in the way of an animal-human relationship. Okja isn’t really a stand in for animals which are processed by the meat industry, so it’s hard to justify the film as taking a huge stand solely against meat-eating and promoting vegetarianism.

The slaughterhouse sequence, where Mija witnesses the conditions in which the super pigs are kept and killed, is one scene which does stray into the Cowspiracy et al territory. It’s heartbreaking, and is the one time where Boon seems to be directly attacking the meat and dairy industry. Most of the sequence could have been taken directly from real farms and slaughterhouses across the globe, almost unedited. Still, Mija walks away with Okja, knowing that she can’t save every pig – and doesn’t even try to. It’s not about upending an industry, it’s about trying to keep our ethical compass in a world which wants us to see ever

Rather, Okja seems to be representative of all those exploited by capitalism. The meat industry, the fashion industry or any other industry you can think of – there is mass exploitation somewhere along the chain.

Isn’t the real message that corporate capitalism doesn’t work without exploitation of some kind? That the term ‘ethical consumerism’ is an oxymoron? It’s possible that we can create, or breed ethically and environmentally friendly animals who are cared for and live comfortable lives. But the endgame of capitalism is to make more money, and this morality nonsense will never be the cheaper option.

When the Mirando corporation come to take Okja away, Mija’s Grandfather presents her with a gold pig. He tells her it’s worth a lot of money, money that she may need in the future. Instead of having an honest conversation with her about what is going to happen to Okja, he lies to her and tries to rectify it by giving her something of value – something which can be traded for money. To complete the circle, Mija uses the gold pig to trade Okja back at the end of the film. The gold pig, like Okja, has transactional value. Is this the point that Boon and Ronson are making? Everything, every being, has a monetary value and can be traded for it.

We are all consumers, all mindless to the whims of greedy corporations. As Okja and Mija are chased into the underground mall of Seoul, we see the two sides of the market visually collide together. The super pig is too large to comfortably fit into the shops and walkways in the claustrophobic mall, and the two of them crash into everything in sight. They career into zombie-fied shoppers and harshly food aisles. The product is meeting the consumer at last. The two fit unhappily together even though Okja will eventually be something which is sold in these very same shops.

Okja is not a perfect film – Jake Gyllenhaal is hideously miscast, and there is a very drawn out mid-section which drags on with little to no momentum. Yet, Okja is a film with heart and guts, that has something it wants to say about the world. We should listen.

 

Size Matters: A Contemporary Reading of ‘Attack of the 50ft Woman’

Everyone knows that size equals power. Raw, unhinged power. The type of power to destroy or control, just because you physically can. Attack of the 50ft Woman (Nathan Juran, 1958), and all it entails, definitely stimulates some sort of dialogue about power dynamics between men and women – and not just because of the size of the protagonist.

For a B movie made in 50s, marketed at the pulp-sci-fi crowd, Attack of the 50ft Woman is not the most obvious place to spot feminism. And reasonably, it’s not what we would call a feminist film by today’s standards. However, it does do a very interesting job of reflecting attitudes about hysteria, power, sexism and marriage in the 1950s. It’s also unique in that (due to its narrative) actually visually depicts the power struggle between men and women.

In the midst of ‘satellites’ (alien spacecraft) sightings across the world, Nancy (Allison Hughes) and Harry’s (William Hudson) marriage is falling apart. After a short spell in a rehabilitation centre, Nancy has returned to town determined that her marriage to Harry will succeed. Harry has other ideas – namely getting his wife committed so that he can make off with her fortune (Nancy is pretty damn wealthy) with his new squeeze Honey (Yvette Vickers). Nancy knows Harry is a no good two-timing bastard, but her fatal flaw is that she loves him anyway.

Harry’s plan comes close to fruition as he plots to inject Nancy with a lethal dose of medicine, but is caught red handed. Just as he plans his escape from town with Honey, he is stopped by the town’s Sheriff and warned not to leave town. We then learn that, after a bizarre encounter with one of the satellites, Nancy has been transformed from a regular sized human to  (you guessed it) 50ft tall.

With her new physical power, she seeks out Harry at the local bar where he’s cavorting around. Angry and upset by Harry’s infidelity, Nancy destroys the bar (and a couple of other buildings along with it) and ends up with Harry (quite literally) in the palm of her hand. Unfortunately, she is then shot down by the Sheriff, killing both Nancy and and Harry.

Yes, it’s zaney, and there some very questionable ideas about women but there’s also some vein running through Attack of the 50ft Woman that I could get on board with.

Nancy is an incredibly wealthy woman, who is also treated terribly by both the townspeople and Harry. Her mental health is alluded to by the Sheriff, but only insofar as to say that she is basically crazy. She is written off as a wealthy but ‘troubled’ woman who has a drinking problem – one of the Sheriff’s department even saying that she is crazy, but she pays all of their bills so he does what she tells him to. Nancy is described to us in this way before we are properly introduced to her – and when we are it’s quite clear that Nancy isn’t a ‘mad woman’ at all.

Nancy’s main frustration stems from Harry’s inability to stay faithful to her. She is heartbroken, but this is read as hysterical by the men in the town. Attack of the 50ft Woman actually introduces the idea of gaslighting – Harry purposefully makes Nancy think that she is crazy, in order to have her sectioned and take her money. Knowing Harry’s plan, we can empathise much more with Nancy’s apparent paranoia, because she is right! Harry is having an affair, and she shouldn’t trust him at all! Gaslighting is a useful term – generally applied within relationships when one partner attempts to undermine the opinions or ideas of the other. Harry tells Nancy that she is paranoid (both about the alien satellite and his cheating), convincing her that she saw neither event and is simply imagining it. We know, and Nancy does too, that this is simply not true.

So how can Nancy rectify her anger, broken heart and lack of power in a man’s world? How can Nancy escape and get even with her gas lighting toad of a husband? Well, physically she overpowers him. She gets really, really big. One the one hand, Attack of the 50ft Woman is a pulpy sci-fi which features a giant woman in her lingerie, but in another very different reading it’s actually about how little power women can have within society.

Nancy is a white woman with a lot of money. A lot. Her diamonds are almost constantly talked about by herself, Harry, the Sheriff – pretty much everyone. When she is “attacked” by the alien, she tells Harry that it seemed to reach for her diamond necklace. It seems unlikely that an alien would have any interest in jewellery, but Nancy’s paranoia of losing her jewellery underlines her fragile position within society. She has very little power, but what she does have is solely down to her financial status. If she loses that, then there is nothing else she can lean on to be respected or treated as a human (even if this respect is fake anyway).

Of course, this analysis and identification with Nancy requires the film to read in a certain way. We, as a modern audience, recognise the sexism directed at Nancy straightaway. She’s considered hysterical (because she’s a woman), she isn’t taken seriously (because she’s a woman) and the men in the town are all top happy to cover for Harry when he is lying to her. I get the distinct impression that when Attack of the 50ft Woman came out, audiences would not have identified with Nancy at all. Now, though, we can see this film for what it is. A woman being gas lighted, lied to and emotionally abused whose only glimmer of hope to regain some of the power in her relationship is to quite literally overpower him.

Master of None and the Nice Guy Delusion

Last month, Master of None returned to Netflix for a second season. Aziz Ansari’s Dev had left New York heartbroken after a pretty heavy break-up, to embark on a pasta making apprenticeship in Modena, Italy. Master of None had been a bit of a revelation in terms of it’s frank and honest discussions about gender, relationships, representation, immigration and the media. So I have to say, I was pretty excited when it got renewed, and spent most of the year counting down the days until it came back. So you have to believe me when I say it absolutely pains me to write this article about how Master of None has developed a Nice Guy issue.

Before I start, let me just say that there are many highlights of season 2 which include and are not limited to: Arno and Dev’s beautiful friendship (showing that men can have emotional connections with each other), the difficult sexual assault story-line with Chef Jeff, the interrogation of modern app-based dating and every scene in which Aziz Ansari’s real life parents star as Dev’s parents.

It was ‘Thanksgiving’ however, which rated far above and beyond the rest of the series, for me. The episode is self contained and takes place in Denise’s house, Dev’s best friend (played by Lena Waithe), showing several thanksgiving dinners which span through their childhood. Not only did we get a charming insight into the origins of Denise and Dev’s friendship, we also were invited to understand Denise’s character better. In half an hour, Master of None introduced us to her family, her childhood, her early relationships and showed us her struggle with her mother with regards to her sexuality. In the rest of the series, Denise has been a hilariously funny and down to earth ‘sidekick’ for Dev, and it was satisfying to see Denise get a narrative arc of her own. Not only do we rarely get to see black or lesbian stories told on TV, but together? Unheard of. For this, Master of None has done itself proud.

What let it down though? Well, for all of Dev’s allyship and good intentions, it turns out that he is actually a “Nice Guy”. A man who talks the talk and claims to be a feminist, but inadvertently undermines and objectifies women all the same.

As explained by Nicole Froio at Bitch Media, Master of None doesn’t seem to be able to create believable or interesting female characters. This is, of course, with the exception of Denise but Lena Waithe co-wrote Denise’s episode with Aziz Ansari, so this goes some way to explaining why Denise is a well rounded and interesting character. I actually didn’t pick up on Master of None’s women problem until season 2, where the issue became largely apparent.

In ‘First Date’ we see Dev going on the same date with a number of different women. We never get the opportunity to know them at all (not like we know Dev), and they all come across as either shallow, opportunistic, not available, too available or generally not nice. They are nothing more than bodies, with no backstories and nothing to say for themselves. They are there for Dev to date and dismiss, primarily. In fact, the only women that Dev interacts with at all in a social setting are his mother, his dates and Denise (who is pointedly not a love interest as she is gay). 

Which brings me nicely onto the character of Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). Dev meets Francesca when he is in Italy, learning how to make pasta in her Grandmother’s cafe. Francesca and Dev strike up a friendship and remain in contact when he goes back to the States, prompting her to get in touch when she comes over with fiance Pino for a visit. To begin with Francesca and Dev are just friends, but their relationships slowly evolves into something more. Dev develops feelings for her, and interprets every conversation and moment  with Francesca as a sign that she too is interested in pursuing a relationship. She never out-rightly says that she is unhappy with Pino, or that she wants to take things further with Dev. Eventually the tension that has built between them comes to a head and, when Francesca says that she cannot pursue anything with Dev, he accuses her of using him.

Without having any regard for her feelings or the complicity of the matter at hand, Dev explodes – telling Francesca that she simply wanted someone to experiment with, as the only man she has ever been with is Pino. It’s a cliche at best, and completely misogynistic at worst, for Dev to assume that Francesca hasn’t really explored her sexuality or her desires because she has only slept with one person. In one respect it makes her even more desirable because of her ‘virginal’ past, but it also is implied that Dev thinks he knows more about sex and relationships than she does. Dev categorically believes that he deserves this relationship with Francesca just because he is a Nice Guy,  even though she tells him no.

Even without this incredibly simplified view on relationships, Dev also reduces Francesca to an object of desire. Master of None paints her as a quirky but loveable, feminine yet ‘one of the lads’ type. Sounds suspiciously like a manic-pixie-dream-girl to me. Francesca encompasses every element of Amy’s speech in Gone Girl (even though I immensely dislike the film, it’s got a point). Francesca’s only purpose in the series is to be pretty and unattainable – basically to be the girl of Dev’s dreams, as explained over at Bustle by EJ Dickson. She dances round Dev’s kitchen to Italian music in his shirt, she’s only ever had one partner, she like classical films, she drinks beer and she’s immeasurably pretty. I can’t of a single thing about Francesca that isn’t skewed by the way that Dev objectifies her.

It’s a real shame because Ansari himself has, on numerous occasions, talked about feminism and the basic representation of women in TV. Master of None has one of the best records for diversity on TV, almost all of the characters are POC and they don’t fall back on just using white background artists like the vast majority of shows.

I suppose my dilemma is that it seems as if the show and Ansari are advocating for Dev’s behaviour. There is always a very fine line when the showrunner and creator is also playing the main character in a series – where does reality end? Is Master of None subtly critiquing Dev’s behaviour? Or is it failing to recognise Dev’s manipulative tactics? It’s difficult to know, and for that reason it’s likely that we are supposed to side with Dev, which I just cannot get on board with. Master of None has succeeded in so many areas, but more work is clearly needed here.

 

 

ps:

Perhaps this is also a very personal gripe,but I also got slightly annoyed with the complete lack of understanding of Europe and Italy – supermarkets and Tinder are a thing in Europe guys! I know it’s a tiny thing but it’s just a reminder that either no-one has bothered to check, and that Americans think no-where else in the world is as ‘sophisticated’ as them. It’s just lazy.

 

 

I FINALLY saw ‘Get Out…

So, I finally saw Get Out. Took me long enough. Fortunately, I was still able to see it at the cinema, which I would 100% advise you to do – and quickly as it is set to leave UK cinemas by the end of this week.

I also am completely aware that the last thing the internet needs is another white girl’s opinion on Get Out, a film which talks explicitly about the insidious racism and duplicity of white people. Which is why I am going to keep this relatively short. Get Out is such an important film to discuss, but I am not ignorant enough to believe that I am the right person to facilitate these discussions. So as I said, this review/discussion will be short and sweet.

Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a nice, normal every-man. He’s a photographer with a nice apartment, a nice girlfriend and nice dog. He leads a seemingly nice, normal and happy life. Or so we might think, if we hadn’t watched the pre-title sequence which depicts a young black man in a suburban neighbourhood being jumped by a stranger in a sports car. From there on, we are uneasy, waiting for the worst to happen.

Inevitably, it does. Chris and Rose (his white girlfriend, played by Allison Williams) take a trip up to the literal middle of nowhere to visit her parents in their grand, and very creepy, house which is miles away from anyone else. Secluded in the countryside, Chris is subjected to a weekend that begins with slightly ignorant racist comments and concludes in full blown violent racial warfare. A metaphor for the new Trump era? Maybe…

Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford are Missy and Dean, Rose’s parents who seem, on the whole, a charming albeit a little backwards. Dean repeatedly calls Chris ‘my man’, makes references to Obama and apologises for employing black workers because he ‘knows how it looks’. Honestly, he reminded me of most of the white people I know over the age of about 50. A little ignorant maybe, but harmless. Rose apologises for her parents, Chris shakes it off. But then things take a turn for the worse…

The strength of Get Out lies not only in it’s ability to be a successful horror film, but in its completeness. From the very first frame to the last, Peele knows what he wants to show us and the whole film is spent leading us down this terrifying path, unsure of exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes. He has spectacular control of the dialogue and the pacing – enabling Get Out to be authentically horrific rather than relying on cheap jump scares or bloodbaths. The monsters are not ghosts or ghouls, but rather your girlfriend’s parents or your favourite art buyer. Everyday people, in and around your lives. His command of humour punctuates the film in all the right places, allowing us a few well needed laughs. This is helped enormously by casting Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ best friend Rod, the actual hero of the film. 

Peele is also masterful at utilising visual metaphors and motifs to help us identify with Chris’ paranoia throughout the film. Chris is a photographer, and thus is someone who is concerned with seeing and observing. In this way, we instinctively trust him when he notices the oddities in the Armitage house and at the party. In the same way, Chris uses what he knows to inadvertently break Lakeith’s hypnosis – by taking a photo of him. Chris also discovers Rose’s deception through the photographs in her bedroom which depict her previous boyfriends, all of whom are black, despite her telling him she had only ever date white men. Photography, cameras and the idea of observation (passive observation being the only thing the Armitage’s victims can do after surgery) are all constants throughout Get Out  and serve to re-frame the narrative through Chris’ eyes.

Similarly, deers are a recurring motif throughout the film and one that gives a deeper gravity to Chris’ experiences. On the way to Rose’s parents, the two of them hit a deer with their car, killing it. Chris, seemingly unaware of his actions, follows the dying deer into the woodland and becomes emotional upon watching it’s distress. We are unsure of Chris’ motivations here, but it is revealed later in the film that Chris’ mother died in a hit and run. He is transfixed by the deer’s eyes, feeling some affinity for the animal. It’s inability to move also foreshadows the situation Chris finds himself in later in the film – paralysed and awaiting death.

More than this though, the deer also represent the idea of a trophy. Known for being a hunters prized kill, deers are commonly hung on living room walls and shown off to affluent peers. They are a trophy among the “hunting” class. Of course, the Armitage’s have their own deer head mounted inside their house. Chris discovers it in the latter part of the film, right before they are about to make a trophy out of him. The mounted deer stares down at him from across the room, and Chris knows that this is what he is about to become. A trophy body for white people – to be shown off and used to demonstrate their wealth and “skill”. In a similar vein, Chris is very much hunted by Rose who, as we see near the end of the film, stalks her pray before pursuing a relationship with them. Vague Visages also notes how ‘buck’ has, in the past, been used as a slur to describe black men who refused to bend to white authority – which certainly seems incredibly relevant in this context.

Watching Get Out, for me, was a measured exercise in being constantly uncomfortable. I was on the edge of my seat, always waiting for the inevitable to happen. I say for me because I am white, and I imagine my experience will differ from that to a POC. But hey, please do not take my word for it. Read Cassie Da Costa’s Feministing review, which sums it up better than I ever could.

And for goodness sake, go and see it…

Batman’s Latest Villain is Toxic Masculinity, and Everything is Truly Awesome

Look, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read the title and it seems like I am about to launch into a fully fledged discussion of how and why The Lego Movie Batman Movie distances itself from hegemonic gender stereotypes and you are worried because, let’s face it, it’s a kids movie. Can’t we just let it be? Must we over-analyse everything, even animated children’s movies made from Lego?

The answer is no we can’t let it go, and yes we must analyse everything. Also, I 100% disagree that The Lego Batman Movie is for children, or even a “children’s” film (whatever that means anyway) and my evidence for this is as follows. When I watched the film, none of the children in the cinema laughed at any of the jokes. They didn’t even bat an eyelid throughout the ‘history of Batman’ montage. Myself, and the three other adults I went with, couldn’t catch breath for laughing so hard for the entirety of the film, so tell me – who really got the most out of their overpriced cinema ticket here? (probably the children as they almost certainly didn’t pay for themselves but whatever… you get the point).

Batman (the Lego version) first appeared in 2014’s The Lego Movie as a side character. Arrogant, self-assured and immature, Batman (voiced by the superb Will Arnett) was such a likable character even in such a small role that a spin off was pretty inevitable. Would it work though? The Lego Movie was unique, quirky and took beloved character Lego sets and turned them into wonderful onscreen characters. Could it be done again, or would The Lego Batman Movie simply turn into another Batman parody?

The tldr answer is yes. It could, and it has been. The Lego Batman Movie lives up to the hype of The Lego Movie, and in places surpasses it. It’s funny, it’s imaginative, it’s so full of gags that you probably miss at least 30% of them on a first watch. Kermode, in his review of it, talks about wanting to just look at stills of each frame, just so you can really take in how much work has gone into the film and appreciate all the visual gags. It’s true that, especially in the first half, the jokes come thick and fast. Like tiny children after ingesting obscene amounts of sugar, Lego Batman is high paced, hyperactive and pretty much unstoppable to begin with. And, like all kids on a sugar high, it begins to wind down through the second half. It still has crazy amounts of gags, but the film takes on a more serious note and begins to hone in on its mantra – you can’t do everything by yourself. Also ‘no man is an island’, ‘friends are really important’ and ‘if you push everyone away from you constantly and act like you’re a super macho man with no weaknesses, you are going to be very, very lonely’.

This, in essence, is why Lego Batman is not only a hilariously funny film about tiny Lego characters. Lego Batman, in just under two hours, managed to sum up all of the reasons why the traditional Batman is a terrible hero and an even worse role model. It visually explained just how much Batman represents aggressive and toxic masculinity and how those things are really, really unhealthy. It did all of these things, whilst also taking the piss out of Robin’s ‘no pants’ era – which was bloody brilliant.

In the initial opening sequence, Batman’s weakness is pointed out to us by the Joker. It’s not even that Batman doesn’t have any friends or family, it’s that he is so isolated that he can’t even call the Joker his ‘greatest enemy’. He doesn’t have a greatest anything. He lives alone, he eats lobster thermidor alone, he laughs at Jerry McGuire alone and he saves Gotham over and over again, alone. He is so reluctant to let anyone into his life, that he refuses to admit that him and Joker have a special relationship – that would be too much like letting someone in.

Batman also believes that he is the only person who can save Gotham. This angle is played countless times throughout every incarnation of Batman, especially the Chris Nolan films and Batman v Superman (still very annoyed I actually sat through that steaming pile of garbage)… Batman believes himself to be the only person worthy of saving the city, and as such he never works within the law and cooperates with law enforcement in a very minimal way (occasionally talking with Commissioner Gordon). Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson) drives this point home when she pulls Batman up on his lack of accountability when crime fighting, and his inability to work with law enforcement or even just inside of the law. Gordon lays out some ideas about Batman assisting the Gotham PD to catch vigilantes, which Batman meets with utter disdain. He doesn’t need anyone’s help! In fact, he doesn’t need anyone at all…

Cue Richard (“my friends call me Dick”) Grayson (Michael Cera). A poor orphan boy who idolises Batman and, through Batman’s inability to listen to anyone for more than a minute, ends up accidentally being adopted by him. Batman’s fear of commitment is realised through Dick Grayson (okay, but let’s just call him Robin) because he suddenly has a responsibility to someone else. Batman realises, through a series of events, that he may actually need a bit of help to save the city. He also realises that he is desperately lonely and is very much still grieving the loss of his family.

Batman starts their relationship by exploiting Robin’s small stature and gymnastic talents by using him to steal the Phantom Zone Projector. After Robin succeeds, and shows a pretty natural talent for superhero things, Batman actually feels a sense of pride in him – a feeling he clearly hasn’t felt in a long time (if ever). So begins Batman’s internal struggle to accept another human being into his life, whilst also retain his stoic, unemotional and traditionally masculine facade.

Lego Batman manages to hit notes of loneliness and isolation in Batman’s character that the Chris Nolan films never seemed to ever come close to. It shows Batman as a scared little boy, someone who is struggling with genuine human connections in favour of ‘being a hero’ every time.  Batman performs a masculinity so destructive, that he cannot let anyone into his life. He refuses to give in to his emotions (store those away whilst you’re fighting crime), and instructs Robin to do the same. When Batman accepts teamwork, love and respect into his life, he comes happy and fulfilled. Even more importantly, perhaps, this ‘family’ is instigated by the arrival of a surrogate son. Batman is learning how to be a single father. Instead of a love interest forcing a change in him (as per 99% of superhero narratives), here Batman is held accountable by another time of love.

It also retained all the joy and ‘wackiness’ of the older Tim Burton franchise, the comics and even the 1960s series. It’s beautifully animated, brightly coloured and every other line of dialogue is a zany reference. It’s the Batman parody to end all Batman parodies, but it also works as its own funny and sweet story. The narrative is simple enough, but Lego Batman feels full because of the charm of its characters and the commitment by the filmmakers to properly go in for criticism of Batman as a dark vigilante superhero.

The Lego Batman Movie manages to throw a huge curve ball at the Batman franchise, and is one of the most effective criticisms of toxic masculinity that I’ve seen recently – especially in a ‘family’ film. It’s funny, it’s cute and it hammers home a much needed message that teamwork, respect and communication are so so important. Not to mention, it asks the all important question – if you’re going to call Barbara Gordon Batgirl, does that make Batman, Batboy? Just a thought…

Prevenge: Motherhood & Murder Have Never Looked So Good

Kids are notorious for always demanding things. Sweets, chocolate, toys, fizzy drinks, revenge for their father’s murder… Well, the last one may not happen all too often, but it is the very dark and disturbing premise of Alice Lowe’s first feature film Prevenge. What makes even more disturbing, is that her child hasn’t actually left the womb yet.

 

Read the rest of the review here at Film Inquiry! Spoiler alert, it’s fucking brilliant.

The Eyes of My Mother (Nicholas Pesce, 2016): Review

I don’t usually go in for horror films. It’s a bit of a cliche, but as I have got older, the less impressive they seem to be. Perhaps I over-indulged myself a little too much in my teenage years (I can’t remember my friends and I watching anything but horror films), but there seems to be very little originality in horror films of the last few years. Western horror films are now full of jump-scares, or are overly gory, and tend to rely on shock tactics rather than compelling or genuinely horrific narratives.

So imagine my pleasant surprise (perhaps pleasant is the wrong word here), as I watched Nicholas Pesce’s debut feature film, The Eyes of My Mother. Part of the BFI London Film Festival’s Official Selection and debuting at Sundance Film Festival, The Eyes of My Mother is an arthouse horror film which absorbed me from beginning to end. There is something altogether different about Pesce’s approach to horror, something which contemporary horror films seem to forgo, in favour of blood, guts and gore.

When Francisca’s mother (Diana Agostini) is brutally murdered in front of her at a young age, Francisca’s life changes forever. The tragic experience, and her father’s inability to deal with the aftermath, results in Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) acting upon some very dark and dangerous desires.

Shot in black and white, and utilising both English and Portuguese language to tell the story, The Eyes of My Mother is a truly horrific experience, in the very purest sense of the word. The narrative fixates on the trauma suffered by Francisca, both from her mother’s death and her father’s neglect of her and the situation. The murderer, Charlie, injured during the fight with the mother, is left for dead in the family barn. Francisca’s father, supposedly wracked with grief, instructs Francisca to deal with Charlie. The young girl, already traumatised, starts performing surgery on Charlie – the kind her mother used to teach her about.

Shot in striking black and white, The Eyes of My Mother is a visually layered film. A black and white horror film sets expectations for gore before the title sequence has even finished – traditional in Hollywood and in the arthouse circuit dictates this. It’s true, The Eyes of My Mother is particularly gruesome, but it doesn’t sacrifice story for these moments. The monochrome filter helps to soften these scenes, but simultaneously alerts us to their presence. The absence of bright blood makes it bearable, but the lack of real colour makes it even more unnerving.

It is never completely obvious whether Francisca enjoys inflicting pain on her various victims, or whether she believes that what she is doing is right. She might well be a product of her trauma and her upbringing, or it is quite possible that she is a psychopath and actually enjoys inflicting pain on others. It could also be a combination of both – as is most likely. Though leaving Francisca’s motivations open is interesting, it also prevent us from identifying with Francisca. We never get close enough to her to truly understand her thoughts and feelings, we are kept at a very deliberate distance. Though, perhaps this is the point.

Similarly, Francisca performing surgery mirroring her mother’s lessons is an attempt to replicate her mother – to become her mother. It’s another cyclical narrative, with Francisca desiring motherhood towards the end of the film. Encompassing societies expectations about women and motherhood, Francisca seems to feel that the only way for her to be fulfilled is to become a mother herself. Societal expectations on women as caregivers, especially mothers, is rife throughout the film. From Francisca’s twisted desire for a child (at the expense of another woman), to her need to ‘take care’ of Charlie by performing surgery on him, to her own fathers dependency on her – Francisca is constantly nurturing throughout the film. Is it forced motherhood? Is Pesce making a comment on how women crave motherhood and will obtain it any cost? Or is this just part of Francisca’s personality, something which has developed due to the trauma associated with her own mother. 

In contrast, Francisca is routinely unemotional and presents stereotypically masculine traits when grieving for both her mother and father. She doesn’t cry or present any feelings, instead she gets on with her life. Though her father has relatively little screen-time (too little for us to really garner any solid information about him), we can assume that Francisca has developed this trait from him. The little we see of him presents him as unfeeling and even cold toward Francisca.

The Eyes of My Mother takes an interesting line on nature vs nurture, the cycle of trauma and it’s narrative unfolds in a way that compliments these themes. It is a throwback to older horror films of the 70s (think Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but masquerading itself in the form of an arthouse flick. It’s got a (again) horrific subject matter, but it just looks so damn good. To be honest, it worked for me.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not (I repeat NOT) a film to see if you don’t like horror films. Whilst you can appreciate the visuals and lap up the ultra-long takes, it’s a hard film to sit through if gore and guts are not your friend. It isn’t for the faint hearted, but if you can push past that – you’ll find a very interesting (and unique) film behind it.

 

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The Eyes of My Mother is out on limited release in the UK in March 2017, and is currently on release in the US.