Page to Screen: Barbarella (1968)

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Barbarella
based on the comics by Jean-Claude Forest

★★½☆☆

1968 • 98 minutes • Paramount Pictures

In the land of media plenty that is our wonderful modern age, it’s difficult to have pop culture white whales. Everything’s so available (assuming you, like me, are patient enough and don’t mind being behind the curve a little) that I have come to embrace scheduled and limited viewings as a way to keep things fresh.

But I have had one for a long time—Barbarella. It was one of the first films my college comedy troupe (think Mystery Science Theater 3000, just more inclusive and all ladies) watched, but they watched it before I joined. We don’t have any specific rules about what can be rerun—we have watched Dungeons and Dragons so many times over the years—but Barbarella was widely considered by the group to be one of those bad movies that was best endured in company. So it took about four years for it to finally bob back to the surface as potential viewing, and it was a… doozy.

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Review: Silver Screen Fiend

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Silver Screen Fiend
by Patton Oswalt

★★★½☆

2015 • 240 pages • Scribner

I first heard of Silver Screen Fiend when I couldn’t get to my laptop fast enough to keep Hulu from autoplaying the next segment on Late Night with Seth Meyers at full blast at godawful in the morning. (Why was I watching Late Night with Seth Meyers clips at godawful in the morning? Hi, I’m Clare, I find Seth Meyers personally inspiring, nice to meet you.) And there was Patton Oswalt, promoting his new book and explaining that he should have known the film obsession of his youth was an addiction when he made his date walk back to her car alone at three or four in the morning.

I adored the memoir portions of Oswalt’s last book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. In that book, he absolutely nails the frustration and lack of cultural resources endemic to American suburbia in such an immediate, identifiable way. While the experimental comedy portions of Zombie Spaceship Wasteland rarely landed for me, the vocabulary he gave me that I could apply to my own suburban childhood was massively useful.

And yet, I’ve cooled on Oswalt as of late. Continue reading

At the Movies: The Beautician and the Beast (1997)

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The Beautician and the Beast

★★★★☆

1997 • 105 minutes • Paramount Pictures

The Beautician and the Beast, I owe you an apology.

You see, as a fan of truly bad films, I often spend time digging through Netflix and Hulu to find hidden gems. (And I mean truly bad films—films made in all earnestness with the hopes of being good. The intentionally bad movie—your Birdemics, your Sharknados, and, if some rumors are to be developed, your Rooms—holds no appeal for me. I want to see where it all went wrong with the best of intentions.) The Beautician and the Beast simply looked like a perfect candidate. A 1997 romantic comedy about a Queens beautician who, through a series of hilarious mishaps, ends up playing teacher to a ruthless Eastern European dictator’s children? Oh, and said leads are Fran Drescher, in a role that sank her film career, and Timothy Dalton, a man whose diet is entirely composed of scenery? (And I imagine still is; I haven’t seen Penny Dreadful, because I am a total wimp.) In short: come to Mama.

But, The Beautician and the Beast, you surprised me. This film is surprisingly sweet and charming.

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Review: Monster High

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Monster High
by Lisi Harrison

★½☆☆☆

2011 (originally published 2005) • 272 pages • Poppy

Have I mentioned how much I love Monster High? Because I love Monster High. I have a passing but passionate interest in fashion dolls; I keep a lazy eye on collector grade Barbies, used to buy issues of Haute Doll, and I even went through a brief period in high school where I tried to save up six hundred dollars to buy my very own ball-jointed doll. When Monster High, a line of dolls meant to be the children of old-school horror monsters, debuted, I was delighted to find a technicolor parade of little monster girls in the toy department at Target whose flaws weren’t “being clumsy” but “actively trying not to suck anyone’s blood.”

What I like about Monster High, besides its nostalgic-to-me sugar horror/baby goth/alternative kid aesthetic and its commitment to truly, truly atrocious puns, is that it’s about teen girl friendship. (Surprise!) And not just in the vague sense that I recall from my own childhood Barbies. Monster High is not just a line of dolls—it’s a franchise, with music, a Flash animated web series, CGI-animated direct-to-DVD television specials, a movie musical that will supposedly come to pass, and, as we can see from today’s selection, a line of young adult books. I watch the web series and CGI specials from time to time, and I’m always impressed by how they emphasize the girls’ friendships over anything else. In one web series episode, Frankie (as in Frankie Stein) feels like she’s falling behind because she, unlike some of her friends, doesn’t have a boyfriend. She, naturally, creates a fake one in her dad’s lab and brings him to school, where her friends are quick to reassure her that she doesn’t need to date someone to fit in with them. (And then she chucks him in the garbage, which is when we discover she actually gave him sentience. Whoops.) Even the mean girl, Cleo de Nile, evolves over the course of the web series, from a stereotypical mean girl to someone who appreciates her friends and defends them.

So it’s incredibly infuriating that the first Monster High book (as of this writing, there have been two series: this one by Lisi Harrison and a younger-skewing Ghoulfriends series by Gitty Daneshvari) ends with two girls shaking hands over, essentially, a declaration of war over a boy. Barf.

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The Week in Review: May 10th, 2015

The Dinner Party: Natalie Barney

I went to the Brooklyn Museum yesterday and my friend Andrea very kindly surprised me with the fact that “The Dinner Party” is installed there! I’m, obviously, super-fascinated by feminist history, and “The Dinner Party” is infamous, complicated (shall we say white feminist or very white feminist?), and physically commanding. But I ended up squatting to the floor and clinging to the railing when I saw that my beloved Natalie Barney had a seat at the table.

I was over at Queerly Seen again this week, talking about Stephen Fry’s status as “the modern Wilde.”

Speculative Fiction 2014, in which I am included among many awesome writers, reviewers, and other fan writers, dropped on Tuesday! Go check it out!

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Review: Women in Clothes

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Women in Clothes
edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton

★★★★★

2014 • 528 pages • Blue Rider Press

I’ve started wearing blue lipstick recently. I’ve also started wearing purple lipstick—true, dark, royal purple, not berry or mauve—but they both get the kind of attention I want. With the warm tones in my face neutralized by how dark and cold they are, I look… different. Women are usually pleasantly baffled by it; men are repelled. Cute shop girls ask me where I get it. I leave fantastical, cosmic lip marks on coffee cups and apples. I actually had a teenage girl timidly touch me on the shoulder at a museum exhibit to compliment me on it, staring at my mouth like she’d simply never conceived of the idea before and found something inspiring about it.

What those lipsticks give me is something incredibly rare: power over the way other people see me. As a femme queer, I have so been long resigned to being visually misread that I’ve reached the point of just not caring and doing whatever I want, since people usually just begin and end with my hair anyway. Stumbling across something that disrupts what I had previously believed to be something completely static feels like finding a magic wand.

The decisions we make about what we wear, no matter how conscious or conscious, speak to how we interact with both the outside world and our inner world. Women in Clothes, a massive project undertaken by editors Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton, explores those decisions by asking over six hundred women (and a few male transvestites) what their clothes mean to them. Largely, they used a survey (which you can look at here), but there are also interviews, diagrams drawn by women about their bodies, maps of the discarded clothes left on the floor, and collections of similar clothing owned by one person, just to name a few.

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Page to Screen: The Avengers — Age of Ultron (2015)

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron
based on characters by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

★★★★☆

2015 • 141 minutes • Marvel Studios

A lot of critics—especially those outside of fandom in general and sf in particular—have criticized The Avengers: Age of Ultron for being overstuffed. And that’s true. The crown jewel of Marvel’s Phase Two is stuffed, crammed, and otherwise jam-packed in such a way that, as Captain Cinema told me on our way out of the theater, that it felt like we’d been in that screening room for years. (I can only imagine what the brave souls who endured the twenty-eight hour long While Joss Whedon did succeed in his fanatical desire to make it shorter than The Avengers, but only by sixty seconds. (And that’s not including the extended and alternate endings promised on the DVD.)

But I only think that’s a downside if you’re coming to it from a context that does not value and reward serialization and attention the way that mainstream superhero comics do. Despite DC and Marvel’s intermittent attempts to clean up their universes (behold Marvel’s Ultimates, DC’s All Stars, and this summer’s Convergence and Divergence events at both companies) in order to attract new readers who might otherwise hesitate to leap into a genre that seems like it comes with a lot of homework, that backlog, once you manage to make the initial leap, is actually one of the great delights of comics fandom. (Although you have it to admit, it’s a lot easier with the Internet. I would have never hacked it in pre-Internet fandom, y’all.) As much as Marvel Studios gets deserved flack for the time it spends building the foundation for the next film during the film you’re actually watching, it’s that foundation that makes it great. Not, perhaps, in terms of film (especially standalone films), but in terms of what Marvel Studios is trying to do—it’s trying to recreate great comic book storytelling in a different medium.

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At The Movies: Live From New York! (2015)

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Live From New York!

★★★★½

2015 • 90 minutes • BehindTheLine Productions

If you want to know how Saturday Night Live is made, you have an an embarrassment of riches at your hands. There’s Live From New York!, biographies about former cast members and writers, memoirs by former cast members and writers, the Kenneth Bowser television specials covering every decade of the show, audition tapes, the show’s own anniversary specials (including last year’s three hour extravaganza), James Franco’s student film project slash actual festival film Saturday Night, Tina Fey’s fictionalized take in 30 Rock, and the fact that former head writer Seth Meyers’ writing team on Late Night with Seth Meyers endlessly makes fun of him for talking about Saturday Night Live so much.

But if you want to see what it has made, both intentionally and unintentionally, then you’ll want Live From New York!. (No relation to the recently revised and authoritative oral history.) Bao Nyugen’s documentary may co-produced by Saturday Night Live‘s costume designer Tom Broecker, but it embraces its outsider status to put the show in its historical and cultural context. How does a scrappy variety show that barely expected to last six episodes become an American institution? How has it interacted with, influenced, and been influenced by American culture? Nyugen elegantly makes his thesis statement—that the show and New York (especially a New York) are intertwined in a fascinating symbiotic relationship—in the documentary’s opening credits. He simply runs what looks to be the current Saturday Night Live opening credits sans text, sans performers, and sans music, leaving us panning over the city that’s always been at the root of it, no matter where its performers hail from.

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