When your family rushes to the cinema to see Incredibles 2 this weekend, be sure you head there on time and bring a box of tissues while you’re at it. Pixar’s newest short film, Bao, plays right before every screening of the new animated sequel, and in my opinion, it might be their best short yet. It follows the story of a Chinese-Canadian mother adjusting to her empty nest, who one day creates a little dumpling child to take care of. This eight-minute animated short is home to some of the best high-grade animation, a beautiful score, and delicious animated food. But Bao is so much more than just a technical demo for Pixar – it also serves as a cultural piece! Told through visual storytelling, Bao captures the essence of a 1st and 2nd generation Chinese immigrant household and their family dynamics, as well as paying tribute to the love of Asian mothers.
There’s a lot to love about this short if you come from a family of Asian immigrants. The immediate thing I noted was the expressive, chibi-like art style that manages to successfully cartoonize Asian features, but doesn’t do so in a racist, caricaturist fashion. But thinking about the short since I saw it last Friday, I realized that it made me feel so much more validated and represented than most times I see myself in Western, Asian-targeted media. I then found out that the film was actually directed by a Chinese-Canadian woman, Domee Shi. Bao is the first Pixar short ever to be directed by a woman of any ethnicity, so already this short has made history and garnered lots of praise. I particularly want to highlight the successful way it captured the experiences of coming from a family of Chinese immigrants.
The use of horror as a metaphor for the impact of repressed female sexuality in cinema can be found in a range of films, from Julia Ducournau’s arresting debut feature, Raw, to Brian de Palma’s masterful tale of a girl’s unusual coming of age in Carrie. It’s not necessarily a new way of tackling the subject of teenage girls and their first ventures into sexual desire, but it is a deeply effective one and serves as the central theme of Thelma—Joachim Trier’s brilliant meditation on one young woman’s discovery of the wants she has stifled for so long.
The titular Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a quiet, thoughtful freshman who, when we first meet her, appears to be overwhelmed by shyness. As she attends university in Oslo, a sharp contrast to the notably eerie house that she lives in with her parents in the Norwegian countryside, she initially struggles to settle into the student lifestyle with her fellow classmates. Through brief glimpses into her relationship with her parents, often presented in the form of somewhat invasive phone-calls to Thelma after her classes, we learn that they are fundamentalist Christians to whom Thelma can barely admit that she drank a little wine without panic rising. Already, within the film’s first thirty minutes, the repression surrounding Thelma’s life has been established. Once we learn that she has spent the first eighteen years of her life under the thumb of her parents–akin to the way in which Sissy Spacek’s telekinetic lead of Carrie spent hers restrained by her mother–the visible concern that arises whenever she speaks to another person begins to make sense.
A few weeks ago, Deadpool 2, the sequel to the 2016 comic book action flick/rom-com, opened at a successful yet comparatively underwhelming $125 million at the box office, missing its $130-150 million target. On its second weekend, it dropped at an alarming 66% against Avengers: Infinity War and the opening to Solo: A Star Wars Story–meaning there is an apparent large gap between the performance of the first film and its sequel.
Theorizing about its box office performance is a more complicated conversation, as there are tons of factors going into these numbers (in fact, I would love if the money bar would stop raising for huge blockbusters). However, I do find that it is time to question if whether or not Deadpool‘s Family Guy-esque brand of humor and egregious use of comedic, lighthearted violence can stay relevant in the charged times we’re currently living in. Is Deadpool simply just outdated for the majority of today’s modern audience? For me anyway, the answer is: absolutely.
I first watched Suspiria (1977) and Tenebre (1982) before I ever knew what “giallo” was. These two films–both directed by Italian filmmaker Dario Argento–are some of the more defined classics of the giallo genre. I also remember watching Don’t Look Now (1973) at university around the same time, which–although not typically cited as a one–does carry some of the key characteristics of the giallo film. A few years ago, I started to get more into this mysterious Italian genre, and set out to broaden my viewing and understanding: Blood and Black Lace (1964), Deep Red (1975) and Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) are definitely some of my favourites. I researched giallo films online and, amongst all the £30-£40 specialist books, I found some people discussing on various blogs what a giallo film is to them–along with explanations of why it’s such an underrated genre. With that in mind, I want to continue to add to the conversation by outlining what a giallo film, in my eyes, actually is.
What is “giallo”?
The word “giallo” (plural: gialli) means “yellow” in Italian. It’s used in reference to the cheap paperback novels that were published by Mondadori from 1929. They were known for their outlandish yellow covers and were part of the “Il Giallo Mondadori” series, which features novels from the likes of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Edgar Wallace. The series was mainly written by British and American writers and then translated into Italian. It eventually became so popular that other publishing houses began to mimic their yellow trademark covers in order to sell their own mystery and crime novels. After this, the word “giallo” became synonymous for “mystery,” which brings us to the giallo film. A giallo is often cited as a 20th-century Italian murder-mystery film which contains elements of both horror and thriller. However, some would argue that this simple description isn’t the only trait that makes a film a giallo. Some say the height of giallo film occurred between 1968 and 1978 even though there are many key films that came in the early ’60s. The years 1971–1973 were particularly successful with sixty-five giallo films being produced in this two year time period, mostly from the prominent directors of the genre (including Argento and Mario Bava). Giallo did continue into the ’80s where it eventually died out.
For many of us, the world sets unrealistic expectations of being materially or academically successful at a young age, leaving behind a lingering emptiness for the rest of our lives when we fail to achieve that in our 20s, maybe even our 30s. It’s the heavy wistfulness of wishing you were more, and the resonating regret because you weren’t. So we keep on chasing an ideal just within reach, but never losing the race.
Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has always seamlessly incorporated his love for classic cinema into the band’s music — even back in the day when they were singing about drunken nights out in Sheffield. Ennio Morricone, in particular, has been a sort of muse for the songwriter, discernible from the organ sample in 505 which is lifted directly from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and the orchestral flourishes of Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. But Arctic Monkeys’ newest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, may be their most overtly cinematic output yet. The record is an ambitious and stunning piece of world-building. The sound — laid-back, Bowie-esque, piano-heavy tunes, reminiscent of jazz lounges and hotel lobbies — is light years away from the catchy guitar hooks that have dominated their oeuvre. Tranquility Base is a giant middle finger to the weighty expectations following the astronomical success of AM; a liberation from being pigeonholed as the saviour of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sprawling retro sci-fi odyssey that George Lucas could’ve concocted himself — imagine Finn and Rose taking a detour to a casino on the moon instead of Canto Bight and you’ve got the vibe nailed.
While watching Avengers: Infinity War, there was a specific moment where Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and protector of the time stone, duplicates himself. His many arms stretch out of his body like a hypnotic spider, and he proceeds to multiply to throw Thanos off guard in the middle of a tense battle. The audience erupted in applause, but I couldn’t help but feel unnerved at the display of blatant cultural appropriation. What could have been a triumphant moment of pride for me, had Strange been played by an Asian actor, was instead one of alienation. So here I am, with the goal to talk about this issue head-on. To do so effectively, we’re going to have to go back to the beginning.
Doctor Strange’s existence in the MCU has been a problem for me ever since he was cast, as there has always been an issue with the original source material, and the on-screen interpretation of the character has not done anything to fix it. When he was introduced into the comic sphere in 1963 with Strange Tales #110, there was a mass hippie craze for any “exotic” culture. The Sorcerer Supreme’s lore and imagery were heavily inspired by Tibetan and South-East Asian Buddhist folklore and legends. Obviously, it was never thought at the time how harmful it is to take an external culture and exploit it for aesthetics, but he was actually never explicitly caucasian until he became a popular character and was implemented into other storylines.