Page to Screen: Hannibal — Season 3 (2015)

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Hannibal: Season 3
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

★★★★★

2015 • 13 episodes • NBC

It only really occurred to me on Sunday that I have spent this entire summer drowning in Hannibal. Despite declaring that binge watching was just not the way I, personally, should be consuming television, Hannibal’s circumstances and quality endeavored to make a hypocrite of me and succeeded. My appetite for Hannibal was insatiable; forty-five minutes never went so fast in my life before.

Now that I’ve returned to my other television projects (Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, for the curious), it almost feels like I’ve just wandered, dazed, out of a dark forest and, looking back, have only just now realized how vast it was. When it comes to television, I am well-trained in the art of being completely out of the loop when it comes to television: see previous sentence, where I have somehow managed to grow to full adulthood as a queer lady geek without the power of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess. So the experience of not only being in the loop but being in the loop with a show that has radically challenged what network television and television can do has felt like a rare honor.

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Review: Georges

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Georges
by Alexandre Dumas
translated by Tina A. Kover

★★★★☆

2007 (originally 1843) • 336 pages • Modern Library

You may have recently seen that The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones recently wrote an article about how the late Terry Pratchett was not a genius—where he cops to never reading Pratchett in his entire life before calling his work trash and not real literature. I’m not linking you to it, dear reader, because I want your day to go well, and also because we’ve been here a thousand times at the screeching ghostly foothills of the false dichotomy of high and low culture. To reiterate: the line between high culture and pop culture is largely imaginary and constructed mostly of ideas of whose work really counts (which is why dead old white guys are vastly overrepresented in the Western canon, a thing also agreed upon by dead old white guys.)

Case in point: Alexandre Dumas, one of the greatest writers in history, wrote a scene where a man fights a shark. It’s all art, baby.

Georges is one of Dumas’ most little-known works—so little-known that even some of his most devout English-speaking fans didn’t know it existed. Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, who both found Dumas and the relative racial freedom of France inspirational as writers of color, never seem to have read or heard of it. And Frederick Douglass, who loved Dumas’ work enough to make sure to see Dumas-related sites around France while visiting, criticized Dumas for never writing about race. Sometimes, there’s an air of gatekeeping around works in translation—there’s certainly something suspicious in the fact that The Count of Monte Cristo is so accessible to English speakers that it’s in American public domain but Georges is not. Continue reading

At The Movies: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
based on the television show

★★★★½

2015 • 116 minutes • Warner Bros. Pictures

I was tentative about Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Or, to be more accurate, I could scent the weariness coming at it from all corners—yet another film version of a beloved sixties television show? Yet another movie about two white guys in suits (or, as Noelle Stevenson hilariously put it, two Michael Fassbenders)? Yet another stylish but hollow Guy Ritchie action movie? It was so pervasive that I felt awkward about being excited for it. No matter how excited my lizard brain was for pretty clothes and explosions and cuties of all genders, I started to feel certain that I was going to enjoy ninety percent of the film and rage over the remaining ten percent.

But The Man from U.N.C.L.E. surprised me. It nimbly leaps over the low bar of not actively offending human sensibilities by treating its female characters like people and failing to include anything along the lines of Robert Downey Jr. in yellowface in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Of course, there’s only two major female characters and the latter is achieved by a complete dearth of people of color, so that’s certainly an issue. The reason we keep the bar that low is because media still continues to fail it, and it is important to point out how texts fail that bar, even when we enjoy them.

Because, dear readers, I enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I enjoyed it a lot. I left the theater buzzing, feeling a little drunk off its good vibes, because it’s really the perfect kind of movie to come out at the tail end of the summer—a stylish, light, and fun action comedy.

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Review: The Empathy Exams

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The Empathy Exams
by Leslie Jamison

★★★★☆

2014 • 256 pages • Graywolf Press

I do hope that all fans of Cheryl Strayed, Dear Sugar, and Tiny Beautiful Things have discovered the existence of Dear Sugar Radio. That’s right, dear readers, Sugar has taken to the airwaves—both of them, in fact, as original Sugar Steve Almond is along for the ride. Together, and usually with the help of a colleague over the phone, they tackle exactly the same kind of letters people sent to Sugar during her original run.

It’s a wonderful podcast and a regular part of my podcast rotation, but I find myself missing the conspiratorial, motherly, and challenging tone of the original (alright, semi-original) Sugar, who shared her hard-earned wisdom with us just as much as she shared the things that she was still struggling with.

In that light, Leslie Jamison, whom you may know from her searing “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” reads like a younger Sugar, one with harder, pricklier edges. (Which makes perfect sense, given that The Empathy Exams were recommended on a recent episode of Dear Sugar Radio.) Jamison’s theme, as you might be able to guess, is pain: the pain of understanding, not understanding, and not being understood, the pain of suffering an illness that doctors dismiss, the voluntary pain of extreme runners, the involuntary pain of the incarcerated and the wounded, and the pain we co-opt for our own purposes and pleasures. And, with the welcome inclusion of “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” in this volume, how to actively engage with female pain when it has been turned into flattening, dehumanizing metaphor for centuries in media.

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Page to Screen: Savage Grace (2007)

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Savage Grace
based on the book by by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson

★★★☆☆

2007 • 97 minutes • IFC Films

Why does this movie exist?

I mean, there are two very compelling reasons for Savage Grace to exist—the lives of Barbara Daly Baekeland and her son Anthony absolutely brim with scandal and that prelude to a threesome scene with Julianne Moore, Hugh Dancy, and Eddie Redmayne that you know from tumblr—but these are reasons for its genesis, not justification for its rather lackluster existence. If you are going to make a film about the Baekeland murder, a story rich with psychological drama, intrigue, and, yes, incest, why would you ever make it so… bloodless?

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Review: Teenage

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Teenage
by Jon Savage

★★★½☆

2008 (originally published 2007) • 576 pages • Penguin Books

I always viewed the classical teenage experience as mainstream American media sold it to me by way of Saved by the Bell reruns as pure fantasy. It probably helped that any time Madame McBride caught me watching said show, she would always pause behind me and sigh importantly that it gave my brother “unrealistic expectations about high school.” Between being an angry, nerdy preteen too dumb to realize she was queer and the old McBride gene pool being so Catholic that it just fast-forwards all inheritors through puberty in about a week, none of it seemed particularly relevant to me and my experiences. Even the mischief my alternative kid friends would get up to seemed beyond me: my fear of my mother outweighed any desire for teenage rebellion. It was always glaringly obvious to me, the tallest girl in fifth grade, that adolescence was a social construct.

Of course, understanding that a thing is socially constructed does not mean resolving it right out of existence. (Blip!) As Rebecca Jordan-Young reminds us (while clearing up some misconceptions about gender theory), things that are socially constructed are nonetheless real. We simply have more access and agency in their construction than most social forces would like you to think. For instance, the English language is socially constructed out of historical encounters between several cultures. The English language is very, very real. But its invention and construction is obvious enough that I can yell a lot about how it is absurd that appellation is a word in English but the verb from whence it is derived is not.

So—the teenager, as we all know from the special edition DVD of Back to the Future, was invented in the 1950s for marketing purposes. But that’s only the label for a phenomenon that had always been with the human species.

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Page to Screen: Ella Enchanted (2004)

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Ella Enchanted
based on the novel by Gail Carson Levine

★★☆☆☆

2004 • 96 minutes • Buena Vista Pictures

I was two-thirds of the way through Ella Enchanted when I realized I’d never seen Ella Enchanted before. I mean, it seemed so obvious! In 2004, I was a preteen mourning the loss of The Lord of the Rings who had, in fact, actually read Ella Enchanted and liked it. I even distinctly remember reading about Cary Elwes playing the villain in this film and taking a moment to think about what he would even look like with darker hair. (I am always fascinated by what natural blondes look like with darker hair, for reasons presumably related to my lifelong adventures in hair color.)

And yet, when Heidi Klum turned up as the giantess Brumhilda, I realized that I was on deeply unfamiliar ground. I must have been stitching something together out of The Princess Diaries and A Knight’s Tale to heal over the mental wound this film inflicted on my generation of lady geeks. It’s a wound so deep that, when I proposed this film to my erstwhile Valkyries as a bad film to skewer, even those mighty mavens balked. Surely, though, with a decade between both me and the film and me and my culturally bloodthirsty preteen self, I could take a gentler and wider view on this much reviled film.

(Also Hannibal’s seeped into my bloodstream enough that I am compelled to seek out the filmography of both Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, so expect King Arthur to be covered in these pages soon enough. Moving on…)

Ella Enchanted has precious little to do with the novel it’s based on, besides its basic premise. A girl named Ella is given the “gift” of obedience by a fairy, she goes to a giant’s wedding, and she falls in love with a prince named Char(mont). Other than that, they largely have nothing to do with one another, which makes Ella Enchanted, essentially, Shrek for teenage girls.

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