Page to Screen: Sailor Moon R (1993)

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Sailor Moon R
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi

★★★★½

1993-1994 • 43 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media

When Toei Animation asked Sailor Moon author Naoko Takeuchi to adapt her manga into a one season anime series, neither of them knew how successful it would be. Toei, not one to miss an opportunity, asked Takeuchi to keep working on the manga. Eventually, the manga and the anime found a rhythm that worked, with the anime following the manga closely enough that only the production time created a month or so long lag.

But, at first, the anime demand exceeded the manga supply, necessitating two filler arcs before Takeuchi and her editor hit upon the main idea for the Black Moon arc. The first is the delightful Makaiju arc, where two aliens, Ail and Ann, infiltrate Tokyo to feed human energy to the alien tree that sustains them. And the second is the infuriating subplot where Mamoru breaks up with Usagi due to a prophecy, never mentions that to her, and she spends most of her energy tearfully trying to win him back. It’s a hard side to see to the normally brash Usagi, especially when she’s only dealt this crap hand in the anime for the flimsiest of reasons. (Oh, and he’s a college student dating a fourteen year old. This kind of stuff doesn’t make me like you, Mamoru. Step it up.)

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Review: Dear Committee Members

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Dear Committee Members
by Julie Schumacher

★★½☆☆

2014 • 192 pages • Doubleday

When we talk about well-rounded female characters, we often talk about allowing female characters to be unlikable. (Hell, we also talk about allowing female characters to look like actual human type women, which is such a broad category that it’s really amazing how often the mark is missed.) Even when female characters express unlikable traits (which, let’s be honest, are often considerable desirable or at least neutral traits in male characters), they’re often punished for it, by both the narrative and the audience. As much as I’ve been enjoying How Did This Get Made, their episode on A View to a Kill features the whole crew comparing Grace Jones’ superhumanly strong May Day to a shaved horse. It’s why Amy in Gone Girl is such polarizing; she may be, in a certain slant of light, a misogynist’s hysterical nightmare, but she gets to be selfish, hateful, cruel, violent, and dispassionate in a way few female characters are. (And the crowning glory: she gets away with it.)

But there is a B side to that argument, much shorter than the much more important single: why do we allow male characters to be unlikable? Specifically, why am I so often asked to sympathize with, idealize, or otherwise just plain tolerate male characters whose behavior is self-indulgent, passively cruel, and generally awful without any redeeming characteristics? I am fine with unlikable male characters in the abstract. I am, after all, quite an active fan of James Bond, the last three films of which franchise have been entirely about an already unstable man being built into a horrifically amoral monster. (And it’s so, so great.) Unlikable characters, as we’ve established, can be riveting and revelatory. What I’m taking issue with is when I am presented with unlikable male characters and told, by both the text and paratext, that I should like him.

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The Week in Review: March 22nd, 2015

Nail Polish: Sally Hansen's Sugar Shimmer Mint Tint

Well, I announced that I’m cutting back from three reviews a week to two (because of reasons) this week. And I was over at lady business talking Xena with Renay in our biweekly column on the show. This week: “Cradle of Hope.” I’ve been knee-deep in Richard Ellman’s Oscar Wilde this weekend, and I’m hoping to plow through it this afternoon, because Genevieve Valentine’s Persona came in at the library and I can’t wait to get into that.

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A Programming Note

57 Channels and Nothing On

So, as you may have guessed, there is no film review this Friday, as per my rigorous posting schedule. If you haven’t ever read it, it goes like this: Monday, book review or new film review. Wednesday, book review. Friday, film review. Sunday, the Week in Review. And a post on Saturday if I’m feeling frisky. I used to post even more than that, back in college, but that’s the schedule and pace that I determined on a while back.

And I just can’t keep that up anymore.

I am not the carefree college student I once was, friends—I’m a woman grown. My life is different now. For the first time in my life, the amount of cool things I want to do exceed the amount of things that I can actually do, both in terms of time and in terms of energy. It’s wonderful and awful all at the same time—it’s been a little startling to find myself morphing into CLARE, GOTH QUEEN OF THE INTROVERTS in the middle of doing something that I want to be doing. (Which I wouldn’t mind so much if it came with a great transformation sequence.)

For the past year, I’ve been running myself ragged trying to maintain this blog at the same clip I could in college—three reviews a week. I’m not sure when that tipped over into barely possible, but it was around the point when I realized that telling myself that I’d catch up to the luxurious posting buffers of my college days was a complete and utter lie. But I’m an anxious kind of Aries. I am stubborn and set in my ways and prone to sticking to the scripts that once worked instead of writing new ones, because change is scary, scary, scary. So I’ve kept at it, to the point that it’s no longer fun. Not the reading and the watching and the writing—those are my favorite things to do in the world. But the pace of it all is no longer fun. It forces me to work so fast that I feel like I’m starting to miss the point.

One of my (many, many) mantras at the moment is “Why suffer?” Life is full of things that we must suffer through; there’s precious reason to add to that pile. This schedule is something I imposed on myself, because I work best with schedules and spreadsheets and plans. As an anxious person, I tend to trust those schedules and spreadsheets and plans more than I trust myself, and that’s something I need to break myself out of.

So all of this is to say that I’m slowing down. A bit. To one book review, one film review, and one week in review a week. That schedule’s triad nature appeals to me. I’ll, hopefully, be able to stop and smell the roses. Read longer books. Write better reviews. Write more for other projects and outlets. And, of course, sleep more.

This note is just as much a reminder to me as it is an announcement to you. I’d never abandon The Literary Omnivore—my father once asked me if I would ever stop and I went black in the eyes—but changing something this fundamentally a part of me is always difficult. Telling you instead of just starting the new schedule is a way to keep myself accountable.

See you Sunday.

Review: Hideous Love

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Hideous Love
by Stephanie Hemphill

★★☆☆☆

2013 • 320 pages • Balzer + Bray

Oh, Mary Shelley. Daughter of fundamental English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, inventor of science fiction, and all around literary—dare I say it—monster. I only grow fonder of her the more I learn about her. I even might be biased towards The Bride of Frankenstein not for the Bride herself, but for the film opening with Elsa Lanchester’s Mary Shelley primly accepting Lord Byron’s stilted praise in one of the most stunning gowns of early Hollywood. (Even if it’s mostly to underline that there’s a moral point to the proceedings to free it from guilt.) I note the century-spanning gap of eighty-one years between that depiction of Shelley and the forthcoming dueling 2016 biopics A Storm in the Stars and Mary Shelley’s Monster with the most cutting of side eyes.

So Stephanie Hemphill’s young adult novel about Shelley, Hideous Love, with its near pre-Raphaelite cover of a redheaded young woman bent in a pose that recalls both Atlas and Prometheus, was catnip to me. I was always happy when the economies of space allowed me to face it out in the young adult nook back at the Tattered Cover. But, as ever, I dragged my feet about actually reading the darn thing. Although “drag my feet” is a poor metaphor for my reading habits—“got distracted by other books like a concussed magpie” is more like it. It’s a useful, if disorganized, methodology, because it lets me come to books fresh.

So fresh, in fact, that I had no idea that Hideous Love is a verse novel.

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Page to Screen: Cinderella (2015)

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Cinderella
based on the 1950 motion picture and the fairy tale by Charles Perrault

★★★½☆

2015 • 112 minutes • Walt Disney Pictures

Despite my fervently fevered hopes, there was never any real chance that Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella would follow in the radically feminist footsteps of Maleficent. While Sleeping Beauty is widely considered one of the best Disney films, Cinderella is the film that saved Walt Disney Animation from shutting down in the early fifties. The film and the character are so intertwined with the company that Walt Disney World is crowned by her castle. Letting Linda Woolverton turn in a script that is literally about destroying the patriarchy for Maleficent is one thing; letting Christ Weitz radically change what Jess Plummer calls the “ur-Disney movie” is quite another.

So Branagh’s Cinderella doesn’t make many changes to the original film. We do get a bit more of Ella’s childhood (including a kind turn by Hayley Atwell as Ella’s mother), an adorable meet-cute in the forest between Ella and the Prince, a more fleshed out relationship between the Prince and his father, and some half-hearted court intrigue involving the Grand Duke. Any commentary on the original text is largely kept to Ella’s characterization. The film deepens her already established compassion, best expressed in the scene where Lady Tremaine is horrified to discover that Ella pities her. She questions why things are the way they are, but the most radical implication of that is that Ella is a vegetarian. Lady Tremaine gets a sympathetic backstory in one brief scene, but a pointedly feminist retelling it is not.

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At The Movies: Wayne’s World 2 (1993)

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Wayne’s World 2

★★☆☆☆

1993 • 95 minutes • Paramount Pictures

I think Mike Myers invented teenage boys. Specifically, both flavors of teenage boy that I encountered in my childhood seem traceable back to him—the just under the wire snarky Gen Xers known as my brother and his friends, as well as the masculine Millennials I actually went to class with. Both variants were capable of easy charm and smug, self-satisfied snark; the difference was the ratio. As someone roughly a decade younger than her older brother, I was not privy to the exact ratio those frost-tipped Gen X boys had, but it was certainly more balanced than the Millennial snots I actually suffered through class with. (Were they all snots? Probably not, but boys were afraid of me in middle school. As nature intended.)

Wayne’s World and Wayne’s World 2 both have that same kind of charm and smugness, but it works in Wayne’s World because the smugness comes across as a production team simply delighted that they get to make this movie—Mike Myers bringing Wayne to the big screen, Tia Carrere getting a chance to play a well-rounded female lead in a big summer movie, and director Penelope Spheeris getting to do a comedy. There’s a bit in the brief behind-the-scenes featurette on the Wayne’s World DVD where Myers talks about how he and Carvey had to figure out how Wayne and Garth, previously always seated, walked, and he simply lights up at that little detail. (Myers went for the subtle front half of a centaur gait.) Plus, Wayne’s World never feels like it’s punching down; Wayne and Garth rarely goof off at the expense of other people. I mean, it happens, don’t get me wrong, but they’re just as much the butt of the joke as other people.

Wayne’s World 2, however, is almost all smug, self-satisfied snark. Is it because the turnaround between both films was, frankly, absurdly quick? Is it because the gentling punk rock hand of Penelope Spheeris is absent? Is it because the movie forgets that Wayne and Garth enjoy their lives as is? It’s because of all of those things, and more.

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Review: The Genius of the System

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The Genius of the System
by Thomas Schatz

★★★☆☆

1996, originally published 1989 • 493 pages • Henry Holt and Company

Despite living a stone’s throw away from Atlanta (assuming that you can throw a stone with enough force to make it fly through the air for an hour) as a kiddo, my family never really cranked up the old Turner Classic Movies—or any classic Hollywood movies, really. My mother’s cinematic tastes run towards British film, my father’s cinematic tastes run towards near-future sci-fi, and all their nostalgic childhood movies are French. Which sometimes makes me wonder why I’m so fascinated with Anne Helen Petersen’s pieces on Old Hollywood when I have no context or nostalgia for them. (I’m not a Only Lovers Left Alive-esque immortal pop culture junkie, although I pretend to be sometimes.)

But I think that total unfamiliarity might actually be why it fascinates me. To me, Classic Hollywood feels like a monolith that has always been there. A lot of the world feels like that, sometimes, because I rarely interact with it, don’t have context for it, or whatever. But, as Captain Cinema often reminds me, everything was weird once. The studio system that once dominated all of American cinema no longer exists, shattered into a thousand pieces by the Red Scare, the coming of television, and creative types chafing under the seemingly oppressive regime of the major studios—a designation Thomas Schatz bestows upon Universal, MGM, Warner Brothers, and David O. Selznick’s various independent companies in his portrait of the Hollywood studio system of the early twentieth century, The Genius of the System. This obviously excludes 21st Century Fox, among others, but Schatz points out in his introduction that he had to draw the line somewhere or get bogged down in minutiae when the bigger picture is his entire point.

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