Watch the skies! Wait, no, DON’T watch the skies, look away!! Jordan Peele’s new scifi horror film Nope dives screaming onto the screen this episode, raining blood, coins and general dread on the audience. But what’s it really about? And is it as skilful in its exploration of the lives of people of colour in a science fiction scenario as John Sayles’ 1984 picture The Brother From Another Planet? Join us as we stare into the heart of cosmic horror and then overclock some old arcade video games like ET goes to New York with an Atari 2600.
We’ve been let down by modern cinema’s conservative and risk averse distribution policies this week, meaning our scheduled film My Old School never turned up. So for the first time we’re recording a film podcast without actually having seen a film. Great. Instead we spend the time talking about some of our favourite school based films that HAVE shown up in the past. And in penance for our poor planning we’ll be reporting for detention at four o’clock, alongside Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez.
Okay, no-one’s really sure how this happened, but bear with us. Somehow, somehow, in a logical, progressive fashion, we set out to discuss the legacy of colonialism and in the end managed to segue from an examination of Victorian museum design to the movie Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Yes, yes, it could have happened to anyone. Just don’t expect us to ever do it again.
The other children’s movie rewatch I got in recently was Luca, Pixar’s 2021 picture. Luca is a sea monster who assumes human form when on dry land. Warned by his family to stay away from the human village, he nevertheless becomes friends with Alberto, a fellow sea monster who lives on the land full time, and who introduces him to all the wondrous things the world above the water’s surface has to offer. But some of the locals are terrified of sea monsters, and Luca and Alberto are always in danger of being unmasked…
It’s tremendous, the ideal summer movie: the setting and the colours alone make it feel like a 90 minute vacation. And it reads to me unmistakably as a sweet movie about coming out as LGBTQ.
Taking a more granular view, however, while the first 30 minutes especially are utterly perfect (not a word I use lightly), the film takes a tiny stumble at the point when it introduces its antagonist, Ercole, a boorish local cycling champion.
In common with many of the House of Mouse’s recent films, the true antagonist of the film is fear itself. (See Frozen, Moana, Zootopia, Soul, Big Hero 6, the list goes on). But Luca I think spends too much time and energy on this secondary antagonist who is buffoonish and unsubtle and just not interesting enough. For this segment of the film to transcend, it would only need Ercole to reinforce that main theme by proving himself to be motivated by fear, too. Fear of losing the cycling race, fear of growing up, perhaps even fear of coming out. And all the ingredients are there, but somehow the film can’t quite capitalise on them. Instead it leaves him as merely ‘bad’, or perhaps ‘intolerant’. A missed opportunity and a little lesson on the value of integrating your themes…
This episode we’re PUNCHING TIGERS IN THE FACE with the incredible Indian breakout hit RRR. And if that’s not overpowering enough, we’re also watching 1939 adventure movie classic Gunga Din. Join us for a measured discussion of colonialism, nationalism, cinematic idioms, and LITERALLY THROWING A MOTORCYCLE OVERARM AS A WEAPON WHILE EVERYTHING ELSE ON SCREEN EXPLODES!
I had an opportunity to rewatch Pixar’s Turning Red this week with my son in an actual cinema, and I’m happy to say it’s still utterly fantastic – even better on the big screen, where the film’s smorgasbord of detail shines.
The theme of the film is integration. 13 year old Meilin finds that the onset of puberty means she turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets emotional. She’s given the chance to banish the panda forever in a magical ceremony, but instead at the last minute chooses to keep the panda side of her nature and integrate it into her life. Know thyself, as the Oracle at Delphi advises us.
There are some distinct furry vibes here, if that’s your thing (c’mon, open your mind), and a great, honest take on teenage girls dealing with friendship and the advent of romantic feelings. (Well, the horn). It has anime nods and a Kaiju grandma and N-Sync-lite. And there is not one scene where you get the feeling that anyone said, ‘That will do.’ Instead the whole film feels like it was made by people who really believed in it and loved it and adored it and nurtured it. I loved it too, the first time I saw it and again this time.
I could take the chance here to talk about the value of specificity in screenwriting – one of the film’s many strengths is that it happens in a specific place, Toronto, and at a specific time, the summer of 2002. When you’re specific like that, authenticity can follow, and it’s authenticity that keeps the audience with the characters.
But instead I’m going to briefly discuss a controversy that arose when the film was originally released. The film got a poor review at the site CinemaBlend and was labelled ‘unrelatable’, and I have a couple of things to say about that.
First: wrong, wrong, wrong! Wrong! What? Seriously? I think the gist of the idea was that the film was about the life of a 13 year old Chinese Canadian girl, and because it was so specific, if you weren’t a 13 year old Chinese Canadian girl, you wouldn’t get it.
What? I mean, sorry, what?
This is an age old problem, of course. Oooh, yes. Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example, bombed because not enough of the movie going public were academic archaeologists with whips, right? Stars Wars was a total disaster that disappeared without trace because it turned out that no-one in the audience, not one person, had ever been a farm boy on the planet of Tatooine.
Okay, so I admit it’s true that Turning Red will only appeal to a few limited groups of people. I’ve listed these groups below:
People who have been 13.
People who will be 13 in the next four or five years,
People who have or once had parents.
People who have ever worried about meeting the expectations of an older person they admire.
People who have had friends.
People who like music.
And finally, people who have bodies.
If you’re not in one of those groups, okay, sure, go and see something else. And good luck.
Secondly, and more seriously, this reminds me of one of the most heart-sinking notes you can ever get about a script. ‘It’s not relatable.’ ‘I showed it to my son and he thought it wasn’t relatable.’ That’s a real note I’ve received on a script I’ve written. And frankly, I think it’s stupid.
If you get the note ‘it’s unrelatable’ on your script, I think it means one of two things.
Either (a) the person giving you notes is incapable of empathy. If that’s the case, you have my permission to ask them if they really believe they should be working in the arts.
Or (b) they mean something else. Usually I think when people say a script is unrelatable, they mean it’s IMPLAUSIBLE. ‘I hit a road block in the story because I didn’t believe the teenagers would venture into the haunted house alone.’ ‘I didn’t believe the newspaper magnate would spend all that money trying to reclaim his childhood when his sled was right there.’ That’s fine. That’s an understandable note. If audiences don’t believe your characters, you have a problem. But it’s not ‘unrelatability’ that’s being described. The people in your script who do implausible things can still be people that we recognise and identify with. People empathise with R2D2, for goodness sake. Or a shell with shoes on. The issue is plausibility, not relatability. That word ‘unrelatable’ should be expunged from the dictionary.
We don’t go to the movies to look in a mirror. Or rather, yes, that’s EXACTLY why we go to the movies. But we know that the mirror contains multitudes. Just as we do.
At the popcorn counter this time we try to list our top three war films, only to find we’ve out manoeuvred each other and ended up with a pyrrhic victory: five good movies and one that’s so bad it earns a whole new rating.
I happened upon the trailer for Marcel the Shell With Shoes On a few weeks ago and was instantly mesmerized by its inventiveness. Fortunately the film came to our neighborhood cinema last week where I was able to see it on the big screen. The film is a triumph in both human, animal, and cinematic inventiveness. Marcel, voiced by Jenny Slate, is a snail living alone with his grandmother, Connie, voiced by Isabella Rossellini, in an Air B and B his family and friends were forced to evacuate. When filmmaker Dean moves in long term when recovering from a separation with his wife, he begins to document Marcel’s tiny world, the rich life that it contains, and the search for the community that was forced to abandon it. The stop motion animation blends perfectly with the live action footage, and documentary seamlessly washes into very imaginative fiction. This film is a labor of love more than a decade in the making resulting in one of the most innovative and creative things I’ve seen in a long time. I would recommend watching the feature first, then going back to see the short films where you can see the work in development. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is visually stunning, human, hilarious, emotional, and imaginative. Slater and Rossellini are brilliant. See it for yourself.
There are lots of advantages to putting God in your film. No-one knows what they look like, so casting can be as crazy as you like, and (so far) they never sue over the unlicensed use of their image. We try to remember as many examples of God on screen as we can while we queue at the popcorn counter. Inevitably we will have missed a few – but that’ll all be sorted out by Judgement Day, won’t it?
My daughter has correctly identified Moana as possibly Disney’s greatest film. (Possibly anyone’s greatest film, in fact. Come on, fight me.) So we were looking forward to seeing The Sea Beast, Chris William’s new Netflix backed animated picture. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be in the same territory.
Well, it’s in exactly the same territory, of course – the water. If you don’t watch the whole movie, everyone should at least see the first fifteen minutes, which features maybe the greatest sea battle ever filmed, full of wonderfully detailed and nuanced animation and clear, spectacular action.
The script, on the other hand, is where nuance went to die. Here is a film that demonstrates that writing children is hard. Orphan stowaway Maisie Brumble is sweet, but she has a lot of terribly on the nose dialogue.
In her scene with her protector Jacob, she tells him, ‘All you have is me and all I have is you. And that don’t sound so bad. What do you say? Shall we give it a go?’ ‘You mean like a family?’ he asks. ‘Sure,’ she tells him.
It’s a nice sentiment… but if you’ve watched the film you’ll know that this emotional landscape has just been far better expressed and explored using the body language of the two characters in the previous fifteen seconds. We can read everything we need to know about the feelings of the people in this scene from the way they hold their shoulders and move their eyes.
Adding all this talky-talky-talking simply diffuses the power of the moment. This film is full of wonderful character animation, facilitated by software that allows incredible, painstaking detail. Early in the movie the way that Captain Crow carefully turns his shot glass on his tabletop tells us more about him than two pages of dialogue. So could we please retain the confidence to tell more of the story that way?