We Need To Talk About Kevin
based on the novel by Lionel Shriver
2011 • 112 minutes • Oscilloscope Laboratories
Literary fiction, as a genre, often baffles me. Not in the sense that it is a genre—redundant and semantically superfluous as the term actually is, there’s enough stylistic and content similarities that we really do need to have a name for contemporary fiction that deals almost solely with the interior lives of often quite privileged characters. Or, to put it as bluntly as Erin Callahan has in the past, the worst literary fiction consists of “love letter[s] to privilege and ennui.” Rather, what baffles me is that it’s often used not to indicate that actual genre, but that something is acceptable in the mainstream while ghettoizing the genre it actually belongs to. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out accessible texts to people who normally don’t read a certain genre, but when it’s used to cherry pick from and then ignore an entire genre, that’s when I get angry.
So I sometimes forget about what literary fiction actually is at its core, without all of that silly privileging and labeling, and it takes a film to remind me. Last time, it was the astonishing A Single Man and this time it’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.
edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
2014 • 370 pages • Crossed Genres Publications
There are a lot of tired arguments against diversifying media that I hate, but anything that incorporates the words “forced” or “shoe-horned” are in my top three stupidest arguments against diverse media. As if defaulting to cisgendered straight white men was somehow natural and not a product of the fact that most of the people involved in creating mainstream media fit into those demographics. As if stories have to go out of their way to incorporate any other perspective.
As if these stories might not be more poignant in someone else’s shoes.
by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross
1994 • 248 pages • Marvel
After my brother went off to college, his room, despite still having all of his stuff in it, was up for grabs. My dad seized upon it as an office without telling anyone or even taking the bed out, while I was finally able to rifle through my brother’s books to my heart’s content. (Madame McBride did not participate in this land grab.) Without my brother to kick me out or stop me from getting my grubby preteen paws on his lovingly curated collection of French comics (direct from the motherland!), I was unstoppable.
And that’s how I, at around the age of nine or ten, discovered the difference between Marvel and DC. I’d only been familiar with DC before, having watched Batman: The Animated Series and the odd episode of The Adventures of Lois and Clark, but I had only the vaguest idea that Spider-Man existed. In my brother’s library, there were two graphic novels from each company, alone among the Asterixes, Tintin, and Largo Winch. DC was represented by Kingdom Come, an epic and fairly dark Elseworlds end game story featuring roughly everyone in the DC universe. Ross was inspired to pitch Kingdom Come to DC because he was just coming off illustrating the only Marvel book in my brother’s collection—Marvels.
I was cagey last week about what’s going on in my life right now. I could be cagey now, but seeing how next Sunday will find me in the thick of it… I’ll just let you know: Operation New York is go.
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2012 • 110 minutes • Warner Brothers Pictures
Channing Tatum is a national treasure. I tend to avoid mainstream romantic comedies, due to the social narratives they perpetuate. (Unless, of course, two people I think are cute are making out in it, like Becoming Jane. I am a simple woman with simple tastes.) Because of this, I did not learn this fact until watching 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street recently.
Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
2014 • 400 pages • Amulet Books
When it comes to fantasy, I usually don’t like my secondary worlds squirreled away within our own. (Careful Internetting tells me that this is called portal fantasy, which is an incredibly handy phrase.) As a kid, I was just burned too many times where the real setting isn’t integrated carefully and a real part of the story. At best, I’ve seen easily bruised worldbuilding (Harry Potter); at worst, I’ve seen hideous emotional trauma swept under the rug (The Chronicles of Narnia). I fully realize and know that it can be done well—I’ve seen it done well, such as in The Magicians, an incredibly brutal deconstruction of both Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia—but I’ve developed an aversion to it.
(This probably accounts for my reluctance when it comes to urban fantasy, come to think of it.)
So Otherbound’s central conceit, that a teenager in our world experiences the life of a servant in a more traditional fantasy setting whenever he closes his eyes, didn’t appeal to me. What did appeal to me was Ana’s review at the Book Smugglers, which revealed that Otherbound was diverse young adult fiction, a rare enough quantity in and of itself, let alone diverse young adult fantasy. I decided to suck it up and give it a go.
Under the Banner of Heaven
by John Krakauer
2013 • 372 pages • Doubleday
To celebrate the Fourth of July this year, my local Alamo Drafthouse Cinema screened two films—Top Gun, which we’ve already been over, and a Quote-Along for Team America: World Police. Specifically, a Quote-Along for Team America: World Police’s tenth anniversary. I’ve never seen that movie, but watching the brief advertisement for the upcoming Quote-Along, I was instantly taken back to the political climate of the United States in the early aughts.
While the nostalgia wheel has turned to the nineties (which explains the amount of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess I’ve been consuming) per its traditional twenty year delay, the aughts are finally far enough behind us to take a certain narrative shape. There’s even a new VH1 series, I Love the 2000s, to prove it. This is nothing new for history and nostalgia, but it is something new for me.
Usually, I like to update y’all on what’s going on with me—besides, of course, my secondary mutation of being able to find vintage Xena merchandise wherever I go—but yesterday I took the first step towards something I’ve been working towards for a long time, and I’m alternating between panic, joy, and relief. So, uh, how was your week?
based on Jersey Boys
by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
2014 • 136 minutes • Warner Brothers Pictures
In our culture, musical theater, as an art form, is coded as feminine. This is due to the form’s pointed embrace of artificiality, which is so often conflated with femininity. In reality, musical theater doesn’t divide along gender or sexuality lines so easily—in my Georgia high school, everybody got involved with the spring musical. But the stereotype remains, to the point that even Camp, a film celebrating musical theater with a diverse cast, sees all the male-attracted teens go dizzy when an actual straight boy turns up.
In response, producers have begun to highlight certain musicals as guys’ musicals or musicals you can bring your boyfriend to. My beloved Rock of Ages pitches itself quite hard in that direction, what with the strippers, concert atmosphere, and stunt casting, and so does the mildly more family friendly Jersey Boys, which tells the true stories behind the success of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. In fact, both musicals are jukebox musicals that play with the fourth wall, luring in non-theater goers with songs they already love and constantly puncturing the supposed artificiality of stagecraft by talking to the audience. (Both musicals’ abuse of the fourth wall peak memorably: the script is produced in Rock of Ages and the stage is visually flipped in Jersey Boys.)
Young Avengers: Style > Substance
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
2013 • 128 pages • Marvel
Through sheer timing and luck, I have, in my comic book collection, Kieron Gillen’s entire run on Journey Into Mystery in single issues. I don’t mention this as a bragging point; its genius is readily available in trader paperback. I mention this because I really loved getting to follow the story of Kid Loki in weekly installments. In the digital age, it’s very easy to binge on something in days or weeks, so I really value being able to take my time with a series. (I’m doing the same thing right now with Sailor Moon. It’s awesome!) Gillen’s self-contained arc—best described as “a comedy in thirty parts and a tragedy in thirty-one”—is fun, heartwarming, thoughtful, meta, and heartbreaking, all at the same time.
And that’s without Gillen working with long-time collaborator Jamie McKelvie. I don’t mean to imply that Gillen’s writing sparkles less without McKelvie or vice versa, but the narrative and the art walk hand in hand when they’re working together. The two began their working relationship in 2003 at PlayStation Magazine UK on Save Point, a comic about gaming. (This is, to quote John Mulaney, a very old-fashioned sentence. I can practically smell my old GamePro magazines reading it.) Since then, they’ve worked together on Phonogram, the upcoming The Wicked + The Divine, and the short-lived but critically acclaimed and GLAAD Award-winning Young Avengers.