At the Movies: Robot and Frank (2012)

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Robot and Frank

★★★½☆

2012 • 89 minutes • Samuel Goldwyn Films

Most of my friends are open-minded cinephiles, between my MST3K-style comedy troupe from college and Captain Cinema herself. They’ll give anything a shot, so long as riffing is allowed as soon as the film sours. (Not in an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, of course, because we are ladies. Also, if I ever get kicked out of an Alamo, I will never forgive myself.) This makes group movie-going very easy—as long as a film shows promise (be it good promise or hilariously bad promise), we’ll give it (and occasionally ourselves) a shot.

Not so selecting films for my family. My mother and I watch period dramas together; my father and I have a long-standing tradition of sneaking off to action movies without her; the last film my brother took me to as a kiddo was Watchmen. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that I’ve gotten very good at. After years of research and development, I have concluded that the films that work best what I refer to as near-future sci-fi: films like About Time, Her, and today’s film, Robot and Frank.

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Review: Film — A Very Short Introduction

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Film: A Very Short Introduction
by Michael Wood

★★★☆☆

2012 • 144 pages • Oxford University Press

On Netflix Instant (currently the capricious master of my media intake during my move), there’s a wonderful series about film called, appropriately enough, The Story of Film. It’s a fifteen hour long series covering both the basics and the history of film, based on the eponymous book by Irish film critic Mark Cousins. Cousins also narrates The Story of Film, and it’s an acquired delight—you might be nodding off during the first episode, but by episode five, you feel like you’re snuggling with a very sleepy but very excited cinephile who just has to tell you one more thing about Japanese cinema.

I’ve never finished The Story of Film; that’s was what I was watching when Demora Pasha, my college laptop, was brutally cut down in her prime by a glass of water. (She’s since regenerated into my sister-in-law’s laptop after her miraculous, year-long recovery.) But it was the first thing I watched after my Introduction to Film Studies class that satisfied my completionist desire to start my personal exploration into cinema at the beginning. I didn’t want to start with a book, because I was so used to literary criticism. With literary criticism, you critique a text in the same medium; that’s what I’m used to and that’s what I’ve been trained for. But, as Matt Singer points out at The Dissolve, even with the proliferation of commercially available video editing software programs, film is rarely effectively critiqued in its own medium. Tony Zhou’s brilliant series Every Frame a Painting is the closest thing I’ve seen, but it sadly remains an outlier. While I now have enough of a background that I can read purely prose film criticism without scurrying off for research, the fact remains is that it can be difficult to tell the basic story of film without, well, film.

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Review: Amazons!

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Amazons!
edited by Jessica Amanda Salmonson

★★★½☆

1979 • 206 pages • DAW Books

Reading editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s introduction to Amazons!, the first major fantasy anthology featuring female protagonists, is a strange experience for the modern feminist-minded geek. On the one hand, I find few things as heartening (or heartwinning, as Salmonson puts it in the introduction to T. J. Morgan’s “Woman of the White Waste”) as discovering new-to-me texts that prove speculative fiction has not always been the (white, straight, cis) boys’ club people inside the genre and out often assume it is. On the other hand, it’s less heartening to realize that we’ve been having largely the same conversations about diversity and representation for decades. I’m no less motivated to fight the good fight, of course, but it makes for some bittersweet reading.

Emphasis on the sweet, though. I mean, it’s an entire anthology of lady-centric fantasy from the dying days of disco, topped off by a list of nonfiction and fiction books deemed relevant for people interested in that subject matter. And if you’re not interested—well, I think you’re on quite the wrong blog, friend.

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At The Movies: Boyhood (2014)

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Boyhood

★★★★½

2014 • 165 minutes • IFC Productions

Late in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), watching her son, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), bemusedly packing, suddenly breaks down crying. Concerned (but not concerned enough to go embrace her), Mason coaxes an explanation out of her. Olivia bursts into an incandescent rage:

This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own fucking funeral?

Mason, in the half-careless way of teenage boys, manages to scoff-comfort her by pointing out that she’s jumping ahead by at least forty years, but this is almost as close as Boyhood ever gets to a thesis statement. The downright intimidating project (no contracts were ever signed, because contracts cannot last longer than seven years in the United States) not only captures a boy’s development into a man, but does so by actively declining to capture what our culture considers milestones in the lives of children and teenagers. We do not see Mason learn to ride a bike, or his first kiss, or even his first sexual experience. Rather, Linklater is more interested in capturing the often mundane and sometimes banal moments that you actually remember from your childhood, not designated milestones.

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Review: Consider the Fork

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Consider the Fork
by Bee Wilson

★★★★☆

2012 • 352 pages • Basic Books

After a year of negotiating shared kitchens, I’m excited by the prospect of stocking my own (incredibly tiny) kitchen from scratch. My own tiny little French press for my coffee; a blender that does not wimp out; and an entire half of a freezer to myself. Simple things, really. I don’t think of myself as a particularly technical cook. I occasionally just ignore calls for more advanced equipment and do my own thing, even (and often) when I’m making medieval recipes. But even what I consider the dead basics—French press; blender; freezer—are pretty advanced, especially in the context of what constituted cooking for the bulk of human history.

Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork opens in much the same fashion, asking us to consider the common wooden spoon as technology that has been developed and improved over centuries. Cooking has long walked a delicate line between conservatism—people unwilling to deviate from tradition—and fads—people rushing to buy the latest thing that promises less time in the kitchen. But it seems odd to consider such basics, like utensils, the kitchen, and available heat sources, as massive leaps in technology. But they absolutely are. As Wilson points out, if you spend all day tending the fire, you’re not going to want to bring water near it if you don’t know that boiling water is useful for cooking.

Consider the Fork is full of little observations like this, in a remarkably orderly fashion. Wilson’s writing style is just as engaging and accessible when she’s talking about wacky kitchen gadget trends (egg beaters were apparently a massive thing back in the 1800s) as it is when she’s reporting from the sides of food historians like Ivan Day, who roasts meat the traditional medieval way. Between sections, Wilson includes notes on specific gadgets, instead of larger trends, although these are a lot fluffier than the meat of the book. And she’s certainly not afraid to include herself, talking about her own kitchen and experiences with cooking gadgetry without ever coming across as too cuddly. (Is this because Wilson is British? It might be because Wilson is British.) Continue reading

Review: Candy And Me

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Candy and Me
by Hilary Liftin

★★★☆☆

2003 • 224 pages • Free Press

For me, it was always Shockers (née Shocktarts). Just typing out the name makes my mouth water. They are (and, despite my ability to restrain myself from purchasing them all the time, remain) the perfect confection for me. Wholly artificial sugar rounds with a gloriously tart and hard exterior that, after some sucking, gave way to a soft, chewy, and sweet center. (Warheads, being all sour, do not appeal to my love of texture.) I bought them in the rolls, I bought them in the bags. I found one at the bottom of my purse once and had to talk myself out of eating it, because I’m an adult and not a feral child. I unrolled the roll one pellet at a time, always hoping that it was mostly red, purple, and the most treasured flavor—blue.

When I discovered, in college, that you could buy entire theater boxes of them, I practically exploded. Invited to a repeat viewing of Sherlock Holmes, I brought along this newfound glory. After perfunctorily offering my friends some, I set to devouring the entire box. Halfway through the film, my mouth started to feel like it was vibrating. In the bathroom after the film, I bared my teeth and stuck my tongue at my reflection. My bleeding tongue. I had, by sucking on the sour coating, managed to scrape a great deal of skin off of my tongue.

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At the Movies: Spice World (1997)

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Spice World

★★★½☆

1997 • 93 minutes • Columbia Pictures

Oh, to have been a nerdy preteen in the mid-nineties instead of a glue-eating, cat-tossing elementary school student! I can see it now (then?)—watching Xena: Warrior Princess and developing a massive crush on Lucy Lawless, actually engaging with Buffy The Vampire Slayer (I might even love Joss Whedon in this timeline!), and, of course, convincing my mother to let me buy Spice Girls merchandise because they were British and so was The Vicar of Dibley, so there.

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Review: The Royal Diaries — Elizabeth I

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The Royal Diaries: Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor
by Kathryn Lasky

★★★½☆

1999 • 240 pages • Scholastic Press

When I’m cherry-picking nostalgia bombs with other bookish people my age, Scholastic Press’ Dear America inevitably comes up when you’re talking book series of the late nineties and early aughts. (I literally just had this conversation last week, while visiting a college friend in Texas.) First published between 1996 and 2004, the series featured diaries written from the perspectives of young women at critical moments in American history. It was so popular that it’s not only been recently relaunched (as of 2010, with both new titles in the series and just reissues of the original), but spun off three other series. My Name is America was Dear America’s staff counterpart, while My America was aimed at younger children. But The Royal Diaries, which took the formula and reapplied it to young royal women throughout human history, was, in my young eyes, clearly superior.

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