Review – I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story (2018)

Author’s Note: I contributed to this film’s Kickstarter.


A few years ago, during the sparkle of the Twilight books and the erotic stylings of the 50 Shades of Grey series, a male colleague of mine wondered out loud how women and girls could enjoy such stupid and pointless books.

I didn’t say anything at the time (which I do regret a little). But I found his comments to be rather closed-minded. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that either series should have won the Man Booker prize. But why is it that cultural experiences popular with women are thought to be so much less important than those enjoyed by men? Is there really that much difference between 50,000 women/girls screaming at a boyband concert; and 50,000 men/boys screaming at 22 guys in shorts chasing a ball?

That widely held dismissive attitude towards female activities is part of the reason why I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story caught my attention on Kickstarter. Led by director Jessica Leski and producer Rita Walsh, here was a film that was determined to explore the passion for boybands from a place of love and appreciation.

While (according to their Kickstarter) Leski and Walsh originally planned to explore this phenomena through the eyes and words of music theorists, songwriters, educators, adolescent psychologists and neurologists; the final onscreen product is one that is far more human in its approach. As such we investigate the world of boybands through the eyes of a foursome: Elfi, a die-hard One-Direction lover; Sadia, a Backstreet Boys devotee; Dara, a Take That obsessive; and Susan, an old-school Beatles fan.


I Used To Be Normal is, at its heart, a celebration. Not just of girls and women, but also of passion and dedication. Through the words and actions of the four main women interviewed in the project, we get to see the intricacies of fangirl culture, their relationship to music and how it has developed and changed over the past six decades.

In fact, that decision by the filmmakers to take a more historical approach ends up being the most successful aspect of the movie. It would have been easy to focus exclusively on modern boybands and their fans. But by throwing us back to the mid-20th Century with Susan, and illustrating the heights of Beatlemania intertwined with the advance of feminism; we get to see how boyband music has become almost inseparable from the daily fight for equality that women have experienced over the past half century.

However, the focus on the 1960s and the 1990s onwards means there is a little bit of a gap in the film’s musical history. To be fair, the popularity of punk and metal during the 70s & 80s probably meant that there wasn’t a lot of choice in terms of boybands, but it would have been nice to meet someone who appreciated New Kids on the Block!

But that really is a minor quibble as the foursome that we do follow are some of the most engaging representations of fangirls today. More importantly though, Leski and Walsh show us how the individual’s love for a specific boyband has helped them struggle through emotional and social obstacles that they might otherwise have had to face alone. Dara, the 33-year-old brand strategist from Australia finds help in the self-discovery of her sexuality; while Sadia, a 25 year old writer from America, uses her love for the Backstreet Boys to help overcome the culture clash of family and society. They may all have very different life paths, but it’s a beautiful example of how boyband music can be used as a force for good.

Of the four stories it’s teenager Elfi that really tugs at the heartstrings. When we’re first introduced to her at the age of 15/16, she’s easily the most typical portrayal of a screaming fangirl. Over the next two years we witness how that love for One Direction eventually blossoms into deeply ingrained knowledge of multiple types of music. But unlike the other three participants, who to various degrees have mostly overcome societies’ dismissal of their tastes; Elfi is still held down by tradition and patriarchal forces. In essence she ends up being a physical representation of how much further women still have to go for their hopes and desires to be taken seriously.

But don’t take that as a sign that the film is secretly a tearjerker. Instead I Used To Be Normal is a heartwarming and elegant depiction of a world that has given hope and joy to millions of girls and women around the globe. In an era where anonymous internet dwellers are willing to tear apart any type of female enjoyment; this film stands as tribute that even the most musically persecuted can survive when we share the things we love.

Overall Score:

five-stars

Short Scares At The 2018 Arrow Video Frightfest Film Festival

Now in its 18th year, the people behind the Frightfest Film Festival can easily hold their heads up high as the creators of one of the foremost film festivals in the British cinematic calendar. With premieres of some of the best in world horror and fantasy, you would be hard pressed to find a better celebration of independent film.

But while the bulk of the mainstream media attention is given to the features, there’s always a lot of fun to be had with the shorts. Of the four Short Film Showcases this year, I only managed to see one. But it was a good one, containing eleven films from the UK, Canada, Australia and the United States. Some were comedic, some horrific and some just plain weird. But all are some of the most memorable films I’ve seen in 2018.


We Summoned A Demon

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Director: Chris McInroy
Cast: Kirk Johnson, Carlos Larotta
USA 2017
6 min

They just wanted to be cool. Instead, they got a demon.

Following two guys who just want to summon a demon, what stands out most about this fast-paced horror-comedy is its wonderful adherence to old school practical effects. In addition, though the film’s surroundings might be nothing more than an empty warehouse, it’s a sign of the script’s strength (also by director Chris McInroy) that the hilarious back and forth between the two leads stays permanently at the forefront.


Secretion

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Director: Sarah Talbot
Cast: Jordan Hunter, David Parker
UK 2018
8 min

An unhappily married couple tries to ignore the grotesque, dripping stain that is growing on their ceiling.

Thank heavens I hadn’t eaten before witnessing this stomach-churning short (but in a good way!) Of all the shorts, Secretion is probably the most simplistic in terms of plot. But the ever increasing anger of Parker’s character, mixed with the skills of the sound designer elevates this black and white piece into something so much more. And when it’s finally revealed what’s causing the secretions? Well, I nearly threw up.


Pie

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Director: Adria Tennor
Cast: Jessica Paré, Adria Tennor
USA 2018
11 min

Carol invites Annette over for homemade pie and after much prodding divulges her special secret ingredient.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film for nearly a year, and let’s just say it does not disappoint. Written, directed by and starring Adria Tennor, Pie presents us with the commonplace image of a middle-class housewife making a pie. But quickly the cherry-filled pastry becomes a gateway into something far more disturbing. With delightful performances from both Tennor and Paré, Pie ends up being a fruity insight into the underlying darkness of suburbia.


Devil Woman

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Director: Heidi Lee Douglas
Cast: Marigold Pazar, Flame Kimball
Australia 2018
12 min

While searching for an endangered animal, Eddy gets bitten, and that bite is more infectious than it looks.

Brought to the big screen by Heidi Lee Douglas (who wrote, directed and produced), Devil Woman was the first of two more socially aware shorts in this showcase. While the end goal is to bring attention to the plight of the endangered Tasmanian Devil (which, in my opinion, it does so quite successfully); the choice to tell said tale through horror rather than a documentary was a stroke of genius. With strong camera work from cinematographer Meg White; Devil Woman ends up being the sort of film that entertains as well as teaches.


Tick

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Director: Ashlea Wessel
Cast: Ava Close, Alexander De Jordy
Canada 2018
13 min

In a post-pandemic society, a vampire in hiding is forced to make a stand when confronted with the oppressive regime.

Rather than a complete film, it was hard not to feel that Tick was just a small extract from a much larger picture. But it’s a picture that both intrigues and captivates. Set in the snowy colds of Canada, Tick illustrates how even the youngest and most innocent can break in the face of oppression. With an intensely creepy and effective performance from the youthful Ava Close, there are strong echoes of the work done by Lina Leandersson in 2008’s Let The Right One In.

Click on over to page two for six more amazing shorts.

Time To Go Down The Rabbit Hole – A Review of The Red Pill (2017)

Author’s Note: I contributed financially to this film’s Kickstarter



I have a confession to make.

When I came across The Red Pill‘s funding page on Kickstarter, I thought I was contributing $50 to what was a fascinating idea that was guaranteed to end up in a car crash. I mean, a woman trying to connect with Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs)? Surely that’s like a black guy getting involved with the KKK? Or a gay person trying to chum up to the Westboro Baptist Church?

Fortunately though, Cassie Jaye (director of Daddy I Do and The Right to Love: An American Family) managed to explore the subject of MRAs in relative peace and ended up coming out with a fascinating story to tell.

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Camera in hand, Cassie Jaye goes on a journey to document the world of the American Men’s Rights movement. Talking to a variety of figures on both sides of the arguement, it seems the situation is far more complex than the simple “MRAs = Bad, Feminism = Good.” Over the course of filming, Jaye learns of the various ways men are disadvantaged and discriminated against; and is forced to confront and question her own views on the subject.

 

My only real experience of MRAs comes mainly from watching news coverage of the now defunct Fathers 4 Justice back in the early 2000s. I was only a teenager at the time, but their antics were definitely memorable. However, like most organisations run by anger and malevolence, they ended up disbanding after a few imbeciles planned to kidnap the youngest son of then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

And so for many years I’ve seen MRAs as the gendered equivalent of organisations such as the BNP or the National Front.

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© Jaye Bird Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Deriving its title from a term commonly used by MRAs (who in turn have borrowed said term from a scene in The Matrix); The Red Pill allows its interview subjects on both sides to speak freely without interruption. Through their words we hear various tales relating to the high rates of male suicide, the lack of services for male victims of domestic violence, and other issues relating to men’s hardship and discrimination

In fact one of the most powerful points that Jaye uses to illustrate men’s disposability compared to women is the revelation (at least to me) that the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram, have spent years murdering thousands of boys and men, but the world didn’t care until they decided to kidnap and enslave 300 girls in 2014.

But its the half way point of the film where the introduction of “Honey Badgers” that makes the problems that men face more apparent. It had never occurred to me that women might be involved in the Men’s Rights movement, but the Honey Badgers are exactly that. A group of women that choose not to align with feminism, instead feeling that true equality lies in helping men.

Whether or not you believe MRAs need to exist, The Red Pill makes a brave stand in pointing out that our emphasis on helping women has led to us to ignoring, or at least downplaying, the plights that some men must face in a world that automatically assumes they are the stronger sex.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its flaws. I would have liked the film to at least acknowledge the more toxic aspects of the men’s rights movement, as it does with the aggressive elements of the feminist movement. Even a cursory search of the documentary’s main interviewee, Paul Elam, leads to several rather distasteful and misogynist comments and articles. Why Jaye chose not to challenge Elam on this is indeed a little puzzling.

Even with the admitted negative experiences that some men have to endure, there isn’t really a lot of evidence in the film that could suggest this is directly the fault of women or feminism. Unlike the infamous Donald Trump photo, its not as if women are sitting around a table and taking away the rights and lives of millions of men at a stroke of a pen.

Embed from Getty Images

In the end, this is one of the most complex subjects challenging our society today, and I give full props to Jaye for tackling said subject in the face of what I am sure is going to be months and years of verbal tirades and abuse.

While the film doesn’t in anyway convince me that women have it better than men (and to be fair the film does not claim as such); I do now see MRAs in a slightly different light.

Of any group, whether it be Feminism, Islam, politicians or immigrants, 90% of members are the people we see everyday. The people that work hard for positive change, sometimes in the face of overwhelming odds. But there’s always that last 10%. That small group of people with the loudest, and often most offensive and disruptive voices. The group of people that almost always become the definition of the cause.

Perhaps it might be time to apply the 90/10 rule to the MRAs?

Overall Score:

four-stars

The Red Pill will be released on various VOD platforms on 7th March.

Is Princess Leia really a good role model/strong female figure?

Having recently finished an Original Trilogy binge, I’ve really been struck by how little Princess Leia does in the first two films and how dependant she is on the male characters.

Let’s take a journey back to Episode IV — A New Hope.

The movie starts with her being captured by a man and held prisoner. She then, as far as we are aware, makes no attempt at escape and is only rescued when three males come to rescue her. (Though to be fair, she does withstand torture.)

She is then extremely ungrateful and borderline verbally abusive towards them.

She also says some incredibly racist remarks; “Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?” I mean, that’s like the Star Wars equivalent of me walking behind a large black man and saying “Will someone get this walking barbecue out of my way?”

They then manage to escape and, during the Tie-Fighter attack, she does absolutely nothing. Chewie’s the one flying the ship and Han/Luke are the one’s defending it. All she does it sit there.

And then for the last 20 minutes she’s completely dependant on 30 men risking their lives and, once again, she does absolutely nothing other than stand there and look worried.

On to Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

The film does get off to a good start by establishing her as a clear leader by giving orders and taking questions from pilots. But it all falls apart when she has to be pretty much dragged out of danger by a man when Imperial troops enter the base.

The above mentioned man also saves her from being crushed from a collapsing roof and the only reason she manages to get off planet is because of his ship. She does absolutely nothing to help herself survive. The only reason she is alive is because of Han.

She then becomes a back seat driver and contributes nothing other than arguing and pissing off the guy that SAVED her life.

She does seem to have some mechanical experience later on (thank God)

She’s then captured again by the same male in the first film and then has to be rescued by another male! (At least a black one this time!)

For the rest of the film I do have to give her points for taking control of the situation. She does try to warn Luke it’s a trap and she does try to save Han. And in Return of the Jedi she does do a decent job in protecting herself and taking the initiative.

(That’s assuming that you ignore the whole getting captured by a male slug, forced to wear a Gold Metal bikini and having to be rescued by another male.)

They definitely seemed to have improved her character as the films went on, but early on at least, I find it hard to believe that she could be considered a good role model or strong female figure.