Skip to main content

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca
(2021)

(SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

Cassaro’s only previous writing credit – and directing, for that matter – is on 2011 short La Luna. But in Pixar’s quest to be as culturally credible as possible, a tale set in an Italian port probably seemed as ready cachet as any, if a little on the diluted side after Coco (you can easily imagine Pixar’s honchos scouring the office for some, any, cultural heritage they can score points with). His idea of a couple of sea monsters – a “metaphor for feeling different”, mmm-hmmm – passing as human for the summer amid a blossoming friendship has drawn comparisons to Call Me By Your Name. Fortunately, though, this is not a tale of lust and lack of caution between a grown man and a tween, but rather a fairly straightforward story of best friends, one that inevitably lends itself to other readings under the auspices of Disney’s current “go woke for broke” environment.

As such, even with one’s progressive faculties straining at the leash, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) being budding buddies doesn’t quite work as a gay metaphor. Yes, local bully Visconti (Saverio Raimondo) bears all the characteristics of prejudiced persecutor, suggesting there’s “Something fishy about you two”. And when he discovers just what that is, affirming “Everyone is horrified and disgusted by you, because you are monsters”, the allusion is only underlined (further still, of the third act competition: “They can’t be the winners. They aren’t even people”). So Luca becomes about being who you are, which entails outing oneself at a crucial moment and thus gaining acceptance and support for said outing; Luca and Alberto, as gillmen, are very conveniently able to pass as human when out of water, not through some transhumanist miracle but a simple common-or-ocean physiological change. Which might suggest they’re bi. After all, Luca’s parents happily come out at the end too, so there are a number of hoops to reshape in order to make the metaphor consistent. Although, admittedly, the town’s couple of all-the-while resident old lesbians seem entirely credible.

This discussion of thematic subtext is at least something, suggesting Luca is much more fulfilling and resonant than it actually is, be that as an essay on tolerance and inclusivity or simply a fun family adventure. Even the sub-par Onward largely succeeded in the latter capacity, but Luca is mostly a bit of a snooze. And a plod. The movie starts out with the usual Pixar schtick – let’s make our “new” environment as identical to the human world as possible, but in this case fishy – so we’re beset by standard tropes of concerned/overbearing parents and transposed chores (Luca, voiced by Jacob Tremblay, herds goatfish). And interesting the ocean isn’t that polluted, such that human detritus is something to be marvelled at rather than revolted by. Greta must be seething.

When Luca first meets Alberto, an inordinate amount of – gay, presumably – time is spent on their getting to know each other, before the plot appears to decide it’s going to be about them getting their very own prized Vespa (I know, right?) Even beyond the characteristically perverse Pixar wish to bask in human innovations – as opposed to celebrating the wonders of nature, such as, say, the sea; probably not that surprising given the natural world is illusory in their virtual, pixelated oeuvre – it’s a desperately weak, unchallenging motivation.

It also runs in tandem with Luca discovering the joys of the human paradigm, such that he wants to go to school and learn all the lies bundled in with our freemasonic designation of the universe (a whole scene is taken up with such Neil deGrasse Tyson-esque indoctrination). Accompanying this are some intensely annoying, repetitive flights-of-fantasy dream sequences. It’s illustrative that a medium traditionally about indulging flights of fantasy is now reduced to the mundanity of its characters being forced to indulge them.

Cassaro cites Fellini as an influence (not a positive in my book) along with Aardman (I can see that in the character designs, but the last thing you want to imitate when it comes to Aardman is their humans). In the case of the former, I might charitably suggest that explains the dream fixation. It doesn’t excuse it, however. Emma Berman voices hyperactive redhead Giulia, seemingly there to have Luca stray from the unstraight and narrow, or simply to promote the joys of the human experience. Naturally, this means jealousy between the boys, patching things up and an affirmation of undying love (well, affection).

Also to be heard in Luca are Maya Rudolph (Luca’s mother, attempting to mollycoddle her not-gay son and keep him from human depravations). And a mercifully underused Sacha Baron Cohen as Luca’s uncle. Even more than Soul, Pixar’s very lucky the plandemic was here to gauze over what would surely have been a resounding lack of box office for this tepid affair. Their next undertaking finds Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi (Bao) telling of a girl who turns into a giant red panda: Turning Red. Is that a political reference in the title? Surely that would be grossly insensitive. And bad for box office.


Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

The Krishna died of a broken finger? I mean, is that a homicide?

Miami Blues (1990) (SPOILERS) If the ‘90s crime movie formally set out its stall in 1992 with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs , another movie very quietly got in there first at the beginning of the decade. Miami Blues picked up admiring reviews but went otherwise unnoticed on release, and even now remains under-recognised. The tale of “blithe psychopath” Federick J. Frenger, Jr., the girl whose heart he breaks and the detetive sergeant on his trail, director George Armitage’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s novel wears a pitch black sense of humour and manages the difficult juggling act of being genuinely touching with it. It’s a little gem of a movie, perfectly formed and concisely told, one that more than deserves to rub shoulders with the better-known entries in its genre. One of the defining characteristics of Willeford’s work, it has been suggested , is that it doesn’t really fit into the crime genre; he comes from an angle of character rather than plot or h

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

You tampered with the universe, my friend.

The Music of Chance (1993) (SPOILERS) You won’t find many adaptations of Paul Auster’s novels. Original screenplays, yes, a couple of which he has directed himself. Terry Gilliam has occasionally mentioned Mr. Vertigo as in development. It was in development in 1995 too, when Philip Haas and Auster intended to bring it to the screen. Which means Auster presumably approved of Haas’ work on The Music of Chance (he also cameos). That would be understandable, as it makes for a fine, ambiguous movie, pregnant with meaning yet offering no unequivocal answers, and one that makes several key departures from the book yet crucially maintains a mesmerising, slow-burn lure.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .