Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Feminist knitting designer.


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Concrete: ParaNorman

Laika’s ParaNorman is the heart-warming tale of a young boy who sees dead people, which, as Bruce Willis knows, is always a winner.

More interested in hanging out with his dead grandma than the living people around him, Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is just your average misunderstood paranormal 11 year old until he has to help save his town from a witch’s curse (oh, and zombies).

While the story is a little predictable, it’s still sweet and entertaining. There are some endearing and funny moments, mostly dependent on the mix of conventional horror tropes and realistic domestic comedy, such as Norman and his sister being chastised by their mother for squabbling with one of the zombies in the back seat of the family car. There are also several more self-aware “adult” moments which set it apart from the average kids’ film. The stop-motion animation amongst the standard CGI gives it a classic edge, particularly alongside the out-of-proportion character design.

While there could have been a few extra horror references for the movie-buffs and more shocking twists and turns, ParaNorman is an enjoyable watch with a superbly balanced blend of mock-horror and comedy.

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The internet is stupid: my existential ParaNorman crisis

So yesterday I did my first film review of the year for Concrete, the student newspaper that someone (for some reason) put me in charge of. I was super excited about it. A lot of what I’ve been doing since becoming editor involves answering emails and passing on the more interesting work to other people so that I can free up time to answer more emails. So when the film editors desperately needed a ParaNorman review at short notice, I jumped at the chance to go back to basics (and get a free trip to the cinema).

It was a pretty good film. There were better animations this summer (bravebravebrave) but overall it was funny and smart and cute.

Now for the angry ranting.

Before I went into the film, my housemate told me it was the first kids’ animation with an openly gay character. Awesome, I thought. I can totally write about that in my review!

In the end, I didn’t think it was really worth mentioning. The two “older sibling” characters are set up as a potential romance throughout the film (by which I mean the seemingly-shallow sister outrageously tries to get the attention of the oblivious older brother whose shoulders are four times as wide as his waist). After all the zombie shenanigans are over, she finally gets the courage to ask him to see a movie with her. He responds positively, and tells her that she’ll really like his boyfriend, who loves chick-flicks.

Awks.

I thought this was pretty cool, but ultimately not really something I wanted to write about when there was so much else going on – the storytelling, the humour, the cute stop animation effect. With only 200 words to play with, Mitch’s sexuality was not really relevant to my enjoyment of the film.

And then I started reading all of the other reviews people had written. My aforementioned housemate found this terrifying collection of responses from parents who were outraged at that one line which had very little to do with the rest of the plot. Let’s illustrate this point with a randomly selected sentence: “had to try explaining it to a nine year old that we hate the sin, love the sinner, and that some boys are just confused by their gender.” Followed by more exclamation marks than could fit in a single line of text.

God dammit, mothers on the internet.

My immediate response was to completely rewrite my own review in defence of a children’s film’s choice to not only include a gay character, but to include a gay character whose sexuality is of absolutely no consequence. Sort of like, you know, everyone in real life who is defined by more than one aspect of their identity, which is in itself a fluid and ever-changing process.

But then, after the second half of my review became a thinly-veiled backlash to the film’s politicised responses, I realised exactly what I had done. Part of what annoys me most about those other reviews is that they let something which shouldn’t even be important colour their whole opinion of the film. So by giving such a disproportionate amount of space to defending the action, I was really doing the same thing.

The fact that Mitch is gay is not a big deal. He admits it freely, and clearly no one else in the film has an issue with it. His line takes up maybe four seconds of screentime, in a film which is 92 minutes long (roughly 5,520 seconds). That means that Mitch’s sexuality makes up 0.072% of the movie.

I’m so mad about this issue that I did maths, you guys.

In the end, for me, or anyone else, to spend most of my supposedly objective review talking about 0.072% of a movie actually does it a disservice. And it politicises something which shouldn’t be political in the first place.

Chris Butler, who wrote and co-directed the film, had this to say on the matter when speaking to Indiewire: “I wanted it from the start, absolutely. It seemed like the best bookend to that whole tolerance thing and to do it as a joke, a kind of throwaway thing, but something that has NEVER been done before. I think we’re telling a story about intolerance, so you have to be brave about it.”

And he’s exactly right. It’s important that gay people are included across the media, and it may be even more important that their sexuality is portrayed as only a small part of their identity. Not every gay character on TV or in movies needs to struggle with coming out and defy ignorant bullies by spreading glitter and rainbows wherever they go. A lot of people just happen to also be gay, and that should be reflected too.

In the end, I took the response to the film’s responses out of my official 200 words. For me to rise to the unfairly negative reviews and focus on that one issue would just invalidate my own argument, and ignore everything else about the film which I enjoyed.

Cue angry blog post instead.


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The Tube and the Tate: 5 things I learned in London

So after my initial coming-to-London post which, reading back, is laced with just a whiff of an oncoming breakdown, I realise I did not publish anything for two weeks. Probably looks a bit worrying, but I can confirm that I was not swallowed up by the hungry jaws of the city. I even got used to my breeze blocks and empty flat, although I never met the owner of the muller corners in the fridge. I can only assume that there actually was a yoghurt-loving ghost in the room next door.

In truth, I just got so caught up in the day-to-day process of going to work, meeting friends who lived or worked nearby, then going home and going to sleep, that blogging was put on a back burner.

Unlike the Olympics, empty seats are a blessing which you taunt you only by their absence.

However, I am back now, and there’s only a week before I’m back at uni in Norwich and things really do get busy. So here’s some things I learnt in London while I was there:

1. I can read pretty much anywhere.

At peak time in the centre of London, the tube is pretty full, and no one around you is happy about it. Sure, there are some tricks to ease the growing sense of claustrophobia (such as going to the end of the platform and getting on the oft-neglected final carriage). However, sometimes even they don’t prevent you from being squashed in with a bunch of strangers. But even in the smallest of spaces, I could still find room to turn the pages of the first book of my pre-reading for third year: Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801). It’s not too bad – it has lots of disease and unhappy marriages, and even some controversial mixed-race unions. (Racy stuff.) Plus, I can now confirm that the questionable decisions of our heroines Belinda and Lady Delacour were just as baffling and socially uncomfortable pressed up against a stranger’s back on a packed Piccadilly train than they were in my room on my own.

2. The Tate gallery is infinitely more fun whist playing spot-the-dick-symbolism.

Now, I’m not one of those people who regularly dismisses and mocks modern art for being “worse than my two-year-old’s”. For one thing, I don’t have a two-year-old. For another, that’s clearly balls, and I actually think a lot of it has the potential to be more emotional and interesting than more traditional stuff.

“Gothic Landscape” by Lee Krasner, painted after her husband Jackson Pollock died in a car crash, was probably my favourite.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not even more fun to point out every phallic symbol you can find amongst all the other pretentious art critics.

3. Camden Market is as good as everybody says.

Slightly overwhelming when I first stepped into the market, I was soon swept up in the atmosphere and tempted to buy everything I laid my eyes on. Maybe it was the magic of the first time, but I would still rather find something there than Primark. My only complaint was that, for some reason, the legendary Goths who apparently spend all of their time there must have got tired of tourist season and found somewhere more hip to hang out. Sad face.

4. Even the booze is better.

Chando’s may sound like a cross between the two most unappetising words in the contemporary English language (“chunder” and “Nando’s”), but it is actually a pub just off Leicester Square, and it was a beauty. I always feel a little awkward at these fancy hipster pubs which sell a hundred different types of independent beers. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of these things, and the pressure of wanting to order something cool is only added to by the fact that, without my glasses, I can’t read the labels of most of the stuff they sell anyway. Am I supposed to ask the bar staff for recommendations? Make something up which so that they think I know about even more obscure and independent beverages than even they stock? Point at the nearest thing and yell “PINT OF THAT” in a sheer panic? I don’t even like beer anyway! In the end, I usually cave and order vodka and coke because I know that everybody in the world is going to stock it. Then I shuffle back to my table in the shame of my unoriginality. But at Chando’s, their independent hipster vodka and independent hipster coke made it completely worth it. No cheap Asda knockoff and 2-for-1 diet cola will be the same again.

5. If I could find a flatmate, a flat and a job to fund myself after graduation, I’d probably be happy.

Any takers?