Page to Screen: Hannibal — Season 2 (2014)

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Hannibal: Season 2
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

★★★★★

2014 • 13 episodes • NBC

What a time to be alive.

Maybe it’s because I binge-watched much of this season while out of my mind with a head cold that rendered me largely unable to string human words together, but few shows have energized my mind like Hannibal. Despite my previously mentioned distaste for binge-watching, Hannibal is surviving this method (I’m trying to catch up so I can finish the third season with the rest of the civilized world) and giving me plenty to chew on and wail over as I listen to Mediaeval Baebes. It’s a revitalizing experience.

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Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
by Caitlin Doughty

★★★½☆

2014 • 272 pages • W. W. Norton & Company

My entire life, I’ve had what I called “death scares”—existential panic attacks brought on by obsessively thinking about death. (Much like being queer, being what I believe is technically referred to as hellaciously anxious was blindingly obvious to everyone but me throughout my childhood.) I have a very specific memory of having one at the age of twelve, standing in the doorway of my childhood bedroom, staring out into the dark hallway, frozen in fear by the idea that it could all end. As an adult who enjoys her life, they’ve slowed down to maybe two a year (I suspect they’re much more about “WHAT IF I’M WASTING MY LIFE?!” rather than fearing the biological process of death), more if I read too many Cracked articles about unsolved murders.

(By the by, have you ever heard of the 1920s Hinterkaifeck murders? The murderer was probably living in their attic before the murders and definitely living in their house after the murders. Look, if I can’t sleep, you can’t sleep.)

When my anxiety is not in the driver’s seat, though, I have a more holistic approach towards death; after all, contemplating the ramifications of actually living forever renders me near catatonic. Death gives life meaning, to be trite (and quote Hannibal Lecter, that great humanitarian). My mother and I have had long conversations, her enthroned on the structurally compromised orange leather couch that dominates her living room and me lolling on the floor with the dog, about how it’s nothing to be scared of, because it’s a natural part of life and there’s nothing we can do about it. Fear isn’t useful when it comes to death.

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Review: Nimona

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Nimona
by Noelle Stevenson

★★★½☆

2015 (originally published 2012 to 2014) • 272 pages • HarperTeen

When last I reviewed a web comic turned graphic novel (Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half), I brooded upon the fact that blogs are living things while books are fixed. In that situation, I had the benefit of having followed Hyperbole and a Half for quite some time beforehand. I had experience with it as both a web comic and a graphic novel.

Not so in the case of Nimona, Noelle Stevenson’s senior thesis turned complete comic. I knew about it when it debuted, having, alongside with most of fandom, fallen in love with Stevenson’s witty and thoughtful sketches on her tumblr. By the time I decided that I did want to read the web comic, I knew it was going to be published by HarperCollins, so I decided to wait.

And I think I’m the poorer for it.

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At The Movies: Trainwreck (2015)

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Trainwreck

★★★★☆

2015 • 124 minutes • Universal Pictures

Amy Schumer doesn’t punch hard enough for me.

Let me be very clear: on the basis of what I have seen of Schumer’s work, she does not punch hard enough for my taste. Unlike that Washington Post article, I am not going to pretend to judge Schumer’s comedy on the basis of her entire oeuvre when I haven’t seen most of it. But from what I have seen—“Last Fuckable Day,” “Celebrity Interview,” “Football Town Nights,” and Trainwreck—Schumer seems great at setting up scenarios where she can highlight problematic elements. For instance, in “Football Town Nights,” when a new football coach asks his players to stop raping, we are treated to the black comedy of teenage boys offering up scenario after scenario where rape is acceptable. (“What if my mom is the DA and she won’t persecute?”) But the conclusion, where the coach saves the game by describing football as raping the other team, is disappointing, because it just plays into rape culture. I think we are meant to read that conclusion as more black comedy (look, it’s embedded in the entire system of this game!), but it feels too subtle to conclusively make that point. Obviously, no creator owes it to an audience to be unsubtle, but it sits oddly with me. “Celebrity Interview” does the same; it feels like it’s mocking celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence instead of mocking the system that capitalizes on presenting women with non-traditional interests (but, of course, very traditional beauty) as rare and exotic.

Trainwreck, Schumer’s film debut as both a lead actress and as a screenwriter, falls into much the same category for me. Schumer gets a lot of comedic and dramatic mileage by genderswapping a common romantic comedy male archetype—Amy Townsend works hard, parties hard, and has no time for commitment. The film’s second scene, wherein Amy successfully gets her date to go down on her before she “falls asleep” so she doesn’t have to reciprocate, is a grand thesis statement for the film. But, like Amy in that scene, the film doesn’t go much farther than that.

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Page to Screen: Hannibal – Season 1 (2013)

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Hannibal: Season 1
based on
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

★★★★★

2013 • 13 episodes • NBC

The only tragedy of the written word is that I cannot wordlessly scream a single note at you for the equivalent of 700+ words to convey how good Hannibal is. I mean, I am capable of recording myself wordlessly screaming, but there is no way that will accurately convey the intended message to you. You win again, the written word!

Ever the Johnnie-come-lately, I of course finally decided to put Hannibal‘s first season on hold a few days before the show was canceled. (Fuller and company are still searching for a home; Netflix and Amazon have passed.) Captain Cinema, tumblr (sweet Bowie, does tumblr love Hannibal), and the entire world have been talking up Hannibal a storm ever since the show began airing. Showrunner Bryan Fuller describing the show as not television, but “a pretentious art film from the 80s” was the only thing I needed to push myself off the edge.

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Review: Black Space

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Black Space
by Adilifu Nama

★★★★½

2008 • 200 pages • University of Texas Press

As happy as I am that Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems to be committed to a diverse universe (there’s nary a white dude in the main trio!), I am still infuriated that the production cast Lupita Nyong’o, widely considered an astonishing force of style and beauty (as well as the baby Dazzler of my heart), and covered her up with CGI. And not to play a truly inhuman character who could only be executed with CGI (you can literally do anything; I was campaigning for a sentient black hole), but to play… a humanoid character whose most alien features are a lack of a nose and a long neck.

Ughck.

Covering up actors of color with prosthetics and CGI is, sadly, a trend in speculative fiction films, despite the fact that speculative fiction is an inherently progressive genre. Even my beloved The Lord of the Rings features nearly all of its Maori actors as orcs and Witch Kings. Thor: The Dark World cast Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Algrim the Strong, a dark elf who then goes on to be transformed into Kurse. Even Zoe Saldana, the inheritor of Uhura, one of the most groundbreaking roles in sf television, gets painted green in Guardians of the Galaxy. There is progress—we will soon see Luke Cage and Black Panther join Heimdall in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—but the conflation of aliens and people of color remains a troubling trend in sf cinema.

Individually, of course, there are always reasons for these choices. I imagine Nyong’o accepted the role because doing motion capture is an exciting and very different way of acting, on top of getting to be in Star Wars. As a white woman who benefits from racial privilege,it’s not my place to speak to that. But I can highlight the larger pattern of seeing, time after time, actors of color asked to play outrageous and othered creatures and ask: why?

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