At The Movies: Ghostbusters (1984)

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Ghostbusters

★★☆☆☆

1984 • 107 minutes • Columbia Pictures

 

Should we watch Ghostbusters for Halloween?

Normally, I simply announce home screenings by texting Captain Cinema (which is how she found out we’re watching New Year’s Eve for New Year’s Eve, which is one hundred percent because Seth Meyers is in it), but Ghostbusters was a question. You see, I should love Ghostbusters. It combines Saturday Night Live, science fiction, and the eighties. Had my brother, actual child of the eighties, introduced me to the film at a young age, I have no doubt that I would love and adore it.

But my brother was a Back to the Future kind of kid, who also naturally kept a small child who destroyed comics at an arm’s length from the things he loved, so I didn’t discover Ghostbusters until the universe took pity on my utter ignorance of American pop culture and I Love the 80s aired on VH1. It was one of the first movies I tried to get my hands on in high school, but I was ashamed to find that I couldn’t get into it. I didn’t really think about it (The Sound of Music is always a much more impressive example of the pop culture I’ve never experienced than any eighties film) until I was seized by an errant, quickly fading urge to watch it. If I was ever to watch Ghostbusters, it had to be Halloween.

And, having finally watched Ghostbusters, I can safely say: I don’t think I like young Bill Murray.

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Review: Ōoku—The Inner Chambers

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Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 1
by Fumi Yoshinaga

★★★★☆

2009 (originally published 2005) • 216 pages • VIZ Media LLC

There’s a troubling tendency for texts purporting to explore a world where women are the dominant gender to simply recast the patriarchy as a matriarchy and call it a day, instead of trying to honestly engaging with gender and reimagining it. I am thinking very specifically of Dungeons and Dragons’ drow and other matriarchies that still cater to the male gaze. Because of this tendency, I tend to shrug off stories that largely swap the roles of the gender binary and focus on stories with a more nuanced view towards gender.

However, I always keep my ear to the ground, because I love being proven wrong. Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ōoku: The Inner Chambers comes with impeccable pedigrees, from the now-defunct, now-deleted, and always missed Dreams and Speculation, where I heard of it first, to its James Tiptree Jr. Award (the first for a manga), to its Eisner Award nomination. The matriarchy of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is not a simple patriarchy/matriarchy swap. After a plague kills seventy-five percent of the male population of Edo Japan, the manga picks up eighty years later, after the culture has changed to reflect the rarity and fragility of men. Women now fill traditionally male roles—to the point that Yoshinaga’s cast is largely composed of female versions of real historical Edo figures—while men are now kept secluded from the world, valued only for their role in reproduction. Men are so rare that only the most wealthy of women can afford to pay a man’s dowry. An entire harem of men, reserved solely for one woman’s pleasure, is the ultimate luxury, and reserved only for the Shogun.

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Review: Egyptomania

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Egyptomania
by Bob Brier

★½☆☆☆

2013 • 256 pages • Palgrave Macmillan Trade

Captain Cinema and I have reacted to the advertising campaign for Exodus: If You’re From Ancient Egypt, Why Are You White? the same way—pure physical repulsion. (I am very good at scoffing. I’m French; it’s practically a superpower.) A sick, tired, rainy day couldn’t stop me from scrambling off the couch and refusing to watch an ad for it during a therapeutic episode of classic Saturday Night Live; even the arduous physical task of sitting through Interstellar (I mean, I enjoyed the film, I just have trouble sitting down for long stretches of time) couldn’t keep us from fleeing a poster of the damn thing at the movie theater.

It boggles the mind that such a film could not only be made in 2014, but also be so vehemently defended by its creative team. Ridley Scott offered a casually racist explanation for why he, one of the most powerful directors in the industry, could not be bothered to seek Egyptians to play Egyptians, Rupert Murdoch rolled his eyes on Twitter about people not realizing that sometimes white people are Egyptian too (which is technically correct but beyond missing the point), and Christian Bale complained that the color of his skin shouldn’t keep him from playing Moses. It’s such an astonishing display of the kind of entitlement that so many white people in the West bring to the table regarding ancient Egypt despite all basic logic. As a little kid, I was fascinated by ancient Egypt, but as an adult, I’m equally fascinated (and repulsed) by the imperialist and colonial overtones of early Egyptology.

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Page to Screen: Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu, #5 of my top 40 HorrorsNosferatu
based on 
Dracula by Bram Stoker

★★★★☆

1922 • 94 minutes • Film Arts Guild

I have trouble watching silent films.

I learned this during an aborted attempt to watch every film adaptation of The Three Musketeers possible in college. I discovered that the old timey The Three Musketeers I had rented from the library was not, in fact, the one with Gene Kelly but a silent film, which stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s impeded me greatly in my efforts to understand film on a similar level to the way I understand prose. (Similar, not the same, as prose is essentially my native medium.)

What stops me is the perhaps one of the purest examples of urtexting: I am so used to consuming and analyzing sound films that removing what I feel is such an integral element of film leaves me utterly adrift. Of course, it’s not even removing—I’m speaking entirely from my vantage point in 2014, where all films have sound, a lack of score can be utilized as breathlessly as its presence, and Giorgio Moroder once scored Metropolis entirely with the hits of the eighties. (It’s nice to know that other people score the world the same way I do.)

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Review: The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains

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The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains
by Neil Gaiman

★★½☆☆

2014 • 80 pages • William Morrow

Somewhere along the way, through no fault of his own, I lost Neil Gaiman.

Good Omens was one of the first non-Harry Potter novel I read under my own steam. (I was not a big reader as a kid; I was a repetitive reader. It was one of my first coping mechanisms for my then unfathomable anxiety.) It was a favorite of webcomic creator Stan Stanley, whose Boy Meets Boy I read religiously—and secretively—as a preteen, and therefore the first recommendation I ever came across from a source I trusted. My faith was rewarded: I devoured Good Omens and moved onto American Gods, Coraline, and Anansi Boys in short order. It was all part of what I think of fondly as my brief kindergoth phase. Despite lacking the resources, chutzpah, or basic understanding of how clothes worked to commit to the baby goth, punk, or emo (kids, ask your parents) looks my childhood friends took to, I happily lingered on the periphery, dreaming dark, Romantic thoughts of dying my hair blue and writing urban fantasy.

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Review: Mordred, Bastard Son

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Mordred, Bastard Son

by Douglas Clegg

★★☆☆☆

2006 • 360 pages • Alyson Books

What’s the dividing line between fiction and fan fiction?

Obviously, there’s the major demarcation between your intellectual property and someone else’s intellectual property, but even that hard and fast legal definition ignores the fact that the vast majority of historical fiction is real person fic and the widespread plundering of the public domain by everyone under the sun. Creatively, though, the artistic impulses behind original fiction and fan fiction are totally different. The writer of fan fiction isn’t writing in a fandom because she lacks imagination (this is me pulling out my bullhorn and bellowing “DIANA GABALDON” at the top of my not inconsiderable lungs); she’s writing in that fandom because she’s responding to that text in a very specific way. That response can be as simple as “I think John and Sherlock should make out, so I’ll write some smut” to “Watchmen doesn’t have enough female characters, so I’ll genderflip the whole thing.” And so we stumble across another line: how far away from a text can your fan fiction (or retelling, homage, or “reimagining,” as the legal and published ones are advertised) get before it simply circles back and becomes your own story in a way that is decidedly different from a fan reclaiming Doctor Who for herself from Moffat? If it’s simply keeping the names the same, what does it say that an alternative universe fic like Master of the Universe can, with little to no effort, become Fifty Shades of Grey?

So perhaps we can answer today’s first question with today’s last question, purloined from Shakespeare, that great writer of fic—what’s in a name?

In his introductory remarks to Mordred, Bastard Son, Douglas Clegg states that his intention in writing the now cancelled Mordred trilogy is to both tell Mordred’s side of the story and inject some gay representation into the Arthurian myths. These are classic fan writer impulses, and I was prepared to tuck into something along the lines of The Mists of Avalon—to see the complex motivations behind the choices we know from the canonical text.

But Mordred, Bastard Son doesn’t really tell the story of a man maligned by history for his acts in defense of the old religion. In fact, it doesn’t really tell the story of Mordred as we know it, because it never gets there. This is not something I can entirely lay at Clegg’s feet, as the trilogy was abandoned by his publisher after its publication. (He has said, as of this year, that he plans on publishing the other two installments, but they have not materialized.) And yet, for a novel about a character whose involvement in Arthur’s downfall is certainly the most iconic part of his story, Clegg is in little to no rush to get Mordred to Camelot. There’s a little bit of The Name of the Wind in Mordred, Bastard Son, as Mordred tells his story to a curious onlooker over the course of several days (with the frame story still technically in media res), neatly separating out three acts into three novels. Of course, that only works if those three acts have acts of their own. That’s the eternal difficulty of constructing a satisfying trilogy.

Telling the story of Mordred’s childhood, raised by his mother Morgan le Fay on the idyllic but isolated Isle of Glass, could have been a satisfying story in itself. With little external plot required until Mordred ventures to Camelot, it would have been a perfect opportunity to dig into everyone’s motivations, explore Mordred’s sexuality, and lay the groundwork for the story ahead. But the story Clegg ends up telling is the story of a young hero destined for greatness, whose complex relationship with his mother and his aunt, who both have very legitimate reasons for despising Arthur (Arthur raped Morgan; Morgause tried to play by the rules of the new world order and lost everything), is flattened when Morgause simply cracks, turns evil, and raises an army of the dead to kill Guinevere for reasons. Mordred must ride to her rescue. That’s one way to rehabilitate a character: completely rewrite him and leave him at the mercy of fate.

Without the Arthurian names, in fact, you would probably mistake it for a pretty generic fantasy novel notable only for its representational value. Clegg’s invented culture for Mordred and Morgan’s people sit oddly with the vaguely historical events going on, even though it fondly reminded me of gorging on mediocre fantasy novels as a preteen. There are some interesting changes to Arthurian legend that would have been fascinating to see play out against the traditional story (which we do not get to)—Merlin as a gruff bear of a man, Excalibur as a cursed, One Ring-like sword, and Mordred having to swear a vow of chastity in order to learn magic. But they fizzle. I’ll grant Clegg Excalibur, as we do not even encounter it in this installment, but Mordred’s chastity becomes the bane of his existence once he encounters a handsome hermit.

Given the novel’s fondness for telling instead of showing, despite the passing of the years in the story, this means that the topic that is discussed the most in Mordred, Bastard Son is Mordred complaining that he can’t have sex—because he’s the only gay kid in the village at first, and then because of his magical vow of chastity. Mordred as the only gay kid in the village is an odd choice, given that it’s talked about—at length—that the Isle of Glass is so pro-queer that it hosts same-sex hand fastings. Mordred’s situation is clearly meant to echo alienated queer kids in straight spaces, but the Isle of Glass is explicitly a welcoming space.

I realize that The Mists of Avalon, especially given that I read it as an impressionable preteen, has set a bar for Arthurian retellings for me that few can match. But Mordred, Bastard Son is not very interested in even trying.

I rented this book from the public library.

At The Movies: Byzantium (2012)

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Byzantium

★★★½☆

2012 • 118 minutes • StudioCanal

Despite the fact that I often use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between feminist and feminist-minded. The former explicitly embraces feminism; the latter often embraces the ideology but not the term. (And that can be for a variety of reasons—ideally, it’s to separate from problematic expressions of feminism, but more often that not it’s the dread “I’m not a feminist, but…”) The former implies action; the latter implies intent.

But even the best intentions can go wrong. (“I didn’t mean to offend you” is widely recognized as the coward’s apology.) On paper, Byzantium sounds perfect: a Neil Jordan film, adapted from a stage play, about a mother-daughter pair of vampires eking out an existence on the borders of both the mortal world and the male-dominated vampire world, facing their inevitable parting when they return to the seaside town they called home in life. It seems like perfect material for a fantastic creative team, including Gemma Arterton as Clara, the mother, and Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor, the daughter. And yet…

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Review: New York Diaries

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New York Diaries
edited by Teresa Carpenter

★★★★½

2012 • 512 pages • Modern Library

I hate traveling.

While my family, a French-American trio of inveterate wanderers, often and loudly protest that it is genetically impossible for me to be so, it’s true. A substantial part of it is because of the usual complaints about travel—airports stress me out, packing is a nightmare for a femme with size eleven shoes, sleeping in strange beds inevitably hurts my back—but a large part of it is simply being away from my orderly life. I have been told time again (and again and again) that this is the point of traveling: to get away from it all, or, as my father says, changer les idées. But I don’t have an all I want to get away from. And in any case, I completely lack the personal virtues and faculties to engage meaningfully with a specific place in the space of a handful of days.

So I hate traveling. But I love living places. Even during my year in Denver, a city that is decidedly not for me, I enjoyed the slow burn of getting to know it through its neighborhoods, farmers’ markets, seasons, used bookstores, public transit, cold nights, hot nights, roads, sprawling wide open spaces, libraries, my first Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, mountains, and grocery stores (oh, why did I ever complain about the price of Greek yogurt at Safeway? I never had it so good!)—in short, the accumulation of experience that can only come with staying put. When I finally, finally, made the long awaited move to New York, I told Madame McBride two things. First, that when I got there, I was never going to leave. (This has since expanded to a predication of my peaceful death at the age of eighty on the island of Manhattan, after which I will buried like the Vikings of old, complete with funeral pyre, and leave my bafflingly considerable fortune to a pack of exceedingly smug terriers.) And secondly, that I was going to build my life there (here! Oh, how wonderful!) in a such a way that, a decade from now, I will be made up entirely of those little, daily experiences, the same way mountains are made up of rocks.

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