Review: Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 2

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Ōoku: The Inner Chambers—Volume 2
by Fumi Yoshinaga

★★★★½

2009 (originally published 2006) • 200 pages • Viz Media LLC

It’s taken me a while to sit down and review this. I tend to have a lot of trouble reviewing middle installments of serialized comics, even if the collection contains a complete arc. If I’ve already covered the premise, it’s hard for me to rehash what I’ve already said unless the new arc does something wildly different. (This is part of the reason why I so rarely review television shows. Good thing Sailor Moon crams a thousand things into every season.) Also, while my current pace of reading lagged behind my previous schedule, it actually still kind of supersedes my current schedule. I actually, for a very welcome first time in a while, have a backlog. Which is magical, but May has been running me ragged. I just need a day to blast through them all.

I’ll get there—I always do—but I did want to mention this by way of apology to Ōoku: The Inner Chambers. The series as a whole does not deserve me dragging my feet, and this volume, in particular, demands only a standing ovation. While Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is serialized, in that each chapter is published in the magazine Melody, it’s also structured in larger, more complete arcs for its yearly publication as a volume of manga. It feels much more like installments in a book series, versus a collection of serialized comics (which is no burn on serialized comics as a medium, I should stress), which speaks to Fumi Yoshinaga’s mastery of the form.

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At The Movies: Mad Max — Fury Road (2015)

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Mad Max: Fury Road

★★★★★

2015 • 120 minutes • Warner Bros.

If you know me at all, you know that I love the eighties. Specifically, I love a specific aesthetics associated with American pop culture in the 1980s—that peculiar blend of heavy metal, speculative fiction, absurd hair, and high camp that I have designated old school sf. I actually define old school sf as existing from Star Wars (its introduction into the mainstream) to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (its legitimization in the mainstream), but it’s that extra eighties boost that so often drives me over the edge into snarling joy. Maybe it’s growing up on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, or perhaps it’s the best marriage of my camp sensibilities and my love of speculative fiction. Nonetheless, it hits and satisfies a very pure and primal part of myself.

But I gave up, a while ago, any hope of seeing that aesthetic—that old school sf aesthetic that’s equally interested in being totally kick-ass as being speculative fiction—applied in a big way that didn’t exclude me. While I adore old school sf so, so much, it’s usually par for the course that I will find female characters or queer characters (if they’re even present) being treated not so great. And that doesn’t even include how it sometimes poorly handles or straight up ignores great swathes of people, like people of color or disabled folk.

There are, mercifully, wonderful exceptions. Gael Baudino’s Gossamer Axe is a queer pagan feminist rock and roll fantasy. Every episode of Xena: Warrior Princess features two very different women kicking butt, taking names, and being devoted utterly to each other. But they weren’t the norm and they certainly weren’t the stuff that turns into the big budget stuff that often define a year or even a decade in media. Since speculative fiction is an inherently progressive genre, it makes sense to for us to have left a lot of that behind in its continuing mission to reflect the diverse people who use it to explore their own experiences of the world and thereby expand everyone else’s. As much as I adore old-school sf, I have no shortage of selections from the past. I have always been ready to sacrifice it for the future of speculative fiction.

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The Week in Review: May 24th, 2015

Greenwich Village: The Victory Garden

Pictured above: an ice cream shop I can actually eat at, since it serves goat milk ice cream. I had the salted caramel and it was heavenly.

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road on Friday, which required a three hour mental rest, because that movie blew my brains out in the best way possible. I’m still reeling, but will have it together enough for a review tomorrow. I also read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up yesterday, before tackling my closet with a ruthlessness I’m pretty sure is inherently opposed to the KonMari way. Still, my closet is clear, my drawers are organized, and I finally framed and hung up the insert from Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell album.

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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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