Wednesday, 29 January 2014

No, I'm Not Okay

Hello all,
Sometimes I really do worry about myself. Last week, I managed to traumatise myself by watching a film which included a scene of sexual violence. It’s not something I do regularly, watch films about rape, which is probably why I was so affected by it. Actually, there were a couple of factors involved.
   One of the most obvious was because I was feeling good about myself and the gay community before I sat down to watch Beauty, the 2011 South African film in question. I’m currently on holidays from Uni and have been occupying the time by catching up on all those things I’ve been wanting to watch for a while. So I’ve watched the first season of Breaking Bad, American Horror Story, Grey’s Anatomy, Broadchurch and the second season of Teen Wolf. However, the main discovery is that of Lush, a youtube channel where an undeniably adorable gay couple who vlog about their various ups and downs three times a week. It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I feel gayer after watching them and more open to talk about stuff like sex and who I’m attracted to and that I may find some kind of partner in the future. It’s been a real eye-opening experience and one of those things that I really feel has changed me (it’s like when I first discovered DanIsNotOnFire). It’s made me realise that being gay is brilliant and I have nothing to be ashamed of (I sort of already knew this, but every now and again I’m sort of shocked that I’m not as open as I thought I was). So, I was in a good place in terms of my thoughts about my sexuality.
   Then there’s the way I discovered the movie. Every now and again, I feel frustrated that there is a lack of queer representation in the movies that I watch which are great, but it just can leave me feeling a bit… excluded. So, what I do is I go to the library and look up the word gay and see what DVDs come up. I end up placing about 50 holds on these things so I have to spend a whole week of watching nothing but gay movies. My life, people. One day, I was doing this and I saw this film listed. I thought it looked interesting, a story about obsession, and it was from South Africa, a country whose films I had never before seen (I like to watch foreign films. They show you a different view of life and make one feel slightly worldlier despite the fact the furthest I’ve been is South Australia). I was also excited by the fact that it won the Queer Palme D’Or at Cannes, just like Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan’s film about a trans woman which was excellent).
   So, here I am, watching this South African film and its past midnight (I generally watch films late at night, adds to the atmosphere) and it starts off really interestingly. There’s a scene where these male friends are having sex and I was amazed because these were real people, actually what people looked like, not some pretty model. And then the film just got darker and darker. The main character started stalking this handsome young guy and you just know that this can’t end well. I was hoping that the young guy would realise and tell him to shove off, but no, it didn’t happen that way. The older guy raped him in the most brutal and uncompromising scene in any movie I’ve ever seen. And as soon as it happened, I just cried and couldn’t stop and this happened before the end of the film, so I sat there until the end just sobbing and hoping it would be over soon. I wanted the older guy caught or some revenge or something and it didn’t happen. There was no reason. And the film ends, so I close my laptop. And I can’t stop crying or thinking about it. I’m in shock. My legs are crushing my chest while my arms hold my legs tight. I actually couldn’t stop or get to sleep, so I had to soothe myself, telling myself that it wasn’t going to happen to me. And eventually I was calm enough to get to sleep.
   The next morning was Australia Day and I thought the pain would’ve gone away. But it didn’t. I still felt like crap. It took watching several of the Lush videos and a couple of Mamrie Hart’s to get me back to feeling okay again.
   The thing that’s most odd about this story is that it was entirely avoidable. The film was rated R18+ and I’ve seen R films before. Pulp Fiction and Another Gay Movie were both R and I was fine after those (although, I feel I am slightly less innocent after watching the latter). I checked the reason for the rating, but the library sticker obscured it. All I could see were the words ‘high’, ‘violence’, ‘high level’ and ‘sex’. So naturally I assumed high level violence and high level sex scenes and I was all fine. The next morning, my brother held the DVD up to the light and read that the listing actually read ‘High impact sexual violence, high level sex scenes.’ So, yeah, avoidable.
   My mum said that if I was finding it so traumatising why didn’t I just turn it off? Well, because I thought there was some hope, but no it was a film filled with despair and I felt horrible after watching it. I still don’t think I’m quite over it. It showed me a darker side to humanity that I was only previously only vaguely aware of and it’s horrifying. It’s like whenever I watch a doco about the AIDS crisis and I realise that life is not all easy and that my problems are miniscule, compared to all of the suffering. Sorry, I’m being depressing.
   There was actually some redemption a few days later. I had it in the car wanting to return it to the library when mum cleared the car out. She put Beauty and another CD on the roof. She forgot it was there and drove away, sending Beauty careening into the pushes. I tell you I have never felt stronger that karma exists. Unfortunately, the other CD was Cher’s new one. Damn it.
   Anyway, I hope you liked or can relate to this story. Have you ever seen a film or read a book that literally traumatised you or am I just oversensitive? Probably that. Or I could be an idiot. Don’t dismiss that theory. Today, I had my head down to the sink when I sneezed whacking my forehead into it. It hurt. A lot. Yeah, I’m so intelligent.
   I plan on posting more often, about once a week and I’ll just talk about anything that’s been interesting me or affecting me throughout the week. I don’t really know how this is going to work yet, but we’ll see. Oh, and because I’m a big fan of obscure music and movies, these posts will be followed by the songs and movies that I loved this week. Anyway, see you all soon.


The Playlist Of 24 Jan – 28 Jan
Do You Want To Build A Snowman (Frozen)
For The First Time In Forever (Frozen)
Compass (Lady Antebellum)
So Close (Olafur Arnlds, Arnor Dan)
Tornado (Jonsi)
Lucky (Lucky Twice)
Goodness Gracious (Ellie Goulding)
I Walk Alone (Cher)
Favourite Scars (Cher)
Pink Elephants On Parade Remix (Dumbo)

The Top 10 Films Of 24 Jan – 28 Jan
Picnic At Hanging Rock
The Birds
Disconnect
Finding Nemo
Her
Pulp Fiction
Life Of Brian
Tiny Furniture
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Long Weekend (1978)

Thanks,
James
 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The TMT Awards 2013: Category 4 - Film

Hi all,
Delays, delays, delays! So many problems getting this final part of the awards to you, but not to worry because they're here now. This final category is all about films, which are always a big part of my life. I'm a huge film geek and I like to think I watch a wide variety of films so any recommendations I will follow through on. Like anything at all. I watch too many movies...


326 films. That’s how many movies I watched last year. That’s almost one a day. You could say I like movies. But I’m a bit odd, because I don’t just like any type of movie. I’ll watch anything, as long as it’s got a good story and is worth my time. I love being transported into another life for two hours. I love watching a romance because it makes me feel loved. I love watching horror movies because being scared is great fun. I love watching Sci-Fi because it’s awesome. I love watching new and old movies because they’re timeless and show me how people lived then and now. Movies can make you cry, make you laugh, make you jump, make you dance around the room and make you change the way you think and see the world.
   You’d think that this would make this list one of the hardest to compile. It wasn’t really. I just went with the films that I would have recommended (if I’d been bothered to do a recommendations post every month) and picked the 10 movies that had made me feel something. That means that six of the 10 films have a gay character, but that’s because they hit me in a very special place. They make me feel loved, challenge me and make me feel like I belong. Basically, I don’t need a boyfriend. I have my gay movies.


 

 
The Top 10 Films

1. I Killed My Mother
With anything you watch or hear or read, if you relate to it strongly, it’s going to take a really special place in your heart. It’s like somehow they’ve seen your life and translated it to the screen, allowing you to see it in a new and fascinating way. That’s why I love I Killed My Mother. Clearly a very personal film to the director, the amazing Xavier Dolan, it also became a very personal experience for me too. Explaining how a gay guy relates to his mother and the love and frustration and general annoyance that comes with that, I just cried so many times during this movie. It’s directed with such conflicting emotions and passion that it becomes a letter of love. It’s like Dolan has said well, here’s my life, make of it what you will. And I loved it. It broke my heart but also made it clear to me that my own conflicted relationship with my mother wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary. It made me feel slightly less weird but it was a painful experience, because it was so raw. Then there’s the use of colour and the fact that the two main guys are utterly perfect together (making later betrayals incredibly painful) and an ending that is both ambiguous and genius. It just made this one of the best movies I’d seen in a very, very long time and it made me desperate to see his other works. His next film, Heartbeats, about an unrequited love triangle wasn’t as stunning but has grown on me.  And I’ve yet to see Laurence Anyways, about a trans man which looks to be amazing. Yeah, I found a new favourite director.

2. The Fall
Originally I picked up The Fall because it starred Lee Pace (from the wonderful Pushing Daisies, one of my favourite TV shows ever). As I started this film, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that this film takes its audiences on. Basically about a story told by a badly injured man to get a girl to get him drugs, it becomes all about why we tell stories and why we have to believe in something. Its ending is also one of the most painful and emotional things I’ve ever seen. I was crying and begging and pleading like the little girl from the film. It’s actually really hard to talk about this without giving too much away. It’s just so intricate and postmodern and wonderful. I adored it because it’s one of those films I found without any encouragement from anyone else. It’s just really special to me because it reflected my own beliefs about the issues at hand. Intellectual and moving, it’s probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen (and more likely to have staying power unlike I Killed My Mother, which was an amazing film but not as powerful as this one).

3. Frozen
This film just made it in at the last moment. I watched it on New Year’s Eve because I wanted one of these 10 films to be actually produced this year (I was originally going to have to talk about Pacific Rim in another section, seeing I only gave it an 8). And what a film it was. Filled with memorable musical numbers, likable characters, genuinely funny moments and a big heart, this is Disney’s best film in years (and I adore Tangled). But what makes it so amazing is the way it subverts our expectations. Anyone familiar with the output of the Disney company will be well aware that many of the princesses are desperate for a man (which I found super frustrating) and get married, even though they’ve only known each other for a few days. There’s also an evil person with no redeeming features to stop the course of true love (who is usually my favourite character and adds so much to the film. See Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Cruella deVille in 101 Dalmations). It’s all very predictable after you’ve seen a few of them. That’s why films like Mulan and Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King stand out (oddly enough, so does The Little Mermaid which is odd considering it follows that exact pattern. It’s the songs I think). But those films just twist the format slightly. What Frozen does is take the format and tear it to shreds. All of your preconceptions of this movie are proved to be wrong as the film continues. It’s intricate and filled with a true depth of character rarely seen in Disney films. One reviewer said this film is the only one of Disney’s to be able to hold its own against Pixar. I couldn’t agree more. This is just beautiful and stunning, with Elsa fast becoming one of my favourite Disney princesses (no-one can beat Belle. And if you think it’s weird that I have favourite Disney princesses, then it is. But that’s nothing compared to how frustrated I get when I see the new dolls they have of them. They’re so sexualised, it’s disgusting. Especially with Rapunzel. One of the key points about Tangled is that she has short hair by the end of it. None of the dolls do, which is really, really frustrating). I’ve listened to her song ‘Let It Go’ 22 times (33, if you count the Demi version. I just find the film version more powerful) and I have a feeling it’s going to become a personal anthem for me. I even know all the words! Yes, I am a very strange person, but you have to see Frozen. It’s probably the greatest Disney movie ever.

4. Suspiria
There has never been a film I wanted to see as much as this one. I first heard about it back in 2011 and I have no idea how, but ever since them I’ve been desperate to see it. At the time, I wasn’t able to because the library didn’t have a copy, so I satisfied my curiosity by learning everything I could about it. I saw hundreds of stills and listened to the soundtrack over and over again. I even watched the opening double murder on Youtube once when I was bored in my IT class. We had a sub that day, so she thought I was a psycho. I wasn’t. I just really wanted to see this movie. I was obsessed by the use of colour and how wonderful it all looked. I had to shelve my interest, however. Until one day I had just finished looking up gay movies (because I do that) when I decided that I’d look up Dario Argento. Even if I couldn’t see Suspiria, I might be able to see another of his films (because they all looked amazing). To my shock, I saw it, the second option from the bottom. I have never put a hold on something so quickly in all my life. Then there was the long wait. And by god, it felt like a long wait. It finally came in as I was doing the Halloween 13. Unfortunately, it was too late to make the list, but I watched it soon after. My first impression was that’s all? After you know everything about a film, it’s hard to actually like it on it’s on merits. But then as I got into the story, I realised just how terrifying and brilliant this was. Yes, the use of colour was stunning but it was the set pieces and the terror that stick with me now. There’s the moment when maggots drop from the ceiling or where a girl gets caught in barbed wire trying to escape from a killer. Those are shocking moments that stick with me more than the use of colour, or even the spooky soundtrack (which I have now lost. I wanted to listen to it while writing this review). It has become a film that I now have to purchase, so I can view it every Halloween. And scare myself half to death. By the way, I remember how I first heard about this movie. There was a trailer on one of my brother’s DVDs. This trailer. You have to see it. Then you too will be desperate to see (whispers like in the trailer) Suspiria.

5. Drive
You know when you see or read something and you just become desperate to analyse it? You know there’s a deeper meaning behind that but you just can’t get at it? And these films make you think about them, because they’re a lot more intelligent than they initially appear to be. Drive was like this to me. I picked it up because it starred Ryan Gosling (whom I’d never seen in a film before) and Carey Mulligan (who’s one of my favourite actresses) but I was just expecting a bit of light entertainment to watch when I had nothing better to do. And then that night and I sat down and I was blown away. The depth of character, the intensity and intricacy of the plot and the absolutely amazing soundtrack made me sit up and pay attention. I knew there was something more going on here, so I decided to make this the subject of my film and psychology subject. And what a great idea that was (if I don’t say so myself). I peeled away the layers of this film and have now seen it so many times that it’s almost become annoying (like Princess Mononoke. You can see something too many times as I first learned when I watched Sky High 20 times in one week). But still I really do think this film was incredible. I can’t really say I liked this film, but I can say I admire what it’s done and the way it’s been done. And I can also say I’ve listened to the song ‘Real Hero’ by College & Electric Youth (from the film’s soundtrack) 50 times and that’s no exaggeration.

6. Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt

Remember how I discussed that one of the key things that affected me last year was my increased knowledge of the AIDS crisis before I read Two Boys Kissing? Well, this is the film to blame. I have never cried this much while watching a film. Every new development was like a stab to my heart. Learning that people dying was ignored because they were gay. Or that young kids were dying of it. Or that one of the people we followed throughout the doco died shortly after it was filmed. It was completely heartbreaking. I cried while watching the movie and during the credits and for a very long time afterwards. The scale of the loss, the pain and the love was almost too much to bear. So much suffering and devastation and regret. This isn’t an easy film to watch and it doesn’t have an uplifting conclusion, but what it does show is that we’re all the same. Everyone was affected by this illness. It wasn’t just the gay community. There were too many for that. Every year, there was a counter as to how many had died. It just kept rising and rising. Thousands. And every one of them had a family. It’s one of the most painful but important films I’ve ever seen. Required viewing for anyone, so we can learn from the mistakes and keep those who lost their lives in our hearts.
7. Cloud Atlas

Like Suspiria, this was a film I’d heard about and was desperate to see. It looked epic and moving and brave and hopeful. I just missed out seeing it in the cinema, but watching it on DVD was truly amazing. The insights, the connections, the scope, the pain, the joy, it was all there in this awe-inspiring film. Few films have the capacity to be able to change the way we see the world, but the ones that stick with us can. This is one. It shows us that injustice and pain are not new things, they are constants. It’s a cross generational thing that we all must face and fight together. Our actions and our choices do not only affect us, they affect everyone around us. We all have the power to be something important and special. We just have to see it and be willing to take the responsibility. And this film shows us that. Powerful.

8. Were The World Mine

Were The World Mine is a gay musical. What’s not to love? It’s nowhere near as flamboyant as one would imagine, it’s subtle and beautiful. And for once, it’s a gay movie that isn’t just about sex, it’s about love. And Shakespeare. It’s lyrical, very sweet and unpredictable. And the songs are really, really good and incredibly staged. My favourite is the title tune because it’s sexy and romantic and beautifully sung. One of my favourite gay movies because it’s more than a coming out drama or a sex comedy. It has something insightful to say and manages to have a happy ending (incredibly rare in gay movies) all with a gentle touch. Incredibly sweet.
9. Brokeback Mountain

When most people think of the term gay movie, the first thing that comes to their head is Brokeback Mountain. It’s the film that seems to have permeated itself into the world subconscious, normalising the gay lifestyle in a very big way. It’s also the gay community’s favourite film. I find this actually a bit hard to understand because there are no really positive messages for us here. The two guys can never be together, leading to a truly emotional ending. Hiding it results in pain for both of them and there is very little happiness in this film. But somehow despite all the pain, this remains an incredibly likable movie. And I don’t know how Ang Lee, the director, manages it. I want to despise this movie because it hurts, but somehow I just can’t. It’s handled with too light of a touch and filmed with too much love to make this a film that I hate. And that ending is brave and heartbreaking (when one of them goes into the other one’s bedroom and sees the jacket… That hits a really personal place and hurts like hell). It’s a bit like ‘Same Love’, something both the straight and the gay community can both enjoy together because it breeds understanding and discussion. So while I may not like the fact that it didn’t have that happy ending I so needed, I believe that it’s because of films like this that the gay community is able to be as open and as flamboyant as we are now. And for that I owe it everything.
10. Shelter
This is the other favourite gay movie, ranking third on the Backlot’s (formerly AfterElton) list. Naturally, I really wanted to see it. But it wasn’t until I watched Hellbent (the gay horror movie and my worst movie of the year, possibly ever) that I realised I was ready to see this movie. I wanted something uplifting. And I got it. Shelter is just one of the sweetest, loveliest and warmest films I’ve ever seen. This is the ultimate gay movie and one I’d recommend to anyone just coming out or just finding out about themselves. It makes it seem normal and natural for two men to fall in love. What’s more amazing is that they’re two surfers, one of the more macho professions and none of them are flamboyant or the stereotypical, they’re just in love. It’s not revolutionary or particularly clever, but it is one of those films that makes you feel like you belong, that you’re safe. It even has a happy ending (and a killer soundtrack)! And I love, love, love it.

 
So, there we have it. My top ten films of last year and the end of my awards. This series of articles was a lot of work but very rewarding and it's just really made me annoyed at myself about how much I neglect this blog. In fact, that's one of my new year's resolutions; to stop being so damn lazy with this thing! So, with the new year, I have a few plans about how I wish to continue this blog but I find that if I voice them, then I don't follow through, so you'll just have to see. Just now that bigger and better things are coming. I hope :)
Thanks so much,
James
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The TMT Awards 2013: Category 3 - Television

Hi all,
No delay today! TV shows are just a lot easier to write about (possibly because you've heard of some of them) which makes my reviewing so much easier! I just finished the fourth season of Glee which explains the super-angst in the introduction, by the way. Now working my way through Teen Wolf. So addictive!

Of all of the categories this year, television was the hardest for me to pick just five. I watch a lot of television and discover so many great series’ that caused this list to change so many times. Some of my favourites from the year I’ve had to exclude (Land Of The Lost, This Is Jinsy, The Story Of Film, Brimstone & Treacle, Rick & Steve, Please Like Me, True Blood) but the list I have now are the 5 series that defined my year. There’s some really high quality programming being created at the moment and there are some great shows from the past which just make me realise that television is one of my favourite mediums. It’s the sense of connection that you don’t get with films (because of their short duration they have to tell a powerful story to work), books (which have to have something to make you keep reading) and music (which has a very different kind of power, because it can be associated with any moment and it’s so personal). We watch these people over a number of weeks (or a number of hours thanks to DVD) and grow to know them as family. It hurts when these people die or are heartbroken because we love them (or hate them in some cases). And when the series ends, it feels like something is missing but you keep strong by remembering all the lessons that they’ve taught you. That’s the miracle of narrative, which will never, ever change. I present to you my top five television series and animes I viewed this year. 

 
The Top 5 Television Series

1. American Horror Story: Murder House

My favourite series of the year was also one of the last I viewed, completing it in November. I’d heard of this series before because it was by the creator of Glee and tumblr is obsessed with it. In fact, it was tumblr that finally pushed me over the edge into viewing this series. And by god, I’m thankful that they did, even though it’s completely terrifying. There’s murders and freakouts and mysteries and disgusting moments and disturbing characters that you grow to love anyway. It’s the characters that make this show so addictive. You have to know what’s going to happen next, because you can never guess what these people are going to do or what’s going to happen to them. The end of the series is nothing like how I imagined it would be which is a testament to the level of skilful writing. Another thing that really worked in this series’ favour is that it borrows elements from other horror films and manipulates them to fit the story they’re trying to tell. This makes it something of  a film buff’s dream as you realise that that’s a bit like Rosemary’s Baby. And that bit’s Halloween and that’s the music from Vertigo! And yet despite all this borrowing, it still comes across as completely fresh and original with genuinely horrifying and clever twists. This was my television addiction of the year and one of the scariest shows I’ve ever seen (that title sequence!).

2. Game Of Thrones: Seasons 1 & 2
I think you’d have to be living under a rock if you hadn’t heard of this show before. I only started watching it this year, though. One of my friends tried to get me to watch it last year, but I couldn’t see how it could be so great, so I passed on it. Then I got to Uni and it was all that my friends were talking about. I realised that if I wanted to avoid big spoilers I was going to have to watch it sooner rather than later. The first season was excellent, with me immediately growing attached to key characters such as Daenyrs and Arya Stark. The depth of character, the scope of the story and the intricacy of it was like nothing I’d ever seen before and it was immensely gripping. I was soon desperate for the second season which came in to the library shortly after. I wasn’t as big a fan of this (probably because of the lack of Daenyrs) but it was still head and shoulders above most television series. The episode Blackwater is probably the best single episode I watched this year but I soon came to a problem. The series was over before I realised. Now, I’m desperate for the third season, although I am wary. The phrase Red Wedding was all over my Facebook and I don’t think I’m fully prepared for that hell.

3. The Singing Detective
One of the most literate and engrossing programs I’ve ever seen, The Singing Detective soon became my thinking hour. From the 70s and written by Dennis Potter, it’s just one of those shows where you really have to pay attention. Floating between numerous time zones and featuring a murder mystery and insane musical numbers, the series requires you to solve the mystery of the main character. Who is he? Why do we keep seeing the train? Over the half a dozen episodes, you’re slowly given clues until you finally learn the truth in one of the most satisfying and thought-provoking series endings I’ve seen in a very long time. There’s just so many themes and layers to this series that it almost requires re-watching to fully uncover all of the mysteries. However, even on a single view this series has stood out to me as one of the most intelligent and challenging series’ I’ve seen.

4. House Of Cards: Season 1
It’s strange what leads you to discover really great things. House Of Cards, for example, I discovered through Dylan O’Brien (Stiles of Teen Wolf) tweeting about it. I looked it up and was intrigued by the premise. Ever since then, I’ve been waiting for it to come to DVD. And a few weeks ago it did and I watched it in about four days. It’s just so addictive. Congressman Underwood’s scheming and struggle to get into power make him one of the most watchable characters of the year, even when he’s doing some really horrible things. He says the wisest things which really make you think but then he turns to the camera and says he doesn’t believe any of the crap he’s just said. He does it all the time. We don’t really know who he is, so we’re just trying to find something, which is exactly what the characters do. He offers them greatness which just allows them to be manipulated. It’s genius. Twisted, but genius. And it’s the supporting characters that again do great work. His wife, Clare, is a stunning character while the drug, sex and alcohol addicted Peter Russo is compulsively watchable. You know that these people are stuffed as soon as they get close enough to Francis, but still you want them to so you can watch the world burn. And then when Francis world gets untangled, he’s clever enough to come up with a solution. And evil enough. Something happens towards the end of the series which is truly shocking and unexpected which left me breathless. I can’t enthuse about this series enough. A definite must watch.

5. The Fairly OddParents: Season 6
I’m always amazed when I watch things that I used to love as a child because I realise just how impressionable I am. My obsession with Britain and my general insanity and oddness comes from watching Alice In Wonderland and Mary Poppins every other day. Much of my deep thinking and philosophical ponderings comes from viewing Sophie’s World when I was in grade six (watching that again was really shocking because everything from the music to the actors has shaped the way I am. So strange). And then there’s The Fairly OddParents. One of my absolute favourite shows from childhood (along with CatDog, The Secret Show and Silversun), my overriding memory of it is actually very specific. It was the episode where Timmy and his Fairy Godparents are trapped in the television which was wonderfully meta (no, I had no idea what that word meant at the time. I just thought it was cool that they were crossing over with some of my favourite shows. I remember in one they were puppets like Sesame Street. Possibly my first ever fangasm. Yep, even when I was young I was a supernerd. Some things never change) and it was incredibly intense. I needed to know if they ever got out of there. Unfortunately, parents seem to be psychic about these sort of things. This was the one day where we were having a family barbecue. We never had them, but I was called outside, forced away from my beloved show to have some sausages and chops. I was so stressed about it, I couldn’t really focus on the food. After the meal, I ran inside to see that it was finished. I never knew if they ever escaped. I attribute this to my obsession with cliffhangers and open endings. Over the years, I’ve often tried to find the episode but never could. Even the library didn’t have any of the DVDs. Periodically, I do a such and this time I was overjoyed to find that they now had one season, the fifth. Watching it again was terribly exciting (even though it wasn’t the TV one) and I finished the whole season in about two days before I came to the concluding three-part epic where each episode went for 45 minutes. Now, no-one does epic and weird better than this show so it was awesome. Until I got to the end of the second episode. Where there was a really bad scratch and it refused to play any further. Henceforth, this shall be now as the Fairly OddCurse. Life is always repeating, even when we don’t want it to (don’t worry, I did eventually watch it on television much to my mother’s chagrin. She thinks it’s too silly. Lighten up!).

The Top 5 Anime
 
1. Free!
Where do I begin with Free! The ultimate slash potential of the hot anime swimmers? The sense of connection that I cultivated with these characters? Or the fact that I still miss this show? I first heard of this series because of that trailer (which was possibly the hottest thing I saw this year. Actually, no that probably goes to Eric Saade’s video for Winning Ground) and soon needed to see the series. A few months later I got the chance. It began as the whole slash thing as I picked out my fave pairings (Haru x Rin, Nagisa x Rei, Makoto for me) but as I watched it over the next 11 weeks, I actually grew to love these people as part of my family. Something happens when you watch a series every week for 12 weeks. It just becomes part of you in a really, special intimate way. One week it wasn’t on and I suffered withdrawal symptoms. I needed these characters, their friendship, their rivalries, their romance (imaginary. With each other. I created a whole story around Haru and Rin’s past relationship getting in the way of his burgeoning one with Makoto. It was a good storytelling exercise in my head). And when it finished, I cried like a small child. I still miss this show so, so much. Hearing the theme tunes again makes my chest fill with knots. These five boys were my family. I celebrated when they celebrated. I cried when they cried. And now I miss them like crazy. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
 
2. Azumanga Daioh
This was the other series’ I got very connected to. Despite being first broadcast a very long time ago, I watched the six volumes from the library over several months. Like Free!, it began simply enough. Azumanga Daioh is hilarious. There’s the running joke about the tall girl who keeps trying to get closer to cats, the small genius with pigtails and the really very unintelligent girl. But as you get to know them (and we get to know the six girls and their two teachers very well because the series takes place over their three years at high school), we realise that they’re more than these silly clichés. They’re real characters and great friends who just have lives filled with hilarity. They soon became some of my best friends. When I was feeling low, I’d put on the next episode and feel brilliant again. I hadn’t felt this connected with something since I watched Glee. But ultimately it had to end. So with great sadness, I put the DVD in and watched the whole thing in one night. I was there as they studied for their exams and celebrated when they got into the colleges they wanted to. Ultimately, however, I cried as they graduated. Chiyo (the pigtailed one) cries and I joined her as I recalled my own high school time. While it was nowhere near as eventful as theirs, I did make some great friends and had some great times and that is ultimately what this celebrates. I still find it hard to believe that I will never have more adventures with these people but what’s great is that I know they’ll remain friends.
 
3. Death Note
Despite watching this for over a year, I never did grow that sense of attachment to the characters of Death Note. Maybe because the main one was evil. Or was he? That’s what makes this anime one of the most highly regarded, because there’s that ambiguity there. We’re forced to think about what we would do if we were given a book which killed people. Whose side would we be on? Unlike other series, it uses its key concept to the fullest. This has more twists and turns and shocking moments than any anime I’ve yet seen which drags you into it. We’re awed by the scheming of Light and L, watching them try and outsmart each other before the final jaw-dropping twist and resolution. There is so much in this series that is iconic and worth praise (‘I’m going to take this chip. AND EAT IT!’ to the most epic music imaginable). It’s epic and personal. Thought-provoking but also not something you really need to think about. Plus it has the most epic soundtrack ever and a truly amazing ending. If you consider yourself any kind of anime fan, this is absolutely the one series that you have to see. Intense.
 
4. Steins; Gate
From the first episode which references Doctor Who and features a strange development halfway through, I knew this wasn’t going to be just another anime. Almost impossible to describe without giving away huge plot developments or needing a diagram, this series is just filled with strange mysteries and even stranger characters. It begins really lightweight introducing characters and being generally a lot of fun. But then something happens halfway through the series which changes everything. It becomes darker, filled with character deaths and paradoxes and time-loops and parallel universes. If this sounds hard to understand, it’s not because the focus is firmly on the characters rather than the temporal theory. Needless to say, I cried towards the end as the final solution became clear. It’s shocking and heartbreaking and unexpected (well, not entirely. I sort of worked out that something like this might have to happen. Pay close attention to the English subtitles of the title song. It contains more than a few clues. It’s also an awesome song) and cemented this as one of the very best anime series’ I’ve seen. Hard sci-fi and winning romance mixed with some really fascinating mysteries? A recipe for some really great entertainment.
5. Watamote
The other anime series that I watched more on less as it was broadcast, Watamote is just insane. Generally quite dirty, awkward and truly hilarious, it follows the exploits of a nerdy girl who just really wants to be cool but resents the cool people. She thinks that they are the reason that she’s not popular, forgetting that she’s actually a huge nerd and more than a little socially awkward. As a supernerd who’s really socially awkward, I related to this series a lot more than I should. Okay, I’ve never thought that someone was sexually abusing me only for it to turn out to be a hockey stick or wiped my forehead with a hanky only for it to turn out to be a pair of expensive underpants, but I could imagine that I would do many of the stupid things she does. Half of the time, it’s not even her fault. Circumstances continually work against her, presenting her as a far dirtier person than she actually is. Early episodes are actually quite painful because she doesn’t really have anyone being nice to her, but then she seems to get a boy’s attention. Throughout the rest of the series, I was praying that she’d get together with him. And then she meets him again and stuffs it up. Badly. There’s just some really clever, accurate and painfully funny comedy in this series. If you want to laugh til you actually feel physical pain, this is the series for you. Please God, make another season of this!
 

If I can find time, then tomorrow will be the top 10 films. If not, then it will be Monday. So much to talk about there! See you all again soon!
Thanks,
James

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The TMT Awards 2013: Category 2 - Books

Hi all,
Again my laziness is more amazing than words can possibly explain. The delay this time comes because New Year's Eve I was watching Frozen which will always come first. Always. So, anyway after the delay I present category 2; books!

Books. So many books. So little time. In fact, because I’ve started Uni this year, I had even less time. There was all the books I had to read for the classes and the studying that I had very little time for my own reading. Don’t get me wrong some of the books I read for Uni were excellent, but it would’ve been nice to get some more of the books I really wanted to read done. I suppose that’s what holidays and the bus are for.
   However, this shortening of my time wasn’t all bad. It led to the discovery of graphic novels. They’re perfect while I’m on the long bus ride to Uni, because I can usually get one done in a day. They’ve been the biggest new discovery of my year (like anime was in 2012) and something I really hope to read more of in the future.
   In all honesty I’ve been a fairly lazy reader this year, but I plan to make it my goal to read more in 2014. There’s too many amazing books out there for me to ignore. Like Harry Potter and A Song Of Ice & Fire and Wicked and the Jim Henson biography. To the new year and new books!


The Top 5 Novels

1. Shattered Glass (Dani Alexander)

I’d heard of this book many months before I actually read it. I was looking through the gay quotes section on Goodreads and I found a number of really lovely ones from this book. As I discovered more and more about it, I grew desperate to read it. The problem was it was available only as an e-book or a book to be purchased online. So it had to sit there, but then at the start of the year, I got a bank card. I swear the first thing I did was get online and buy a copy. The wait for it was agonising but then it finally came through.  I didn’t read it at first. I do this a lot. Surely it can’t be as good as I hoped it would be. Eventually, I decided to get started on it. And from the gloriously flirty opening, I knew I had a new favourite book (overtaking the place of The Time Traveller’s Wife or The Fault In Our Stars). It was witty and mysterious and intelligent and sexy. So, so sexy. Problematically sexy. Reading this on the bus before Uni was not the brightest idea I’ve ever had. But it’s not all about super-hot sexiness. There’s an intriguing mystery here with more twists than anything I’ve ever read/seen. It was completely and utterly perfect. I finished it within a week and then went on to discover that the next one wasn’t due out for a while. So I started following the author’s blog. I loved reading it and when he blogged that he had been diagnosed with cancer was one of the saddest days of my year. Because this book was hilarious and moving and silly and scary and I loved it. It’s led me to discovering the world of independent publishing (all about gay guys, obviously) so I plan on reading a few more of them soon (Cut & Run is next on my list. A gay murder mystery. Yes, please!). But I seriously doubt it will be able to knock this book off its mantle. It made my year.
 
2. Two Boys Kissing (David Levithan)
It’s a bit hard to talk about this book without using superlatives. It just means so much to me. Basically about several intersecting gay romances which present their own problems (large and small) which are everyday to anyone in the gay community, which doesn’t really sound all that special. But what makes this book shine is the way it’s told. All of these little romances are watched over by those who died because of the AIDS epidemic. And they have so much insight and pain and wisdom because of what they had to go through. That’s actually been one of the things that I’ve found most worrying throughout the year. After viewing Common Threads (more on that in the film one) I became extremely depressed. There was such loss, such sacrifice but it was because of this pain and heartache that we have the extent of gay liberation that we have today. Things like ‘Same Love’ are built on foundations of incredible sadness but they’re celebratory. It’s a major criticism labelled against many in the gay community that they don’t know the sacrifices that have made it necessary for them to go to a dance party and snog like crazy. And I believe that this is true, but it’s true because it’s really quite sad, almost impossible to fathom such an enormous sense of loss. So here I was at this crossroads in my life. I didn’t see a way of both moving forward from such a tragedy and keeping it close to our hearts. And then I read this book. It represents perfectly the balance of loss and triumph. We have so much to learn and be grateful for and sometimes we should acknowledge that. There was so much wisdom and insight on every page of this beautiful book. I related to so much of what it was saying which made it heartbreaking (I cried so, so many times, particularly towards the end) and angry (such injustice) but ultimately joyous (I felt so uplifted as I put it down). I didn’t want this book to end, but I know it’s the sort of book that I’ll revisit every few years just so I remember where I’ve come from and where I’m going. Utterly stunning.
3. The Hunger Games/The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)


The Hunger Games. It’s a phenomenon. About 50 times better than Twilight, I actually really loved the movie and was incredibly excited to learn that I would be reading the first one for my Children’s Lit class. I thought the book was alright but because the film followed the text so closely I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. The second one, however, was magnificent. It was so sad and brutal with one scene with the Mockingjays incredibly hard to read. I got more out of this book than the first because I didn’t know the story. Now all I need to is read the third one and see the other movies! It was my plan to read the book then see the movie but I was super slow and didn’t finish it until recently. By which time it was no longer in the cinema. Curse my life!
 
4. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson)
I had to read this for Uni and because of that it was one of the only reasons I survived the first part of the year. Lit studies was hard for me. I despised the books we had to read and the theoretical readings about the text. It was like they were written in another language. I was really having a terrible time of it, but then I read Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. It changed the way I saw Uni. It was an awesome book but it was the discussion around it as well. Coming from an all-boys catholic school, open and enlightened discussions about homosexuality were few and far between. To have an intelligent discussion about a complex text with deep messages about sexuality was huge for me. I felt like I was actually contributing useful and helpful things to class discussions. It was how I grew to like University. And those blasted theoretical readings were brilliant. Some of the things I learned and the quotes I read I still use now. The essay I had to write about this text was easily the one I most enjoyed, talking about things I felt deeply about within the confines of a text I really loved. Add listening to Flight Facilities’ ‘Clair De Lune’ and it was the ultimate memory I have of this year at Uni. It was really quite brilliant. So I thank Oranges for not only opening up my eyes about sexuality and religion but also my place at Uni as well.
 
5. The Mortal Instruments Book One: City Of Bones (Cassandra Clare)
Like a couple of these books, I’d wanted to read this series for a while. It wasn’t until I was pressured by a couple of my friends and the release of the film that I finally relented. I didn’t particularly like the start of the book. It was all setting up and no action. It just didn’t have enough drive for me. But as I got towards the end, I was shocked and surprised by a jaw-dropping twist which I never saw coming. It made me desperate for the next book (which I have sitting on my shelf), so I can’t really say how I felt about this series yet. Maybe next year I’ll have more to say…
 

 
 
Best Non-Fiction Book
The Velvet Rage (Gary Downs)
Sometimes you discover something and it changes you and it feels more special because you found it. It wasn’t your friends or word of mouth or popularity, it was just sitting there and it grabbed your attention more than anything else, which makes it build a special little place in your heart. I do this with movies all the time (as this year’s film list will attest) but not really with books. Shattered Glass was one, Two Boys Kissing was in a catalogue but the others were all because of my friends or because they were well-regarded. The Velvet Rage was very much my own discovery. When I get bored while sitting in the library waiting for the new DanIsNotOnFire or Billboard Hot 100 video to download, I search gay in the library catalogue and see what comes up. Usually this results in me ordering loads of gay movies and having to do a marathon to get them all done before they have to be returned. But this time was different. It was apparently a gay self-help book. Because of my current lack of boyfriend, I decided to give it a go. And I’m so thankful that I did. Describing the various stages that all gay men go through, Downs makes a convincing case that higher levels of sex, drug and alcohol abuse are more common in the gay community because of a deeply buried sense of shame (internalised homophobia). And sometimes I was just thinking that’s a load of bollocks, but then there are other times when I was just like, ‘well, that’s clever’. One such moment was his explanation for the distant father/overbearing mother theory (as to why people are gay). Apparently the father can tell that his son’s a bit… different and so distances himself. The mother thus compensates for this by becoming closer to her son. It’s a brilliant theory (that works quite well in my life) but where he really scores is when he discusses rage. And this is going to sound a bit weird, but sometimes I get so, so angry, furious, filled with rage. I just want to punch someone or something and I don’t know why. And it usually happens after the silliest, most mediocre things. Once my mum refused to watch Please Like Me because it had gay guys kissing and about to have sex. And then I felt that rage. What I find with this is that you just have to let it wash over you, but I can see that for some people this would be a very big problem. Downs explains that this happens because of the shame and the anger at the way we are. It has absolutely no basis, but it’s just that we have taken all that frustration and homophobia that was unintentionally directed on us (unintentionally through promotion of the straight lifestyle and exclusion or lack of discussion about the gay way. This has changed a lot, but still…). He believes that this is a cycle and that the drugs and sex are used to cover up that wound. It’s an interesting argument. It’s not one I particularly subscribe wholesale to but his steps to becoming your authentic self really are helpful. I suppose it’s something I’m a bit ambiguous on. I think there’s something deeper than shame at play, but it’s certainly thought-provoking.
 
Best Graphic Novels




1. Fables (Bill Willingham)
Oh God, I love this series. I’ve read 18 volumes so far and it’s been one of my greatest discoveries of the year. Like many of the graphic novels on this list, it’s built on an ingenious premise (what if fairytale characters were real and living in the real world because their own was taken over) which just expands and grows out. I really feel like I got to know these characters because they all grew, so when some of them died I was literally heartbroken. But what makes this series really great is that the most insignificant characters prove to be the most important, holding the key to everyone’s survival. You never guess what is going to happen next. It might be a big battle with several casualties or an intimately personal story or a pop-culture riff. It was just well-told and well-drawn. My favourite volume was also the last I’ve read, Cubs In Toyland. It makes the Island of Misfit Toys incredibly dark and has a truly shocking and heartbreaking conclusion that still makes me cry. I can’t imagine any graphic novel series being better than this one. It has everything. Read it now!

2. Y: The Last Man (Brian K. Vaughan)
Widely regarded as one of the greatest graphic novel series’ ever, I didn’t particularly like Y: The Last Man when I started it. It had an interesting concept (all the men have died, except one and his monkey. Why?), but I didn’t feel that it was really being used very well. I kept reading mainly because the protagonist was cute, but I was so glad that I did. Over the 10 volumes, I grew to love all of these characters and the themes that soon became clear (sexuality and feminism. Feminism is explored wonderfully here, because they finally get what they want but still stuff up the world. It isn’t men that make the world problematic or women, but people and we need to work together to fix it. It’s incredibly nuanced). There was so many twists and sad moments of hope taken away. And in the end, when you finally think it’s going to be okay, something happens that is so not okay. I sobbed and I reflected on how brilliant this all was. One of the best? You bet.

3. Attack On Titan (Hajime Isayama)
As has happened quite a lot with these list of books, I heard of the series before I heard of the books. Attack On Titan was THE 2013 anime, so I read the manga, because it was at the library and it looked good. And it was brilliant. Terrifying, actually. I had nightmares about the Titans (I hardly ever have nightmares, except about… actually, no, you don’t need to know that) and they freaked me out as I was sitting on the bus. It taught me how to read manga (it’s mainly all I read now) and made me desperate to know how it goes. I’ve read 5 volumes so far because the library hasn’t bought the new ones. If they don’t start soon, I’m watching the anime. But for the moment, I’m content with my Titan nightmares. Freaky.
 
4. Doom Patrol (Grant Morrison)
Doom Patrol was insane. Really insane. So insane that it was quite difficult to read at the start. I was taken in by the wonderful art, creepy monsters and evocative dialogue. I just had no idea what it meant. Between volumes, I was attending a philosophy class and learning about the ideas of Freud and Reich and Jung and all of their weird thoughts. And I was shocked to learn that some issues of Doom Patrol were explicitly about the ideas of these thinkers and applying them to the stories. It just added so much to my reading experience and I got to understand these thinkers better. Add to this the fact that I really grew to love these characters and their weird lives and strange powers, and I had a really wonderfully odd experience reading this. The final volume was sad but a fitting end to some really trippy stories. Clever and strange.
 
5. Afterschool Charisma (Kumiko Suekane)
This is something I never thought I would say, not in a million billion years; Afterschool Charisma has actually made me like Hitler. It feels wrong just writing that, but it’s this series’ premise that makes it work. Shiro is the only non-clone in a school full of clones of famous individuals from history. Why they have been resurrected is a mystery as is their expiry date. Some believe that they’re destined to repeat the fate of their originals but others desire to change who they are. It’s enigmatic this series but unlike other mysteries (hello Loveless) it actually gives away little pieces of the mystery as you keep reading. It makes this a highly compulsive and addictive series with likable characters (yep, Hitler is one of them. He’s so sweet and innocent and naïve, desperate not to make the mistakes of the original. In saying that, he has begun to take a darker turn in the more recent ones, making me concerned that he will become like his former self). It provides one answer then offers another. I need to know what happens with this!

Tomorrow, will be tv which will include my favourite shows as well as the anime I thought was awesome this year. See you then! :)
Thanks,
James